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TNLI: Action Research: Professional Development: Rising to the Challenge of High Standards

by Matthew Wayne
June 12, 1999

Students of the next millennium are being asked to reach challenging new standards in all academic areas and throughout all years of their schooling. To meet these standards teachers, schools, and districts are going to need a new approach to educating students who come with a wide variety of academic needs. Education research has clearly demonstrated that "cookie cutter" teaching methods will not suffice in meeting the needs of the diverse population of students in this nation. Our education system needs to be address this reality if we truly mean to hold "all students" to high standards. Our schools are already peopled with thoughtful, caring individuals whose sincere goal is to help students reach high standards. Unfortunately, the adoption of these new standards does not mean that our schools have magically been prepared to meet them. We need new ideas in the classroom to rise to the challenge of high standards. Education’s best resource to learn how to prepare students to meet high standards is the teachers who are working directly with them.

To accomplish this, I propose that a better use of teachers’ time, effort, and resources in our schools will improve our educating all students to meet these new standards. The following mosaic offers an understanding of how I believe an improvement in teacher-research, reflection, and resources can collectively lead to increased student achievement. Below the mosaic are three policy recommendations which can provide teachers, schools, and districts with better opportunities to help all students to meet high new standards. Just as I am confident our children will reach high standards, I am certain that our teachers will be the ones to extend their reach to its fruition.

Teachers as Researchers
Rationale: To help individual students succeed with challenging new standards, especially those students who are at-risk of not meeting them, their specific academic needs must be known to the teacher. Teacher-research is an effective and necessary means to understanding how best to serve our students.

Recommendation: Schools provide teachers the professional development, support, and tools to do classroom research.

Teachers as Researchers in Action
The Art of Classroom Inquiry by Ruth Hubbard and Brenda Power offered me a simple yet effective method to research my sixth graders’ reading habits during independent reading. I witnessed Tyrone, who reads on a third grade level, choosing books appropriate for sixth graders. He did not focus during reading time and there was no joy in opening a book. Once an appropriate book was placed in his hands, further research - in the form of taped "book talk" conversations between Tyrone and other students - demonstrated his enthusiasm for reading appropriate books he can enjoy.

Collaborative Reflection
Rationale: Once teachers are researching their classrooms, reflection on the results is necessary to provide the most effective instruction. This reflection is more meaningful when done with other teachers in the school who are also helping their students meet the same new standards.

Recommendation: Schools allow for regular meetings among teacher-researchers during which teachers are responsible for sharing their classroom research, reflecting on classroom practice, and providing an accountable follow up on the conversations that take place during these meetings.

Reflection in Action
During my school’s weekly teacher meetings, I discussed the difficulties I have had in motivating Yolanda, a student I have been researching, to write. I brought samples of her writing to our meeting to discuss with the other teachers. One teacher believed that Yolanda might not have the confidence to write a lot in script and that perhaps she would do better writing on one of the four computers I have in the classroom. I followed my colleague’s suggestion and ever since Yolanda has been on the computer she has done all of the writing assignments for the class.

Rationale: If teachers are researching their students and reflecting on their classroom practice, it stands to reason that teachers will be in the best position to know which classroom resources will be most effective in reaching the high new standards. This is most true with at-risk students for whom the traditional textbooks and materials are not engaging and inappropriate.

Recommendation: Teachers are given discretion to use school funds to buy classroom resources.

Resources in Action
During Winter Break, I used my Teacher's Choice money to buy books which I knew the students would enjoy based on my classroom research. Unfortunately, I did not buy enough new copies to satisfy the class’ desire for good books and Tyrone and Melinda almost got into a fight over who was going the read the last available Time Warp Trio book! These additions to the classroom library sparked many students' interest in reading so that they could effectively work toward meeting the English Language Arts Reading Standard.


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