Tag Archives: teacher inquiry

The Irony with Inquiry: Preparing pre-service teachers for the real world of classrooms

I (Yiola) am terribly excited about this week. This week my dear friend Julia, who is now a seasoned administrator in a local school board, will be visiting my pre-service classroom to share her insights on assessment, evaluation and reporting in the elementary schools.  I invited Julia to my class because I want students to hear from an administrator  the expectations and specifications for assessing and reporting on student learning. I look forward to presenting with Julia – going back and forth between what we talk about in class about best practice and what the day to day expectations are in schools for teachers. The process of assessment, of course, goes hand in hand, with instruction and pedagogy. And so, Julia and I got to talking…

It seems that so much of “real life” practice is still about the paper/pencil test or the worksheet. It also seems that while the ideas of inquiry pedagogy are “out there” and there are impressions of its practice, that when it comes to assessing students’ learning, there is the inclination to revert back to traditional methods.

I call this post “The Irony with Inquiry” because I spend much of my time framing my courses through an inquiry lens and using concrete examples of inquiry pedagogy from my own research (because it IS our there) and yet so much of what student-teachers see and experience in their placements is not connected to inquiry.   How then can we expect teachers to move their learning and practice forward?  We know from Hattie’s meta-analysis of thousands of studies of student achievement that the number one factor is the teacher.  It seems to me then that teacher knowledge and teacher development is just so important. And yet, this irony that manifests itself in theory vs. practice is out there.

Julia explains the reality when she described the following: we see new teachers stepping in and they are filled with wonderful ideas and good pedagogy and they want to do so many things all at once. The new teachers hit the ground, not running but, sprinting… there is limited time to think and so they ask their teaching partners or colleagues how to proceed. They are sometimes handed tests and worksheets to help them get through the first months of teaching. These worksheets become familiar and it is hard to develop new practices. 

Clare and Clive and our team of researchers have documented similar examples of the pressures and time crunches of early years teachers.

I tell student teachers to not try to do everything well at once but to focus on one domain at a time. Sometimes I wonder if even this is too hard to accomplish.

I am looking forward to this class, to the candid discussions that may arise, and to coming to some understanding of how we can better reconcile the ironies new teachers face.

Accelerated Learning and where it begins

I (Yiola) have been hard at work preparing my teacher education courses. This year was an complete review and reconceptualization of the courses — significant updates to not only the literature but to the ways in which we will explore the content.  I will share some of the changes to the pedagogy of my courses next week. This week I want to start at the start. Where does accelerated begin and how does it begin? I came across this interesting post and wanted to share it here. It is about paperless early years classrooms.


I remember when I taught first and second grade, I seldom used worksheets but I also did have the inquiry-based play either. My pedagogy was somewhere in between. But, truth be know, the teacher across the hall who had a full curriculum of worksheets was often commended for being highly organized and “on the ball” with her program.  I always wondered if that way of teaching was better. Her students, most of them, were learning to read and write. That is another truth. However, were they creative thinkers and problem solvers? Again, another truth, we did not pay much attention to those sorts of skills.  This was but a mere 10 – 15 years ago.

But now, I think we can all agree, that critical thinking and creativity and problem solving are very important skills for children to develop early in life. These skills do not develop from worksheet tasks. The link above talks about this and other inspirational considerations.

And so I share this post to begin at the beginning — play in the early years and how we move forward from there to more sophisticated modes of learning, through the grades and into post secondary teaching. Next week I plan to share some of challenges and questions I faced when reconstructing my courses.

First Class: Tracking wellness

I (Clare) am following this amazing new blog Eureka Research: Exploring Wellness through digital techniques: http://eurekaresearch.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/first-class-tracking-wellness/
This recent post is about the guidance counsellor who is working with secondary school students to track their wellness and well-being using a number of on-line tools. Wow! This is an amazing use of technology and from the photos it seems the students are very much engaged. I look forward to reading updates on the work and study of the on-line tools.

eureka research

I am in the middle of running my five classes on using a website to track moods, goals, tips, etc.  The website is called Facingus.org and what I like about it is that it is hands on and interactive. Students explored for parts of the site:  Journal, Wellness Tracker, Wellness Plan and Wellness Book (Tips).  This took almost the full hour to explore.  Students wrote for 5 minutes in the online journal – some where very engaged and some struggled quite a bit. I did catch a couple of students reading a book on their laps!  I did also have a couple of students asking if they could have more time to write 🙂

For the Wellness Tracker, I had them focus on three aspects – Well-being (track daily), Symptoms (track daily and weekly) and Lifestyle (track daily).  What I liked about this section, is that there were a lot…

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European Conference on Educational Research

PortoClive and I (Clare) are at the European Conference on Educational Research in Porto Portugal. This is an amazing conference which brings together educational researchers from around the world. Network 10 which focuses on teacher education research is a truly wonderful community. Clive and I are doing a few papers. Below are the papers and powerpoints for our presentations:

Clare – Reconceptualizing Their Teaching Over Time: Goals and Pedagogies of Mid- and Later-Career Literacy/English Teacher Educators
EERA2014-Beyond TransitionPaper_PDEdits

Clare – Four Spheres of Knowledge Required: An International Study of the Professional Development of Literacy/English Teacher Educators
ECER 2014 – 4 Spheres

Clive – Teacher Inquiry as Research and Knowledge Generation
ECER2014CB Tchr Inquiry

Teacher inquiry: this just in from Piaget!

Yes, I (Clive) know I should get a life, but lately I’ve been reading Dewey, Vygotsky, and Piaget (there’s a constructivist connection).

Skimming through Piaget’s The Moral Judgment of the Child (R&KP, 1932) I came across this wonderful quote in the very last paragraph (p. 414).

“Educational experiment…is certainly more instructive for psychology than any amount of laboratory experiments…. But the type of experiment which such research would require can only be conducted by teachers or by the combined efforts of practical workers and educational psychologists. And it is not in our power to deduce the results to which this would lead.”

This captures so well what I was trying to say in my previous blog. Academics and teachers must inquire together, rather than taking pot-shots at each other.

It feels good to be backed up by the likes of Piaget.


Teachers’ Contribution to Educational Inquiry

This past week I (Clive) had intense discussions with students in my Foundations of Curriculum graduate course; the topic was educational research and classroom-based teacher learning. Several were reluctant to accept that teachers are “researchers” and “knowledge generators” in an important sense.

I argued that teachers are in an excellent position to conduct inquiry because they are immersed in the classroom for ten full months, year after year: rarely do academics have such a rich context for educational research. They argued that teachers’ research methodology is not rigorous enough to produce genuine knowledge.

Thinking it over, I’ve decided to offer a compromise. I agree that education academics often have much to contribute because they are aware of other disciplines and other real-world contexts. Although they rarely have the same depth of educational experience as teachers, they often have greater breadth of knowledge in certain areas.

However, I will offer this compromise with three provisos:

(i)    Teachers’ inquiry is just as rigorous as that of academics, since they observe so carefully the processes and outcomes of their teaching: they have a vested interest in doing so.

(ii)  Teachers and academics have equal but somewhat different contributions to make to educational research.

(iii) Accordingly, the relationship between the two must be one of dialogue as equals, rather than “laying down the law” by one party or the other.

Of course, it is true that teachers could enhance their inquiry in certain ways; but the same is true of academics.

Teachers are not always conscious of what they have discovered through experience; it is often “implicit” knowledge. Hence, a major role of education academics is to study teachers and help make their insights explicit and available to others. But it is the teachers who discovered these insights and who must be given the credit.

I’ll try out this compromise on my students next week and see what they think!



Our New Book! Growing as a Teacher: Goals and Pathways of Ongoing Teacher Learning

Growing as a Teacher book cover

Clare and I (Clive) are glad to announce the release of our new book Growing as a Teacher, published by Sense. https://www.sensepublishers.com/catalogs/bookseries/professional-learning-1/growing-as-a-teacher/

It’s based on the first 8 years of our longitudinal study of 42 teachers, teaching mainly in Ontario but also New York and New Jersey.
Our central finding was that teachers learn a great deal informally, especially through classroom experience. This is in line with Donald Schon’s (1983) notion of “reflection in practice”: teachers learn through “experimental research, then and there, in the classroom” (p. 66). Similarly, Chris Day (1999) speaks of “the largely private, unaided learning from experience through which most teachers learn to survive, become competent, and develop” (p. 2).
Over their first 8 years, our teachers learned about: program planning, assessment, individualization, teaching for relevance, classroom organization, community building, work-life balance, and many other topics. In varying degrees, they developed a comprehensive, integrated vision of effective teaching, going well beyond their initial understanding.
In the book we discuss key implications of these findings:

  • Teachers should see themselves as major “experts” on teaching, with abundant opportunities to inquire into teaching over the years. They should be willing to make decisions in the classroom and take a firm stance in adapting system initiatives.
  • ITE instructors should promote this strong conception of teacher learning and expertise, and see themselves largely as “laying a foundation…preparing novices to learn in and from their practice” (Feiman-Nemser, 2001, p. 1016).
  • PD facilitators should dialogue with teachers and build on their emerging vision and approach, rather than imposing system mandates in top-down fashion.
  • Principals should support teachers in their learning, providing frequent opportunities for them to watch each other teach and share their developing insights.

Teachers can benefit greatly from external input, but not if it’s imposed “top-down” without reference to their views and experiences.
We have greatly enjoyed listening to the teachers in our study and will continue to do so into the future. We hope their voices and experiences will be helpful to teachers, teacher candidates, ITE instructors, and all those responsible for school policies and ongoing teacher learning.