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As the end of OMET approaches and I begin thinking about writing my final Action Research report I have started to reflect on what I have learned about action research, learning, my practice and myself.   The last few months have been both frustrating and enlightening, yet I keep thinking I am missing some major piece to pull my experience together.

Since the end of my first cycle, I have often been in agony as I struggled with understanding and planning my action research.  The conclusion of my first cycle, exploring blogging as a way to create a community of practice and foster reflection and innovation, showed that, though teachers saw blogging as helpful in learning, they did not have enough time to engage in it.  At that time I felt this left me with few options for a next cycle.  If teachers didn’t have time to blog once a week, how would they react to any other sort of activity?  Reflection and community take time.  I sat on this question for several weeks.  Finally, I decided that I simply needed to go talk to the teachers on my staff.   To find out what they were thinking.  In reality I was simply doing something to do something.  The data from my first cycle really didn’t point me in this direction.   I just felt that I had to have something to call a cycle two and to be able to write about.

So I went door to door asking teachers to participate in a small group discussion of the book Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins (UbD).  This activity gave me some insight into the personalities of my staff, but this is purely empirical data.    The end of this activity left me with no direction.  I again struggled with how to proceed.   A few weeks passed and the small groups started, we have had one meeting and the conversation went well.  The staff members are excited about UbD,  however I wasn’t sure whether to call this a third cycle, a continuation of my second cycle, or just a group I am in unrelated to my action research.

As I struggled, I began to reread All you Need to Know about Action Research by Jean McNiff and Jack Whitehead.   Perhaps I had missed something about Action Research, hoping for a spark I skipped around in the book.   It was a different experience rereading the book after some experience with AR.   I quickly became more confused and frustrated.  I didn’t understand AR being about the researcher.   I had underlined all these passages that still seemed relevant, but I wasn’t sure what they meant.   I spent a Saturday reading thinking and struggling with these issues and what Action Research meant and how I was going to finish my final report.  You see, I didn’t feel like I had learned anything, especially about my own practice or myself.   I really began to wonder if my Action Research question simply was a poor choice, if I had simply wasted my time.  I wondered how I was going to stand up at exhibitions and say anything meaningful.

At the same time several other ideas were swimming in my poor confused head.   I recently had a weekend were I was able to attend two virtual conferences and a real one.

The first was FETC Virtual Conference.   Chris Dede was speaking and I wanted to hear him speak since I missed his presentation at FETC Orlando.  I ended up missing most of his presentation again, but in the section I was able to hear he talked about his students at Harvard seeing themselves as ‘world changers’.    As a graduate student myself, It made me reflect on my own identity.    I asked myself, “Do I see myself as a world changer?”  I had to answer that no, I didn’t.  Was action research really about being a world changer?  I thought so, but I wasn’t sure.

The next day I attended Technology and Learning Magazine’s conference, Tech Forum Midwest, in Schaumburg, IL.   This conference is small in size and consists mostly of local technology administrators and leaders.   It’s a great opportunity to network and share with colleagues.   At the conference I met several people working in technology coordinator positions, a job that I have very much desired for two years now.  These people are younger than I and with less experience in education.  In short, I was jealous, and I knew it.  Listening to them and learning about their work forced me to think hard about what I really wanted to do.  It forced me to think about what I want to do for a living.   Do I want to continue as a tech teacher, as a content area teacher, move into administration, higher ed, leave education all together, or even write a fiction book.

The next day I listened to Discovery Educator’s Network Virtual Conference and heard Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  I took two ideas away from his presentation.  First, if you want to innovate, you have to play.  Second, “If you want creative workers, give them time to play,” a quote of John Cleese.   These two similar ideas resonated with me because my action research is about creativity and innovation.  I began to question my action research.  Did I really know what I was trying to accomplish with it?  How does one measure innovation and creativity?   How would I ever know that I had made an impact in my school if I couldn’t define what I it was they would be doing, what it looked like?   Had I chosen a poor Action Research?  I again came back to the question, “Do I understand Action Research?”

All this lead me to think I needed to rephrase my action research question.  I wanted to include the phrase “using technology.” So that it read “How can I create a more reflective and innovative school culture using technology.”   I wasn’t sure that I could change my over-arching question.   Nothing in the literature discussed this and no one I was able to talk with felt they knew either.

All of these thoughts continued to cloud my thinking as I went back to reading from All You Need to Know about Action Research.   I began to think about the idea of play and learning and what I was learning from exploring, or playing with Action Research this year.   Was my OMET experience simply about learning how to become an action researcher?  Was I putting to much pressure on myself to complete some action that would have great meaning and significance?   My answer is yes to both questions.  The frank answer to my struggles with my own action research is that my first two cycles were not as much about  “…explaining what inspires you to do things as you do, and what you want to achieve.” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006, p 26) but were also about doing something cool that I could show off and gain attention for myself.  Yes, I did want to see my staff increase their innovation and creativity.  However, I was more concerned about creating something to prove myself than what McNiff and Whitehead mean when they say, “If you are aiming to improve some aspect of your practice, you are doing it for a reason, consistent with what you believe to be better practice, which involves explaining what you understand as ‘good’ and ‘better’, to avoid being seen as imposing your values on others.”  (p. 24) Yes, I had good reasons for wanting to increase innovation and creativity in my school, and I felt that communities of practice were a necessary part of this.   I’m not sure that I explained or understand what these reasons were, to others or myself.   Again, being frank, I was more concerned with the implications of my actions and research, not the actions and understanding that would come from them.

Coming to grips with my own meta-cognition helped me to feel that I was getting somewhere.  I was still confused however.

In a conversation with Colby I found some answers.  Colby helped me to see that an Action Research cycle does not need to be a huge deal.  In fact, smaller cycles might make better cycles.   It could be as simple as a conversation, a small survey, or a one-day activity.   He also helped me to see that I could focus my cycle on technology if I felt that would help me to understand the over-arching question I was asking.  He asked me “What are the reasons my data isn’t helping me?”   My answer is that I wasn’t asking the right questions.    Questions to create data, and questions of the data.   The conversation with Colby helped me to see that my understanding of Action Research was incomplete and flawed.  That I was too focused on the end result, and not open to change and learning.  One suggestion Colby made to me was to go back and survey the staff about the Understanding by Design groups.   Why did they decide to join, or why not?  What are they hoping to learn, what are they hoping to do.   Colby helped me to realize that I was not asking the right questions and that there are more things to learn from my cycles.

Two weeks ago, a good friend of mine told me that I am the most opinionated person she knows.  It wasn’t meant derogatorily, but it isn’t a flattering statement.  It made me reflect at how I interact with those around me.  Am I open to learning from others, or am I closed minded to new ideas?   Do I look at those around me as people whom I might learn from, or do I see people as competition?   Worse yet, do I see people as tools?  Answering these questions forced some honest and unpleasant realizations.

What does this all mean for my Action Research, my learning and understanding, and my practice?

In my action research I need to step back focus and apply what I know about learning and understanding.  I have jumped head first into a complicated and large idea without really understanding how to implement it.    I have asked my teachers to blog, without realizing that they didn’t understand blogs, the technology, or online communities.  I should have started smaller, with a survey to assess the staff’s skills and understandings, then perhaps work in small groups.  I needed to build the knowledge and understanding of the participants before asking them to jump into blogging as full experts.    Thinking about Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Lave and Wenger, 1991) suggests I should be thinking about how to foster the transfer of knowledge.   To create a context for the learning before taking it to a virtual space, especially since the staff I worked with were new to blogs.  To create groups of people interested in learning and sharing, and that this happens slowly, not just by flipping a switch.

To sum up, I have finally come to better understanding of action research and how it can help my learning and my practice.  I have learned more about how I learn and how I approach my own practice.  I have learned that I sometimes lose sight of what is important and focus on the outcome instead of the process.  I’ve finally seen how action research isn’t necessarily about change, but about creating new knowledge, which can affect change.   I’ve learned that the creation of new knowledge involves working with others.   I’ve learned that I don’t have a clear idea of what my purpose or practice is, or what I want it to be, but I am working on it.   I’ve come to realize that if I am going to have any impact education or the social world around me I need to be clear about my own understandings and beliefs before I can expect to share them with others, and therefore make an impact.

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I started cycle 2 today, or at least a data collection aspect of it.  I finally decided I had to quite thinking about how I was going to start my cycle, and to just start it, what ever happens.

I’m trying to inspire teachers to be more creative and innovative, but they feel that they don’t have time to participate in anything.  So, I am hoping that creating a Community of Practice that commits to meeting will help teachers commit the time to meet and see that the time spent is worth the effort.

One thing that I did not want to do was to send out a mass email detailing what I was asking and waiting for replies.  I didn’t think my staff would respond to this.  So, I decided to become my own salesman.  I am going door to door explaining what I am asking and also explaining a little of UbD.  I’m also handing out a few copies of a UbD example from the workbook.  So far I have meet with more than a third of the staff, 14 people.   Most are saying maybe.  Some of these maybes are really maybes, and some feel like “I don’t have the guts to say no to your face, so I’ll say I’ll think about it.”   I have also had a few “nos”, mostly from Special Education teachers who stated they just don’t have the time with so many IEPs to write and review meetings to go to.  (again, time becomes a factor).

So, tomorrow I will try to hit up as many more teachers as I can, and then Wednesday I will send out an email to catch anyone who I didn’t get a hold of, and to remind those who said ‘maybe’, to make a decision.

I’m not sure if this counts as an action, I’m going to treat it as one.  I know that it doesn’t lead directly to my AR question, but it has been very insightful to find out what people are thinking, and It is also interesting to go out and talk with many of the teachers who I honestly rarely see.

Post LC Meeting

Post LC Meeting.

After meeting with my LC, I’m confused.    I shared my idea for my Cycle 2.  Some of the feedback I received centered around including more technology.  I’m not against this, but I’m not sure that this is where my data is taking me.  Cycle 1 data showed that time was the largest factor in why teachers didn’t blog.  I feel that asking teachers to learn a new technology would simply take more of that time, and inhibit conversation that could be taking place face to face.  At the very least, I don’t want to start with technology, but might add it later as the face to face builds.  Just as OMET started.

Paul also suggested that I simply have a get together.  I understand some of his reasoning, but I also don’t.   Having a get together would build some connections between staff.   The timing for this is simply poor.    Saturday is an district wide social event, and the following week is the last week before Spring break.  I know my staff and they would not attend another social event.    Part of my confusion about this stems from not knowing if Paul meant for me to ask my entire staff, or simply the teachers who participated in the blogging.  That group of teachers are not banded together, and have not committed to more actions.  So, I guess I’m just confused.

How can I make my Action Research more of a personal action? That is the nagging question that is keeping me from moving forward with my Cycle 2. I’m not sure if my first cycle was really, truly and completely, about me taking an action, or was the action of getting others to blog? I feel that my cycle was more about asking others to take an action. That in itself is an action, but as I reread All You Need to Know about Action Research, McNiff, and Whitehead, I feel as if I missed the spirit of action research. Specifically when I read, “Action researchers always see themselves in relation with others, in terms of their practices and also their ideas, and the rest of their environment. They do not adopt a spectator approach, or conduct experiments on others. They undertake enquiries with others, recognizing that people are always in company.” (McNiff and Whitehead, p 25) I also think that part of my difficulties with explaining my the purpose of blogging to the teacher participants is that I didn’t take this into account, “If you are aiming to improve some aspect of your practice, you are doing it for a reason, consistent with what you believe to be better practice, which involves explaining what you understand as ‘good’ and ‘better’, to avoid being seen as imposing your values on others.” (pg 24) I don’t think I explained to my fellow teachers why and how I thought blogging was going to foster creativity and innovation. I think I was hoping that it would happen naturally. That it would foster itself simply by teachers reading and writing. It comes from my lingering misunderstanding of constructivism. I still have a hard time finding that fine line between leading and guiding, and allowing learners to construct on their own. I was too vague in explaining my purpose in the blogged^2. Also, I just finished reading, The Art of Possibility, by Zander and Zander. This book really helped me put many of the ideas I’ve learned in OMET together. For instance, taking an action is all about seeing a possibility. Taking an action trying out other possibilities. Asking, how could ‘this’ be better, or how could ‘that’ be different so that my goal can be accomplished. This really helps me frame my ideas for my next cycles. It allows me to think outside of the box, to be free from constraints of past experiences, of expectations of others, and of the status quo. The feeling I’m trying to express is best summed up in the British phrase “have a go”. Try it out, see if it works, if not, think about why and try something else. So, to get back to my original question, I’m wondering how to make my action research more personal. How can I put ‘Greg’ into my action research, and focus on how I can take action to make an impact? What talents and gifts do I bring to the table? Recall that my action research asks how I can foster creativity and innovation in teachers. So I have to ask myself, how do I do that with myself. I personally get inspiration from others, from learning what others are doing and applying it to myself. Therefore, this is the type of community of practice that I would like to foster at my school. One where teachers meet to work together on whatever they need to and find time to share and discuss what they are doing and work together. I’m going to try to foster communities of practice in my school. I’m hoping to create groups of teachers willing to meet to plan a unit or lesson using the understanding by design model. I’m hoping to get 8-12 teachers willing to meet to learn UbD, and then work collaboratively to plan units or lessons.

EDC 665- Week 14

What theory, discussion and/or application from this course most impacts your ongoing action research project?

I’m going to try to see if I can start communities of practice at my school designing lessons and units using UbD.   So, it is a tool that I am going to use.

In your current professional environment, how are educational experiences or programs assessed?  Is the evidence collected from the assessment used to inform change?  Why or why not do you think this occurs?

Most schools in my area assess their programs based on the state testing data.  It is sometimes used to inform change, though this hasn’t worked out well in the last few years due to delays and problems with the test and with the state returning the data to the schools.  Some of the schools I have worked with return the data to the teachers as soon as possible, others hide the data until the media has access to it, then they allow the teachers look at it. Usually this takes place by passing out the data to us on the first day of school and letting us have a half an hour to look at it and discuss it.   As you can imagine, there is no concerted effort to look at the data and make change.

I think this occurs because no one really knows what to do with the data, or what to do about the data.  As well, many (teachers and administrators) think the tests are poorly written, and/or flawed, so they won’t change their practice based on a flawed measurement.

From your experience in OMET thus far, what design practice has resonated with you the most?   Why?

Gary’s learning adventure have made me think the most, and have made the most impact in my own teaching.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about why he created the class the way he did and what his purpose for the activities were.   I’ve begun to reshape some of my units because of his class.  I’ve tried to create spaces and time for students in my class to learn from each other, and to tinker with knowledge and create their own understanding instead of me lecturing.