Most of us nod our heads in agreement when someone mentions the value of students taking ownership of their own learning. If we’ve been teaching for a number of years, we know that the students who do take ownership of their learning are the ones who are ultimately the most successful in whatever they do in life. These kids are a joy to teach. They ask interesting and often challenging questions. They stop in after class to discuss something they’ve been thinking about that may be completely unrelated to your curriculum content. We would that all students took responsibility for their own learning.

So why do we sometimes forget what we know about learning when we plan professional development? If anything, adults want to be responsible for their own learning to an even greater degree than younger students. We’re much more interested in problem-centered learning than content-centered learning. Memorizing lists of states and capitals? No thanks. Been there. Done that. Now let’s dig into real problems that are relevant to us. We’re ready. We’re adults. Now treat us like that, please.

If you are looking to provide PD that maximizes the interest teachers already have in improving their own practice, consider action research.

Action research is simply the process of empowering teachers to identify problems within their own classrooms, plan actions that they believe will lead to improvement, and then collect and analyze data to create findings to implement and share with others. It’s petty much what thoughtful teachers naturally do to improve their instruction. They identify something they consider unsatisfactory. They try an action that may improve the situation. Then they collect and review data to see if it made a difference and modify their practice accordingly.

Action research may be underutilized as a PD technique because it can appear more complicated than it need be. It doesn’t as easily fit into a 45-minute after-school PD block. I think the name is also a hinderance to its adoption. We incorrectly associate action research with fundamental research and visualize laboratories and scientists running around in white coats instead of teachers purposefully working to improve their own practice.

If your school or district is not using action research as a part of your professional development mix, please give it some consideration. You can find plenty of information about implementing AR on the Internet and in many books. We usually recommend The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research by Nancy Fichtman Dana and Diane Hoppey.

Since about a quarter of our newsletter subscribers are also TIM Tools clients, I’d like to remind you that ARTI (Action Research for Technology Integration) is a component of every TIM Tools instance. Sadly, it’s the least-used tool in the suite. Nearly every client immediately begins to implement the TUPS and TIM-O, but many never get around to ARTI. The ARTI Tool includes prompts for each section so that even teachers unfamiliar with the AR process can work their way through an action research project. Since ARTI was designed specifically for technology inquiries, it also includes sections for hardware and software contexts, but these can simply be skipped by teachers whose inquiry is unrelated to technology.

Remember, every teacher is a researcher. The only question is whether the teacher is a good researcher or not. Including action research as a part of professional development will increase your supply of good researchers and therefore good teachers.

Roy Winkelman is a 40+ year veteran teacher of students from every level kindergarten through graduate school. As the former Director of FCIT, he began the Center's focus on providing students with rich content collections from which to build their understanding. When not glued to his keyboard, Dr. Winkelman can usually be found puttering around his tomato garden in Pittsburgh. Questions about this post or suggestions for a future topic? Email me at Roy@FCIT.US. To ensure that your email is not blocked, please do not change the subject line. Thank you!

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