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Moving from “Them” to “Us”

teacher inquiryThis month’s English Leadership Quarterly includes Christina Saidy’s article “Moving from Them to Us: Making New Arguments about Teaching and Learning via Teacher Inquiry.” Saidy offers a case study of an English Language Arts teacher joining a teacher inquiry group. As she describes it:

Between meetings, the teachers worked on their inquiry projects individually, met together informally, and posted to a group blog. The inquiry group was structured to encourage teachers to move systematically through the inquiry process and included asking questions, designing classroom research, conducting classroom research and collecting data, analyzing data, and presenting findings to the group, school administrators, and students in a poster session.

The teacher she studied, given the pseudonym Chris, not only improved his teaching through this research, but he seemed to improve his whole approach to teaching:

At the beginning of the teacher inquiry group, Chris frequently complained about his students. He and the other teacher participants focused on the students’ deficits and the challenges of teaching in their school settings. However, as his inquiry project progressed, Chris focused less on student deficits and more on his own role in student learning. …

[T]he inquiry group participants used a worksheet I created to further develop [their] research questions … At the beginning of the workshop, Chris’s questions were:

  1. How can I influence my students to become passionate about the topic?
  2. How do I get students to make connections?
  3. How do I get students to think? Analyze? Discover?

These questions, like much of Chris’s early reflection, were very student-focused and somewhat deficit-centered. For example, question three assumes students do not think, analyze, or discover. Assumptions such as this are grounded in a deficit-focused view of students and their learning and have the potential to lead to negative arguments about students’ abilities and learning.

Soon, however, Chris was learning to improve his focus, as reflected in new questions he would soon ask:

1. Do I make connections?

2. How do I model connections?

3. Do I know enough about my students’ lives to guide them into making personal connections?

As Saidy concludes:

Chris changed the types of arguments he made about teaching and learning in his classroom from “them,” or arguments grounded in student deficits to “us,” arguments grounded in productive colearning between teachers and students.

Read Christina Saidy’s complete article for free on our website.