Classroom Research and How it Can Improve Teaching and Learning in my Classroom

Classroom research is the process an educator uses to improve his or her teaching to promote higher learning and greater engagement of students. I originally struggled with the term “classroom research” because it seems daunting. Maybe it is because I am a first year teacher and many days I feel like I am sinking more than swimming. I have read a few articles and I have adopted the definition that “a teacher uses research in her classroom to study writing, literature, her students – and herself” (Abbott, 1994). I personally identify with Abbott’s view of asking “What would happen if…” because as I find my way through teaching kindergarten, a grade where I had very little prior experience, I find that I am experimenting with ideas and procedures daily. I have often thought that I should be keeping a journal and documenting my journey, but it is not something that I have pursued.

I believe that classroom research will improve my teaching because I will have data about what is working and areas where I need to make changes. Through research, I hope to have a clearer direction of what is and is not working instead of spending time troubleshooting when something (classroom management, technology, time management, etc.) is not working in my classroom. I can ask myself and document my “what if” ideas and learn which ideas are effective with my students. Then I will use the information as a way to tweak my teaching practices to enhance student learning and engagement. That will allow me to narrow my research down to one focus area where change is needed the most and research how my ideas are working.

I also believe that I do not have to conduct all my classroom research on my own. I have a student who is on the autism spectrum and I am not at all confident that I fully understand all of his needs. I have had very little experience with students on the spectrum. However, I know that there has been a lot of research done on teaching children who are on the autism spectrum. I specifically thought about my student as I was reading about how research allows me to pull from other educators’ experiences (Duke, Martin, & Akers, 2013). I can find strategies to improve the learning experiences of my student by working with other educators in my building and district who have experience with students on the spectrum. Further, I can read the research that other educators have compiled and published to assist me with him.

I think my biggest hurdle is asking for help. I do not want to appear to be struggling, even when I am struggling. At times, I feel that as a teacher, I should have the answers. However, I remember telling the sixth grade students that I student-taught last year that it is not all about having the answers, but it is more about knowing where to go to get the answers. It might be helpful for me to keep this in mind.

Bibliography

Abbott, S. (1994). What Would Happen If…? A Teacher’s Journey with Teacher Research. The English Journal , 59-61. Retrieved from: http://drannejonesuas.learningspaces.alaska.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2013/10/a-teachers-journey-with-research.pdf

Duke, N., Martin, N., & Akers, A. (2013). 10 Things Every Literacy Educator and School Librarian Should Know about Research. Teacher Librarian , 8-22. Retrieved from: http://drannejonesuas.learningspaces.alaska.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2013/10/10-things-every-educator-should-know-about-research.pdf

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17 thoughts on “Classroom Research and How it Can Improve Teaching and Learning in my Classroom

  1. Seriously, who has time for research when you’re in the throws of your first year, right? Journals and documentation, those are nice notions too, but I can relate that it is hard to find margin for nice activities like that when you’re trying to figure out curriculum, students, administration, and LIFE! The key is to start small. If you’re anything like me, you’re optimistic and want to take resolve all issues in order to create a perfect environment. As hard as it may be to accept, you can’t. Don’t patronize yourself over all that you know you should be doing and focus on what you can do. Let your lesson plans be your journal and documentation this first year. Just add small side notes at the end of the week, or day, depending on when you do lesson plans, that you can go back to and reference when something arises in the coming year(s). Then, when you have more time, you can keep that exhaustive journal and binder of documentation. As for now, all your students will remember is how much you genuinely cared about them.
    As for asking for help, perhaps this course and this PLN will offer you that avenue to reach out to teachers whom you may never personally meet. You can be honest and real, and still maintain that profile to your co-workers that you have it all together. 😉

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    • My first year has been crazy. I started the day before the students started. My classroom had materials from kindergarten through sixth grade in it and I had no idea what I should keep. I was fortunate that I had many friends who came in and helped me organize and set it up, but I was playing catch-up the entire first semester. Over the winter break, I came in almost every day and worked in my classroom and I was finally able to transform it into the classroom I wanted. I was surprised by how much my students liked that it was open and no longer full of clutter. I was also finally able to do some planning, especially for math. I thought about doing a video diary, but I really don’t care to watch hours of myself talk about my day. I agree that my lessons can be my journal. I do care about my students and they drive me to be better every day. I look forward to learning more about you and gaining more insight from you!

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  2. I agree that as a first year teacher there are many moments where I too, “I find that I am experimenting with ideas and procedures daily. I have often thought that I should be keeping a journal and documenting my journey, but it is not something that I have pursued.” While I can plan and plan, there is something to be said about those in the moment mini experiments. I believe that classroom research is a little more intentional than those mini experiments that we come up with daily.

    I believe that by adding this layer of intentionality to your mini-experiments, the results become much more meaningful. As is stated in Teacher learning in mathematics: Using student work to promote collective inquiry, teachers of their study experienced a shift in their own thinking due to the the procedures in good classroom research. They state, “The first shift in teachers’ participation centered around attending to the details of children’s thinking.This shift was related to teachers attempts to elicit their students’ thinking and to their subsequent surprise and delight in noticing sophisticated reasoning in their students’ work.” p. 213

    I am excited to learn how to set up a good research project that will allow me to notice more of what exactly my students are learning in my classroom. By observing the students more, I hope to find areas of weakness in my practice that I can improve upon.

    Reference:
    Kazemi, E. & Franke, M.L. (2004) Teacher learning in mathematics: Using student work to promote collective inquiry. Journal of mathematics teacher education. 7. (203-235). Retrieved from: http://drannejonesuas.learningspaces.alaska.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2013/10/teachers-learning-in-mathematics-collective-inquiry.pdf

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  3. Hey Cherie,
    I think that you already have a good grasp on the concept of research in the classroom. I’m with you that having data to discern what is working and what is not is very important. I also don’t think there is anything negative about sharing you data with more experienced teacher to get their assistance if you feel like you are drowning. I like your mantra that you don’t have to know all the answers, but you have to know where to get them. Off of the research topic, I did my student teaching in 6th grade last semester and on Tuesday I start a long term sub job in Kindergarten of the rest of the school year. I am going to steal your idea and keep a journal for the rest of the school year to document my first real teaching job. Good luck!

    Jeff Ullom

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    • It sounds like you’re already doing a bit of action research in your kindergarden classroom. If you are “experimenting with ideas and procedures daily” there is most likely something you would like to have happen differently. Maybe see if you can isolate a problem area from those things you modify often. You most likely already have some observation data from different things that have been tried up to this point. I think you’re correct in wondering if a journal would be beneficial. It’s something my student teacher encouraged of me and something I would strongly encourage of others. There are many advantages to keeping in a journal, but the ability to look back on obstacles and challenges overcome along the way can be a powerful tool in giving the confidence and energy to take on another one.

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    • Jeff,

      Thank you for the vote of confidence about research in the classroom. I am fortunate that there are four other kindergarten teachers in my building and they are all very helpful. I like that they each have a different teaching style and are open to me picking and choosing from their ideas and suggestions. Good luck with kindergarten…I have never laughed so hard in my life as I have this year. I love my students. If you need any ideas, suggestions or materials, let me know!

      Cherie

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      • Thanks Cherie. The Macarena to the months of the year is hilarious…I get some good laughs too. I stole your idea for a daily journal. I started a private blog as a Kindergarten teacher as my journal. Once I get it started and if I’m not to embarrassed, I’ll share it with you.
        Jeff

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        • My students are still teaching me how to do the Months Macarena. I can never remember it all and they think it is sooo funny that I can’t do it. They also love that I cannot draw. It gives us a chance to talk about the things we are good at and the things we struggle with doing well and why it is important to keep trying even if we are not great at something. Last Friday, I asked a student if he had a dog and he said, “No, but I had a fish.” I said, “Had? What happened?” He said, “Wellllll, I am a scientist (he tells me he is a scientist all the time and I love it) and I made him a potion and it turned out to be a really good sleeping potion, cause he never woke up.” We then had a safety talk about how we don’t drink potions or give them to animals or our friends. Teaching kindergarten was my last choice when it came to grades I thought I wanted to teach and now I never want to leave kindergarten!

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  4. Hi Cherie,

    I to have often wanted to keep an organized journal, but find that in day-to-day teaching with everything I have to do, it is hard! Instead I created a binder where I put my notes, often times when I go back they are written on sticky notes, loose leaf paper, sometimes blank sheets. Not very organized, but I noticed that since I have been doing this it has helped me! I like the ‘what if’ idea! Especially if technology during a lesson does not work! So much better to have a back up plan than to troubleshoot on the spot.

    Jade

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    • Jade – You are a genius! Sticky notes are fast and easy and I have a lot of binders. I keep my lesson plans in a binder and I could just add a few sticky notes to the lesson plans. I put sticky notes in my teacher’s manuals already, but having them on my lesson plans would be very helpful! Thank you!!

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  5. I was just thinking about how I wish I had kept a reflective journal over the last few years. With all of the responsibilities and daily surprises we have though, it’s certainly challenging to do so. I was thinking that maybe a simple T-chart of “What Worked” and “What Didn’t Work” might be simple and helpful. Easier said than done, I’m sure. But just an idea. On another note, do you have a “new employee liaison” at your building. Ours was a wonderful resource for me in my first year. She had knowledge of our building dynamics as well as the students in my classroom, so she was easy to talk to and so understanding of my situation. Also, getting a mentor that was from another building, but had knowledge of my grade level was also extremely helpful. I’ve found that overall, teachers seem to be very understanding of new teachers and are generally willing to help and share ideas, without looking down on you. After all, we really have all been in your shoes and know how challenging the first year(s) can be. Plus, you’re taking graduate classes on top of it all….wow! So, although I hope that your co-workers are as accepting as mine have been to new teachers, I’ll repeat what Angela said above that this PLN can also be that resource that you need in your first year. Good luck and keep in touch! 🙂

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    • Last year, when I was student teaching I always did a “What went well, what I would change and what I would do again” chart reflection. I found it to be very easy and I think I should start one again, especially for my centers and art time. Those are the two areas that I struggle with the most. I will be honest, I hate Center time in my classroom. It was supposed to be a time where I could pull and assess individual students and instead, I am spending all my time putting out fires, mediating disputes and cleaning up messes. As I am writing this, I am thinking that I should do my research on centers. It would be nice if it was an activity that both my students and I enjoyed.

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      • Center time can be a real struggle. What I’ve found is that it will change from year to year, depending on the students that you have and how much you pre-teach behavior expectations. The last two years was wonderful for centers in my classroom. My students were able to make choices and be independent workers. This year, not so much. It took until January before we finally started getting into a rhythm. And they still aren’t making their own choices.

        Is there a way you could teach students to self-assess their behavior after their center time? Even if it’s just a quick circle check-in with a thumbs up or thumbs down, sometimes that can really help draw their attention to what’s going on. Or a smiley/frowny face paper that they fill out after each center. There will be a day when you will be able to do all that you hope to do during that time, so don’t give up on centers quite yet! 🙂

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        • I didn’t consider having my students self assess their center time behavior, but that is a great idea. I can find some easy assessments (with pictures) that they can circle. I want to do so much more with centers and I really appreciate your suggestions and encouragement! Thank you!

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  6. I have been a teacher for 15+ years and I feel overwhelmed at the thought of “classroom research”! Even at my level of “experience” I, too, do not want to ask for help for fear that others think I am struggling, when I “shouldn’t be”. But, honestly, everything changes all the time. Teaching styles change. But, change is good. It will help us grow and push us to go where we thought we couldn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We are all human and it is good to know that there are others that struggle just like me. I’m not the only one! 🙂

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    • I think that everyone struggles because like you said, everything changes all the time. School is not the same as it was when I was in kindergarten and I know that some of my parents struggle with what their child has to do in kindergarten when it is so different from their own kindergarten experience. I will definitely be asking you for help. 🙂

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  7. When you said that you think about keeping a journal and have not pursued that yet, it made me think of myself. I often have good ideas that I will try the next time I teach that unit, and think I should write them down, but don’t. Then the next time I am teaching that unit, (after the fact) I remember my same idea and that I missed the opportunity. I have written a few of the ideas down, and in those cases, I have remembered to use them. Keeping a journal is helpful, if we remember to look at it.

    Also, I really liked where you said that it is not necessarily important to have all the answers but to know where to get the answers, I agree. I also feel that if we do not know where to get the answers, we are okay as long as we are willing to go in search for the answers. That can be part of the classroom research, as long as it applies to our classroom.

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