I need to extend my appreciation to all those individuals who, because of their love for children and teaching, made this publication a reality. Specifically, to the apprentice teachers who were willing to start a reflective journey into their classrooms and were willing to voice their insights. Their commitment and effort were tested more than once. Yet, their persistence and love for learning made it possible to transcribe their reflections on paper so that others may be inspired to start a similar journey.
Special thanks to the individuals whose thoughtful teachings and comments guided the teachers' inquiry: Shirley Brown, whose personal teaching style facilitated learning and understanding of the complex process of teacher research; Dr. Gladys Valcourt and Rosalie Rolón-Dow whose keen and critical eyes helped shape the individual papers included in this volume.
The continuous support from the Edison Cluster office was invaluable. I am grateful to Dr. Rubén Flores and Hilda Sorell for their belief in the importance of this work and unrelenting commitment to improve the quality of teaching and learning for Latino students. Finally, my gratitude goes to Gwen Miller who typed the final version of the manuscript in an expert fashion.
B. "What I am trying to get people to do is to think about what constitutes data. Data sitting in front of you might be overlooked....
E. But I have my reservations on this....But then if I take as data the subjective opinion of a colleague, that is really dangerous because they already may have their own opinion. There is a tendency of labeling students and labeling family situations. And to tell you the truth I can take the conversation with a colleague as a point of information, period; but not as data....
N. Magda, data is information. Data is not necessarily correct information....
E. AHH! AHH!. There is a linguistic problem. Data for me is fact, as a journalist I look for facts....
N. Data is only information. Then you have to go back and say does it mean anything, is it valid for what I am studying....then we come to the analysis part, what does that mean to us....
T. So, at what time does the information become data?...
R. It is all data...Data is a synonym for information....
This exchange captures the emergence of understanding among a group of bilingual teachers learning to do classroom research. The background knowledge that they had was contradicted by the new knowledge that was presented.
The insight of teachers as researchers was new to these practitioners and opened their minds to a different way of looking at knowledge as well as at classroom teaching. Seminar discussions that encouraged critical interaction immersed the teachers in a process of inquiry that helped them see classroom practice from their new standpoint as researchers.
This group of Philadelphia apprentice teachers participated in a Professional Development Institute to provide them with a theoretical framework and teaching methodology to foster effective practice in English as a Second Language (ESL) and Bilingual classrooms. The teachers wanted to improve as professionals by inquiring and learning from their own classrooms. This publication represents their reflective work as part of doing research in bilingual classrooms.
Teacher research as a tool for professional development is a recent movement in teacher preparation programs. Its growing importance has emerged, in part, from the fact that this research process values inquiry, collaborative work, and teacher voices.
First, teacher research uses inquiry as a vehicle to reflect about and to improve the teaching and learning processes. Practitioners engage in the process of critically examining their practice and classroom reality to transform these in ways that are meaningful to the practitioners' school context. Thus, inquiry evolves from teaching and sustains the learning process of teachers.
Second, collaborative work, as a means for professional growth and as a tool for inquiry, is at the core of teacher research. Learning is a social activity in that it is supported, in part, by a meaningful exchange of ideas. Louis, Marks, & Kruse (1996) explain that sustained professional contact with colleagues can facilitate intellectual work, improve practice, and strengthen the practitioners' commitment to work. Indeed, these researchers contend that the building of community among teachers contributes to educational change and to the improvement of schools. Therefore, one can speculate that forums which encourage teachers to think, create and work together inside and outside their own classrooms hold much promise for improving the education of linguistically diverse students.
Lastly, practioners engaging in teacher-based research further develop their own voices by articulating their understanding of classroom practice and by identifying necessary changes in the teaching and learning processes. This type of research is seen as an effective means of including teachers' voices in the community that produces knowledge about effective classroom practices. The teacher as researcher movement is an attempt to hear from teachers and to support them in the development of their own voices (Harste, 1990, p. vii).
Proponents of teacher research assume that the voices of teachers will reframe the understanding of teaching and learning in meaningful ways and will contribute to the creation of knowledge about schooling in particular contexts. The teachers who participated in the Institute were involved in a teacher research project to encourage the development of reflective and investigative skills as a strategy for improving classroom practice.
Inquiry, collaborative work, and the emergence of voice framed the learning experiences in the Institute. Specifically, teachers read articles on teacher-based classroom research, learned the process of research through discussions and interactive activities and conducted their own semester-long research project. Teacher reflection emerged from regular focus group discussions which centered on the investigative process and their role as teachers. Ongoing discussions allowed participants to share the challenges of conducting classroom research and to consider the transformative effect on classroom practice.
This publication represents the development of teacher voices through classroom inquiry. The papers include discussions about their individual experiences in reflecting on one educational issue that they were curious about. In reality, what is included here is not a finished product. Instead, this work needs to be seen as the beginning of an inquiry process that will be expanded through ongoing reflection.
Additionally, the authors acknowledge that their studies are not meant to be generalized to other students and classroom realities. Their purpose was to obtain a more in depth understanding of their particular classrooms and promote learning from their experiences.
The papers represent a variety of teacher voices. Three teachers work at the elementary level and three at the middle school level. Some of the teachers were born in the United States while others were born in Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and Uruguay. One of the teachers wrote his paper in Spanish to remind us of the importance of the diverse linguistic background that these teachers work in; the other papers were written in English. This volume brings together a collection of teacher-based studies which respond to a dearth of publications focusing on linguistically diverse students.
Luis Beitler discusses possible reasons for the high absenteeism of Latino students in his 6th grade class. Writing in Spanish he further explores the effectiveness of three student-centered activities to reduce the pattern of attrition in particular students. He acknowledges that absenteeism is a complex reality with a variety of factors which require multiple and creative solutions.
Magda Enriquez-Beitler reflects upon parental involvement in her 8th grade classroom. Specifically, she explores the factors that influence parents to be involved or not to be involved in her classroom as well as in school. She also considers some strategies that could augment the active and meaningful presence of parents in schools.
Maria E. Gonzalez reports that Puerto Rican students in bilingual programs have different levels of proficiency in Spanish. She examines her assumptions about the causes for the different proficiency levels in light of the reality of middle school students. Finally, some of the factors that influence the different proficiency levels of her students are explored in this paper.
Mary Ellen Hernandez-Gilbert contends that the use of dramatic role-play and/or reenactments may provide the student with the opportunity to go beyond merely visualizing scenes of his/her narrative but allow them to vicariously live it. She sought to observe what changes occurred in her second grade classroom over a four-week period by introducing dramatic story retellings and paired role play. Her learnings from using drama as a pre-writing activity and the steps to further encourage the students' writing development are described.
Wanda Novales discusses the writing process as a means to develop independent and skillful writers. After observing her students' lack of interest and limited writing skills she explored some strategies that could facilitate the writing process. She describes the changes in her students' writing performance when she started to implement the process as a strategy to facilitate the writing of her students.
Ellen Siscamanis reflects on her experiences with one of her students in kindergarten who hardly interacted verbally. She describes an exploration to find out what strategies could motivate this child to respond verbally to her. Her inquiry produces insightful questions about the importance of considering the impact of social and emotional factors in the early grades. Through her paper, one can see an open jouney into the inquiry process.
Harste, J. C. (1990). Foreword. In M. Olson (Ed.), Opening the door to classroom research. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Louis, K. S., Marks, H. M., and Kruse, S. (1996). Teachers' professional community in restructuring schools. American Educational Research Journal, 33(4), 757-798.