Teacher Action Research: Building Knowledge Democracies


Gerald J. Pine

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Understanding Action Research

    Part II: Collaborative Action Research: Foundation for Knowledge Democracies

    Part III: Practicing Action Research

  • Dedication

    This book is dedicated to my family.

    To my wife Mary: Without her caring and loving support there would be no book.

    To our sons and their wives: David and Jane, Sean and Gail.

    To our daughter: Maureen.

    To our grandchildren: Katelyn, Molly, Kevin, and Jack.


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    Teacher Action Research: Building Knowledge Democracies is a text written for graduate students, experienced teachers, and administrators. It has been developed for use in such action research courses as teacher research, teacher action research, educational action research, inquiry seminar, and classroom research. It also could serve as a supplemental text for courses in research methodology, qualitative research, staff development, school change, and educational administration and policy. Finally, it would be a useful resource for in-service and staff development programs in school districts interested in implementing a unique research approach to improve teaching and student learning.

    The book is set apart from others by its emphasis on helping schools to build knowledge democracies through the process of teacher action research. The text argues that through teacher action research, schools can become knowledge democracies where teachers provide the intellectual leadership for nonhierarchical, egalitarian, participatory, collaborative, and democratic construction of knowledge. In such democracies, inquiry permeates every aspect of the school's organization, programs, activities, and culture. This means that any function of the school is open to inquiry, including teaching, learning, curriculum, leadership, professional development, university-school partnerships, and parental involvement. Teachers, students, and parents work together in conducting caring inquiry in the classroom, school, and community to construct knowledge for meaningful change. They become committed to collaborative enlightenment and consciousness raising to increase potentials for self-affirmation and renewal; to support the principles of democracy in education; to construct authentic practical knowledge that makes a difference in the lives of students, parents, and teachers; and to advance the principles of social justice within the school and the community. The book is cutting edge in developing the concept of schools as knowledge democracies, in its comprehensive treatment of action research as a distinct generative paradigm, and in its reconceptualization of research validity.

    Purposes of the Book

    The purposes of the book are to engage and help the reader to

    • Develop an appreciation and understanding of teacher action research as a critical and unique intellectual practice and mode of thinkinga
    • Learn how teacher action research can empower the active and ongoing inclusion of nontraditional voices in the research process—students and parents
    • Focus on understanding the historical, philosophical, and theoretical foundations of action research—to internalize action research as more than a technical “cookbook” approach to conducting inquiry
    • Develop an appreciation and understanding of action research as a paradigm as opposed to a method
    • Develop a different and unique view of validity, a view that encompasses a variety of processes to demonstrate and differentiate the trustworthiness of action research
    • Understand how teachers, parents, and students, through collaborative action research, can create a knowledge base for the improvement of teaching and learning and the construction of a knowledge democracy
    • Learn how the practices of action research are intersecting processes and mental dispositions rather than discrete techniques for conducting a research study
    • Learn how to build a school research culture through collaborative inquiry
    • Understand the role of the professional development school as a generative venue for constructing a knowledge democracy
    • Develop insightful perspectives on the complexities, challenges, and possibilities of action research to change educational practice

    Personal Influences in the Writing of this Book

    I believe that we teach and write who we are. We bring to our work, our actions, and our daily living our worldviews, identity, values, memories, prior experiences, expectations, and attitudes. My ideas and approaches to teaching, doing, and writing action research have been shaped throughout my professional life by many profound experiences participating with school and university colleagues in a variety of collaborative action research studies over a span of 40 years. These experiences have informed my perspectives and thinking about action research and nurtured the ideas and concepts I have brought together in this book, Teacher Action Research: Building Knowledge Democracies.

    Included among the more powerful educational action research experiences I have lived are: a 3-year study at the University of New Hampshire funded by the U.S. Teacher Corps project on using collaborative action research to adapt research findings for the improvement of K-12 teaching and learning; a National Institute for Education study on collaborative action research conducted through the University of New Hampshire and Oakland University; the establishment of the Institute for Action Research and Professional Development funded by the Kellogg Foundation and Oakland University; and the convening of a national invitational conference on collaborative action research supported by Oakland University. Finally, for the past 10 years, I have been involved in facilitating and guiding more than 1,000 teacher research studies among master's degree students in the teacher education program at Boston College.

    Through these experiences, I have learned firsthand the reality of action research. I have seen how it empowers teachers and addresses authentic problems in the classroom. An influential and unique form of professional development, action research improves student learning situations and illuminates teaching practice; it creates change through a process of recursion and generates deeper understandings and insights of teacher and student life in the classroom. I have come to know and experience how teacher knowing is related to adult development, how inseparable are feeling states and thinking states, and how vital are the interconnections between intellectual, affective, and social processes in conducting inquiry and constructing knowledge.

    Then, too, I have learned about the difficulties, complexities, and messiness of doing action research in the turbulent environment of the school. School schedules can change abruptly depending on the weather, a special program, or an unexpected crisis, and events in the community intrude on the rhythms of the school. Unplanned and unexpected events in the school disrupt the best of planning, while personal issues of illness, distress, and conflict affect focus and commitment. New demands on teachers deflect their time and energy, but the fragility of collaborative relationships requires sustained attention, communication, and support. Staff assignments and reassignments alter the energy, timing, and pacing of the inquiry process, and projects and initiatives launched by district administration can put action research studies on the back burner. In addition, high-stakes testing programs can sap teacher attention, energy, and time. Informal and formal power relationships affect the process of collaboration.

    I have also learned of the difficulties inherent in university and school structures and reward systems; these can get in the way of establishing authentic partnerships between schools and universities. As a university faculty member working in a number of different schools, I experienced the cultural clashes between university values and the daily practice in schools. University norms include autonomy and individuality, allocation of time for reflection and research, traditional views and valuation of research, tolerance for ambiguity, faculty control of time and workplace pacing, and rewards for research. In contrast stand the school's norms of efficiency, structured time, daily routines, and “busyness.” Teachers lack control over the pacing, timing, and outcomes in a variety of situations, as they face the constant imperative to ensure that all students are receiving appropriate instruction and are learning and the hovering cloud of high-stakes testing. Despite all its espoused virtues, coordination of university and school resources, I learned, demands an extraordinary investment of time. All of these situations and issues have constituted the ever-changing and challenging terrain in which my experiences in conducting or participating in action research studies have been located.

    Despite the complexities and challenges embedded in doing collaborative action research, my commitment to the process of teacher action research has been deeply affirmed by the impact I have witnessed among more than 1,000 teachers and graduate teacher interns who have participated in conducting classroom action research. Over many years, written commentaries collected from teacher-researchers have indicated that they made instructional and curricular changes in their classrooms. They perceived themselves as changed professionals in terms of their knowledge, skills, and attitudes about classroom inquiry and problem solving and of their knowledge and understanding of education. They shared their work at regional, state, and national conferences. They noted that they were practicing new ways of communicating, sharing, and developing collegiality and that they had significantly increased their ability to identify, analyze, and solve problems in their classrooms and schools. They perceived themselves as empowered, reflective professionals whose opinions were valued and respected and who felt less intimidated and more comfortable in conducting research. Most important, they saw themselves improving student learning in critical ways.


    It is important to note that in addition to the voices of scholars, teacher and student voices are cited and quoted throughout this book. The use of their voices brings the real world of teaching, learning, and education to bear on the practices and ideas discussed here. I also include my own voice to acknowledge who I am as a teacher, writer, and action researcher and to acknowledge that, in all research, subjectivity is invariably present. I encourage my students to own their research by using the personal pronoun I or the collective personal pronoun we to assert their ownership of their research questions and their personal agency in addressing their research problems. I hope using my own voice will model for my students and for the reader that I am not disembodied from the ideas in this book and that I have been attentive to my own subjectivity.

    Use of the Research Literature

    The literature on action research in all its forms is massive and deep. I have drawn from the contemporary literature of action research, with more than 200 references dating from the year 2000, as well as the long, rich, vibrant, and eloquent history of action research. I choose not to be ahistorical but to draw deeply from the historical roots of action research. I hope the reader will resonate to this blend of the contemporary and the historical.

    And finally, throughout this book, I share my personal beliefs and values, which have emanated from 40 years of experience in action research and reflections on that experience. I share these beliefs and values in the hope of stimulating a silent dialogue between me and you, the reader. You may agree or disagree with the ideas developed in this book. Whatever your response, I hope that the book engages your attention, intellect, and thought and that the engagement will advance your professional and personal goals.

    Organization of the Book

    This book is divided into three major parts and 11 chapters:

    Part I: Understanding Action Research focuses on the nature and character of action research, its history and development, and different forms of action research. It addresses questions of validity by reconceptualizing validity and generalizability, and it establishes the uniqueness of action research as a generative paradigm for creating knowledge and changing practice. This section of the book is historical, philosophical, and theoretical and lays the groundwork for developing a deep understanding and fundamental grasp of the nature and character of action research. Without such a fundamental understanding, the implementation of action research in education can become merely a mechanical, instrumental process open to exploitation of students and teachers.

    Chapter 1, “The Disconnection Between Educational Research and Practice: The Case for Teacher Action Research,” discusses the gap between educational research and practice and the need for a different research approach to close the gap. This chapter discusses the complexities of schools and argues for research approaches that recognize the power of context in teaching and learning. It argues that, through action research, contextual variables can be accommodated and the historical gap between educational research and practice can be closed. The chapter concludes that we can build knowledge democracies in which the construction of knowledge is not for a privileged few but engages the expertise of teachers, administrators, parents, and students in the service of democratic problem solving.

    Chapter 2, “Teacher Action Research: Collaborative, Participatory, and Democratic Inquiry,” tells what action research is and how it came about; it describes the intellectual and philosophical influences of postmodernism and feminism, which have shaped its development, as well as different approaches to doing action research in education. Specific instances of how action research has been employed by teachers and administrators are included, along with direct quotes from teachers about the value of doing action research.

    Chapter 3, “A Paradigm of Teacher Action Research,” argues that action research is not a method but rather a different paradigm that embraces many methodologies. I examine how it differs from other major research paradigms. As an evolving paradigm, it reflects epistemological, ontological, and axiological assumptions about knowledge creation, human experience, and human values. To understand action research and its ramifications for the improvement of human well-being, one must thoughtfully consider and reflect on the nature of action research as a paradigm. This chapter is written to help the reader do just that.

    Chapter 4, “The Validity of Action Research,” addresses the critical question of research validity. How truthful is action research? What claims can be made to support its validity as a rigorous research approach? To what extent can the findings of action research be generalized? The chapter addresses these important questions and describes different ways of confirming validity, which represent a significant departure from the more traditional validation procedures of the social sciences. Twelve categories of action research validity are discussed, with 9 or 10 questions in each category; participants in collaborative action research can respond to these questions and use them at any point in the action research process to promote dialogue and to improve and strengthen the research while it is in progress and being implemented on a day-today basis.

    Chapter 5, “Teacher Action Research as Professional Development,” makes the point that action research is more than a process of research. It involves knowledge construction and learning and consequently is a powerful form of professional development. This chapter delineates a continuum of approaches to professional development, ranging from traditional strategies on one end of the continuum to action research on the other end. Using six criteria, the differences in the continuum are explored, and the implications for conceptualizing action research as professional development are discussed. The teacher outcomes of a major study on action research as professional development are shared, and the meaning and consequences of these outcomes for the future of action research as a process of professional development are elaborated.

    Part II: Collaborative Action Research: Foundation for Knowledge Democracies consists of three chapters that establish the philosophical and practical foundations for building a knowledge democracy. This section of the book broadens the concept of collaborative action research to include new partners in the inquiry process—students and parents—and deals with a number of critical issues, such as time, resources, and culture, which need to be confronted if schools are to evolve into knowledge democracies.

    Chapter 6, “Collaborative Action Research,” provides an overview and discussion of the history, development, processes, and characteristics of collaborative action research and its power to liberate teachers to function as constructors of knowledge and agents of change. A critical focus in this chapter is on the school becoming a center for collaborative inquiry. This chapter lays the groundwork for Chapters 7 and 8, which are central to the theme of the book and important in developing the school as a knowledge democracy.

    Chapter 7, “Conditions for Building a Knowledge Democracy,” delineates in detail the necessary conditions for creating a knowledge democracy. It contends that parents and K–12 students must be active participants in conducting research and gives examples of parents and students who have conducted research on a variety of educational issues. The chapter focuses on significant questions dealing with real and practical concerns of finding time to do research, developing relational and systemic trust, learning how to collaborate, and addressing the challenges of collaboration. Examples of K–12 student action research studies and of parents conducting action research are included, along with practical suggestions for helping teachers to find time to do action research in schools and for supporting teacher research as an enduring practice. The chapter also discusses (a) concrete ideas for developing a research culture in schools; (b) working principles of collaboration developed and used by a team of teacher education graduate students; and (c) operational ideas for building personal and systemic trust and for advancing the collaborative action research process.

    Chapter 8, “Creating Knowledge Democracies: Professional Development Schools,” argues that the professional development school (PDS) is an ideal organizational venue where collaborative action research and the democratic construction of knowledge can flourish through an egalitarian research partnership of teachers, parents, students, administrators, university faculty, and teacher interns. The defining characteristics of a PDS, the development of an embedded research culture, the facilitation of collaborative inquiry, and the outcomes of a PDS as a knowledge-creating school are examined.

    Part III: Practicing Action Research deals with the practical aspects of conducting individual or collaborative action research. The goal of Chapters 9, 10, and 11 is to illuminate the practice of the action research process; they should be considered within the context of the preceding chapters on the power of action research to build knowledge democracies. Although practice is the focal point of these chapters, the philosophical and theoretical bases of practice are examined.

    Chapter 9, “Fundamental Practices for Teacher Action Research,” makes the point that reflection, observation, journaling, narrative writing, and critical dialogue are dynamic and interacting processes and should not be considered as technical, isolated, or mechanical tools for carrying out an action research study. Within their theoretical and philosophical contexts, each of these processes is described in detail with concrete suggestions for implementation. The chapter includes concrete steps for becoming more deeply reflective; a four-phase observational/reflective cycle of practice; specific guidelines for journaling and documentation; practical ideas for stimulating writing; and questions that teachers may address to facilitate observation, journal writing, and reflection about teaching and learning in the classroom.

    Chapter 10, “Case Study and Teacher Action Research,” describes case study as an inherent methodology of action research. It explores the theoretical and philosophical assumptions of the case study approach. Different types of case studies are delineated, including three major approaches: appreciative inquiry, cultural inquiry process, and the descriptive review.

    Chapter 11, “Conducting Teacher Action Research,” written with my pedagogical voice, enjoins the reader to consider each step in implementing an action research study as part of the recursive spiraling process that characterizes action research. Each step of the process—framing the research question, conducting the literature review, identifying data sources, collecting and analyzing the data, drawing conclusions, and finding meaning—is described in detail with extensive discussion of all the practical issues affecting the implementation of action research. The chapter is dedicated to providing a practical blueprint for doing collaborative action research; it includes several tables that list teacher, student, classroom, and school variables that classroom teachers and students have identified as affecting the design and outcomes of their action research studies. It also offers exemplary research questions generated by graduate students who have conducted action research studies and a list of data sources that students and classroom teachers have identified as being helpful to them in conducting action research.

    The appendixes consist of (a) a list of annotated teacher action research Web sites and a list of curriculum and instruction Web sites that teachers and students have found to be useful sources for information about ideas and ways for doing action research and (b) examples of complete teacher research studies written by graduate students and experienced classroom teachers.


    I wish to thank Camille Fitzpatrick, my graduate assistant in 2006, and Janice Jackson, faculty colleague, who read the first drafts of this book and provided invaluable feedback regarding the book's organization and content. I am forever indebted to my faculty colleagues at the University of New Hampshire, Oakland University, and Boston College whose ideas and questions over the years have intellectually nourished and challenged my thinking about action research, educational change, and professional development. I also want to thank all the graduate students and teachers with whom I have been privileged to collaborate in conducting teacher action research studies over the past 40 years; their impact on my own growth and learning in teacher action research has been immeasurable. I am grateful for the sustained and thoughtful support I received throughout the publication process from the Sage editorial team. Jacqueline Tasch's copy editing was splendid in her attention to the smallest details and in her caring editorial suggestions. The assistance of Julie McNall, editorial assistant, and Catherine Chilton, production editor, has been very helpful. Finally, I wish to extend my deepest thanks to Steve Wainwright, acquisitions editor, whose enthusiasm, encouragement, and initiative made possible the publication of Teacher Action Research: Building Knowledge Democracies.

    I would also like to thank the following reviewers:

    Jennifer Borek

    University of Memphis

    Miguel A. Guajardo

    Texas State University-San Marcos

    Cathy Mogharreban

    Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

    Sharon L. Gilbert

    Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

    Deborah M. Hill

    Southern Utah University

    Sara S. Garcia

    Santa Clara University

    Helen L. Harrington

    University of Michigan

    Ronald G. Helms

    Wright State University

    George R. Meadows

    University of Mary Washington

    Amy Suzanne Johnson

    University of South Carolina

    Michael L. Slavkin

    University of Southern Indiana

    Ronald S. Beebe

    Cleveland State University

    Penny L. Burge

    Virginia Tech

    Carrie Dale

    Eastern Illinois University

    Lynne Masel Walters

    Texas A&M University

    Ray M. Gen

    Chapman University

    Sylvia Peregrino

    University of Texas–El Paso

    Amanda Haertling Thein

    University of Pittsburgh

    Richard A. Couto

    Antioch University

  • Glossary

    Action research/teacher action research—A process of concurrently inquiring about problems and taking action to solve them. It is a sustained, intentional, recursive, and dynamic process of inquiry in which the teacher takes action—purposefully and ethically in a specific classroom context—to improve teaching and learning. Action research is change research, a nonlinear, recursive, cyclical process of study designed to achieve concrete change in a specific situation, context, or work setting, to improve teaching/learning.

    Aggregate—A group of people who have certain traits or characteristics in common without necessarily having any direct social connection with one another. For example, “all female physicians” is an aggregate; so is “all European cities with populations over 20,000.” Gross National Income is an aggregation of data about individual incomes.

    Applied research—Research undertaken with the intention of applying the results to some specific problem, such as studying the effects of different methods of law enforcement on crime rates. One of the biggest differences between applied and basic research is that in applied work, the research questions are most often determined not by researchers, but by policymakers or others who want help. Types of applied research include evaluation research and action research.

    Autoethnography—An analytical personal account about the self as part of a group or culture; an attempt to see the self as others might; an opportunity to explain differences from the inside and written for others as the major audience.

    Biographical research—A narrative approach to research that is primarily qualitative and includes gathering/using data in the form of diaries, stories, autobiographies, and life histories.

    Classroom/school studies—Teachers’ explorations of practice-based issues using data based on observation, interview, and document collection involving individual or collaborative work.

    Coded data—A way of recording material at data collection, either manually or on computer, for analysis. The data are put into groups or categories, such as age groups, and each category is given a code number. Data are usually coded for convenience, speed, and computer storage space and to permit statistical analysis.

    Collaborative action research—Action research conducted by a team or teams of teacher-researchers. In teams, teachers form communities of reflective practitioners who together engage in cycles of research and action that lead to professional growth, improved teaching practice, and student learning.

    Conceptual research—Theoretical/philosophical work or the analysis of ideas. The focus of conceptual research is essays that deal with teachers’ interpretations of the assumptions and characteristics of classroom and school life and/or the research itself.

    Construct—(a) Something that exists theoretically but is not directly observable. (b) A concept developed (constructed) for describing relations among phenomena or for other research purposes. (c) A theoretical definition in which concepts are defined in terms of other concepts. For example, intelligence cannot be directly observed or measured; it is a construct.

    Constructivism—The belief that humans individually and collectively construct reality. Adherents of this perspective argue that social reality is constructed by those who participate in it. Aspects of the social environment do not have existence apart from the meanings that individuals construct for them. Constructivism emphasizes the need to put analyses in context, presenting the interpretations of many, sometimes competing groups interested in the outcomes of education.

    Constructivist-interpretivist-qualitative paradigm—Analysis of curriculum and instructional programs that attempts to expose the values underlying these phenomena. There is an emphasis on the need to put analyses in context, presenting the interpretations of many, sometimes competing groups interested in the outcomes of education. Human beings are seen as the primary research instruments, rejecting the mathematical modeling of phenomena on which the quantitative paradigm depends.

    Context—The circumstances in which a particular event happens. A combination of circumstances, variables, and conditions that affect an event or action at a given moment.

    Control group—Members of a control group are used as a standard for comparison. For example, a particular study may divide participants into two groups: an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group is given the experimental intervention or program while the control group continues with a standard program or no intervention. At the end of the study, the results of the two groups are compared.

    Controlled variable—See Variable.

    Correlation—The extent to which two or more things are related (“co-related”) to one another. This is usually expressed as a statistical correlation coefficient that documents the strength of the relationship between two variables. A positive correlation occurs when one variable increases at the same time as the other variable increases. A negative correlation occurs when one variable increases at the same time as the other variable decreases.

    Cosmology—A branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of the universe and humanity's place in it. (See also Metaphysics and Ontology.)

    Critical theory—A concern with questions of power, control, and epistemology as social constructions with benefits to some and not to others. Unlike traditional theory, which is oriented to understanding or explaining society or the world, critical theory is oriented to critiquing and changing society. Critical theory posits that the real world, although it exists, cannot be seen by anyone because of biases and values that they possess. Proponents of critical theory view themselves as forces of emancipation engaged with powers of oppression. The goal of inquiry is to empower those who are not in political power to see their oppression so they can transform the world.

    Critical theory-postmodern-praxis paradigm—The values system that is used in scientific inquiry to reflect the political power of some groups over others. Proponents of this paradigm view inquiry as a political act, and they see themselves as forces of emancipation engaged in conflict with powers of oppression. Praxis is the art of acting on the conditions one faces in order to change them. Proponents seek to deconstruct the texts inherent in educational products, programs, and processes and reveal the contradictions and the exclusion of minority interests. Deconstruction is the process of revealing hidden meanings of texts. A dialogical approach to methodology is emphasized to eliminate false consciousness and facilitate transformation.

    Data—Information collected by a researcher. Data is the plural term; datum the singular. Data are often thought of as statistical or quantitative, but they may take many other forms as well, for example, transcripts of interviews or videotapes of social interactions. Nonquantitative data such as transcripts or videotapes are often coded or translated into numbers to make them easier to analyze.

    Database—A collection of data organized for rapid search and retrieval, usually by a computer; often a consolidation of many records previously stored separately.

    Data set—A collection of related data items, such as answers given by respondents to all questions on a survey.

    Deductive reasoning—Works from the general to the more specific. It is a method of inquiry in which a theory is verified or refuted by empirically testing hypotheses deduced from it. In deduction, inferences are drawn in which conclusions about particulars follow from general or universal premises.

    Dependent variable—See Variable.

    Eclectic-mixed methods-pragmatic paradigm—The most recent paradigm to emerge in the postmodernist era. The name refers to its openness in borrowing the methods of the other three paradigms to collect information and to solve complex problems. Within this paradigm, “mixed methods research is formally defined as the class of research where the researcher mixes or combines quantitative and qualitative research techniques, methods, approaches, concepts, or language into a single study” (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004, p. 17). In an age of methodological pluralism, the mixed methods approach is viewed as softening the competition between methodological paradigms. The mixed methods paradigm is deemed to be the paradigm of epistemological and methodological pragmatism most capable of handling the complexity of postmodern society.

    Emancipatory research—Emancipatory research is conducted with people from marginalized groups or communities. It is led by a researcher (or research team) who is either an indigenous or external insider; it is interpreted within intellectual frameworks of that group; and it is conducted largely for the purpose of empowering members of that community and improving services for them. It also engages members of the community as co-constructors or validators of knowledge.

    Emic—The interpretation of data that an “insider,” “native,” or “local person” brings to the table. Exploring the emic perspective offers the researcher an “insider's perspective” or explanation as to what is occurring in the observable society. (See also etic; these are two different perspectives and interpretations of information, and researchers must take both perspectives into account when analyzing human society.)

    Empirical-positivist-quantitative paradigm—The most established of the paradigms, reflecting a belief in a mechanistic, determinist reality whereby parts can be separated from wholes, and cause-and-effect relationships among parts can be determined. Physical and social reality is independent of those who observe it. Observations of this reality, if unbiased, constitute scientific knowledge. The goals of inquiry are the definition, prediction, control, and explanation of physical phenomena as revealed through experience (induction) and experiments (deduction). There is a reliance on measuring variables and analyzing relationships among them with descriptive and inferential statistics. Adherents of this paradigm believe that if something exists, it can be measured.

    Empirical research—Research that is based on observed and measured phenomena and that derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief.

    Epistemology—The study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge; a philosophy of knowledge or of how we come to know. It is the study or theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity, the study of different ways of knowing. Epistemology is concerned with several questions: What is knowledge? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure? What are its limits?

    Ethnography—Originally understood as the descriptive anthropology of technologically primitive people; today, the ways in which people make sense of their social world. Ethnography is usually a long-term study of a group or culture that is based on immersion and participation in the group. It employs multiple methodologies (such as participant observation, interviews, and examination of artifacts and records) to arrive at a theoretically comprehensive understanding of a group or culture.

    Ethnomethodology—The study of the ways in which people make sense of their “immortal ordinary society;” the methods that people use on a daily basis to accomplish their daily lives. The study of methods by which people construct reality and make sense of events in everyday life.

    Etic—The interpretation of data that the “objective and external” researcher comes up with. The etic perspective is usually found in anthropological and analytical studies where there is a need to come up with a comparative or universal claim. (See also emic; these are two different perspectives and interpretations of information, and researchers must take both perspectives into account when analyzing human society.)

    Experiment—A study undertaken in which the researcher has control over some of the conditions in which the study takes place and control over some aspects of the independent variables being studied. Random assignment of the subjects to control and experimental groups is usually thought of as a necessary criterion of a true experiment. For example, if you interviewed moviegoers as they exited a theater to see if what they saw influenced their attitudes, this would not be experimental research; you had no control over who the subjects were or what film they watched or the conditions under which they watched it. On the other hand, if you chose a room, a film, and subjects to assign randomly to control and experimental groups and interviewed these subjects about the effects of the film on their attitudes, that would be an experiment.

    Experimental design—The art of planning and executing experiments. The greatest strength of an experimental research design, due largely to random assignment, is its internal validity: One can be more certain than with any other design about attributing cause to the independent variables. The greatest weakness of experimental designs may be external validity: It may be hard to generalize results beyond the laboratory.

    Experimental group—A group receiving some treatment in an experiment. Data collected about people in the experimental group are compared with data about people in a control group (who received no treatment) and/or another experimental group (who received a different treatment).

    Experimental research—Activities in which (a) two (sometimes more) conditions are compared to assess the effects of a particular treatment (the independent variable) and (b) the independent variable (i.e., the treatment) is directly manipulated by the researcher. There are two types of experiments: In true experiments, the subjects are always randomly assigned, and the researchers control the administration of the treatments. In quasi-experiments, random assignment of subjects is not possible. Intact groups are compared. The researchers control the administration of the treatments.

    External validity—See Validity.

    Extraneous variable—See Variable.

    Factor—(a) In analysis of variance, an independent variable, that is, a variable presumed to cause or influence another variable; (b) in factor analysis, a cluster of related variables that are distinguishable components of a larger set of variables; (c) a number by which another number is multiplied, as in the statement: real estate values increased by a factor of three, meaning they tripled.

    Feminism—An intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. Feminist inquiry provides a wide range of perspectives on social, cultural, and political phenomena. Important issues for feminist theory and inquiry include the body, class and work, disabilities, human rights, popular culture, the family, race and racism, the self, science, and sexuality.

    First-person research—Research in which the individual focuses on becoming aware of the self and the individual's impact on the world while taking action. In first-person research, the teacher-researcher attends to such questions as Who am I? What is important and meaningful to me? What values, ideologies, worldviews, and assumptions do I bring to the process of inquiry? First-person approaches include autobiographical writing, journal writing, narratives, and reflection on audio and videotapes of one's behavior. (See also Second-person research; Third-person research.)

    Focus groups—Open-ended, discursive groups, which are used to gain a deeper understanding of respondents’ attitudes and opinions. Focus groups typically involve between 6 and 10 people, and their sessions last for 1 to 2 hours. A key feature is that participants are able to interact with, and react to, each other. To facilitate this group dynamic, it is important to ensure that participants do not know each other beforehand and that they are broadly compatible.

    Generalizability—The extent to which you can come to conclusions about one thing (often a population) based on information about another (often a sample).

    Independent variable—See Variable.

    Inductive reasoning—The process of drawing generalized conclusions from particular instances; a process of moving from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories. It is the process by which the truth of a proposition is made more probable by the accumulation of confirming evidence, a common pattern in sociological and scientific research.

    Inquiry as stance—An orientation to the construction of knowledge and its relationship to practice. With this stance, the work of teachers in generating local knowledge through inquiry communities is considered social and political, “making problematic the current arrangements of schooling, the ways knowledge is constructed, evaluated, and used, and teachers’ individual and collective roles in bringing about change” (Cochran-Smith, 2002, p. 15). Inquiry as stance positions teachers to link their inquiry to larger questions about the ends of teacher learning in school reform and to larger social, political, and intellectual movements, emphasizing that teacher learning needs to be understood as a long-term collective project with a democratic agenda.

    Internal validity—See Validity.

    Interpretive research—Work based on the idea that investigations should be searches for meaning rather than experimental science in search of laws. The criteria or assumptions of this kind of research are: Attention is paid to interaction between people and environments; teaching and learning are continuously interactive; classroom contexts are nested within other contexts; and unobservable processes like thoughts and attitudes are important sources of data. This research is interested in causal relationships and addresses the immediate and local meanings of actions. In addition, it addresses the inferences made by the researcher. Finally, it is concerned with why things happen and not just with what occurs.

    Journals—Teachers’ written accounts of classroom life over time, including records of observations, analyses of experiences, and reflections and interpretations of practice.

    Knowledge democracy—A school or educational organization characterized by collaborative, participatory, and democratic relationships between and among teachers, university faculty, students, and parents, who together build communities of inquiry that promote the democratization of the knowledge-building process. In a knowledge democracy, a transformational knowledge infrastructure characterized by systemic and relational trust evolves over time to support and facilitate the engagement of teachers, parents, and students in all aspects of the inquiry process. A culture of collaborative inquiry emerges and becomes embedded in the school.

    Longitudinal research—Any method of data gathering (observation, survey, experiment, etc.) in which the process is repeated on several occasions over a period of time, as far as possible replicating the chosen methodology each time. It follows that a key aim of such research is to monitor changes over time.

    Mean—The arithmetic average of a set of data in which the values of all observations are added together and divided by the number of observations.

    Median—The outcome that divides an ordered distribution exactly into halves.

    Meta-analysis—A collection of systematic techniques for resolving apparent contradictions in research findings. Meta-analysts translate results from different studies to a common metric and statistically explore relations between study characteristics and findings. Meta-analysis typically follows the same steps as primary research. The meta-analyst first defines the review's purpose. Organizing frameworks can be practical or theoretical questions of varying scope, but they must be clear enough to guide study selection and data collection. Second, sample selection consists of applying specified procedures for locating studies that meet specified criteria for inclusion. Typically, meta-analyses are comprehensive reviews of the full population of relevant studies. Third, data are collected from studies in two ways. Study features are coded according to the objectives of the review and as checks on threats to validity. Study outcomes are transformed to a common metric so that they can be compared. A typical metric in educational research is the effect size, the standardized difference between treatment and control group means. Finally, statistical procedures are used to investigate relations among study characteristics and findings.

    Metaphysics—A branch of philosophy concerned with ideas and theories regarding what kinds of beings are real, the nature of those beings, and concepts and language used to think about these beings. Metaphysics refers to broad theories of reality and to broad issues regarding the nature of reality. Metaphysics includes ontology, cosmology, and sometimes epistemology. (See also Cosmology and Ontology.)

    Mixed/multiple methods—Research that uses a variety of methods. This requires an openness in borrowing a variety of methods to collect data and solve problems. However, the methods chosen must fit appropriately with the research being conducted. Mixed methods researchers might employ surveys, videos, interviews, qualitative and quantitative data, process-product approaches, censuses, laboratory experiments, observation, description, case studies, interpretation, and any variety of combinations.

    Mode—The most frequent score or number in a set of data or test scores.

    Modernism—A school of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create and improve and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology, and practical experimentation. The movement emerged at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and argued that the new realities of the industrial and mechanized age were permanent and imminent and that people should adapt their worldview to accept that the new was equal to the good, the true, and the beautiful.

    Multivariate analysis—Any of several methods for examining multiple variables at the same time. Usage varies: (a) Stricter usage reserves the term for designs with two or more independent variables and two or more dependent variables; (b) more loosely, multivariate analysis applies to designs with more than one independent variable or more than one dependent variable or both. Whichever usage is preferred, either allows researchers to examine the relation between two variables while simultaneously controlling for the influence of other variables.

    Mutually exclusive—A term used to describe two events, conditions, or variables that cannot occur at the same time. For example, one cannot be both male and female, or both Protestant and Catholic. Thus, the categories male and female or Catholic and Protestant are said to be mutually exclusive.

    Negative correlation—See Correlation.

    Normative—Relating to norms or standards. Normative is used, in educational research, to refer to traditionally or commonly accepted criteria.

    Observation—A method of gathering information by watching a situation. In nonparticipant observation, the researcher attempts to remove or detach him/herself as an actor from the research situation. In participant observation, the researcher is something of an insider, someone who is involved in the processes being observed.

    Ontology—A branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of reality or with being. It raises questions about the nature of reality, and it refers to the claims or assumptions that a particular approach to social inquiry makes about the nature of social reality, that is, about what exists, what it looks like, what units make it up, how they interact with each other, and what counts as evidence. (See also Cosmology and Metaphysics.)

    Open-ended questions—A style of questioning in which the answer is left entirely to the respondent, either by providing a blank space on the questionnaire for recording the reply or by phrasing an interview question in such a way as to elicit a longer answer. This approach is used when there is no way of knowing what answers the respondents are likely to give, or if you want quotable responses. Often, such questions are used in pilot studies to develop a pre-coded version for the main study.

    Oral inquiries—Teachers’ oral examinations of classroom/social issues, contexts, texts, and experiences including collaborative analyses and interpretations and explorations between cases and theories.

    Paradigm—A “taken for granted” conceptual framework that offers a way of seeing, framing, and making sense of the world. Paradigms provide an overarching conceptual view as well as a social and cultural framework for doing research; they shape how we understand ourselves, determine what counts as valuable and legitimate scientific knowledge, define the experiences that can legitimately lead to knowledge, and establish the kinds of knowledge that are produced.

    Participatory action research—A social participatory process that engages participants in the study of reality in order to change it. It assumes that ideology, epistemology, knowledge, and power are bound up together. It is a collective critical process in which participants deliberately contest and reconstitute unproductive, unjust, and alienating ways of interpreting and describing their ways of working and ways of relating with others. It seeks to emancipate people from the constraints of irrational, unproductive, unjust, and unsatisfying social structures that limit their self-development and self-determination.

    Pilot study—A trial that is done both to examine the effectiveness of various aspects of the proposed research, such as procedures for data gathering, and to aid the completion of detailed project plans.

    Population—A group of people that researchers want to describe or about which they want to generalize. To generalize about a population, one often studies a sample that is meant to be representative of the population. Also called universe.

    Positive correlation—See Correlation.

    Positivism—A doctrine in the philosophy of science, positivism is characterized mainly by an insistence that science can deal only with observable entities known directly to experience. The world is seen as a single reality existing independently of the observer, which can be known and understood only by an objective and uninvolved researcher in a situation in which all variables can be controlled and manipulated to determine causation. In positivism, the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge. The positivist aims to construct general laws, or theories, that express relationships between phenomena. Observation and experiment will then show whether the phenomena do or do not fit the theory; explanation of phenomena consists in showing that they are instances of the general laws or regularities.

    Postmodernism—Most generally, abandonment of confidence in the achievement of objective human knowledge through reliance on reason in pursuit of foundationalism, essentialism, and realism. It refers to an intellectual state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodies extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, and interconnectedness. In philosophy, postmodernists typically express grave doubt about the possibility of universal objective truth, reject artificially sharp dichotomies, and delight in the inherent irony and particularity of language and life.

    Postpositivism—Like positivism, a perspective that seeks universal laws and theories. Unlike positivism, however, postpositivism suggests that we can know these truths only imperfectly. Human knowledge is conjectural. To gather as much information as possible toward the goal of objectivity, multiple methods are recommended.

    Poststructuralism—Like structuralism, a perspective that recognizes that individual meanings are subservient to their contexts. A word, for example, has meaning only relative to other words and to the structure of the language in general. This makes the structure or context the unit of study rather than the individual. Although poststructuralism retains this belief, it is critical of the structuralist view that these structures are fixed. Adherents of this view believe that structures and meanings are not universal. Moreover, they suggest that there is no way to objectively view the situation.

    Praxis—The practical application of a branch of learning; the conversion of theory into action. In education research, praxis is used to denote research that connects the research process to action or research that sparks action and change.

    Pre-coded questions—Questions that have a list of answers from which respondents choose. This method facilitates analysis and improves control of the interview process. In a self-completion questionnaire, the respondent chooses the option or options. In an interview, the options are either read out or shown to the respondent, who then chooses. In this type of question, care must be taken that the options are exclusive and exhaustive. The category “Other” is often added in case the list is not complete, but keep in mind that if there are possible answers that are not on your list, bias can ensue.

    Qualitative research—A method that examines people's words or actions in narrative or descriptive ways more closely representing the experiences of the people involved. It focuses on understandings and meanings; and it takes seriously lay accounts and concepts. Qualitative research developed to account for the importance of context in education. Unlike quantitative research, which seeks to generalize about educational practices and their effects, qualitative research seeks to examine the particulars of a given setting. Qualitative research tends to be a residual category for almost any kind of nonquantitative research.

    Quantitative research—Research or variables that can be handled numerically. It is usually contrasted with qualitative variables and research and is concerned with measurement. Quantitative research uses control groups and is typically not focused on describing the context, but rather measuring data within a context (like test scores).

    Quasi-experimental research—A type of research design for conducting studies in field or real-life situations where the researcher may be able to manipulate some independent variables but cannot randomly assign subjects to control and experimental groups. The procedures of quasi-experimentation were developed mainly in the context of evaluation research projects. For example, you cannot cut off someone's unemployment benefits to see how well he or she could get along without them or to see whether an alternative job-training program would be more effective for some unemployed people. You could, however, try to find volunteers for the new program. You could compare the results for the volunteer group (experimental group) with those of people in the regular program (control group). The study is quasi-experimental because you were unable to assign subjects at random to treatment and control groups. (See also Experimental research.)

    Questionnaire—A group of written questions to which subjects respond. Some restrict the use of the term questionnaire to written responses. In action research, the questions often change as the teacher-researcher proceeds recursively through the action research spiral of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting.

    Recursion—A basic action research process, which implies that there are no fixed conclusions but rather continuing, infinite revision. Questions change and shift from the very beginning of an action research study through a cyclical process of data discussion and analysis. The approach develops and redevelops the research questions by submitting their parameters to a process of redefinition that takes into consideration whatever new data and contexts have accumulated. The data, the generalizations, and the research questions are resubmitted along with other new and emerging data to develop tentative findings and conclusions.

    Reliability—The consistency or stability of a measure or test from one use to the next. When repeated measurements of the same thing give identical or very similar results, the measure is said to be reliable. In quantitative research, reliability is concerned with measurement error. A measure must have reliability if it is to have any validity; if the dependent variable contains nothing but measurement error, then the reliability coefficient will be zero. The reliability coefficient describes the degree to which scores on a measure represent something other than measurement error. In qualitative research, reliability is the extent to which what has been recorded is what actually occurred. It is enhanced by detailed field notes; researchers’ accuracy; the review of field notes by participants; use of tape recorders, photographs, or videotapes; use of participant quotations and literal descriptions; and an active search for discrepant data.

    Replicability/replication—The process of repeating a study undertaken by someone else, in the sense of using the same methodology. Commonly the location and research subjects will be different, although sometimes studies return to the same group of subjects after a period of time has passed, for example, in child development studies. A good research report always includes enough information on the methods used to enable someone else to carry out a replication.

    Research design—The science and art of planning procedures for conducting studies so as to get the most valid findings; called design for short. aWhen designing a research study, researchers draw up a set of instructions for gathering evidence and for interpreting it.

    Sample—A group of subjects selected from a larger group in the hope that studying this smaller group (the sample) will reveal important things about the larger group.

    Sampling—The process by which the total number of possible respondents for a research project (the research population) is reduced to a number which is practically feasible and theoretically acceptable (the sample). In nonrandom sampling, the principle of randomness has not been maintained in the selection of a sample. Often, such work involves structured sampling, whereby the sample group is carefully matched to the overall population on key variables. Nonrandom sampling is often convenient or the only approach possible in the circumstances. In random sampling, the goal is to combine chance (that everyone in the frame has the same chance of being chosen) with balance (that the chosen sample will be an accurate microcosm of the research population as a whole).

    Sampling frame—A report that includes all of those from the research population who genuinely can become respondents, if they are willing.

    Scale—A group of related measures of a variable. The items in a scale are arranged in some order of intensity or importance. A scale differs from an index in that the items in an index need not be in a particular order, and each item usually has the same weight or importance.

    Schoolwide action research—An action research approach that seeks to improve the school as a problem-solving entity, to improve equity for students, and to involve the entire school community in the process of inquiry, thereby creating a knowledge democracy. It is a process of conducting inquiry about the school to improve teaching and learning and to make the school a self-renewing organization permeated by inquiry.

    Second-person research—Cooperative research in which individuals inquire face to face with others into issues of mutual concern, in small groups. In a typical cooperative inquiry group, 6 to 20 people work together as coresearchers and cosubjects, conducting research in cycles of action and reflection to address a problem of mutual concern. (See also First-person research and Third-person research.)

    Self-study research—A form of action research or teacher research that focuses inwardly on teacher education and, in some instances, professional development in a comprehensive way of leaving no area of teacher education sacrosanct from inquiry.

    Social justice—The belief that every individual and group is entitled to fair and equal rights and participation in social, educational, political, and economic opportunities. Adherents of this belief usually develop an agenda for increasing understanding of oppression and inequality and taking action to overcome them.

    Standard variable—See Variable.

    Survey—A research design in which a sample of subjects is drawn from a population and studied (usually interviewed) to make inferences about the population. This design is often contrasted with the true experiment, in which subjects are randomly assigned to conditions or treatments.

    Teacher action research—See Action research.

    Textual analysis—Analysis of secondary source data also used in qualitative research. It involves working on a text in depth, looking for keywords and concepts and making links between them. The term also extends to literature reviewing. Increasingly, much textual analysis is done using computer programs.

    Third-person research—A research process that draws together the views of large groups of people and creates a wider community of inquiry involving people who cannot always be known to each other face to face. Small inquiry groups are networked into wider communities of organizational, regional, and national action research systems. An example is the National Writing Project, which emerged from the Bay Area Writing Project. (See also First-person research and Second-person research.)

    Treatment—What researchers do to the subjects in the experimental group but not to those in the control group. A treatment is thus an independent variable.

    True experiments—See Experimental research.

    Validity—A term to describe a measurement instrument or test that measures what it is supposed to measure; the extent to which a measure is free of systematic error. For example, a bathroom scale provides a reliable measure of weight but cannot give a valid measure of height. External validity is the extent to which the findings of a study are relevant to subjects and settings beyond those in the study; it is another term for generalizability. Internal validity is the extent to which the results of a study (usually an experiment) can be attributed to the treatments rather than a flaw in the research design; in other words, the degree to which one can draw valid conclusions about the causal effects of one variable on another.

    Variable—Any factor that may be relevant to a research study. In a survey, for example, you may choose to analyze data by the age and gender of respondents. Age and gender are variables. Researchers use controlled variables to allow the research to focus on specific variables without being distorted by the impact of the excluded variables. A common way to control a variable is to be selective; for example, gender is controlled by selecting as respondents only men or only women; age can be partially controlled by restricting a sample to one age range, rather than any age. In a research project that seeks to establish cause and effect between variables (most likely in an experimental or quasi-experimental project), the potential causal variable is known as the independent variable, and the variable(s) where effects are under scrutiny is the dependent variable, or is affected by the independent variable. The independent variable is the presumed cause, and it can be used to predict the values of another variable. Some authors use the term independent variable for experimental research only; for no experimental research, they use predictor variable. When an experiment is seeking to monitor the impact of one variable on another (like counseling on stress level), attention has to be paid to other variables that could have an impact (that is, other factors which could affect a person's stress level). These are called extraneous variables. In social science research, especially in survey analysis, a range of variables is usually considered standard variables or “key variables” in the sense that some analysis is undertaken in relation to each of them. The list will change according to the specific research project, but it may well include such items as age, gender, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, employment, family background, and housing.

    Variance—A measure of the spread of scores in a distribution of scores, that is, a measure of dispersion. The larger the variance, the further the individual cases are from the mean. The smaller the variance, the closer the individual scores are to the mean.

    Appendix A: Examples of Teacher Action Research Projects

    Example 1: From Reading Recovery to Guided Reading

    What happens to the reading levels of some of my second-grade students when I adapt the guided reading process to support the skills they developed in their first-grade Reading Recovery program?

    MarieA.LennonTitle I Reading Teacher, Boston Public Schools, Boston, Massachusetts


    Students who participate in a Reading Recovery Program in Grade 1 are identified as “at risk” students. My question seeks to understand what happens to the reading levels of these students as they enter Grade 2 when I adapt the guided reading process to support the skills they developed in their first-grade Reading Recovery program. Specifically, the adaptation consisted of introducing a think-aloud strategy to help three students develop their decoding strategies. The instructional technique of think-alouds is a research-based strategy that requires teachers to verbalize their cognitive processes as they interact with a text, making visible the active thinking process of an expert reader. Think-alouds “talk” about using alternative strategies to comprehend a text with the goal that this “self-talk” is eventually internalized by the student. The think-alouds in this study focused on five decoding strategies, with students self-assessing their usage during 10 intervention sessions over a 2-month period. Four diverse indicators wereanalyzed to measure pupil progress: reading level, strategy use, attitude, and engagement. Although each student exited on improved reading levels (one, two, and three levels, respectively) and recorded varying strategy usage and different attitudes about their improved ability to read, there was a marked consistency observed about the level of engagement. The think-aloud intervention jump-started each student to become an active reader when encountering a word that he or she could not read, requiring full engagement. Self-assessment of strategy use was an enjoyable activity and encouraged metacognitive development as students gained awareness of their own cognitive processes. While the research highlighted a connection between think-aloud strategy use and reading-level gains, it was difficult to account for the marked difference in home literacy environments and its impact on reading levels.

    I am passionately interested in understanding how to help students with reading difficulties. Despite differences in educational needs and economic backgrounds, I believe that every child has the right and the ability to become literate. Becoming literate enables children to take advantage of educational opportunities, and this ultimately provides upward mobility. Growing up, I was a voracious reader and experienced the positive benefits this had on my success in school performance.

    This semester, I observed three students in Grade 2 who completed the 20 weeks of a Reading Recovery (RR) program in Grade 1 at Cathedral Grammar School (CGS), an inner-city Catholic school in Boston. RR is an early intervention literacy program designed to close the gap between the lowest performing first-grade students and their average peers. It is estimated that one out of every five schools in the United States has a first-grade RR program. RR teachers deliver one-on-one literacy lessons with the goals of closing the gap for these at-risk students, reducing the need for longer term literacy support, and increasing educational opportunities for many of these students (Schwartz, 2005). But I wonder, what happens after this support is gone? Do the RR skills learned have sustainability? Although several longitudinal studies have found that former RR students have been successful in sustaining literacy progress with their peers (Cox & Hopkins, 2006), I am concerned if these students will, in fact, “make it” and continue their reading progress in Grade 2.

    On the surface, these students demonstrated similar warning behaviors in the classroom. They rarely participated in choral reading, rarely volunteered to read a short sentence to the class, stumbled over short math word problems, and overall were timid and passive in the full classroom setting. Were they worried? Do they like to read but are embarrassed about their fluency? Did they lose skills over the summer? Do they read at home? Even in their small guided reading group, I observed them waiting for help if they did not know a word and listening passively to the other students as they made comments and connections to the text. Overall, I worried that they were losing confidence. My research question was directed to get at the heart of how to differentiate instruction to have a positive impact on their reading skills so that they did not lose ground but in fact made gains in their reading levels. Briefly, my proposed intervention introduced a teacher-directed think-aloud process during guided reading to assist the students in developing and internalizing decoding strategies.

    I strongly desire to be a teacher who is supportive and encouraging to students struggling with the reading process. Each child is unique and needs to be “raised up” and to perceive that he or she possesses talents and gifts that we respect. Sometimes, that is all students need to spur them on. This question afforded me both the opportunity to strive to become this kind of teacher and to have a positive impact on pupil learning.


    My research question is compelling to me as a future teacher and researcher because the guided reading process is such an important component of the reading program at CGS. In addition, Opitz and Ford (2001) state that guided reading (defined as planned, focused, and teacher-led instruction in a small-group setting with the goal of helping children construct meaning) is implemented by numerous classroom teachers all across the United States.

    CGS is part of a Literacy Collaborative (Lesley University) and subscribes to leveled readers being used during the guided reading process three to four times per week. I was curious about how teachers at this school effectively bridge the gap between one-on-one RR instruction (Grade 1) and the small group setting (Grade 2). Did the second-grade classroom teacher employ different strategies during the guided reading process for RR students to ensure their long-term success in becoming independent readers? Sometimes, guided reading can take on a formulaic (almost passive) stance, in contrast to what I think these RR students need: active engagement in the process. I was concerned that following a strict guided reading format would not be enough of a scaffold for these students on their journey from reading recovery to independent reader. Looking deeply into this question could shed light on many facets of working with at-risk readers. Important to the field of research would be understanding RR students’ learning during guided reading in some of the following areas:

    • What specific decoding and comprehension strategies positively impact reading for meaning?
    • Does the order in which the strategies are introduced impact comprehension, and if so, how?
    • What specific type of teacher-directed questions activate thinking, increase students’ interactions, and improve comprehension?
    • What types of teacher modeling (e.g., think-alouds) increase decoding abilities and consequently comprehension?
    • How/when do RR students become metacognitive about their reading?

    Because so many U.S. resources have been dedicated to the early intervention RR program, a deeper understanding of how to continue the literacy learning of these at-risk students would be both beneficial to the student (pupil learning) and valuable for all teachers.


    The setting in which I am teaching is in some respects very different from what I experienced as a child. CGS is an inner-city school; its student body is a diverse, multicultural mix of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, with most students coming from a low socioeconomic background. Fewer than half of the students are Catholic, and there is one white child in the entire student body of 200. (Aside: I grew up in a middle-class home and attended a Catholic grammar school in Boston in the 1970s, where most children were white and Catholic.) Although the student population is different from my childhood experience, there are aspects of this environment that remind me of my school days. Both schools value spiritual growth as well as academic growth, with an underlying sense of the importance of caring for one another—a strong scaffold for supporting social justice. The following mission statement of CGS reflects its sensitivity to the social context of education and its focus on promoting each child's social progress.

    Cathedral Grammar School educates and nurtures the whole child. As a multicultural Catholic school, we instill values to promote each child's spiritual and social progress.

    As a white teacher in a nonwhite school, I currently feel deficient in understanding the cultural backgrounds of all 28 students in Grade 2. These children are special and have rich cultural heritages that I respect and desire to learn more about. There are many bilingual students in my class, and their languages range from Spanish to Igbo (Nigerian dialect) to French Creole. Being sensitive to cultural differences and differentiating instruction for English language learners (ELLs) is always at the forefront of my thinking when planning curriculum. On many occasions, I have consulted my notes from ED 346: Teaching Bilingual Students for sheltered instruction techniques. Representative of this highly diverse classroom are the three students I worked closely with this semester: Chism, Jasmine, and Ralph.


    Chism is a quiet, intense child from a very strict Nigerian family. Chism tries very hard in all of her academic work, yet never makes a peep in class. She writes in her weekend journal that she loves school because it is “cool, fun, and great,” but you would never know she feels this way. She cries silently at her desk when she cannot figure out a math problem or how to answer a question. She told me she “likes to read” and engages me whenever I stop by her desk. One on one, she smiles and talks nonstop. However, in a reading survey, she indicated that she feels sad when she reads aloud at home, and she believes both her family and teachers are unhappy with her reading abilities.

    Chism's first-grade Terra Nova (a national standardized achievement test) scores at the end of Grade 1 placed her in the bottom third percentile in the nation for reading, vocabulary, and language. Chism made the most progress in the RR cohort, exiting as a Level G reader, which is the midway point in Grade 1.


    Jasmine is an ELL whose mother speaks Spanish only but whose father is bilingual. Both kindergarten and first-grade teachers felt her oral language was delayed, and she isolated herself in the classroom. This year, she is more of a participant in the classroom and has forged several friendships with girls in the classroom. Both parents are involved in Jasmine's progress, and I was able to participate in Jasmine's core evaluation at a nearby public school in September. Jasmine presented with no learning disabilities. Given this, Jasmine's father feels responsible for her lack of literacy skills—blaming himself for not reading to her at home. He works at night and goes to school during the day. Jasmine is currently listening to books on tape at home (tape recorder and books provided by CGS). Jasmine's personality can be sullen, and she often complains about how her parents have no money.

    In her reading survey, Jasmine described herself as someone who likes to read, and she believes that both her teachers and parents are happy with her reading abilities. She exited the RR program as a Level E reader, less than the midway point in Grade 1. Her Terra Nova scores from Grade 1 indicate a Grade 2 equivalent in both reading and language skills.


    Ralph is an ELL whose family speaks Spanish at home. Ralph has a happy personality and engaging smile; he desperately wants to please his teachers. He is an easy-going child who interacts well with all students and teachers. He is currently making very slow academic progress in the classroom in all subject areas. Ralph receives little homework support at home. Both parents work, and little time is available for literacy work. Although parent communication has been requested, the family has not contacted the school. Many times, Ralph is left at school without a ride home because it was unclear who had responsibility to pick him up.

    In his self-assessment as a reader in September, Ralph indicated that he is happy about how well he can read. His Terra Nova scores at the end of Grade 1 indicate a kindergarten level equivalent in vocabulary. Ralph did make progress in RR last year, exiting on Level E, the same level as Jasmine. The annual RR report (June ‘06) indicated that Ralph's progress should be closely monitored in Grade 2.

    Coming from a background where my parents made significant financial sacrifices to send me to Catholic schools and supported me in all aspects of school life (including homework), I struggle to understand the complexities of these students’ home environments. Because home literacy is strongly correlated with children's literacy development (Dickinson & Tabors, 2002), I sometimes do not understand the choices some parents may make that impact their children; I wish things were different. These are biases grounded in my own experiences and culture, and I strive to be nonjudgmental. I realize that many parents of CGS students make choices for their children based on their economic situation, own educational upbringing, and cultural beliefs. For example, Ralph's parents do not appear available for homework assistance, read-alouds, and, in some cases, basic physical needs (he often comes to school without a coat). Jasmine's parents are ELLs with developing oral language skills themselves. Her father is learning how to speak and read English but not her mother. Finally, Chism has been forbidden to participate in class field trips (even if the cost is paid by the school), where she might have access to stimulating out-of-school experiences with adult-assisted exploration providing important world knowledge helpful in processing texts. Given my knowledge of the students’ home life and my own interpretations, I did not let this negatively influence my interactions with the students in the classroom but instead used it as an opportunity to scaffold learning through my intervention.

    The Research Question Connects to Boston College Themes

    This research project promoted social justice as it met the needs of diverse learners. I worked with students from a low socioeconomic background and three distinct cultures, all of whom had been identified as “at-risk” in the area of reading. The think-aloud intervention differentiated instruction during the guided reading process with the goal of expanding the students’ decoding strategies and ultimately raising their reading levels through increased comprehension. With an improvement in reading level, they will be able to more fully participate in all classroom literacy activities and begin the path of becoming lifelong readers. Their improved ability to read will have positive benefits on their academic performance and ultimately in society where the ability to understand what they read has never been so pronounced as with the increased communication abilities of the Internet.

    No progress would have been made in this action research project without the collaboration of my cooperating teacher, Primary Literacy Coordinator, and RR teacher at CGS, Professor Gerald Pine, and the other student-teachers in my triad.

    For example, the Primary Literacy Coordinator spent precious upfront planning time with me translating my proposed intervention from research to practical application. We created an observation checklist, a “think-aloud” script with tangible strategic tools for the students, a self-assessment activity for the students, and a method for collecting student data during the intervention. The RR teacher gave me a tutorial on the RR process and allowed me to observe her with this year's RR students so that I would more fully understand my students’ background knowledge in this area. Dr. Pine was instrumental in refining my question until it reflected what I desired to research, and my classmates offered ideas and support in each phase. I am fortunate to be working with professionals who are both dedicated to children and willing to reflect on new practices.

    By critically reflecting on how to adapt the guided reading process for my at-risk second-graders, I was able to bridge the gap between the research I gathered on RR, guided reading, and think-alouds with the reality of my second-grade classroom. This microcosm, albeit small, became an important site for teacher research. Because I was able to gain experience implementing the think-aloud process and observed how it could be beneficial, I plan on adding this strategy to my arsenal of tools when planning an effective reading curriculum.

    Through the interaction of my three students, collaborating professionals, insights from my literature review, and the background knowledge gained from my coursework at Boston College (especially as it pertained to ELLs), I was able to construct new knowledge to have a positive impact on the decoding abilities of former RR students. Because I wish to continue working in an inner-city classroom helping at-risk readers in innovative ways, this project can serve as a building block for my future action research.

    Literature Review

    The instructional technique of think-alouds is a research-based teaching strategy requiring the teacher to talk aloud to students as they interact with the task at hand, helping students “see” the process or strategy (Fuhler, Farris, & Nelson, 2006). When used in the reading process, the “talk” consists of statements describing what the teacher is thinking as she is reading, verbalizing her own cognitive processes (e.g., use of decoding and comprehension strategies) to make meaning from a text (Block & Israel, 2004). What makes think-alouds different from a teacher purely giving directions is that think-alouds “demonstrate how to select an appropriate comprehension process at a specific point in a particular text. They explain how expert readers elicit comprehension processes selectively and collectively” (Block, Rodgers, & Johnson, 2004, p. 22).

    Without giving the think-aloud strategy a name, students have communicated a need for this kind of assistance. Block et al. (2004) references a study of 139 second- and third-graders who were asked what teachers could do to help them with the reading comprehension process. The student responses overwhelmingly cited the need for improved explanations and specifically a desire for the teacher to explain everything they did in their minds to comprehend better. Wilhelm (2001) delights in sharing one of his struggling reader's reactions after being exposed to this technique. “Why didn't you tell me this before? If I had known what to do, I would have done it! Is it supposed to be a big secret or something?” (p. 28).

    The think-aloud technique is also two-sided. After the teacher explains his or her thinking, students are asked to verbalize their own thoughts and strategies as they read. Oster (2001) states that this metacognitive awareness is crucial to learning because readers must be able to self-assess their own comprehension and adjust strategies accordingly to become expert readers. This exchange also informs the teacher of the reader's strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, this real-time assessment informs subsequent instruction and potentially different think-alouds.

    Walker (2005) focuses on why think-alouds are especially important to struggling readers (the focus of my research question). She makes the case that many struggling readers are passive; they sit back and rarely respond when questioned about what they are reading. Perhaps they do not know how to think about arriving at an answer. Struggling readers need more than just a model; they need a verbal demonstration of a concrete structure that they can consistently follow when challenged by a text. Many give up when they try one strategy and it does not work. The active thinking process of an expert reader needs to be visible to the struggling reader. Think-alouds “talk” about using alternative strategies with the goal being that this “self-talk” is eventually internalized by the student. Walker (2005) adds a crucial step to the think-aloud process that turns the passive reader into an active participant. This last step is for the students to self-evaluate themselves regarding strategy use with the help of the teacher. Walker found that self-evaluation improved strategy use, increased engagement, and promoted positive self-efficacy.

    Think-aloud techniques can be used throughout different points of the reading comprehension spectrum (e.g., before, during, and after reading). Block and Israel (2004) developed 12 different types of think-alouds with instructional lessons. (Note: the think-aloud intervention used in this project focused on decoding, a universal need identified for the three second-grade students.) They described several decoding strategies under the title: “Determine Word Meanings Think-Alouds” (p. 161). Although each decoding strategy (e.g., context clues, sight words) is to be delivered separately when reading aloud a text, it is imperative to demonstrate how several of these decoding strategies might be needed to unlock the meaning of a new word.

    Table A.1 The Essential Elements of Guided Reading: Teacher's Role

    Finally, the impact on pupil learning as a result of delivering effective think-alouds has been positive. Oster (2001) references several studies that show higher comprehension scores for students who verbalize their thoughts while reading. Block et al. (2004) describes a recent study of 1,200 students from kindergarten through fifth grade in the southwestern United States who participated in multiple think-alouds and accompanying instructional activities. These students experienced increased scores on standardized tests in the areas of reading vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.


    My intervention was to introduce a “think-aloud” process before, during, and after the guided reading process. CGS adheres to the guided reading process described by Fountas and Pinnell (1996) below. The italicized text in Table A.1 highlights the modifications I made to the teacher's role during the guided reading process.

    I collaborated with the Primary Literacy Coordinator in developing a think-aloud intervention for this particular group of learners. She suggested that the language I use to “think aloud” should be consistent with the language that the students were exposed to during Reading Recovery. The Primary Literacy Coordinator offered that they were exposed to decoding strategies last year, but the think-aloud technique would be an excellent extension into making these strategies their own by requiring active participation and self-assessment.

    Although I liked the self-evaluation sheets described by Walker (2005), I believed that my second-graders, particularly the two ELLs, would not be able to read and write them. As a substitute, I created five strategy cards after reviewing sample strategy card templates described by Hoyt (2000), which help students develop an awareness of the wide spectrum of strategies available to them to decode unknown words. During the guided reading session, these cards were available as visible reminders of ways for the students to decode a word. At the end of the session, I had each student stamp the strategy card(s) (a color-coded personal set was made for them) that they used during reading. Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2004) emphasize the need to provide visual supplementary materials for ELLs who have difficulty processing a lot of auditory information. My ELLs benefited from these visual and kinesthetic supports. Finally, we discussed their strategy use together.

    Based on the above, the detailed components of my think-aloud (task = decoding) was introduced as follows.

    • Preview. Before the oral read-aloud, I told the students that I will be explaining to them “what I do when I am reading and encounter a word I do not know.”
    • Thinking aloud. I explained each strategy that I used to assist me in decoding a word while simultaneously pointing to a visible strategy card(s). I modeled statements about why one strategy worked and why another did not. I also pointed to my head and to the text explaining that I am always thinking when I am reading. This step was an iterative process and demonstrated how I am an active reader.
    • Self-assessment. At the end of the oral reading, I tallied which strategies helped me the most and marked them with a stamp on the card.
    • Repeat. I performed this same process with one of the students as another model to the group of three students.
    • Internalize. At the end of each session, we reviewed our strategy cards, stamped the ones used, and “thought aloud” about how we used them and why.
    • Documentation. At the end of the session, I completed my customized intervention checklist, especially noting strategy use.
    Research Methodology

    More than 10 data sources were collected to measure the students’ progress in reading levels. These data sources ranged in a continuum from qualitative (e.g., anecdotal notes from classroom observations, student surveys) to quantitative (e.g., Terra Nova scores, number of decoding strategies used during self-assessment). Both types of data sources were collected and analyzed during all stages of the research process. Given this, my research methodology is technically defined by Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004) as a mixed-model methods research approach.

    I believe that this combined approach provided greater reliability and validity to the results of my inquiry question than if a purely quantitative or qualitative approach had been chosen. For example, an analysis using only objective, quantitative data such as the national standardized Terra Nova reading and language scores, in conjunction with word error rates and book level, to measure pupil learning would have overlooked the richness provided by student attitudes toward reading and their home literacy environments. In a similar fashion, a strictly qualitative approach to measuring progress in reading level would have captured the students’ increased engagement and confidence when interacting with new texts but would not have analyzed the quantitative frequency of strategy use during the think-aloud process supporting this behavior. In addition, because I was both the researcher and data collector of the qualitative research, my results could have been influenced by my personal biases. All sources were necessary for a holistic and expansive view of pupil progress.

    Data Sources

    The data sources I collected and analyzed to provide insights into my question were organized into the four categories described by Shea, Murray, and Harlin (2005): thinking evidence, work samples, in-the-classroom benchmarks, and standardized achievement tests.

    Thinking Evidence
    • Student surveys. At the beginning and end of the semester, I surveyed the RR students to understand how they felt about reading in different venues and how they self-assessed their own reading ability. This survey provided two data points which highlighted changes in the students’ attitudes toward reading.
    • Transcripts of guided reading discussions (through field notes or tape recordings) and checklists prior to intervention. I summarized the main points of the discussion that reflected the students’ decoding abilities, comprehension, and level of engagement during the guided reading process before the intervention.
    • Completion of a customized “intervention” checklist. Areas I focused on included: frequency and type of decoding strategies used by the student, student's retelling abilities, and engagement. Ten intervention sessions were conducted yielding 29 checklists.
    • Anecdotal notes on reading behaviors outside of the guided reading process. I jotted down relevant student classroom behaviors that helped me determine if the skills and strategies the students were learning in the guided reading process were being transferred to other areas of the classroom.
    • Independent reading selections. Reviewing the students’ independent book choices from their weekly school library visit gave me a window into their perceived reading level and interests.
    • Parent interaction. Due to limited access, data were collected on reading behaviors at home for only one of the students (Jasmine).
    Work Samples
    • Weekend journals. Students are asked to write each Monday in their personal journals about what they did over the weekend. Cox and Hopkins (2006) note that “reading and writing are reciprocal and interrelated processes” (p. 260); thus, I reviewed eight journals per student looking for evidence in the following areas: Were decoding skills learned during the guided reading intervention process transferred to the writing process? At what stage is their writing?
    In-the-Classroom Benchmarks
    • Record of book reading progress. This record is used by CGS to measure progress by book and grade level. I collected these for June 2006 (end of Grade 1), late September/early October 2006, and November 2006 (end of data collection period) for the three RR students.
    • Running record summaries. Information was gathered as available from the classroom teacher. This was used to assess students’ fluency, expression, word error rates, and comprehension through retelling and other prompts.
    • End-of-year RR assessment. The RR teacher created an end-of-year summary report in Grade 1 for each student. The report referenced the results of Clay's Observational Assessment Summary given three times during the school year. I obtained this report to analyze the strengths and weakness of each RR student as he or she began second grade.
    Norm-Referenced and Other Standardized Achievement Measures

    I obtained the results of the Terra Nova test administered in May of 2006 for the RR students while they were in first grade.

    Because a rich variety of data sources was collected, it was important for interpretation purposes to integrate the data in a thematic manner that documented pupil learning over the 3-month period. A summary student profile sheet was created that highlighted four diverse indicators of pupil progress.

    • Reading level (What is the student's reading level? Is it at the level of peers?). Data sources: End of year RR assessment, record of book reading progress, and Terra Nova standardized test results.
    • Strategies used (What strategies do the students use when reading?). Data sources: Think-aloud checklists, running record summaries, and anecdotal notes.
    • Engagement (Is the student engaged during guided reading? Did he or she make connections with the text and other students?). Data sources: Discussion checklists and anecdotal notes.
    • Attitudes (How does the student feel about reading? School in general?). Data sources: surveys, parent interaction, independent reading selections, writing journals, and anecdotal notes.

    I believe that an analysis of these data sources will begin to answer the question of how adapting the guided reading process for former RR students impacts both pupil learning and pupil confidence.


    The results have been summarized by the indicators of pupil learning referenced above.

    Reading Level

    Chism experienced the most gain in reading level from her exit from RR until her most recent benchmark on November 15,2006. She jumped five levels from G to L. In reviewing her running record generated prior to intervention, I noted she was benchmarked at “I” (two levels post-RR level). Her teacher indicated that she needed to attend to word structure including the

    Figure A.1 Change in Reading Level

    Table A.2 Chism's Reading Strategies

    Table A.3 Jasmine's Reading Strategies

    beginning, middle, and ending sounds of words. Postintervention work, Chism gained three more levels to L. This reading level puts her at the level of her peers and in fact, she is nearing the third-grade benchmark. This is outstanding, given her previous year's Terra Nova scores, which placed her in the bottom third percentile in reading.

    Table A.4 Ralph's Reading Strategie

    Jasmine exited first-grade reading on a Level E. Her most recent benchmark on November 20, 2006, placed her at Level I, one level below the start of the second-grade reading level (J). Immediately prior to the think-aloud intervention, Jasmine was reading at a G level, and her teacher noted that her fluency could be improved by a review of high-frequency words. Jasmine was able to gain two additional levels after the intervention work commenced.

    Ralph made the least amount of progress from the original RR cohort. Like Jasmine, he exited first grade reading on Level E. In early October, his teacher performed a running record, and he was benchmarked at Level F. She indicated that he attended to the beginning sounds of words but did not follow through on middle and ending sounds. After the intervention work, Ralph gained one more level to Level G, the midway point of a typical first-grade reader. This level places him as an early reader (Fountas & Pinnell, 2000) and not at the level of his peers in second grade.

    Strategies Used

    Chism began the think-aloud process very tentatively. She is quiet and not a risk taker; it took multiple sessions before she was comfortable talking about her strategy use. Given her teacher's comments regarding word structure, I concentrated on thinking-aloud word structure strategies with her. Chism's self-assessment showed that more than 70% of the time (see Table A.2), she used “chunking” and “use the beginning, middle, and ending sounds” to decode a word. After our intentional conversations, she made excellent connections and progress and delighted in “chunking” words. I knew it was time for her to graduate from the guided reading group when she began thinking aloud for Ralph. When he stumbled over the word couldn't, she told him he already knew a word in that word (could is on their high-frequency word list), and he should try chunking it out. Chism had internalized the chunking strategy.

    Jasmine used multiple strategies while reading for meaning. Her tendency was to start with picture support because she is very artistic and then quickly move to other strategies to corroborate the correct decoding of a word. Over time, she developed from a passive to an active reader. Her self-assessment cards had the most “stamps” and most variability compared to the other two students (see Table A.3).

    Ralph's strategy use was the reverse. He often began with trying to sound out the word in question, and then when prompted, he would look for picture support. His top three strategies accounted for approximately 90% of his self-assessments (see Table A.4), and occasionally, he self-assessed fewer strategies than he actually used. Finally, these self-assessments did not always correspond with a correctly decoded word. Ralph stumbled over many sight or high-frequency words that are difficult to decode with these strategies.


    When I observed Chism in September during her guided reading group of six students, she was a passive group member. When she encountered a word she did not know, she stopped cold. Chism never engaged with the other students, and when asked a question, she answered politely. In contrast, as the think-aloud sessions progressed, she became increasingly engaged and often would read out of turn. Chism made comments throughout the sessions about the texts, sometimes interrupting others in her excitement.

    Jasmine was also passive in the original guided reading group; also, she often lost her place and could not answer questions when asked. Given this, Jasmine surprised me by asking multiple questions during the intervention. She was the most curious about the strategy cards and asked for repeated clarification. She would state aloud that “I am always using my brain” when reading and appeared very pleased during the self-assessment process. When her teacher conducted a running record at the end of November (postintervention), she commented that Jasmine was self-correcting more frequently. She was finally engaged.

    Ralph's level of engagement did not appear to change from pre- to postintervention guided reading groups. He appeared consistently happy and eager to read. Although he often had difficulty decoding words, he never stopped trying.


    Chism demonstrated drastic changes in her attitudes toward reading and school. In September, she had indicated that both her family and teacher were indifferent and sad about her ability to read aloud. When resurveyed about her feelings toward reading in November, she stated that both her family and teacher are happy about her reading level. In fact, her survey had 100% happy faces, and she said “too many happy faces” with a big smile. Toward the end of the intervention, Chism also began raising her hand in class to answer questions during word study. She had never done this before. During choral reading, she now reads quietly with the class rather than staring at the pages.

    In reviewing Chism's independent reading selections over a 3-month period, I noted that unlike her peers in this cohort, she consistently took out chapter books from the school library. Although she never actually finished one of these books, she did make progress in the number of pages read during independent reading time. She increased from four pages in September to multiple chapters read in mid-November. Chism's attitude is one of a proficient reader no longer requiring picture support to comprehend meaning.

    Jasmine's attitudes about reading via the survey results had marginal changes. She steadfastly believed that both her family and teacher were happy when she read aloud. Jasmine's independent reading selections reflected her artistic tendencies. She selected books almost always based on their illustrations. Usually, they were too difficult for her to read, so consequently, she primarily used picture support to create meaning.

    Ralph's reading surveys indicated a negative change in his feelings about his abilities from September to November. He drew a sad face to explain how he felt when he read aloud to his teacher in class and an indifferent face to show how he felt when he reads at home and how he believes his family feels when he reads aloud. As Chism's abilities grew rapidly in the group, she sometimes displayed negative body language (e.g., rolling her eyes) about Ralph's reading ability. To counteract this trend, the students (initiated by Jasmine) created a rule for the group, which stated that “no one could make fun of anybody when they were reading.” Although this helped, I believe Ralph began to see himself as the poorest reader of the group when he compared himself to Jasmine and Chism.

    Ralph's independent reading selections extended the reading we performed in the small group. For example, he chose a book we had read together, A Kiss for Little Bear, to reread and Henry and Mudge in the Green Time to continue reading the series we began during guided reading. These selections highlighted his “trying to improve” attitude, and re-reading texts also served as an excellent self-sustaining strategy for him.


    All of the students improved their reading levels after the think-aloud intervention. Chism, Jasmine, and Ralph gained 3, 2, and 1 level(s), respectively.

    The student's frequency of decoding strategies did not correlate to these reading gains. For example, Chism's self-assessed strategies were the smallest in number at 24. This could be explained by the fact that she did not need to decode as many words as the other two students because she entered the group in October on a slightly higher level. Although the percentage of strategy use differed by student, the most frequent strategy used by all students was No. 4—“use the beginning, middle, and ending sounds—what makes sense?” This was a strategy they were all introduced to during RR; in second grade, they were continuing to practice it. The strategy least used was No. 5—“read on to figure it out—reread.” Although I demonstrated strategy No. 5 with several think-alouds, the students did not like the idea of skipping and then coming back to a word. Although, in reality, they perform this strategy when they self-correct during oral reading, their explicit use of this strategy was not observed.

    I found the most interesting relationship to be between changes in reading level and home language and literacy environments. The two ELLs, Ralph and Jasmine, did not gain as much in reading levels as the monolingual student, Chism. In addition to decoding, Jasmine and Ralph were also processing the differences between the English and Spanish sound systems during oral reading. Jasmine's parents were supporting her at home by listening to books on tape provided by CGS, and Chism was reading with an older sister, but Ralph had minimal home support. When I met his mother one time when he was “forgotten” after school, Ralph provided all the translations to his mother in Spanish and to me in English. His first-grade teacher said that no one reads to him at home, nor does he read by himself at home. Whereas the other two students were supplementing our work together with their reading at home, Ralph was not provided this opportunity for a number of reasons (e.g., parents’ work schedules).

    In Grade 2, having a large core of known words that are recognized automatically is imperative to move from an early reader to a transitional reader (Fountas & Pinnell, 2000). My cooperating teacher had generated lists of these high-frequency words to study at home and to be aware of when reading in school and at home. When Ralph was tested on these words, he could not read half of them. Given that these words often cannot be effectively decoded using a think-aloud strategy, it is perhaps not surprising that the intervention had limited measurable success for him.

    Given the interrelated nature of the reading and writing processes, an analysis of the students’ weekend journals was performed. Although the analysis highlighted that all three were phonetic spellers, the differences in writing supported each student's current reading abilities. Chism was more sophisticated in her use of punctuation and attempts at mastering the correct tense of verbs. Jasmine experimented with the spelling of words phonetically in the same way she was open to trying out different decoding strategies. Ralph's writing revealed his deficiency in the usage of high-frequency words and showed him repeating the same words over and over again to fill the page.

    The data from my notes on students’ think-aloud checklists supported a high engagement level for all students during the intervention. This may be attributable to the group size. In October, the three students were pulled out of the six-member guided reading group. They enjoyed the extra attention I gave them in the smaller group plus the personalized strategy cards, two factors that approximated their RR experience.

    Although the think-alouds were primarily focused on decoding, we did not limit our guided discussions to this one task. I also “thought aloud” about the meaning of each story, and the children made predictions and inferences throughout reading as well. Their favorite text was A Kiss for Little Bear because that kiss ended up causing two skunks to get married. They thought this was hilarious and speculated that perhaps Little Bear knew this might happen all along, and that is why he sent a kiss “physically”—with the help of other animals—to his grandmother. An interesting inference indeed and an excellent example of their engagement. Finally, changes in students’ attitudes about reading were widely variable. While Chism became increasingly confident after each session, Ralph seemed to become aware of his limitations. Chism and Jasmine's confidence spilled over into the classroom, as observed in shared read-alouds and their increased participation in whole-class activities. Although Ralph remained happy in class, he made no progress in class participation as it related to reading activities.

    Limitations of the Research Study

    Many variables could have impacted the validity and reliability of this research study. First and foremost, the number of students (small number of RR graduates) and the duration of the intervention (short period of time and number of sessions) could have placed limits on the results. Because the think-aloud intervention required multiple sessions before the students were comfortable with the process, a longer intervention period might have produced different results.

    Second, while the research highlighted a possible connection between think-aloud strategy use and reading level gains, it is difficult to account for the marked differences in the students’ home literacy environments and their impact on reading levels. Two of the three students appear to have sustained levels of independent reading at home, which could have accounted for their reading gains.

    Third, another variable that was important was the impact that being an ELL had on overall literacy achievement and this study. Two of the three students in the study were Spanish ELLs. Would the results have been different if all or none were ELLs?

    Fourth, this was the first time I had undertaken a think-aloud intervention; my ability to deliver effective instruction could have skewed results. As I gained experience and reflected over the 2 months dedicated to this study, my think-alouds became more concrete and opportunistic.

    Finally, the research design was a major factor in this study. My initial selection of which decoding strategies to “think aloud” potentially impacted the usefulness of think-alouds to improve reading comprehension. Although I had more than 10 think-alouds from which to choose, I implemented only five.

    Implications for Teaching and Pupil Learning

    Educators could benefit from the following findings of the impact a think-aloud strategy had on the reading levels of second-grade readers identified as “at risk.” Although each student had varying success with different decoding strategies and exited on different reading levels (all improved), the intervention accomplished three things.

    First, each student became active when encountering a word he or she did not know. Unlike their initial guided reading sessions, in these later sessions, none of the students was waiting for me before they started thinking. They may have needed encouragement to persevere in their thinking, but they did not require a jump-start.

    The second thing it accomplished was the encouragement of the students’ metacognitive development. Chism, Jasmine, and Ralph ended the guided reading sessions discussing their strategies (when and why they used them) and actually enjoyed self-assessing their abilities. They made connections to decoding words and active reading. An added benefit is that this awareness of their own cognitive processes is transferable to other academic areas such as writing.

    Third, the engagement levels of the three students were positively impacted by modifying the guided reading curriculum. These students benefited from a smaller group size and more explicit teaching as they transitioned from one-on-one intervention work in first grade to small-group guided reading in second grade. (Note: I plan to share my results with the Primary Literacy team at CGS with the goal of brainstorming new grouping options in the second-grade guided-reading process for former RR students.)

    One logical next step is to ask another question: Will the strategies introduced become internalized by the readers? A longitudinal study could be designed to follow these students at different points in the year and discuss what strategies (new or old) help them read for meaning. What think-aloud strategies would they want to tell next year's second-graders?

    An additional question that interests me is “Do second-grade ELLs who are also RR graduates need specific support as they transition to guided reading?” Concentrating on Ralph's progress, it appeared that he needed more than a think-aloud strategy to bridge the guided reading process. Ideas have already started to formulate such as developing oral language through small-group shared readings, high-frequency word activities, and following up with Readers Theater to help build fluency.

    I hope to discover through future research how adapting the guided reading process for struggling readers can have positive results on both pupil learning and pupil confidence.


    My own learning as a teacher and a researcher grew exponentially throughout this process. I soon realized that I not only needed collaboration in the upfront planning but could also benefit from coaching in the execution of the intervention. After listening to a tape recording of the first intervention session, I realized that although the students were engaged, they could not handle an introduction to the five think-aloud strategies, actively use them, and then perform a self-assessment. In my zeal to help these students, I delivered too many concepts in one session and could hear the confusion. With the help of the Primary Literacy Coordinator, I was able to decouple tasks and reintroduce them slowly without lowering expectation

    s. It is essential when conducting research not to force the time frames estimated in your project plan. One must plan for contingencies and the human factor.

    The think-aloud intervention required a lot of teacher talk. Although I needed to be cognizant of my intervention and “think aloud” so that the students could “hear” and “see” how an expert reader reads, I did not want simply to talk at them. It was critical to strike a balance so that I could hear the students talk about their own thinking, too. Many conversations were started when I asked, “Tell me what you are thinking—I—I am really interested.”

    Most important, what I learned concretely as a teacher and researcher is that there is not one proven path to literacy development for children. What works for Chism may not work for Ralph. The selection of appropriate reading instruction needs to consider both the pedagogical knowledge of the complex dimensions of literacy and the knowledge of the diversity (e.g., cultural, learning style, etc.) of the children with whom you are working. This takes time, effort, and a continual reflection about one's practice.

    In summary, I loved working with this group of students and sensing their excitement and pride when they were able to read and understand a new story. The think-aloud intervention provided me with experience implementing a research-based strategy to assist “at-risk” readers make meaning from text. My immediate plan is to research other think-aloud applications supporting the comprehension process. This action research project was an excellent way for me to begin my lifelong dream of helping struggling readers.

    Block, C.C., & Israel, S.E. (2004). The ABCs of performing highly effective think-alouds. The Reading Teacher, 58(2), 154–167.http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/RT.58.2.4
    Block, C.C., Rodgers, L.L., & Johnson, R.B. (2004). Comprehension process instruction: Creating reading success in grades K-3. New York: Guilford Press.
    Cox, B.E., & Hopkins, C.J. (2006). Building on theoretical principles gleaned from reading recovery to inform classroom practice. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(2), 254–265.http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.41.2.5
    Dickinson, D.K., & Tabors, P.O. (2002, March). Fostering language and literacy in classrooms and homes. Young Children, pp. 10–18.
    Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D.J. (2004). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model. Boston: Pearson Education.
    Fountas, I.C, & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Fountas, I.C, & Pinnell, G.S. (2000). Guided readers and writers, Grades 3–6: Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Fuhler, C.J., Farris, P.J., & Nelson, P.A. (2006). Building literacy skills across the curriculum: Forging connections with the past through artifacts. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 646–660.http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/RT.59.7.4
    Hoyt, L. (2000). Snapshots: Literacy minilessons up close. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Johnson, R.B., & Onwuegbuzie, A.J. (2004). Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14–26.http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0013189X033007014
    Opitz, M.F., & Ford, M.P. (2001). Reaching readers: Flexible and innovative strategies for guided reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Oster, L. (2001). Using the think-aloud for reading instruction. The Reading Teacher, 55(1), 64–69.
    Schwartz, R.M. (2005). Literacy learning of at-risk first-grade students in the reading recovery early intervention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 257–267.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.97.2.257
    Shea, M., Murray, R., & Harlin, R. (2005). Drowning in data? How to collect, organize, and document student performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Walker, B.J. (2005). Thinking aloud: Struggling readers often require more than a model. The Reading Teacher, 58(7), 688–691.http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/RT.58.7.10
    Wilhelm, J.D. (2001, November). Think-alouds boost reading comprehension. Scholastic Instructor, pp. 26–28.
    Example 2: Why Do I Have to Know This Stuff?

    How Can I Make the Study of World History Relevant to Ninth-Grade Students?

    MaryannByrneHistory Teacher, Canton Public Schools, Canton, Massachusetts


    Responding to a persistent student question (“Why do I have to know this stuff?”), I examined strategies designed to make history more relevant to my ninth-grade World History students. To promote authentic methods of inquiry, I invited the students to collaborate with me as coresearchers on this project. Relying heavily on student input, the methods employed focused on constructing a working definition of what the relevance of studying history is for each individual in the class.

    Together, we have explored ways to test and evaluate what beliefs and assumptions we bring to the history classroom. The result has been a dynamic and ongoing redefinition of how history is personally relevant to each of us, along with theunderstanding that this personal definition of the relevance of historical study can change over time.

    “Why do I have to know this stuff?” Without realizing it, my research question was coming at me early and often as I began my teaching career in a ninth-grade World History classroom at Canton High School in September 2003. Readings from my Inquiry Seminar at Boston College implied that my research question would be a nagging idea or dilemma that pulled at me as I taught. This made sense to me, and I was expecting to hear a little voice gently leading me to my research question; instead, the voices that came at me loud and clear on an almost daily basis were those of my own students.

    I responded to my students’ question in a number of ways. Drawing on traditional history teacher responses, I told them that history can teach us how to be better citizens, how to appreciate diversity, how to develop critical thinking skills, how to construct an argument, and how to learn from the past. Drawing on my education courses and from the advice of other teachers, I worked on making my classes “engaging,” “interesting,” and “fun.” These attributes made my classes more enjoyable, but still the question kept coming back.

    “Why do I have to know this stuff?” Within a couple of weeks, I realized that it was easy for me to make history lessons entertaining, but if the information held no relevance for students’ lives, they would not retain the crucial concepts I was trying to teach. I was telling the students why I—Maryann Byrne, new teacher—thought that they should know this stuff. I wasn't listening to the I of the question, the I that represented each student in class and how each individual student was asking for an explanation of why this stuff was important for him or her personally to know. Not important in the “need to know” sense of necessary for next week's test or future MCAS exams, but in the “need to know” sense of critical information or skills essential to their lives. In the end, my research question developed naturally out of my eventual connection with the individual I of each of my students.

    My research question therefore is: How can I make the study of World History relevant to my ninth-grade students? I believe my research question has a number of implications for classroom practice. I have come to appreciate that to make history relevant for my students, I need first to determine what makes it relevant for me. To do this, I need to examine my own frame of reference, while keeping in mind that relevance for me may not constitute relevance for my students. Another implication of the research question is that, for history to have relevance for students, they would have to construct this understanding for themselves, using me and their classmates as guides and sounding boards. To accomplish this, students would need to have a voice in the choice of topics covered in class and in how the class was conducted in terms of procedures, activities, and level of discourse. My classroom climate would need to facilitate these types of interactions. Finally, I believe my research question opens up a timely debate in this era of standards-based education, accountability, and budget constraints. Why should we make students learn this stuff if we can't help them recognize for themselves that the habits of mind developed through the study of history are legitimate, practical, and crucial skills necessary to enhance and advance their lives?

    Literature Review

    I may have conducted my literature review out of sequence, but the timing worked to my advantage in helping me to target the specific type of articles I needed. If I had undertaken my full practicum as a student teacher, I would have had more time to read up on current educational literature in my content area. Instead, I was hired as a contract teacher at Canton High School a few days before the start of classes, and all of my available reading time was devoted to sources that would help me create lesson plans for World History. As a result, I developed my inquiry question before I had a chance to carry out a literature review.

    Even within the welcoming atmosphere at Canton High School, I was feeling overwhelmed. It was only after a few weeks that I was able to concentrate on articulating my inquiry question and begin to look for appropriate research literature. As I read, I felt that I had met a new group of collaborators who were as passionate about history as I was and who had experienced what I was experiencing in my classes. It quickly became apparent that I was not the only educator dealing with the question of how to make history relevant to students. I felt a sense of relief; if so many others in my field had dealt with the same dilemma, I must have hit on a legitimate research question. Even better, I found practical advice on how to make history relevant for my students interspersed with theories of history and practice.

    Because my inquiry question developed prior to my literature review, I had already attempted strategies to promote relevancy for my students, including the use of controversy, narrative, role-plays, and simulations in an effort to engage student interest in and empathy with our flesh-and-blood predecessors. As a new teacher, it was encouraging to discover that techniques that I was already using in my classes were recommended by many of the authors I read (Akmal & Ayre-Svingen, 2002; Kennedy, 1998; Meyerson & Secules, 2001; Newmann & Wehlage, 1993; Rosenzwieg, 2003; Stanley, 2003).

    In addition to discussing theories that informed my teaching, such as constructivism and the study of history as preparation for democratic citizenship (Akmal & Ayre-Svingen, 2002; Carrier, 2002; Foster & Padgett, 1999; Kornfeld & Goodman, 1998; Vanderstel, 2002), it was extremely useful to come across concrete, practical suggestions on how to incorporate these theories in my lessons, including advice on proper student preparation and step-by-step instructions on activities and assignments. Veteran teachers Bill Bigelow and Michele Forman (Rosenzweig, 2003) and Lee W Formwalt (Formwalt, 2002) discussed how to make history relevant for students and how strategies such as narratives and simulations can play out successfully in classroom settings where students are properly prepared by informed teachers. The teachers also confirmed what I had discovered in class: that these techniques help bring history to life for students by allowing them to empathize and thus link their life experiences to the dynamic and continuing stories of fellow human beings, past and present. Bigelow and Forman also led me to understand that to make strategies authentic and successful in my classroom, I had to spend more time preparing students for these types of lessons.

    One article directly confronted me with assumptions that I bring to the classroom, causing me to realize that to make history relevant to my students, I first must determine what makes history relevant for me. Meyerson and Secules (2001) state that “the first prerequisite to the creation of a meaningful and relevant social studies learning environment for students is to ensure that social studies learning is meaningful and relevant to its teachers” (p. 267). The authors go on to suggest that what constitutes relevancy for the teacher may not constitute relevancy for students and that the teacher's main task should be to establish a classroom environment that allows students to construct the meaning of history for themselves.

    Although the authors sometimes had different perspectives, two main themes came through clearly in almost every article I read. First, there was overwhelming consensus on the value of constructivism—that for history to be real for students, they must construct this reality for themselves. Second, and closely related to the first, was the emphasis that to construct personal relevance, students must be active participants in authentic historical inquiry. In other words, they must “do” history, not just “receive” history from the teacher as passive receptacles. As Foster and Padgett (1999) state, for students:

    Involvement in historical study leads them to become “creators” of history and to discover the power, potential, and excitement that the study of the past can engender. For teachers and students alike, meaningful engagement in historical inquiry means that the history classroom need never again be a refuge for boredom, passivity, and irrelevance but a place of excitement, fascination, and discovery. (p. 364)

    Who am i as a Researcher?

    I think of myself as a historian, which helps explain my frame of reference. From the outset, it is important to state that in my understanding of history, personal frames of reference change as they are impacted by factors both internal and external.

    As a historian, I decided it would be best to investigate how the phrase frame of reference is defined. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Thesaurus (2002), a frame of reference is “the particular angle from which something is considered: see OUTLOOK.” Outlook is defined several ways, all of which speak to my frame of reference as a new teacher.

    Definition Number 1: “Chance of success or advancement, see hope.” For me, teaching is the embodiment of hope, the hope that what my students learn in my classroom will truly improve their lives, make them more committed and active citizens, and encourage them to become lifelong learners. In addition, with the myriad differences of opinion over the direction and purpose of education, it has filled me with hope for the future to have met educators who may have different perspectives but are all committed to the success of their students.

    Definition Number 2: “A high structure or place commanding a wide view, see awareness.” Although it is an assumption, I believe that my life experience has already proven to be an asset to my students. I have been involved in a number of activities that constitute practical, applied social studies. I was active in trading stocks and also need to balance my family's checkbook, providing me with an awareness of macroeconomics and microeconomics and how one impacts the other. I have lived abroad and maintain contacts with friends in foreign countries. I am, therefore, familiar with how outsiders view America and Americans for good and ill, giving me a unique, firsthand perspective that many students and teachers do not possess. I have also lived in a number of places in the United States, including Atlanta, Boston, Cape Canaveral, and New York City, and have worked with people from a variety of backgrounds. As such, I believe I am able to expose my students to the range of diversity inherent in American society and how it has both helped and hindered us as a nation. I am a member of the Canton Historical Commission and am cognizant of local historical lore and developments that have enabled students to make connections between the subjects we are studying from the past and issues directly impacting their world today. In my first job out of college, I worked in the advertising section of a leading trade publication, from which I gained an appreciation of those phrases history teachers taught us: “The pen is mightier than the sword” and “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Drawing on this experience, It each my students to clearly and succinctly state their thesis or opinion, while simultaneously appreciating the power of images to influence what is seen as historical truth. I am a practicing Roman Catholic and feel that my religious beliefs help me aid students in understanding that all students are gifted, although not always with the same gifts. Finally, I am a mother, and believe this helps me to connect on a personal level with my students. It may sound trite, but the awareness that each student is someone's child is in the forefront of my mind as I teach. Drawing on this, I try to treat each student the way I would want my child to be treated and to follow the dictum to first do no harm.

    Definition Number 3: “The act of predicting, see foresight.” I believe that frames of reference are constantly shifting. My life experience is a good example of this. The way I view the world today is different from the way I saw it as a child, a teenager, a college student, a young professional, an American abroad, a newlywed, a mother, a graduate student, and now a teacher. Even the core beliefs that have remained present throughout these stages have been modified with each new experience. I believe that the stages of my life can serve as an exemplar for my students. My life experience is a good illustration of the difficulty of predicting where your future may lead, validating the importance of developing your individual gifts to be prepared for opportunities and roadblocks as they arise.

    School Culture

    Canton High School is a construction zone, both literally and figuratively. We are in the midst of an exciting, inspiring, and sometimes anxious time at Canton High School. Symbolized by the $38 million school renovation scheduled to be completed in 2005, innovative changes are being implemented in all areas, shored up by cultural footings that have proven successful in the past.

    While this acceptance of change bodes well for positive learning experiences, collaboration, and collegial relationships, most members of the school community are also aware that cultural changes at the school cannot be accomplished as quickly as new classrooms are installed. Each member of the community is being forced through internal and external pressures to reflect critically on which facets of the Canton High School culture are worth overhauling and restoring and which may be remnants of cultural norms that should be scrapped.

    The foundation of the school is embodied in its mission statement, which stresses the importance of helping each individual strive for excellence. This quest for quality in the midst of change is most visible in the person of the principal and in curriculum initiatives, the value placed on mentoring new teachers, time set aside to allow for collaboration among teachers in and across disciplines, and in open, far-ranging and collegial discussions about the direction of the school. The new principal, Edward Mulvey, exemplifies the notion of reaching for new heights by standing on the firm foundations of the past. Mr. Mulvey taught biology at the school for 30-plus years, was head of the teachers association, and has proven an approachable and supportive presence for teachers old and new. As the school community grapples with change, it is comforting to know that we are headed by a person who feels our pain and has the big picture of the school in sight—namely, how these innovations will result in improved instructional opportunities for students.

    It is in the area of teaching and learning that I believe the scaffolding needs additional support. Some departments rely on curriculum guidelines that are a decade old. In a series of professional days this fall, teachers and administrators struggled to come up with curriculum that addresses standards-based instruction while allowing room for individual teaching and learning styles. It is very much a work in progress. Many of the older teachers are resistant to change, seeing standards-based education as just one of a number of educational fads that have come and gone over the years. The new teachers are recent graduates of education schools that dealt directly with this new reality, resulting in interesting and constructive dialogues between veteran and rookie teachers. Within this amorphous framework, exciting teaching is happening, supported by involved administrators and staff. Teachers comfortably drop in to observe their colleagues’ classes, and a mentor program is in place to help new teachers navigate both the overt and less obvious cultural norms of the school.

    The area of school culture that cries out for the services of an “interior designer” is demographics, which would be greatly improved with the inclusion of more color. A visitor to Canton High School is struck by the whiteness of both the students and the staff. I have not seen one minority staff member, from administrators to teachers to maintenance staff. This has been the case in Canton for years, and I'm not sure that the older members of the community truly appreciate what a disservice this is for students. We live in an increasingly complex world, both at home and abroad, and if one of the purposes of education is to prepare students to be successful in this world, we are letting them down by not providing exposure to teachers, administrators, and other authority figures who look different from them. The population of minority students is small, and the lack of diversity among staff, obvious to me as a middle-class white woman, must seem glaring and somewhat alienating to them.

    Most students (in a school population of about 850) are white and middle to upper class. If asked to state a religious affiliation, the majority would say that they are either Christian (predominantly Roman Catholic) or Jewish. I have not met students from other faith backgrounds. In addition, although the school has hired ELL teachers, I do not have any students in my classes for whom English is not their first language. What heavy inclusion I do have is in the area of special needs, with nine students on Individualized Education Programs in my college-level class of 24 students. So far, this has worked out well, and these students—many of whom are experiencing full inclusion for the first time—have made the transition with few setbacks and are fitting in comfortably with their classmates.

    For more than 100 years, Canton High School has been the center of the larger town community, playing an active role not only in the education of its citizens, but in other town proceedings including politics, memorials, and cultural events. One of the school's distinctions—currently causing some debate—is that it is the only high school campus in the country with a legally operating bar on its premises in the shape of the American Legion Hall. Older citizens defend this by pointing out that many of the town's veterans were classmates at the high school and have contributed time and money toward the school. Younger adult members of the community answer this by saying that, in this time of zero tolerance for substance abuse, having a bar on campus sends students the wrong message. This ongoing debate is one of the more obvious examples of values from the past clashing with values from the present.

    Canton High School has in place the building blocks necessary to ensure a quality education for its students, and the school climate promotes collaborative innovations that benefit all members of the community. There is a feeling that we are all embarking on a new experiment and need to work together and get to know each other's areas of expertise to ensure that this experiment will have successful outcomes for our children, our school, our greater community, and ourselves. By appreciating the contributions from the past, and recognizing that some of the older building materials may not meet the standards laid out by more modern educational architects, we are on the way to constructing a house of learning in which we can all take pride.

    My Students

    I teach ninth-grade history to honors and college-level students. When I met them, some aspects of my students were immediately apparent. My students are mostly white; I have one African American and three Asian American students in my classes. My honors classes are more than three quarters female, whereas my college classes are more evenly balanced along gender lines.

    Over the course of the semester, I have come to know my students on a deeper level. Many live in single-parent homes, mainly as the result of divorce. Most are very open about discussing issues of sexuality, substance abuse, and other topics that would not have been open for discussion when I was a freshman. Although in some ways I feel these students have lost some of the innocence or naïveté my generation had, one benefit is that young people are more accepting of differences than my classmates were, including such areas as ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and the inclusion of special education students in general education classes.

    Over time, I have noticed a number of dichotomies between my honors and college-level students. With minimal support, my honors students can handle just about any assignment I give them. The college students need more scaffolding and support. I have had no classroom management issues with my honors students, but I am in a constant battle to keep my college students focused and on task. Compared to my college students, my honors students come from wealthier homes and have parents who take a more active interest in their child's education.

    I have noticed that many of my college-level students have an inferiority complex, comparing themselves negatively with honors-level students. One thing I have observed and commented on to these students is that the honors class often tells me what they think I want to hear, whereas the college class is more willing to take risks and tell me how they truly are thinking and feeling about topics covered in class. As a result, in many ways, I am learning much more from my college-level students than I am from my honors students.

    If I had a say in placement, students of all abilities would be placed in the same classroom. I have not observed this in my practicum placement, and I don't know the practical details of how this would be worked out. However, just as I suspect that students lose out due to the lack of ethnic diversity, I believe that they are also losing out by not experiencing more mixed ability levels in their classes.


    Realizing that I needed their help to succeed, I decided early on to collaborate with my students as coresearchers. Their enthusiasm for this project has carried me through what has been a sometimes exhausting but always exciting process.

    The idea of collaborating with my students was a natural development. I had taken an adolescent developmental psychology course at Boston College but had no firsthand knowledge of young adults between the ages of 13 and 15. I relied on my students to clue me in to their mind-set: what interests and concerns they might have, as well as what they think about school and history in particular. I tapped into their knowledge of the public school culture in Canton to become acclimated to my new environment. For the most part, the students in my classes knew each other and were aware of Canton Public School norms that could not be found in the faculty handbook. At the same time, we were all new to Canton High School and were able to empathize with each other over the myriad changes to our lives. I was anxious and excited about being a new teacher; they were anxious and excited about being freshmen.

    This partnership deepened as time went on, especially as a number of inconsistencies confronted me. The history curriculum guidelines ask me to teach students to become critical thinkers: to construct reasoned arguments based on evidence, enter into debate, compare and contrast diverse perspectives, appreciate cause-and-effect relationships, and, most important, develop into active, democratic citizens; yet, most of the teachers I know do not allow students to exercise these same skills in the areas of curriculum choice or classroom decision making. Both Boston College and Canton High School promote collaboration with other teachers, professors, and administrators but do not address collaboration with the No. 1 constituency on whom teachers’ actions have the greatest impact, the students. Over the course of the year, I have been evaluated by my Boston College supervisor and by Canton's history department chair, its director of curriculum, and my mentor-teacher; however, the people who could provide the most honest evaluation of my teaching performance had no input in this process. Who better to judge me than my students, with whom I am engaged in day-to-day interactions, both positive and negative? While I appreciate the constructive criticisms I have received from my evaluations and have acted on them to improve my instruction, I also want to know how my students value my teaching. Finally, we tell students we expect them to behave as respectful, responsible young adults ready to fully participate and express their opinions in class; we should then respect the knowledge, ideas, suggestions, and innovations that they bring to our classroom.

    Data Sources

    For my research, I concentrated on data sources that most directly addressed my inquiry question. These included:

    • Surveys of history teachers at Canton High School. The purpose of these was to determine whether other history teachers were getting the same question as I was (“Why do I have to know this stuff?”) and how they responded. I also wanted to know what personal relevance they attached to the study of history and what their expectations were for their students.
    • Interest Inventories and Multiple Intelligences Surveys conducted with students. In the beginning, I relied on information from these sources to design lessons that directly addressed student interests and learning styles.
    • Initial brainstorming session with students to define relevance. To know where we were starting and where we wanted to go, I asked students to brainstorm and come to an agreement on how we would define relevance in reference to the study of history.
    • Surveys of students. In this instance, we were trying to focus on which classroom activities and interactions made history more relevant to students and which ones hindered this process.
    • Class discussions on whether the historical events that we were studying have a direct impact on our lives today. At the beginning of the year, many students had stated that history was irrelevant because it consisted of old facts about dead people who had no connection to their lives. Class discussions were initiated to see if students could come to their own understanding that history is not dead but is a dynamic, evolving story in which they play a part.
    • History progress reports. These were used to determine whether our understanding of the relevance of history was developing throughout the semester and what activities or interactions promoted this development.
    • Historical significance paper. Students were asked to write a short report on a historical event we had studied and state two reasons why the event was significant in history and two reasons why it was significant for them. They were also asked to pretend they were the teacher and to suggest a teaching method that would make the event interesting to ninth-grade students. My purpose was to have students make connections to their own lives, while also reflecting on what teaching methods had made history most relevant to them.
    • Observational notes. These notes were reviewed to determine if the process of collaborating with students promoted an understanding of historical relevance.
    • Quotes activity. The intent of this activity was to show students, especially those who felt no connection to the material we were studying, that people throughout history have struggled with the question of whether the study of history is relevant. Student groups were given quotes on the subject and agreed or disagreed with them in a class discussion.
    • Recommendation letters from the students. In keeping with the spirit of collaboration, and to emphasize that their voices were as important to me as were those of the Boston College and Canton High School authorities who had evaluated me, I asked the students to rate my performance as a teacher. These anonymous evaluations were based on the same categories that my Boston College supervisor rated me on: Plans Curriculum and Instruction; Plans Effective Instruction; Manages Classroom Climate and Operations; Promotes Equity; and Meets Professional Standards. I also asked them to comment on whether they thought I was a good teacher. My purpose in designing this assignment was to discover whether the methods we had put in place had resulted in actual student learning outcomes.

    My results confirmed my initial assumption: For students to feel that the study of history is relevant to their lives, they must build this knowledge themselves by actively doing history and not receiving it. A teacher can guide a student in the construction of this knowledge, but in the end, the students must feel that they have ownership of the process or it will not be real to them. While I am pleased with the results of our research, I feel that there is much more that needs to be examined to determine if the results we experienced can be replicated in other class settings.

    What is relevance? In our brainstorming activity, the students and I came up with the following meaning of relevance as applied to the study of history. For it to be relevant, it must be real, it must be beneficial and important to our lives, and we must feel some connection with the topics we are studying and the skills we are acquiring.

    Did our results show that our classroom interactions had made history real to us? This appears to be proven from the data. Students commented on activities that made history come alive for them, particularly role-plays and simulations, class discussions focused on connections to current events and our lives today, the construction of narratives based on the historical figures we studied in class, interactive hands-on activities, the analysis of primary sources, and participating in games such as “Who Wants to be a Legionnaire?” and “Feudal Jeopardy.” Students were also strongly in agreement on which classroom activities made history irrelevant to their lived experiences. Receiving the greatest mention in this regard were activities that relied on the textbook and lectures that did not include student interactions in some way.

    Did our results show that our classroom interactions led us to appreciate whether the study of history was beneficial or important to our lives? Again, the data would appear to support this. Some representative comments from students include:

    • To know yourself, you have to know your history. Who we are is history.
    • If you only go by what you read in one source and don't do further research, you might not get the whole story.
    • If we don't know our history, people can come in and write a history that suits them, which may be false or twisted.
    • Learning about the past has helped me understand the present.
    • I now see that studying the past can help you predict the future. My views on history changed as a result of class discussions and the war in Iraq. It will be important to predict what the aftermath of that war might be.
    • We learn why we are here.
    • History teaches us to make better decisions than people did many years ago.

    Did our results show that our classroom interactions helped us forge personal connections to the topics we were studying? The data support this conclusion. Among the student comments are the following:

    • I learned things about myself that I did not know.
    • Her teaching has depended on what we think about history.
    • Before I had you as a teacher, I never knew or had a good understanding of how the people who lived in the past felt.
    • I learned about my own religion and others as well. This has changed the way I look at Muslims and other people.

    Finally, did our results show that our classroom interactions helped students learn? The overwhelming response was yes.

    • She gets the job done by teaching us the content, but sometimes, it happens in a different way. It's not busywork, it's just plain learning and teaching, which personally makes learning fun. Of course, that would be worthless if we don't learn anything, which is not the case.
    • The classwork is done in a way that we learn in new ways. It's more hands-on. Not just lectures and reading the book. We get to do little skits and other things. I don't mind learning in that class. It is exciting and fun.
    • Sometimes, the class had discussions that I don't think were planned, but I have noticed that if a teacher stands in front of a class and just tells the class the facts, that the students will get bored or distracted. Getting students involved makes the students pay attention and understand the topic more.
    • The way she teaches with activities for some reason it makes me learn and have a better understanding on the subject.
    • She has unique teaching methods that help us learn in an active way. I have learned a lot.
    • I personally retain the information longer. It makes the information very clear.
    Analysis and Interpretation

    Looking back to the first days of the school year, I can see how the collaborative environment my students and I established has transformed our classroom. As mentioned earlier in this paper, this collaboration developed naturally out of an appreciation that we needed each other to succeed professionally and academically. What began in an atmosphere of some trepidation has become an honest, open space where the curriculum is actively explored on a daily basis.

    At the start of the year, what did I see? Students who were bored, students who were hesitant to participate, students who were classroom management issues, students who were unsure of what was expected of them, students who missed handing in assignments, students who under-performed on assessments and evaluations, and a teacher anxious to prove that she could teach them.

    What do I see now? I see high-energy, involved students who enjoy coming to class prepared to do history, not just receive it. In an atmosphere of honesty and trust, the students challenge each other and me, probing statements and assumptions that might go unquestioned in a different classroom environment. This newfound sense of empowerment has proved inspiring and infectious, starting out slowly and building as students have become more interested in participating and have seen the benefits both to their grades and to their enjoyment of the class. As Kornfeld and Goodman (1998) state,

    Knowledge generated by students and teachers as part of the formal curriculum, not in opposition to it, should be a fundamental feature of liberatory social studies classrooms. Students … should come to realize the power of their own interpretations of information and their own experience in the production of school knowledge. (p. 314)

    By becoming active participants in their learning, my students have learned more. In living the history curriculum, they have made the study of history a part of their lives that I hope will continue beyond my classroom. Every day, we strive to learn history by doing history, putting into place authentic interactions that rely on the interpretation of evidence, appreciation of multiple perspectives, analysis of cause-and-effect relationships, and the ongoing examination of the assumptions and biases we all hold when we discuss issues of historical importance.

    One unforeseen benefit of these classroom interactions is their positive effect on classroom management issues. In my college-level classroom, I have a number of students, nine of whom have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, who were a constant challenge at the start of the school year. As roles were redefined and students were given more autonomy and a greater voice in classroom procedures, these challenges have lessened considerably. My instinct tells me that they know I honestly respect their opinions and concerns and that they are reciprocating. We have established that our purpose in the classroom is to teach and learn from each other, and we enjoy tracking this process of discovery. It is easy for me to point out when behaviors are not facilitating this, and often that is the only action I have to take to maintain order. The alternative is returning to more traditional modes of teaching history—lecturing, using the textbook, with me “giving” history and students passively “receiving” it—and the students and I do not want this to happen.

    While the experience has been an exhilarating one, there have been some disappointments. Despite my best efforts, there are still a few students who find history boring. While I will continue to explore ways to engage them, I also realize that some students will never have the passion for history that I have. For those few, I believe I have at least fostered an appreciation of why history is included in their curriculum and needs to be studied, although it may never be a study they enjoy.

    I am even more concerned with the students who have not done well academically in my class. I have two students who failed the first semester, which truly upset me. Both students have a number of issues to deal with academically and in their personal lives, which puts schoolwork low on their order of priorities. Still, they have expressed that they enjoy my classes, and we have decided to try and work together to develop alternative ways for them to demonstrate what they know and can do.

    Our classroom has become a site that embodies a number of the theories of why the study of history is relevant. Some students would agree with those who see the study of history as crucial in promoting democratic citizenship:

    • Without history, a nation would have no purpose; it would be impossible for a nation to exist without it.
    • History is important; you should know what happens where you live.
    • To understand the way things are today, we need to know what went on years and years ago. Many things that went on during our history affect us today because they relate to events that occur these days.

    Other students would support theorists who see the study of history as essential for promoting empathy and a sense of social justice:

    • There has been so much conflict. When will we start taking care of each other?
    • I actually paid attention. I had no idea women were treated so badly.

    Finally, most of the students have come to realize that history is not a collection of old facts about people long gone, but an ongoing, unfinished story of the human condition in which we all play a role.

    • I now see history is a cycle of recurring events, not just a bunch of facts.
    • Sometimes we are in the same place as people from the past.
    • Anything that happened in the past helps you move forward now.
    • You learn stuff about your part in history.
    Recommendations for Practice

    You can never step into the same river twice.

    —Heraclitus (cited in Mashalidis, 2003, p. 27)

    This research project has been a wonderful experience. I hope my students will continue to “do” history in all areas of their lives for the best reasons: to become active, contributing members of our democratic society; to strive to promote social justice; and to become lifelong learners, examining their lives and the world around them.

    In future classes, I will have new students with different interests, goals, and conceptions about history. Most will probably think history is a boring bunch of facts about dead people with no relevance to their lives. Drawing on what I have learned this semester, I will try to replicate the inquiry experience while at the same time realizing that the dynamics will inevitably change with the introduction of a new set of participants. Although success is not guaranteed, there are a number of factors that I as a teacher can put in place to facilitate the process. Acting on the definition we developed for relevance, I believe to make history real, I need to be real. To help students connect with history, I need to connect with my students. And finally, to make history beneficial, I need to be beneficial.

    First, if you make it real, they will remember it. By real, I am referring not only to authentic methods of inquiry but also to the beliefs and attitudes the teacher brings to the classroom. It is not enough to model collaborative constructivist teaching methods. You need to believe in them, and your students must perceive that you value them in your instruction. To embrace this realism, I think it will be crucial to keep asking questions and to constantly reexamine my own beliefs and biases, as well as what works in my classes and what doesn't and why. This is an inquiry I will continue to pursue for the remainder of this school year, especially with the few students with whom I have not connected. For me, a future research project might focus on what elements in my classroom still serve as barriers to academic progress for these students. If students are not willing to enter into collaboration, what other methods can be used to connect with them and their experiences of history and school in general? How might other students help their classmates overcome these barriers to success?

    Second, I will need to connect with and draw on my students’ knowledge and skills to assess my own abilities and to access the information that they bring to class, adding value to my own and their classmates’ education. Connecting students’ interests, needs, and concerns with lives of the people we are studying made history relevant to my current students, and I hope it will do so for future classes. One method of connection that I incorporated this year was the use of controversy to engage and motivate students. This has worked well but can stir up strong emotions. A research project might examine how to effectively guide the use of controversy in history lessons so that emotions add to and do not detract from student learning.

    Finally, for true teacher-student collaboration to take place, the students must feel that the classroom is a safe place for them to express their views and take risks without fear of failure or ridicule. I hope I can continue to establish a beneficial level of discourse and classroom structure, open to negotiation, that will allow all my students to feel empowered as active participants in their own education. I was pleasantly surprised at how this approach positively impacted classroom management issues and would like to look more deeply into how increased student autonomy influences student behaviors.

    At the start of the year, “Why do I need to know this stuff?” seemed like a challenge. I now see it as an invitation to enter into authentic collaborations with my students, and I am looking forward to continuing to do so in the future.

    Akmal, T.T., & Ayre-Svingen, B. (2002). Integrated biographical inquiry: A student-centered approach to learning. The Social Studies, 93(4), 272–277.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00377990209600178
    Carrier, R.C. (2002). The function of the historian in society. The History Teacher, 35(4), 519–526.http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1512473
    Formwalt, L.W. (2002). Seven rules for effective history teaching or bringing life to the history class. Organization of American Historians Magazine of History, 17. Retrieved November 15, 2003, from http://www.oah.org/pubs/magazine/ww1/formwalt.html
    Foster, S.J., & Padgett, C.S. (1999). Authentic historical inquiry in the social studies classroom. (Special Section: Dimensions of Middle School Social Studies). The Clearing House, 72(6), 357–364.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00098659909599425
    Kennedy, D.M. (1998). The art of the tale: Story-telling and history teaching. The History Teacher, 31(3), 319–330.http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/494877
    Kornfeld, J., & Goodman, J. (1998). Melting the glaze: Exploring student responses to liberatory social studies. Theory into Practice, 37 (4), 306–314.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00405849809543820
    Mashalidis, S. (2003). Heraclitean thinking: Implications for philosophy of education. Interchange, 34(1), 23–33.http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1024558501861
    Merriam-Webster. (2002). Merriam-Webster online thesaurus. Retrieved November 11,2003 from http://www.m-w.com/
    Meyerson, P., & Secules, T. (2001). Inquiry circles can make social studies meaningful: Learning about the controversy in Kosovo. The Social Studies, 92(6), 267–272.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00377990109604014
    Newmann, F.M., & Wehlage, G.G. (1993, April). Five standards of authentic instruction. Educational Leadership, pp. 8–11.
    Rosenzweig, R. (2003). Interviews with exemplary teachers: Bill Bigelow and Michele Forman. The History Teacher, 36(3), 397–406.
    Stanley, G. (2003, Winter). Warts and all: Exposing history to high school students. Educational Horizons, pp. 86–91.
    Vanderstel, D.G. (2002). “And I thought historians only taught”: Doing history beyond the classroom. Organization of American Historians
    Example 3: What Happens to Students’ Writing When I Add a Self-Assessment Component to Each Writing Activity?
    JodyMcQuillanLiteracy Specialist and Modern Language Teacher, Noble and Greenough School, Dedham, Massachusetts


    Writing is a complex process that relies on students’ abilities to orchestrate multiple components to arrive at a finished piece of writing. My research question focuses on the potential effects of self-assessment on students’ writing. The intervention in this study involved adding a self-assessment piece to allow students to consider their own thinking processes while writing. I systematically incorporated a self-assessment component to writing activities, and I examined the effects of the self-assessments on students’ learning about the writing process. Initially, students seemed unable to self-assess independently, as they consistently rated themselves very highly on the rubrics provided. After collaboratively assessing their writing pieces with their peers, they seemed to adopt a more critical stance toward assessing their own writing. This suggests that providing consistent rubrics, small-group discussions, and opportunities for constructive peer assessment of writing pieces can promote students’ ability to assess the shortcomings of their own writing critically. While developing students’ metacognitive skills about writing can improve future writing pieces, I also think that this reflective stance can be empowering for students, and it is critical for learning across the curriculum and in life.

    Writing is a complex process that involves multiple steps—selecting topics, brainstorming ideas, organizing and sequencing these ideas, choosing effective words to convey messages, using appropriate mechanics, developing personal voice, and checking for conventions, as well as revising and editing skills. The writing process relies on a person's ability to orchestrate these varied components and to arrive at a finished piece of writing. Writing is thus a complex and often difficult process for many students.

    There are many different types of writing assessments for educators to evaluate students’ writing. My research question focuses on the potential effects of self-assessment. The question reads, “What happens when I add a self-assessment component to each writing activity?” As a teacher-researcher, I systematically added a self-assessment component to writing activities and examined the effects of these self-assessments on students’ learning about the writing process. As Graves (1994) writes, “Teachers do have an important role in evaluation, but it consists primarily of helping children become part of the process” (p. 12). In other words, students’ self-assessment of their writing pieces makes them more active learners, and it enhances their own learning. Black and his colleagues (2004) note that when students reflect about their learning and their thinking processes, they are “developing the capacity to work at a metacognitive level” (p. 14) and are becoming independent learners. I believe that developing students’ metacognitive skills about writing could not only improve future writing pieces but also empower students’ learning across the curriculum and even in life.


    In my role as a literacy paraprofessional, I work with fourth- and fifth-grade students who are struggling with various elements of reading and writing. My job entails providing literacy support to these students both in the classroom and in pullout sessions with small groups of students. In the upper elementary grades, most students are no longer “learning to read” or learning to decode texts, but they are instead “reading to learn.” That is, they are reading for information, and they are expanding their reading comprehension skills. Similarly, these students already have a basic understanding of writing, yet they need instruction on how to further develop their own writing pieces.

    As a literacy teacher, I work with students on various writing activities, and I have observed many students who need support completing each step of the writing process. Specifically, some students need help using graphic organizers to help them brainstorm and organize their ideas during the prewriting phase. Some need guidance to use a thesaurus to find more effective words to incorporate into their writing pieces. Some students also need assistance with a checklist of the mechanics such as spelling, capitalization, and punctuation to set a purpose for the revising and editing phase of each writing activity. And still others need conversations and conferences to further develop and refine their ideas throughout each step of the writing process.

    In my experiences, I have noticed that developing students’ metacognitive skills is a beneficial use of instructional time. When students hone their own thinking processes, they can feel empowered. For example, a fifth-grade student and I were recently revisiting and rewriting an essay that he had previously turned in to his classroom teacher. The first draft was difficult to understand and to follow due to incomplete sentences, poor penmanship, and weak organization. When asked to read this paragraph to me, the student remarked that he couldn't read it and that it didn't make any sense. We then revisited the question, reexamined the graphic organizer used for the compare/contrast paragraph, and discussed topic sentences and concluding sentences. In rewriting the paragraph, the student easily generated ideas, and he quickly rewrote the paragraph. Afterward, we made a T-chart to compare how he worked on the paragraph the first time and the second time. He made specific comments about his different approaches, and together we talked about his needs as a writer.

    Since our meeting, this student has more consistently found a quiet place to work at home, he has more carefully planned his writing pieces, and he has given more thought to each step of the writing process. Moreover, he has been able to articulate his needs as a writer for each assignment. That is not to suggest that a single conference resolved this student's needs as a writer but that developing his metacognitive skills benefits student learning.

    Teaching students to think about their metacognitive strategies—that is, their own thinking processes—is critical to students’ success in today's world, yet it is often overlooked and underestimated. If students can begin first to describe and then to analyze their thought processes while writing, teachers and students can work together to identify strengths and weaknesses in writing. They can, in turn, use this information to plan writing support and to strengthen students’ writing. Encouraging students to think about their thinking processes during writing activities might help them develop as writers, and such thinking could strengthen future writing pieces. Moreover, these metacognitive skills and strategies might transfer to other areas of the curriculum as well as to real-life situations.

    Literature Review

    Metacognition has often been defined as “the knowledge and control one has over his or her own thinking and learning activities” (Baker & Brown, 1984, cited by Kingery, 2000, p. 76).

    Metacognition presents an important link between writing and self-assessment in that it promotes thinking about one's own thinking processes while writing. Reflection, as Tompkins (2005) writes, “requires children to pause and become aware of themselves as writers. Indeed, reflection is part of the writing process itself. Children write, pause, reflect, write some more, reflect, and so on” (p. 152). Tompkins (2005) continues to note that “this ability to reflect on one's own writing promotes organizational skills, self-reliance, independence, and creativity. Furthermore, self-evaluation is a natural part of writing” (p. 165).

    While writing appears inextricably linked with self-assessment and metacognition, the research in this area is relatively recent. Beginning in the 1990s, researchers and educators focused on teaching students to self-assess while reading and writing since, as Rhodes and Shanklin (1993) claim, “Assessing metacognition allows us to discover students’ perceptions of themselves as readers and writers, the reading and writing they do, and the strategies they employ to solve the problems they encounter in reading and writing” (p. 112). At this time, researchers and educators used questionnaires, interviews, group discussions, and conferences to teach students to self-assess during literacy activities (Rhodes & Shanklin, 1993, pp. 101–145). Various forms of self-assessment relied on open-ended questions to probe students’ understanding of their thinking processes while reading and writing.

    More recently, researchers and educators have focused on the importance of self-assessment during writing (Anderson, 2005; Routman, 2005; Tompkins, 2004). With the current emphasis on writing as a constructive process, researchers and educators are teaching students to use checklists and process checklists to reveal the students’ process of thinking while writing. As Tompkins (2004) writes, “Process assessment is designed to probe how children write, the decisions they make as they write, and the strategies they use rather than the quality of the finished product” (p. 150). In addition to checklists, researchers and educators are also relying on rubrics to help students learn to assess their own work and reflect on their thinking processes. Rubrics can be simple or complex in delineating the criteria against which a writing piece is to be judged. Yet, as Routman (2005) reminds researchers and educators alike, “In too many places students are being ‘rubricized’: every piece of writing is scored against a rubric, sometimes even in first grade. … It is not advisable to apply rubrics to all writing nor to score all writing” (p. 243).

    Current research recognizes the need to develop students’ ability to self-assess, and it promotes the importance of teaching students to reflect on their writing pieces. As Routman (2005) states,

    Self-evaluation is the missing piece in writing instruction. Ultimately, we want students to internalize the qualities of good writing and to have inner conversations about their writing—in other words, to have conferences with themselves in which they notice their strengths, critique their own writing, set reasonably high goals, know how and when to seek help, and work toward accomplishing their goals. The more work the child is able to do on his own, the more learning takes place. Teach writing with self-evaluation as an end goal for all students. (p. 253)

    Educators now create child-friendly self-assessment tools that are grade-level and developmentally appropriate, and they solicit feedback about these assessments from students (Routman, 2005, p. 241). Further research into the link between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition will continue to clarify the benefits to student learning of developing students’ reflective stance in writing activities, in other areas of the curriculum, and in real-life situations.

    The Research Question Connects to Boston College Themes

    Teaching students to think about their metacognitive strategies, that is, their own thinking processes, is critical to students’ success in today's world. The research question, “What happens when I add a self-assessment component to each writing piece?” provided an opportunity to link metacognitive skills with writing. If students can describe and analyze their thought processes while writing, students can, in turn, use this information to plan writing support and to strengthen future writing pieces.

    This research question allowed me to grow as an educator and to construct my own knowledge about the writing process. Research on teaching writing offers prompts, graphic organizers, checklists for editing, and suggestions for classroom publishing. In looking at the research on teaching writing, I noticed that it sometimes includes a self-assessment piece and that this component often takes many different forms. I also noted that some of the literature on teaching writing adds a self-assessment to writing activities, yet, it seems an afterthought. I first examined several different forms of self-assessment to identify key elements involved in students’ self-assessment of writing. I then created a self-assessment tool that promoted students reflecting about their writing. It seemed that this simple step of asking students to reflect on a more systematic basis could provide critical information about their metacognitive skills, and it could also enhance their future writing skills.

    This research question also promoted social justice and accommodated diversity as I worked with students identified as “deficient” in the area of writing. I offered differentiated lessons and interventions to these students to strengthen their writing skills and to further their metacognitive skills while writing. If students can begin to reflect on the process of writing while they are writing, they can then more fully and more equitably participate in all academic classroom writing activities.

    Collaboration among students, classroom teachers, and literacy specialists was also a critical part of this research question. In talking with the students, I explained that I wanted them to complete a self-assessment piece at the end of writing activities to determine if they were thinking about the writing process and if this thinking process might influence future writing assignments. I also explained my project to classroom teachers at one of our bi-weekly collaborative meetings. I asked for their help in collecting writing samples from the students, and I invited their observations of literacy students during writing activities in the classroom. In addition, the literacy specialists’ expertise and teaching experience helped me identify examples of self-assessment across different grade levels. In all, this project was a collaborative project intended to benefit student learning by enhancing students’ overall ability to reflect on and to learn from the writing process.

    In all, this research question allowed me to explore a topic of interest to me on both a theoretical and practical level. After researching different forms of self-assessment, I integrated a self-assessment tool into the writing lessons, and I continually reflected on the process and the product. The processes of researching and reflection ultimately bridged the gap between theoretical research and classroom practice.

    Teaching and Learning Contexts

    This study took place in an elementary school in a suburb of a large New England city. The school currently enrolls 340 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and there are often 10 to 12 students who enroll in the middle of the academic year. The elementary school is located in an upper middle-class town with a population of 17,000, and the inhabitants’ primary language is predominantly English.

    Various assessments were used to determine which students should receive literacy support and to identify the focus of the literacy services. Students were given the Qualitative Reading Inventory-3 (QRI-3) for reading comprehension, a word identification list, the Words Their Way spelling list, and a writing assessment. Students’ scores from the most recent MCAS tests were also examined. The findings of these assessments, combined with classroom teachers’ input, resulted in the selection of these four students to receive literacy support both in the classroom and in pullout sessions.


    Stavros is a fifth-grade boy whose primary language is English and who can speak a few words of Greek. He is an only child who excels at sports, and he actively participates in activities that are sports related, including recess activities and physical education. Stavros has been receiving literacy services since first grade, and he is currently on a 504 Education Plan to support processing information.


    John is a fifth-grade boy whose primary language is English and who can speak a few words of Greek. He has an older brother, who is in eighth grade and currently receives SPED services, and a younger sister in first grade. John often has difficulty hearing in class. He continually states that he spends hours on the weekends playing video games. He has received literacy services since first grade. John has been recommended for testing several times, and his parents refused to sign the forms each time.


    Sophie is a fifth-grade girl whose primary language is English. Her parents both speak Italian fluently, and her grandmother speaks only Italian. Her grandmother cares for Sophie and her younger brother while her parents work. Sophie is a shy girl who seems to get along with everyone. Sophie has been receiving literacy services since fourth grade, when she received a “Needs Improvement” on a third-grade MCAS.


    Alex is a fifth-grade girl whose primary language is English and who lives with her mother. Her parents are divorced, and her brother lives in a different state with her father. Alex's mother works full-time, and Alex attends an afterschool program at another elementary school in town. She often struggles to get along with other fifth-grade girls. She has been receiving literacy services since first grade.

    Literacy services for these four students focus on writing development and reading comprehension strategies. As a literacy paraprofessional, I work with these four students in small groups two times a week. I am also involved in the literacy activities in their classrooms twice a week. In this way, I support them in literacy activities both in and out of the classroom.


    Writing is a complex process that involves orchestrating multiple interrelated skills to create a final product. It relies on a student's ability to select topics, brainstorm ideas, organize and sequence these ideas, choose effective words to convey messages, use appropriate mechanics, develop personal voice, check for conventions, and revise and edit the work. My intervention involved adding a self-assessment component to students’ writing activities to see if it impacted their writing.

    Over the course of 8 weeks and in the role of a literacy paraprofessional, I worked with small groups of students (two groups of two students) for 30 minutes twice a week on writing activities. Our lessons typically began with a mini-lesson about a specific component of writing, and the students then responded to a writing prompt. For example, one lesson focused on transition words, another highlighted writing about a “small moment” (Calkins, 1994), and yet another emphasized lively lead sentences. The focus of these mini-lessons was on individual student needs, and these needs were determined by examining prior writing samples and by conversations with their classroom teacher. To organize their writing pieces during the research study, as Buckner (2005) suggests, the students each kept a spiral notebook in which we recorded notes about each mini-lesson. These notes were in the back of the notebook so students could refer to them while completing later writing assignments. In the front of each notebook, students put in the writing prompt for which they could create a graphic organizer (a teaching strategy with which they are familiar) prior to writing, and they wrote responses to the prompts.

    The intervention in this study involved adding a self-assessment to each writing activity. The self-assessment took two distinct forms, one that was open-ended and one that was more structured. Students had the self-assessment forms before they began writing. At the beginning of the study, students completed the first writing piece, and they then did the first self-assessment comprised of two open-ended questions. I introduced this project by explaining that we were working on strengthening their writing skills and that I wanted them to take a few minutes to think about how they did on the first writing piece. The questions read, “What do you think you did well in this piece?” and “What would you like to focus on in your next writing piece?” These two questions allowed the students to articulate which elements they used well in their writing and which elements they wanted to focus on in future writing assignments. These open-ended questions promoted students identifying the elements they deemed important in writing.

    The second form of self-assessment was a rubric and thus a more structured form of self-assessment as it delineated different elements of writing and asked students to consider if they included specific elements in their writing. This form of self-assessment relied on a teacher generating the important elements in a writing activity and allowed the students to assess their use of specific elements or the lack thereof.

    At the end of the study, students wrote a final piece and again completed a self-assessment similar to the first, that is, a self-assessment comprising two open-ended questions. I looked at whether students could identify and use various components of writing. I also looked at whether elements of the self-assessments promoted during this study could be linked to improvements in students’ writing.

    Research Methods

    While this study technically employed a mixed-methods research approach, the methods were predominantly qualitative. Specifically, the qualitative research included analysis of graphic organizers as well as the associated writing samples, observations of students during writing activities, and conversations with students, classroom teachers, and literacy specialists about the students’ performance. The quantitative research methods included the self-assessment rubrics, where students awarded themselves points.

    These research methods allowed me to identify varied trends in the link between metacognition and writing and to describe progress in rich detail and thereby to document the changes that occurred during the course of the study. Moreover, the thick description generated by these qualitative data sources provided a rich context within which I could situate these developments in students’ learning.

    Data Sources

    Various data sources were used to illuminate potential links between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition. I examined students’ writing pieces from the prewriting phase to the finished works. Specifically, I began by looking at the use of graphic organizers that support brainstorming and organizing during the prewriting phase, then I continued to collect writing samples, and I ended each writing assignment with a self-assessment piece. After 8 weeks, I had six writing samples from each student as well as copies of the self-assessment rubric I developed for each lesson.

    In addition to students’ writing, data sources included ongoing informal assessments, observations, lesson plans, and conversations I had with students while they were writing. It was important to note students’ questions and comments during these writing activities as well as during writing activities in their classrooms. Along the same lines, it was critical to take careful notes of student behaviors during writing activities. Data sources also included interviews and conversations with the focus students as well as with their classroom teachers.

    Table A.5 Initial Self-Assessment

    Table A.6 Summary of Self-Assessment Scores

    In all, I interpreted the data by looking for emerging themes and patterns and by linking these themes to students’ growth or lack thereof. Continually revisiting these data provided feedback about future teaching points and revealed emerging themes and patterns relevant to the potential link between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition.


    During the 8-week intervention, four 5th-grade students completed six writing pieces for the purpose of this study, and they performed six self-assessments of these writing activities. They completed the initial self-assessment that asked two open-ended questions about their strengths and weaknesses in writing, they finished two self-assessments after a writing activity, they filled out two self-assessments after a peer assessment and a small-group discussion, and they responded to two open-ended questions on the final self-assessment.

    Students completed the initial self-assessment of a writing piece during the first week of the study. The initial self-assessment asked students to respond to two questions following a writing activity: “What did I do well in this writing piece?” and “What will I focus on in my next writing piece?” As a group, they named 16 features they felt they had done well, and they identified 12 features they wanted to focus on in future writing activities (see Table A.5).

    Over the course of the next 5 weeks, students worked on four writing pieces, and they completed self-assessment rubrics for each piece. The students filled out the first two self-assessments following a writing activity, and each rubric had a total of 16 points. As Table A.6 shows, students gave themselves a combined score of 55 out of 64 possible points on Self-Assessment 1 and a score of 56 out of a possible 64 points on Self-Assessment 2. Table A.7 presents the scores in each category of the rubric, and it shows that they scored themselves as proficient writers in 31 of 32 categories. Only one student gave himself a two out of four points in one category.

    Specifically, Table A.7 shows that the students rated themselves a 4 out of 4 in 15 of 32 categories on Self-Assessments 1 and 2. They also rated themselves a 3.5 out of 4 in 2 of 32 categories, a 3 out of 4 in 14 of 32 categories, and a 2 out of 4 in 1 of 32 categories.

    The next two self-assessments, Self-Assessments 3 and 4, followed a writing activity and a peer assessment activity. During the peer assessment and ensuing small-group discussion, students used the same rubric to assess their peers’ writing pieces, and they were required to give evidence to support their judgments. Then, students used the same rubric to perform a self-assessment of their own writing piece. Table A.6 shows that students gave themselves a combined score of 46 out of a possible 64 points on Self-Assessment 3 and a combined score of 40 out of a possible 64 points on Self-Assessment 4. Table A.6 also shows that the scores from the first two self-assessments completed individually differ from the last two self-assessments completed after a peer assessment and a small-group discussion. As Table A.8 shows, students did not give themselves a 4 out of 4 in any categories. The figures in Table A.9 show that they scored themselves a 3.5 out of 4 points on 5 of 32 categories, they rated themselves a 3 out of 4 points on 12 of 32 categories, they gave themselves a 2.5 out of 4 points on 9 of 32 categories, and they graded themselves a 2 or less on 6 of 32 categories.

    The final self-assessment asked students to again answer the two open-ended questions from Self-Assessment 1. Students generated a total of 11 features of writing they felt they did well in their final writing piece, and eight features they would focus on in future writing pieces. Table A.9 presents the students’ various responses.

    Table A.7 Scores for Self-Assessment Rubrics 1 and 2

    Table A.8 Scores for Self-Assessment Rubrics 3 and 4

    In all, there is a difference in the scores of the self-assessments completed individually and those completed after peer collaboration. As Table A.6 displays, the scores are higher on Self-Assessments 1 and 2 than on Self-Assessments 3 and 4. On Self-Assessments 1 and 2, which were completed individually, students awarded themselves an average of 55.5 points out of a possible 64. On Self-Assessments 3 and 4, the students scored themselves lower, and they gave themselves an average of 43 points out of a possible 64 points. The decrease in the self-assessment scores suggests that the students adopted a more critical stance in assessing their own writing after collaborating with their peers.


    This research project set out to explore and document the possible links between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition. Although the classroom teacher assured me that these students could use a rubric to self-assess their writing and although I thoroughly discussed each self-assessment rubric introduced during the study, students’ inability to be objective about their performance was evident. As Table A.7 shows, students scored themselves as proficient writers in 31 of 32 categories on Self-Assessments 1 and 2, and only one student felt his writing was weak in one category. These scores suggest that the students have a positive self-image of themselves as writers, and this is a positive element for these students in terms of their receiving literacy support. Yet, these scores also suggest that the students were not objective about their writing performance.

    Table A.9 Final Self-Assessment

    After examining the results from Self-Assessments 1 and 2, I introduced a collaborative component into the assessment process with the intent of helping students begin to think more critically about their writing. Specifically, after each writing piece, students read each other's pieces, assessed them with the same rubric used for self-assessment, and provided textual evidence to support their judgments. Following the peer assessment and small-group discussion, students then completed a self-assessment of their writing pieces. Table A.6 documents a drop in scores, for example, from a total of 55 points out of 64 on Self-Assessment 1 and a 56 out of 64 on Self-Assessment 2 to a 46 out of 64 points on Self-Assessment 3 and a 40 out of 64 points on Self-Assessment 4. On average, while the students gave themselves 55.5 points out of a possible 64 points on Self-Assessments 1 and 2, they gave themselves 43 points out of a possible 64 on Self-Assessments 3 and 4. The scores on the last two self-assessments suggest that the students assessed themselves more critically as a result of peer collaboration.

    When the students had completed the self-assessments both without collaboration and with peer collaboration, I asked them to reflect on the two different approaches to self-assessment. Their comments suggest that peer collaboration promotes a more critical stance and thus develops their abilities to self-assess their own writing. For example, John mentioned he preferred doing the collaborative peer assessment before performing the self-assessment. He wrote, “It helps me when we talk about it because before I just gave myself all 4s. It helped me because when I don't talk about it I just give myself all fours” (personal communication, April 12, 2006). Another student wrote that she preferred the collaborative peer assessment before the self-assessment because when she did the self-assessment without feedback from others, “I think it isn't that good because then you just want to give yourself good grades” (Sophie, personal communication, April 12, 2006). Stavros also preferred the collaborative assessment prior to the self-assessment because, as he wrote, “Its [sic] helping me in class and its [sic] beter [sic] when we talk about it because I know what to add next time. I thought this activety [sic] was OK because we got to discuss how you felt about your paragraph” (personal communication, April 12, 2006). These comments, combined with the lower scores on Self-Assessments 3 and 4 rubrics, further support the idea that the students gave more thought to the self-assessments after discussing their writing with their peers.

    In concluding the research study, I asked the students what they had learned about themselves as writers, and their responses were insightful. Two students identified specific elements of writing they felt they did well. Stavros, for example, wrote that his writing can “hook the reader,” and he has good word choice (personal communication, April 12, 2006). John focused on how he will strengthen his future pieces in writing: “I need better word choice [and] better description” (personal communication, April 12, 2006). Alex responded by writing, “I am a good writer. I need quiet. I need to think more about writing” (personal communication, April 12, 2006). And Sophie wrote that “I think more when I'm writing” (personal communication, April 12, 2006). These comments reveal that these students still have a positive image of themselves as good writers despite the drop in scores between Self-Assessments 1 and 2 and Self-Assessments 3 and 4. These comments also suggest that these students are beginning to think more about their thinking processes while writing, thereby signaling a link between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition.

    In all, this research study set out to explore and document the possible links between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition. Initially, students seemed unable to self-assess independently, as they consistently rated themselves very highly on the rubrics provided. After collaboratively assessing their writing pieces with their peers, they developed a more critical stance toward assessing their own writing. This suggests that providing consistent rubrics, small-group discussions, and opportunities for constructive peer assessment of writing pieces can promote the students’ ability to critically assess the shortcomings of their own writing. Specifically, the collaborative component resulted in the students beginning to adopt a more critical stance in their self-assessments. While the intervention does not point to a direct link between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition, I think the intervention was successful in revealing the benefits to students’ developing writing skills.

    Limitations of the Research Study

    There were several limitations that could have influenced the validity and the reliability of this study. First, the students needed to be able to articulate in writing or in an interview that they were thinking about their own thought processes. If they couldn't communicate these thoughts, it would have been difficult to determine what happened when I added a self-assessment component to each writing assignment. A second possible limitation was the small number of students involved in this research study. While the research highlighted a possible link between self-assessment and writing, it would be necessary to conduct a study looking at more students and a more diverse sample of students to document the potential effects on a larger scale. A third limitation was the students’ level of literacy achievement in this research study. This study involved fifth-grade students who have been identified as needing literacy support and who are currently receiving literacy services. To further show the possible link between self-assessment and writing, it would be essential to work with a whole class of fifth-grade students to document a more random sampling of students’ achievement and their development. Finally, another limitation to collecting writing samples was the number of MCAS exams scheduled for fifth-graders during the time of this study. Although it reduced the number of writing samples collected, the data about the possible link between writing, self-assessment, and metacognition still yielded interesting insights.

    Implications for Teaching

    Teaching writing is a challenge. This research study focused on the processes of writing, with hopes that I could document a link between self-assessment and writing skills. In theory, such a finding impacts many aspects of classroom teaching. For instance, educators need to be explicit about the learning goals they hold for students for every writing lesson so students are clear as to what they are trying to accomplish and how they are attempting to realize these goals. One way to make these learning goals explicit is for educators to develop rubrics that attend specifically to the goals and the means employed to realize them. While this entails carefully developing grade-appropriate rubrics for writing activities, Routman (2005) reminds teachers that while rubrics are helpful, they do not need to “rubricize” (p. 243) every piece of writing throughout the school year. During the research study, I solicited students’ feedback about various rubrics, and I found that it was beneficial to students’ learning to ask for their input about the rubrics. They offered insightful comments about rubrics that were too complex, too long, too wordy, or too confusing. It is important for educators to identify the goals of writing activities and to design rubrics that match these goals.

    Linked with creating rubrics is showing students how to use rubrics to assess themselves. After learning goals are identified and a rubric is developed to match these goals, teachers need to set aside time so students have opportunities to discuss the rubric before they write. It would also be beneficial to student learning to give students multiple opportunities to familiarize themselves with the rubric and the assessment process. Teachers need to have students write, give them opportunities to think about what and how they have written, provide a rubric with which to assess their writing, and then allow them to revise their work. Writing instruction coupled with reflection can thus result in stronger writing skills.

    Another implication of this research study involves the social dynamics of integrating a peer assessment component into the self-assessment process. Educators need to offer mini-lessons to students on how to provide positive and constructive feedback to their peers and on how to give textual evidence to support their judgments. This is a critical component because it addresses the social dynamics within a classroom, and it creates a “safe” environment within which students can collaborate. Peer assessment, as Alex noted, “is hard because sometimes it hurt my feelings if you get bad grades” (personal communication, April 12, 2006). Yet she also suggested that it was a valuable experience, adding, “next time I will write more carefully” (personal communication, April 12, 2006). Addressing the social implications ultimately helps students learn to work together and to help each other more effectively.

    A final implication of this project is that students will gain greater awareness of their own thinking processes and that this metacognition will encourage them to think more while they are writing. When Alex commented, “next time I will write more carefully,” she suggested she understood the potential positive impact of thinking about her thinking processes while writing. In all, as Routman (2005) writes,

    Self-evaluation is the missing piece in writing instruction. Ultimately, we want students to internalize the qualities of good writing and to have inner conversations about their writing—in other words, to have conferences with themselves in which they notice their strengths, critique their own writing, set reasonably high goals, know how and when to seek help, and work toward accomplishing their goals. The more work the child is able to do on his own, the more learning takes place. Teach writing with self-evaluation as an end goal for all students. (p. 253)

    Students’ self-assessment of their own writing pieces makes them more active learners, and it enhances their own learning. While developing students’ metacognitive skills about writing could improve future writing pieces, I also think that these skills can be empowering for students, and they are critical for learning across the curriculum and even in life.


    At the beginning of 2006, educators and researchers across America are participating in an ongoing debate about whether teachers should devote more time to working with content material or with the processes necessary to understand content materials. Schools are being graded on the results of state standardized tests, recess is being shortened or eliminated to allow for more teaching time, and the school year is being lengthened in some towns to give teachers more time to work with students. There is an ongoing and widespread debate in America about teaching content over process in our schools.

    Why can't we do both? In fact, we should do both. While many students can complete worksheets, and they can write five-paragraph essays without support, for other students, orchestrating the multiple strategies involved in the writing process is difficult. We, as educators, should teach developmentally appropriate, grade-level content material to our students, and at the same time, we should teach them multiple ways to organize and present their thoughts and responses in writing. We, as educators, should introduce our students to various writing strategies to strengthen writing skills and to develop an awareness of their metacognitive skills. This style of effective teaching would teach content and process to our young students. Moreover, as educators, we should help our students develop relevant skills to writing, and we should do this in an appropriate and supportive social context. In all, to be effective educators in the 21st century, it is critical that we work with our students to develop their metacognitive skills as they are writing and that we also guide them as they acquire the facility to use multiple strategies in the writing process. When we can teach our students the essential processes for organizing and presenting their thoughts in writing, they will be able to more fully and more effectively present their ideas in writing to others.

    Writing is a demanding cognitive activity, and this research study examined the potential link between self-assessment and writing. The intervention in this study involved adding a self-assessment piece to allow students to think about their own processes of thinking while writing. It is my hope that students internalized the value of self-assessment and used this component to further enrich their writing skills. It is also my hope that students can ultimately transfer this reflective stance into other areas of the curriculum and into their lives.

    Anderson, C. (2005). Assessing writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & William, D. (2004). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 9–21.
    Buckner, A. (2005). Notebook know-how: Strategies for the writer's notebook. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
    Calkins, L. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (2001). Guiding readers and writers Grades 3–6: Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Graves, D. (1994). A fresh look at writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Kingery, E. (2000). Teaching metacognitive strategies to enhance higher level thinking in adolescents. In P.Linder (ed.), Literacy at a new horizon, 22 Yearbook of the College Reading Association (pp. 74–86). Commerce, TX: College Reading Association.
    Rhodes, L., & Shanklin, N. (1993). Windows into literacy: Assessing learners K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Rosaen, C. (1990). Improving Writing opportunities in elementary classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 90(4), 418–434.http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/461624
    Routman, R. (2005). Writing essentials: Raising expectations and results while simplifying teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Tompkins, G. (2004). Teaching writing: Balancing process and product. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

    Appendix B: Annotated Teacher Action Research Web Sites

    These are Web sites that students in several sections of my graduate course, Inquiry Seminar, identified and collected as rich resources for learning about and conducting teacher action research.

    Access Excellence: Let's Collaborate


    This site is useful for teachers who are new to action research. In addition to providing a brief overview of Teacher Action Research (TAR), it provides a guideline for selecting a research project and takes readers through the initial steps: (1) deciding on a focus, (2) developing a plan to gain insights, (3) analyzing data by looking at patterns or themes, and (4) reporting what one has learned. Also, the site emphasizes the importance of starting with a general idea. Finally, this site gives several examples of action research studies that have already been done by teachers.

    Action Evaluation Research Institute


    This Web site deals with action evaluation research, which is a method of evaluation that focuses on defining, monitoring, and assessing success. This evaluation approach has two key components: participation and reflexivity. Participation means that all stakeholders engage in the process from the beginning, articulating and negotiating their goals, values, and proposed action plans. Reflexivity means that all participants function as “reflective practitioners” together, reflecting and examining the interaction of goals, values, and activities. These reflections are done systematically and continuously during the project. A Web-based database and discussion forum, which is designed to sustain the reflective process, facilitate the process. However, regular ongoing and face-to-face dialogue and reflection are essential.

    Action Research at Queen's University


    This Queen's University Web site is an internally based page that focuses mostly on the papers of graduate students and faculty. The sections that link to outside sources, such as American Educational Research Association (AERA) papers, are limited, with only one or two links per section. However, for the narrow scope of action research topics that are covered, the articles and cited sources are accurate and comprehensive.



    This is a British Web site that gives some introductory information on action research. It defines action research as well as what it calls a living education theory approach to action research. It defines this as an approach to action research in which individuals produce accounts or explanations for their own learning. This Web site also includes a selection of theses for visitors to read, as well as multimedia presentations of action research findings and links to other action research sites. This Web site is aimed primarily at students at Bath University, but it might be an interesting site for people doing research in the United States because it gives a European perspective.

    Action Research Network


    This Web site is a helpful resource for teachers and those in the process of getting their degrees in education. It contains many features, including a brief outline and definition of education action research. The site is a useful tool for teachers to share their research and view the research of others. Teachers can log on to the site and use a template to enter and track their research. The site also provides a search engine which anyone visiting the site can use to find research by author's name, grade level, level of student achievement, method of intervention, school specifications, and research problem. It gives a clear sense of the current topics in action research.

    Action Research Resources, Southern Cross University


    This site, sponsored by Southern Cross University in Australia, is a heavily trafficked discussion site as well as a reference library. It includes an in-depth discussion of what action research is and why it is useful. It also includes a full list of action research articles and books, including those still in progress, as well as a library of theses and dissertations on the subject. There are also a significant number of discussion boards and mailing lists for those interested in discussing and debating action research with others in the community. Unique to this site is a 14-week correspondence course about action research, called Areol, which is offered over e-mail as a public service.

    Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) Digest


    This site takes a scholarly approach to action research by basing its definition on those of several published action researchers. The site highlights the difference between a deductive approach, which focuses on implementation of an action plan, and an inductive approach, which focuses on planning for action. The site provides an example of action research in an experimental elementary school Spanish program, which highlights the features of action research.

    Teacher Research at George Mason University


    This site is extensive and informative; it gives readers a history of action research and explains the differences between this type of research and traditional educational research. The site explains the processes one must go through to conduct action research. It takes readers through the entire research process, beginning with formulating a question and ending with publication. The site also includes a list of links to other action research sites.

    Educational Action Research Journal


    This London-based Web site highlights an international journal that connects research to practice. One of its appeals is that it is concerned with “exploring the unity between education research and practice.” Such studies are valuable because readers can gather ideas from different educational settings and experiences that can then be applied worldwide. The site provides examples of action research studies so viewers can see the latest topics of interest, different formats of how research is presented, and how research and practice are related. Viewers can scroll through the journals and read one-paragraph summaries of all the entries contained in the journal. Links to full articles are also provided if viewers want to read further. The journal is published four times a year.

    Education as Inquiry


    This Web site has good reflective pieces by teachers who have done action research. These teachers found themselves frustrated by a situation in their classrooms and wanted to try to change the situation. Reflective pieces by teachers describe trying different strategies, reflecting, and collecting data on their positive and negative outcomes; this is a valuable form of action research.

    Inquiry Units/iLabs

    http://www.inquiry.uiuc.edu This Web site, developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, centers on teacher inquiry and defines inquiry for researchers. The focus of the site is the 3,000-plus inquiry units that are available to researchers. These units involve research that has been previously done and are available for current teachers and students to use as background information or confirmation for their own research. The site also provides chat rooms and the ability to communicate with other member researchers. This interactive, shared capability is valuable for the teacher-researcher. In addition, the site provides assessment activities that can be used in the classroom as research is continuing. This is a particularly important capability, as it affords teacher-researchers the ability to test their theories and hypotheses in the classroom as research progresses to validate or refute the work.

    Madison Metropolitan School District


    This is an excellent Web site developed by the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin. The Madison District has been involved in action research since the early 1990s and therefore has a wealth of knowledge about the implementation and impact of actual research projects. The site includes basic ideas of how to approach a project and problems that may be encountered during a project. The best information on this site is contained in its wealth of documented projects. There are accounts of action research projects that can be searched through the criteria of grade level, data collection methods, and study descriptors. These abstracts provide a wealth of information about how to approach a project. They can also stimulate ideas about what kinds of questions to propose for new projects.

    Multicultural Pavilion


    This Web site gives readers a brief overview and description of teacher action research, but more important, it looks at it through the scope of equity and multicultural education. The authors of this site believe that TAR is an effective tool for promoting equity within our schools. The authors feel that TAR works on an individual level as well as public, noting the transformative nature of TAR. In addition, this site provides an actual account of TAR at work and gives useful strategies for initiating action research in our schools.

    The National Health Museum: Access Excellence


    This is an excellent starter site. It gives an overview of the teacher-as-researcher concept, tips on how to perform TAR correctly, examples of ongoing research, online resources for further information including a list of e-mail discussion groups teachers can join, access to a discussion board, and two indices that can be searched for further information.

    Networks–Online Journal for Teacher Research


    This is the Web site for Networks, the first online journal for teacher research. The site provides direct access to the current and previous issues of the journal, which contains original research projects conducted by classroom teachers, book reviews, works-in-progress, and discussions on current issues. It also provides a link to Research in News, a site that contains information regarding grants for conducting teacher action research for Canadian teachers. The site has a links section that provides links to Web sites related to various educational issues.

    Project Site Support


    This site was developed by Johns Hopkins University and provides a brief summary of action research and its history. The site was created as a supplement to an education course. The summary of action research is clear and concise, and it provides helpful downloadable files that one may incorporate into an action research evaluation journal. The site is ideal for someone who wants to implement quickly some tools of action research.

    Research for Action


    Research for Action is a nonprofit, Philadelphia-based organization whose goal is to reform Philadelphia public schools. The Web site evaluates factors such as staff, parent, and student involvement in deciding what works best for different communities. A weakness of the site is that it does not specifically seek the opinion and experience of classroom teachers themselves.

    Resource Papers in Action Research


    This Web site provides an updated list of recent books and articles on action research and related topics. It is especially helpful for planning the steps of action research. The authors update it frequently so that it provides some of the most current literature on action research that is available. Some of the books listed focus on methods used for action research, whereas others provide case examples that could prove helpful while brainstorming a topic for research.

    Teaching Today


    Teaching Today is a subsidiary of the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company and is dedicated to providing secondary school teachers with practical classroom strategies. This site explains action research through the example of one teacher's experience with it. The site explains what action research is, why teachers should use it, and how one would conduct it in one's own classroom. Additional links are provided for further research on action research.

    Teachers Network Leadership Institute


    The Institute's principles are based on “improving student achievement by bringing the teachers’ voice to education policymaking,” and by “teachers bringing their experience and expertise to current debates on education policy” through action research. On this site, there are a number of interesting and useful links, including: Where We Are, Our Growth and History, Impact of TNLI, Our Teacher Research, Publications, and Readings and Resources. Another exceptional resource is a video on action research, which focuses on an example of how action research can be used to meet standards and improve class discussion. The professional development section is also particularly interesting, including completed research projects in both elementary and high school settings. There are also numerous other completed research projects on various topics, including: Curriculum Implementation, Classroom Management and School Culture, Assessment and Preparation for Assessment, Parent Involvement and Immigrant Engagement, and Policy and Practice. The site is fairly easy to navigate.

    UCERC Collaborative Partners


    UCERC has composed a collection of journal articles that deal with the spectrum of issues surrounding teacher action research. The site is helpful for those doing scholarly work on the subject of TAR. The site is designed for easy navigation; article abstracts have links immediately below them. The full text of some articles is available from the Web site, while others must be ordered.

    Appendix C: Curriculum and Instruction Web Sites

    These curriculum and instruction Web sites were collected and annotated by students in my graduate course, Secondary Curriculum and Instruction. They identified Web sites that would assist them in their teaching internships and in addressing subject matter content in conducting teacher research studies.

    The Academy of American Poets


    This site provides a complete anthology of English-language poets, with biographies, sample poems, and even readings of poems. The site also has lesson plans, forums for discussion, and a host of educationally oriented materials. News about poetry events and awards is updated frequently.


    http://www.artcyclopedia.com This site is a helpful resource for history teachers. Teachers can obtain an electronic copy of a painting, photo, or other form of visual art relating to a time period or theme in history.

    Best of History Web Sites


    This site is useful for helping history teachers design interesting lesson plans for subjects students may consider mundane. There are links to more than 1,000 history content-related Web sites. Each link has a detailed annotation so one can easily identify if a link would be of interest. The side tool bar is organized into different areas of history, including Prehistory, Ancient/Biblical, Medieval, U.S. History, Early Modern European, 20th Century, World War Two, and Art History. There are also links for general historical resources and maps.

    Classroom Connect


    This Web site connects to hundreds of other sites on all different subjects. It also has options to get in touch with other teachers to discuss lesson plans and subject matter. This site can help a teacher research historical matters during the lesson planning process.

    Daily Grind


    The Daily Grind is a blog created by a teacher about his teaching experiences. It has sections for other teachers to comment on his experiences and his opinions on pedagogy. It also has links to other teachers’ blogs. Having a blog relieves teachers’ isolation and allows teachers to receive advice on teaching outside of their political and geographic location. The Web site is helpful for new teachers as well as experienced teachers.

    Dave's ESL Café


    This page is sponsored by institutions that are engaged in improving teacher skills and granting TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificates. The Web site is well-organized and is intended for both students and teachers. The main page has three major links: Stuff for Teachers, Stuff for Students, and Stuff for Everyone. The Teachers link has information on job opportunities and general lesson plans appropriate for all student levels. The Students link has quizzes, grammar activities, and pronunciation activities.

    Ed Helper


    This site is helpful for both teachers and students and is focused primarily on English content. Teachers can find many lesson activities as well as worksheets. Students can use the page to practice their English. The site also offers support to students with other subjects, including math, science, geography, social studies, and health. Activities offered on the site are appropriate for any grade level. Teachers can also use the page to make word puzzles and graphs.

    Education Development Center


    For more than 40 years, EDC has built bridges among research, policy, and practice. It manages 335 projects in 50 countries, including projects on early child development, K–12 education, health promotion, workforce preparation, community development, learning technologies, and basic and adult education.

    Education Index


    This Web site is a compilation of historical resources on the Internet. It has links to Web sites that are applicable to any subject matter and is extremely comprehensive. The Web site is a good starting place to search for specialized knowledge and materials to add to lectures and presentations.



    This site has numerous lesson plan ideas from other teachers. Most of the lesson plans are geared for younger students, but with some work, they can be modified for secondary school students. While most of the lesson plan ideas are intended for history teachers, teachers of other subjects will still find the site helpful.

    Educator Learning Center


    This Web site includes tools and materials to better prepare students for the classroom. It also contains articles about everyday issues faced by teachers and lesson plans categorized by content area and age range.

    Facing History


    This Web site is for the curriculum, “Facing History and Ourselves.” The curriculum is designed to examine history and human behavior, using the Holocaust as the main focus. However, the curriculum also discusses oppression and genocide throughout history. The Web site provides access to numerous documents, lessons, and unit plans.

    Fordham University Internet History Sourcebooks Project


    This Web site designed by Fordham University provides educators with a collection of historical sourcebooks. The three main areas of history for which the site provides documents are ancient history, medieval history, and modern history. The site also provides some specific sourcebooks on African history, Asian history, global history, Indian history, Islamic history, Jewish history, and women's history. Theme sourcebooks of travelers’ accounts and legal history are also available. The site's bibliography is extensive and serves as additional research materials for teachers. Despite being extensive and detailed, the site's sections are well-outlined and easy to navigate.

    Google Earth


    Google Earth is a free application that can be downloaded and then used in conjunction with an online community. Google Earth is a collection of satellite images, creating an atlas of the Earth that can be used in presentations. For example, history students can tour a series of Civil War battle sites or countries affected by the Napoleonic wars.

    Historical Text Archive


    This Web site has numerous documents appropriate for a history class. The site also has links to other information, such as videos and books. Although the site is not intended specifically for teachers, they will undoubtedly find its resources helpful.

    I Love Teaching


    This Web site is especially useful for student teachers and new teachers. Notable sections include the “Education Majors and Student Teachers” and the “Classroom Management” sections. The “Getting a Teaching Job” section provides extensive lists of possible interview questions and what one should include in a portfolio. The site is not run by a major company, and it provides sound and reassuring advice.

    Lesson Plans and Resources for Social Studies Teachers


    This Web site is intended for social studies and history teachers. It contains links to lesson plans, unit plans, and thematic units.

    Lewis and Clark


    This is an interactive Web site about Lewis and Clark's exploration in search of the Northwest Passage. On each page, the reader is given a description of the trip at a certain geographical point and then asked to make a decision about the group's next move. This Web site would be useful at the end of a unit or lesson, after students have a strong understanding of the journey, because the interactive decisions students are required to make require thorough knowledge.

    Library of Congress American Memory


    This is the Web site for the American Memory Project by the Library of Congress. It provides free access to historical images, maps, documents, and audio and video clips from American history. Most of the documents on the site are primary documents. The main page has a list of topics to explore including African American history, presidents, immigration, and American expansion. The Web site provides pictures of actual sources, such as photographs of letters by former presidents.

    National Council of Teachers of English


    This is the homepage of the National Council of Teachers of English and is a resource specifically for English teachers. It offers numerous resources for teaching skills, assessment, working with English Language Learners, and conventions. A section entitled “Issues” discusses current issues such as No Child Left Behind. This Web site is a resource for teachers to examine what others think about education issues. Some aspects require a membership.

    National Public Radio


    This Web site is helpful for finding media that can be used as teaching tools. The site offers video tools for sale. Additionally, the Web site has audio interviews that teachers can download for free and incorporate into lesson plans.



    This site is especially useful for English teachers and ELL students. Its resources are appropriate for all grades and include sample lesson plans, activities, and worksheets. Teachers can register for free sources and receive materials directly to their e-mail account. Additional links give practical suggestions to teachers, such as how to teach with minimal sources. There are also links suggesting books teachers should incorporate into lessons and links students can access to practice their English. Adult language learners can also take exercises targeted for specific content areas, such as phrases and verbs.

    Open Directory Project


    This Web site offers a large variety of Web resources for language arts classrooms, including lesson plans, reading tests, methods for music inclusion, and ELL activities and worksheets. There is a convenient search feature that allows for searching of a specific work or topic. Distinct links allow readers to be relocated to the specific lesson or resources for which they are looking.

    PBS Teacher Source


    This site has an array of resources by curricular subject, topic, and grade level. It offers in-depth online professional development through PBS TeacherLine. The site also includes details on PBS station outreach activities in the community as well as tips on how to effectively teach with technology. Interdisciplinary teaching suggestions are also posted on the site.

    Purdue University Online Writing Lab


    This is a helpful site for teachers who are working with ELL students. The site includes online journals, online resources, and annotated bibliographies for ESL instructors. There are numerous handouts for ELL students, such as handouts explaining difficult English grammar concepts. Examples of handouts include “Adjective vs. Adverb” and “Verbals: Gerunds, Participles and Infinitives.” One of the site's best features is an e-journal for ESL teachers entitled “Teaching English with Technology,” which incorporates the Internet, computers, and various other technologies into academic agendas. Sample lesson plans, Web sites, and reviews are also included in the site.



    This site is a helpful resource when thinking of lesson ideas. The site includes a number of lesson plans for all ages, which can be easily modified to suit individual classrooms. A helpful feature of the site is a thorough student materials index. The lesson plans offered on the site are notably innovative.

    Shakespeare's Globe Theatre


    This Web site is invaluable when teaching Shakespeare. In addition to lots of educational materials and opportunities for conversing with actors or others in the Royal Shakespeare Company, this Web site provides excellent visual resources for understanding the Globe Theatre. This site has virtual 3-D tours as well as conventional photographs. It is an excellent visual archive.

    Special Needs Ontario Window


    This site focuses on strategies to assist students with special needs. It includes strategies for helping students with language problems, students with learning disabilities, students who are slow learners, and students who are gifted. Behaviors are listed for each category of student along with classroom strategies aimed at accommodating special needs. Specific areas, including mathematics, test-taking, and social skills, are included in each category.



    This very comprehensive Web site contains more than 3,500 lesson plans. The site also has a classified section, where one can look throughout the country for teaching positions. Users can post teaching materials for sale, scan tutor ads, and read evaluations about where to buy good inexpensive software for classrooms. In addition, the site has chat rooms and forums broken down by subject area, grade level, and interest group. While much of the site is geared for younger grades, it does have a number of links for secondary grade teachers.


    http://www.teachers.org (The URL “http://www.teachers.org” is correct for http://Teachers.com. The URL “http://www.teachers.com” leads to an insurance site.)

    This Web site is an excellent Web site for those who are concerned with student equity. This Web site is very comprehensive, giving many full-length articles in the “Equity Index,” such as identifying seven principles for instructional design in which all students thrive and achieve excellence. There are various examples of alternative assessments, all with rubrics. In addition, there is a link to QuizStar, a free site in which teachers can manage the quizzes from all of their classes in one contained place.

    Teaching Methods Web Resources


    This site is pertinent to all content area teachers. It offers a plethora of resources for content area teaching as well as strategies for covering curriculum guidelines. The homepage is dedicated to developing teaching methods and offers a link for subject area-specific Web sources. The site is especially helpful for first-year teachers who need to develop teaching style, curriculum, classroom management, lesson planning, and assessment.

    Teaching Today


    This Web site is a pedagogy-based site, focusing on teaching using a standards-based approach. It offers strategies and lessons that will help teachers meet standards. The Web site offers a subset of topics in the left margin in which one can search by topic, find other Web resources, and look up teaching tips. It offers teaching tips for each week, including tips on cultural diversity.

    U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics


    This Web site details the conditions, training, qualifications, and additional resources needed to work as a teacher in different levels. This Web site is helpful in outlining for prospective teachers what they may expect from their future profession.

    Voices of the Shuttle

    http://www.vos.ucsb.edu Launched in 1994 by the University of California, Santa Barbara, as a collection of static Web pages, VoS has now been rebuilt as a database that serves humanities content dynamically on the Web. Unlike major university databases, which require subscriptions, VoS allows teachers or students to search its contents for free. Students might be intimidated by the intellectual rigor of the site, but for more advanced research projects, it is excellent, and teachers can use it for their own professional development in humanities-related content areas.



    Whipplehill is a Web development company that provides software customized to meet the marketing and administrative needs of independent schools. It can provide scheduling, grade book, and homework site software as well as host Web pages for teachers. The company also handles Registrars. The cost may be prohibitive for many schools.



    Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that provides many entries that exceed traditional encyclopedias in depth and thoughtfulness as well as many that are just a few sentences. Articles may contain extensive media on subjects, including pictures, music, video, and animations. All media used in the articles are free for reproduction. Articles also contain links to other nonprofit Wikipedia foundation projects, including the Wiktionary (dictionary and thesaurus), Wikisource (a free online library), Wikibooks (textbooks and manuals), and Wikiquotes (collection of quotations). The collection of resources is helpful in assembling engaging PowerPoint presentations for students. Be aware in using this resource that it is not entirely trustworthy: Anyone may add, delete, or change an entry; entries are not peer reviewed; and there is only the most cursory oversight of entries.



    This Web site is the winner of the 2004 NSDC Award for Exemplary Use of Technology for Staff Development. It is an excellent asset for teachers who are technologically impaired. This site includes a glossary of technical education jargon to help users find meaning in current buzzwords such as “authentic learning” and “empowering students.” There is a helpful section on multimedia teacher tools which explains how to incorporate new technologies to better classrooms. The site is also helpful for Language Arts classrooms because it includes sections on the writing process, different types of compositions, and skill builders for students.


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    About the Authors

    Gerald J. Pine is professor emeritus of education in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He has served as dean of the Boston College School of Education; dean of the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan; and chair of the Education Department at the University of New Hampshire. While at the University of New Hampshire, he served as director of a Teacher Corps Project that focused on teacher adaptation of research findings through professional development and teacher action research. Following this project, he was the codirector and co-principal investigator of a National Institute of Education study on teacher development, action research, and educational change. He is the author or coauthor of 11 books and more than 120 articles and book chapters dealing with teacher action research, learner-centered teaching, educational collaboration, and counseling. He served 6 years as the editor of the journal Counseling and Values and 6 years as an associate editor of the Journal of Teacher Education. He has received major grants from the Kellogg Foundation, National Institute of Education, U.S. Office of Education, and the UAW-Chrysler Foundation. From 1990 to 1994, while serving as dean of education and human services at Oakland University, he was also staff associate for the Michigan Partnership for New Education at Michigan State University, where he worked as part of a team to establish and coordinate a statewide network of professional development schools. His current research efforts focus on professional development schools, learner-centered teaching, educational change, and collaborative action research.

    In 1996, he received the Arthur D. Wilde Award from the Boston University Education Alumni Board for his significant contributions to education, and he was the corecipient of the American Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Publication Award for his contributions to the professional literature of counselor education and supervision.

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