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Teacher-researchers at work

Bill Ferriter reviews MacLean and Mohr’s Teacher-Researchers at Work as an invaluable resource with tools for educators exploring the potential of action research.

Marion S. MacLean and Marian M. Mohr
1999 (290 pp./paperback)
National Writing Project
ISBN: 1-883920-14-0
$15.00 ($10.50 or less at Amazon)

Reviewed by Bill Ferriter
Dillard Drive Middle School
Raleigh, North Carolina

Have you ever sat through a professional development session and wondered, "What does this have to do with my teaching?" Have you ever spent hours upon hours listening to "experts," and then walked away with little practical information that you could use in your classroom? Do you walk into staff training sessions expecting them to be a waste of your energies and thinking of all of the other ways you could be using that time to help your students?

If the phrase "random acts of professional development" can accurately describe your experiences with staff training, then it's time that you started to advocate for action research as a professional development tool in your school, and Teacher-Researchers at Work is a title you must add to your professional library!

Written by Marion MacLean and Marian Mohr, who have been leading teacher research groups since the early 1980's, Teacher-Researchers at Work is divided into four distinct sections: A Teacher Research Process, Questions and Issues, Teacher-Researchers' Articles, and Resources.

A Teacher Research Process walks the reader through the essential components of an action research project. With subtitles such as "Choice and the Research Question," "Timing," "Data Collection," and "Dissemination," this section is critical to establishing a foundation of understanding about the characteristics of qualitative research for interested educators. Replete with examples, Part One is an interesting read and is sure to be a constant source of reference for teachers working through early action research projects.

In Questions and Issues, MacLean and Mohr address seven questions that they have found to be of great interest to teacher-researchers in their 20-plus years as facilitators. These questions include, "What makes your research valid and reliable?" "When do you find time to do teacher research?" and "How do you explain teacher research to others?" In many ways, this section of the book is the most significant. By answering questions that most teachers will consider before attempting an action research project, the authors have taken some of the fear and mystique out of what can be an intimidating proposition!

Section Three, Teacher-Researchers' Articles, contains seven action-research projects completed by teachers who have worked with the authors over the past decade. These articles allow readers to get a handle on the wide range of topics open to teacher examination and what the final outcome of a research project may be.

Resources, the final section of Teacher-Researchers at Work, provides an extensive list of resources that teachers involved in action research — as facilitators or as researchers — will find incredibly worthwhile. Most important is a bibliography with over 100 entries divided into three separate categories. The first category includes titles that provide background about educational research, with an emphasis on qualitative and ethnographic methods of study. The second list of titles specifically covers teacher researchers and the effect of teacher research on education. The bibliography ends with a list of research projects completed by teachers. The inclusion of this section is designed to "show some of the history, depth and richness of the field."

Teacher-Researchers at Work is an invaluable resource for educators exploring the potential that action research holds for schooling. Each section of the text seeks to provide readers with an in-depth understanding of the concept of teacher research without over-structuring the process. As MacLean and Mohr state, "We did not want to have research processes reduced to products only, or to have the experiences of some teachers codified as a process we all should follow."

Instead, what the authors have succeeded in creating is an easy-to-read guide to a process that has the potential to reenergize teachers as professionals, which is the key to effective school reform. As Bernadette Glaze, a teacher who has worked closely with the authors, stated: "Once I had the power to ask questions and the self-confidence to find the answers to those questions — it was at that point that I became a professional...a professional who made decisions about teaching and learning based on research I had done."

[Editor's note: Although this action research book is published by the National Writing Project, Bill, a science teacher, says that "I found it to be a great book without any real slant towards language arts. While it did use several examples of projects with a language arts theme, the overarching goal of the book is to demonstrate the process of action research and answer questions about it."]