Charles Bazerman (2011) wrote an essay for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) about the study of writing from a disciplinary perspective (i.e. how historians write to communicate their theories and research findings). One of the lines from the article stuck with me more than others did. He said that, as he learned how to research the practice of writing among the disciplines, “I saw things differently and saw different things” (Bazerman, 2011, p. 17). Research taught him how to modify and loosen his perspective and assumptions. As MAT@USC students are gearing up or winding down from a semester, I am sure that more than one of you are staring at the pile of research you have to read or have read. You’re wondering what to do with it, I suspect. My advice is to learn from it. Modify and loosen your perspective and assumptions. Challenge yourself to question what you have held dear all these years. I can’t tell you how many comments I jotted on articles I read that challenged my assumptions and that of the authors. The research articles our professors have chosen represent a wide array of opinions, investigations, theoretical stances, and experiences. They provide a balanced view of the topics important to the education community.
There is another side to research to consider, however. What about research you can do instead of just read? For those of us itching to put theory into practice, action research is a great start toward using what you have learned about teaching and yourself from reading all those articles. What is action research? Here is the basic definition: action research is what a practitioner does to observe, evaluate, and improve his or her practice. It starts with one or more research questions or assumptions, which develop into “experiments” the practitioner evaluates. From there, an action plan emerges to improve one’s practice. It requires the researcher to strive toward objectivity, which is not easy to do when evaluating one’s own practice.
Does this sound familiar, student teachers? Sure – You do the same thing when you work on a teaching event! You start with certain assumptions that take the form of a lesson plan and balance your lesson plan with your guiding teacher’s advice during the pre-lesson conference. Then, you teach while the video camera records the lesson. Afterward, you and your guiding teacher discuss the lesson. You try to be as objective as possible and accept constructive feedback from your guiding teacher. You review the lesson video and gain more insight. You upload the videos and your professor gives you more insight. Sometimes classmates review the video, too. The most important part of this process is the last part in which you use the feedback to improve your practice. In-Service Teachers can follow the same steps, basically, especially if they are lucky enough to be in a supportive community of practice. There is always room for improvement, right? We are lifelong learners supporting a new generation of lifelong learners, modeling for them the behaviors we hope they will exhibit in their academic careers.
In Bazerman’s (2011) essay, he laid his academic soul bare in many respects by admitting that his path in writing studies was fraught with potholes and false starts. Over the years, however, those learning opportunities afforded him the chance to grow as a researcher and a thinker, to hone his approach to inquiry. Mistakes are the beautiful refractions of the light generated by human activity. When we learn from published research or action research, we acknowledge the human condition and accept our place in an interdependent human community. So, come on, pick up that pile of journal articles and start reading or pick up that pen and start writing! Fight on!
Bazerman, C. (2011). The disciplined interdisciplinarity of writing studies. Research in the Teaching of English, 46(1), 8-21.