I’m an amateur researcher

I have been a teacher since 1994, spending 3 years teaching English in Japan, and the rest in Ontario teaching drama, English, and media arts in the classroom and online.  I became a teacher-librarian full-time in 2009.  Currently working ⅚ a teacher-librarian in a large secondary school.  My other ⅙ has me back in the classroom (by choice!) and I’m loving it.  This past semester I taught grade 12 media arts face-to-face and next semester I’ll be teaching grade 12 English online. I’ve really missed having my own students and dealing with the day-to-day tasks of teaching keeps me grounded as a school leader.  I am also part of my school’s Directions Team and we are constantly analyzing our school’s data.  2 favourite methods are: 1) the survey of staff and students and 2) looking at trends in student achievement.  I’m frustrated by how narrow these methods are and how little impact I see them having on how we move forward in our team.

Educational research has never meant more to me than it does now in my position in the library. As a classroom teacher I used to rely on the findings of the experts.  This July I’m taking my 7th course with the U of A TLDL M.Ed. program and I find now that I have more questions than answers.  My exposure to the rich resources available in the University of Alberta library have been a great influence on the integrity I seek in finding educational data.  I have spent the entire school year working on three projects which are strongly rooted in educational research.

1)  Inquiry question: What will the role of school libraries be in 20 years and how should I modify my physical library to embrace these changes?

Research description: based on theoretical research I am now applying interventions

I’ve been working towards improving the physical library and suddenly found out that the work orders to fix my unsafe shelving, ancient carpet and water damaged ceiling were going to be combined with money to build an accessible elevator and entrance and a big project ensued.  Then my principal became ill, replaced with an acting principal, and I’ve had to justify every idea in the last 8 weeks in order to make the renovations happen.

2) Inquiry question:  How can I better determine the needs in reading of my students?  Is there a cause and effect relationship between reading ability and success in grade 9?

Research description: gathering empirical data to better describe our student needs; began by correlating data on each student

We have developed a significant special education focus at our school in the last 4 years.  Our Transitions classes (students with developmental delays) have increased to 5 full classes and in total we have 450 identified students in the building.  I question our ability to accommodate these students without more research being done.  With money from our board’s Student Success department, I put in about 60 hours of work studying students’ reading abilities in grade 9 in order to find a consistent tool for identifying reading level.  The Student Success group wanted to relate the reading research to success in grade 9.  I ‘hired’ (i.e. coerced, cajoled and got release time for) one of our special education specialists to use the literacy portions of the Woodcock-Johnson test to test 31 grade 9 students.

2) inquiry question: How can I better emphasize the creative process to my students?  How can I use a digital portfolio to help them make their process thinking visible?

Research description: action research applying interventions and then gathering feedback

Together with 5 other secondary teachers from our board, we were able to get 4 release days to try to answer these questions above.  We each used various online tools to encourage and monitor our students as they learned to make their thinking visible.  We presented our findings to teachers across the province.

As an aside, I’m also the mom of an 8 year old, Max, who was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum in 2012.  We’ve volunteered to be part of two studies so far.  The first was to see how children transition from the daycare setting to the public education system.  The second is to track the genome of autism through families on a global scale.  Both studies, through the Offord Centre for Child Studies, are fascinating in their complexity and educational profiles were done of Max to an extent that is very insightful as a parent.

In trying to define my research position, I’m trying to think of it as a Myers-Briggs personality test or a Kinsey quadrant.  I’m strongly constructivist leaning towards interpretivism.  I tend to butt heads with my administration when they ask me for hard calculable data so I’m pretty sure that I’m an Internal-idealist, although I can see both sides to the epistemological assumptions.  Although my goals are to show definitive conclusions in my research thus far, I tend to find deeper meaning through interpretation.

In this course I hope that I’ll move away from being an “amateur researcher” (Rolfe et al., 2010, p.6) because I am guilty of “quasi-scientific conclusions” (p. 7).  I’d like to make my research  more valid in order to:

a) advocate for library resources

b) advocate for further research support including release time

c) maintain and increase the importance of the role of a teacher-librarian at our school and in our board

References

Rolfe, S.  & Naughton, G.  (2010).  Research as a tool.  In G. Naughton, S. Rolfe, & I. Siraj-Blatchford (Eds.), Doing early childhood research: International perspectives on theory and practice (pp. 3 – 12).  Bershire, UK: McGraw-Hill.

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