Inquiry, knowledge and practice

  • Lytle M. S
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Abstract

Over the past decade there has been renewed interest among teachers, teacher educators, and researchers in exploring the potential of teacher research as a mode of professional development, an avenue for generating practice-based knowledge about teaching, and a catalyst for social change in schools, universities, and communities. In the literature and in popular usage, terms such as "research," "action," "collaborative," "critical," and "inquiry" have been combined with one another and/or with the term "teacher" to signal a wide range of meanings and purposes. These terms and the various ways they are connected reflect surface as well as deeper differences—contrasting paradigms for research, conflicting conceptions of professional development for beginning and experienced teachers, and different assumptions about teachers' roles in the production and use of knowledge. This admixture of terms is not surprising given the complex ideological, multinational, and sociocultural history of efforts by teachers and their school-and university-based colleagues to document, understand, and alter practice. Considered together, the diverse initiatives and conceptions in the burgeoning teacher research movement prompt new questions about how teachers understand their work, how they create and use interpretive frameworks, and how inquiry functions to inform and alter classroom practice as well as the cultures of teaching. In short, current iterations of teacher research have helped to reopen and reframe basic epistemological questions about the relationships that obtain among .inquiry, professional knowledge, and teaching practice and about the implications of these for school reform and social change. As we have argued, teaching should be primarily "outside-in," that is, generated at the university and then used in schools, a position that suggests the unproblematic transmission of knowledge from a source to a destination. Rather, implicit in all versions of teacher research, no matter how disparate, is the notion that knowledge for teaching is "inside/outside," a juxtaposition that calls attention to teachers as knowers and to the complex and distinctly nonlinear relationships of knowledge and teaching as they are embedded in local contexts and in the relations of power that structure the daily work of teachers and learners in both the schools and the university. The growing complexity in the field of teacher research and the fundamental epistemological questions it engenders make it clear that we need theoretical frameworks that elaborate and interrogate these and other questions as played out in particular school and university communities. Certainly there are a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives from which theoretical frameworks for teacher research might emerge. However, we are working from the premise that, like other forms of action-and practitioner-based research, 2 teacher research is or has the potential to be a kind of praxis, 3 or a research process embedded in the critical intersections of theory and practice wherein the relationships between knowers and known are significantly altered. It follows, then, that theoretical frameworks and other analytical tools for understanding and interrogating teacher research must also be grounded in practice and emerge from these intersections. In this chapter we propose a theoretical framework for teacher research—a framework that has evolved from the dialectic of university-based research, teaching, and teacher education over a relatively long period of time. Our framework centers around the questions that are made visible when the boundaries of research and practice are blurred: questions about the definition and types of teacher research, the status of teacher research as a form of research on teaching, the nature and function of the knowledge that is created when teachers do research, and the implications of teacher research for the construction of a knowledge base, for teacher education and professional development, and for the politics of school and university relationships. The framework we propose also suggests a research agenda for further conceptual and empirical study, particularly for examining in local contexts the relationships among teacher inquiry, professional knowledge, and practice.

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Authors

  • S L & Cochran-Smith Lytle M.

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