Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Navigating Essential Tensions While Adopting New Practices

This week I've been working through the outline for another article based on my dissertation work.  I'm creating a poster for the AERA Annual Conference in Vancouver .  I've been invited to participate in the Division K Teacher and Teacher Education Graduate Seminar.


Teachers have been using the reading workshop format since the late 1980s. Research supports the underlying prospects of the reading workshops such as self-selected reading (Allington, 2006; Krashen, 2004) and extensive reading (Allington, 1983; Anderson, Wilson & Fielding, 1988; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998). There are multiple books, courses, workshops and videos to help teachers implement the method and philosophy in classrooms from early childhood through high school, however, teachers still struggle with implementing the workshop approach. The goal of this study was to document and understand the experiences of two third grade teachers as they implement a reading workshop approach to teaching reading in their classrooms. The lens of activity theory (AT) and contradictions provides a tool to inquire into various aspects of pedagogical change, taking into account individual perspectives and context as well as evolution over time. AT and its principle of contradictions provide insights into how transformation occur with the adoption of new practices and the tensions between conventional classroom practices and dialogic pedagogy.

Theoretical Framework
  • Activity theory (Engestr√∂m, 1987, 1993)
    • Activity system analysis
    • Expensive learning
  • Collaborative reflection (Rodgers, 2002)
  • Reading workshop (Atkins 1998; Calkins 2001; Reif 1992)

Methodology (Guba & Lincoln, 1983; Scriven, 1983; Stake, 1983).
  • Instrumental case study
  • Naturalistic inquiry
  • Grounded interpretations

Data & Participants
  • Two third-grade teachers
    • Classroom observation & field notes
    • Interviews
    • Collaborative reflection sessions
Essential Tensions Exhibited
  • Teacher as Expert vs. Teachers as Learner (Subject/Community)
  • Traditional Core Novel Approach vs. Reading Workshop Approach (Tool/Objective)
  • Monologic Interactions vs. Dialogic Interactions (Division of Labor)
  • Commercial Curriculum Program  vs. Contextualizing Curriculum (Rules/Authority)


Prophetically, Bond and Dykstra realized that reading education needs to focus on the “teacher and learning situation characteristics rather than method and materials” (1967, p.123) and because of the variety of students in any classroom, “it is necessary to train better teachers of reading rather than to expect a panacea in the form of materials” (p. 123). Research and teacher training needs to focus on the decision making and reflective process of teachers in context not just the implementation of a program or curriculum. In this study, the teachers struggled with reconciling their old practices, expectations and perceptions with the new pedagogical demands inherent in the workshop approach. As Wold observed, “Deep-level literacy implementation requires strategic decision making and action. The process of becoming an exemplary literacy practitioner requires deliberate, long-term attention to and reflection on practice” (2002, p. 91). Even with a mandated or scripted curriculum, teachers are constantly making decisions about which content to teach, how to structure the lesson, which materials to use, and how to respond to students. Over time, the two teachers in this study experimented with different approaches and reflected on the process, which illuminated some of the underlying tensions of philosophy, practice, and expectations that influenced the classroom culture and through the reconciliation of the old and the new, the teachers have transformed their teaching.

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