Strong Model of Teacher Professionalism
Qualified teachers are professionals who demonstrate their specialist knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors in teaching practice, contributing to their effectiveness as educators and to the overall quality of education. An effective teacher consistently makes swift decisions based on professional expertise and judgment within the constantly changing dynamics of classroom learning. Taber (2013) proposed the weak and strong models of teacher professionalism. The weak model is characterized by a technical view of teaching, where teachers mainly apply the research-based standardized methods and procedures and follow best practice without exploring the implications of what that could entail. As schools, students, and classrooms are complex entities, they require the strong model of teacher professionalism that is characterized by a reflective approach to teaching. In this model, teachers are expected to actively evaluate their teaching and seek to improve it based on solid evidence.
The strong model of teacher professionalism promotes more responsibility and autonomy for the individual teacher, particularly in making decisions about how to teach. Decisions related to teaching can be validated by both theoretical and practical justifications, through the application of knowledge derived from published research, as well as the examination of evidence gathered in the classroom. Therefore, classroom research, especially small-scale practitioner inquiry, is an integral component of a teaching professional's work (Taber, 2013). This holds particular significance with the increasing emphasis in schools on continuous improvement, data-driven decision making, and evidence-based practice. In a more complex and dynamic view of teaching profession, teachers are required to be able to exhibit research-informed practices by utilizing and conducting classroom-based research.
What is Classroom-Based Research?
Classroom-based research refers to any form of research that is conducted by teachers, either independently or in partnership with peers and other researchers, within their own classrooms. It is a systematic and rigorous process of inquiry with the intention of improving the effectiveness of their teaching, enhancing student learning outcomes, developing their own practice, and contributing to the knowledge base of teaching and learning (Taber, 2013). The essential goal of conducting classroom-based research is to produce evidence-based findings that can enhance teaching practices and improve student learning outcomes by investigating and exploring the practices, procedures, and outcomes of classroom teaching.
Classroom-based research is often distinguished from other educational research by its emphasis on the practical, day-to-day realities of teaching and learning, instead of relying on theories or models that may not be relevant to specific contexts. This approach empowers teachers to examine their own teaching practices and their students' learning experiences in a more purposeful and tailored manner, enabling them to identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions about their teaching. Classroom-based research usually centers around addressing specific classroom challenges or exploring innovative teaching methods that may be more effective for students.
Significance of Classroom-Based Research for Teachers
The values of any educational research should be evaluated based on its potential to enhance teaching and improve student outcomes. Classroom-based research offering distinct advantages that teachers conduct or are involved in their classroom research has its unique significance and benefits. These benefits extend to the school practitioner leading the study, their students, the school and district, and the broader field of educational research (McMillan, 2022).
Classroom-based research benefits teachers and other school personnel in increasing their effectiveness in achieving desired student outcomes, whether academic, behavioral, or social (McMillan, 2022). Conducting classroom-based research allows teachers to gain a better understanding of their students' learning needs, identify effective teaching practices, and adjust their instruction, accordingly, leading to improved student outcomes. For instance, by engaging in research that is grounded in their own experiences and contexts, teachers can develop more effective instructional practices that are better aligned with the needs and strengths of their students. Classroom-based research also plays a crucial role in the professional development of teachers as it promotes a culture of learning and reflection, allowing for opportunities in professionalism and leadership (Pine, 2009).
Classroom-based research empowers teachers to drive change within their own classrooms and schools. Through collaborative work and identification of areas for improvement, teachers can implement new strategies to create a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement and a more effective learning environment for their students. In addition, classroom-based research helps to bridge the gap between research and practice by contributing to the growing body of knowledge on effective teaching practices and informing the wider education community.
Example of Using Classroom-Based Research to Inform Teachers' Practice
Classroom-based research as teacher-driven, context-driven, and data-driven activities provide valuable insights that inform and enhance teachers' practice. A good example is the investigation on how project-based learning (PBL) helped students prepare for a high-stakes standardized Algebra exam. The classroom-based research was conducted by a teacher-researcher (Betzig, 2021) in an urban high school with 67 Algebra students. After one semester of using the PBL approach, the percentage of students who passed the exam increased by 26% and the percentage of students earning a college readiness score increased by 17%.
The classroom-based research on PBL also provides practical insights into how teachers can effectively implement this pedagogical methodology while preparing students for high-stakes standardized tests, identifying three key components that contributed to the successful implementation of project-based learning in an Algebra classroom: developing conceptual understanding through real-world connections, developing rigorous math skills, and exposure to exam-style problems. By focusing on these components, teachers can engage their students, build their resilience, and improve their content knowledge, ultimately leading to better exam performance and college/career readiness. This classroom-based research also contributes to the extended community of educators by highlighting the potential of project-based learning to improve student outcomes and offering practical guidance for teachers looking to implement this methodology in their own classrooms (Betzig, 2021).
Types of Research Classroom Teachers Commonly Conduct
Classroom teachers can engage in a variety of research activities to improve their instructional practices and student outcomes. Below are the types of research that are commonly conducted by classroom teachers.
Experimental designs with the purpose of testing or determining cause-and-effect relationships in classroom-based research can be categorized into two types: true experiments and quasi-experiments. When conducting a true experiment, it is essential to have an experimental group and a control or comparison group. Students must be randomly assigned to these groups, and the intervention such as an innovative teaching strategy or a teaching program should be randomly assigned to the groups. The intervention should be implemented under identical environmental conditions. There needs to be a posttest on the outcome variable while a pretest is optional depending on the specific situation. Extraneous or confound variables that can possibly affect the outcome variable should be well controlled. Quasi-experimental research is typically used in classroom research settings where it is difficult or impossible to randomly assign students to the experimental and the control or comparison groups. There needs to be a pretest before the intervention and a posttest after on the outcome variable in addition to well controlling the other factors that impact the outcome variable. Due to the delicate nature of the process, it is recommended that teachers consult or collaborate with experienced researchers who have expertise and skills in conducting experiments.
For example, to conduct an experiment to investigate the effect of integrating gamification in teaching biology on students' engagement and learning outcomes, a teacher researcher can follow these steps: 1) Randomly select 40-60 students and randomly assign them into two classes (true experiment) or select two comparable classes of students, with similar demographics and academic levels on biology (quasi-experiment); 2) Randomly assign one class to be the experimental group which will receive biology lessons with gamification techniques incorporated, and the other class to be the control group, which will receive traditional biology lessons; 3) Conduct a pre-test to assess the students' baseline knowledge and engagement levels in biology; 4) Introduce the gamification techniques to the experimental group during the biology lessons, such as using game-based simulations, rewards, or leaderboards; 5) Use the same biology curriculum for both groups, and ensure that the lessons are taught in the same environment, for instance, in terms of class time, classroom lighting, seating arrangements, and classroom resources, and also by the same teacher; 6) Control for the other extraneous factors if possible that may affect the students' engagement and learning outcomes such as students interest in biology and family or personal emergency during the experimental period; 7) Conduct post-tests to assess the students' learning outcomes and engagement levels in biology; 8) Analyze the data using appropriate statistical methods to determine if there is a significant difference in the learning outcomes and engagement levels between the two groups.
Comparative research comparing and contrasting the existing data between two or more groups of different features without manipulating them can be more feasibly and even effectively used in classroom research by teachers. For instance, a classroom teacher-researcher can use the existing assessment data between two classes of different features or being taught differently. They can also collect and compare outcome data longitudinally by using two comparable classes of students, such as comparing the current academic year's data to the previous year's data. Although the potential different results do not have the capacity to draw a cause-and-effect relationships between the interventions and outcomes, they can still nicely inform teachers in teaching practice.
Surveys are a common method of data collection in classroom-based research. Teachers can use surveys to gather information about students' attitudes, beliefs, and experiences, as well as their own teaching practices. When using surveys for classroom research, it is important for teachers to consider the credibility of the survey by ensuring it is reliable and valid for their specific phenomenon and research question. Novice teacher researchers are suggested to use validated existing surveys that have been tested for reliability and validity in similar research contexts. Surveys are also commonly used as instruments to collect data for both experiments and comparative research.
Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single real-life event, group, or individual through holistic and detailed observations, interviews, and document analysis. Classroom teachers can conduct case studies to explore specific issues related to teaching and learning, such as the impact of a particular instructional strategy or the experiences of a group of students.
Ethnography is a research approach that involves a detailed examination and interpretation of cultural patterns and meanings within a classroom or school environment through prolonged observations or natural fieldwork. The aim is to understand the classroom sociocultural context and interpersonal processes that shape these patterns. For example, a classroom teacher can engage in systematically observing and recording student behavior and classroom interactions followed by synthesizing and seeking their patterns. Such patterns can provide insights into student learning behaviors, styles, strategies, preferences, habits, and help teachers to identify areas for adjustment or improvement in their instructional practices.
Phenomenology aims to describe and interpret students’ classroom learning experiences to understand their essence as perceived and described by students and/or teachers, which leads to a deeper understanding of common meanings or thematic patterns. For example, a classroom teacher can select a group of 7-10 students who have clearly “lived” the experience and are able to “think loud” their perceptions and feelings (McMillan, 2022) for interviews about classroom phenomenon, for instance, placing students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Using thematic analysis of coding, analyzing, and organizing on the interview data, the teacher can understand students’ patterned perspectives and challenges in participating in inclusive classroom activities and interactions. This approach can provide useful information for teachers to develop effective strategies to support the learning and social inclusion of students with disabilities.
A group of inquisitive classroom researchers (Johnston et al., 2023) wondered how high expectations from teachers were experienced by students in high schools. They involved 25 tenth grade students in three public schools for data collection through classroom observations and interviews, asking questions like “What did your teachers say or do today that communicate their expectations for your academic achievement?”, “What did you do in response to your teachers’ expectations?” and “What are the consequences for their achievement?”. After coding and analyzing the various observation and interview data collected from the students, they sought for the patterns and looked for the causal relationship between the thematic variables. A new theory rooted in the students’ data was generated to explain how teachers communicate their high expectations to the students that leads to improved academic outcomes: (1) showing confidence in students through encouraging, challenging, and expressing pride, (2) applying effective teaching approaches such as active learning, teaching for understanding, and allowing students’ choice and self-direction, (3) developing positive relationships, and (4) establishing a learning environment that meets students’ basic social needs. The findings provide classroom teachers with student-focused perspectives on how to convey high expectations (Johnston et al.).
Grounded theory, originally developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967), aims to generate theory that is grounded in data, and it is increasingly used in educational research (Stough & Lee, 2021). It can be an ideal and viable approach for a teacher to address a major and long-term issue in their professional context (Taber, 2013). In the classroom, it is common for teachers to address not only the "how" questions, but also the "why" questions by presenting causal explanations using refining and verifying procedures to validate their theories.
Action research methodology is a good fit with classroom-based research that should focus not only on what it is but also what can be (Avci, 2021; Skovsmose & Borba 2004). From the classroom-based research perspective, action research is a common and practical type of rigorously methodical investigation by teachers, school administrators and other stakeholders to inquire about the challenges, problems, and innovative practices in the classroom followed by taking actions informed and guided by the inquiry. It often involves a cyclical or spiral process of planning, action, monitoring, and reflection that is sustained, recursive and dynamics (Pine, 2009). This process allows teachers to actively observe, plan, identify problem and implement new strategies in their classrooms, while closely examining their impact on student learning. With the reflection on their research, teachers develop new knowledge, which leads to identification of new areas for improvement, and new cycles of inquiry.
Action research is also often characterized by a participatory and collaborative process that involves collecting or utilizing multiple or triangulated sources of data to establish credibility. The types of classroom research discussed in the previous parts can be used or designed in an integrative way for teachers to conduct action research followed by implementing research-based actions.
Using the framework of the four-step process (Forster & Eperjesi, 2021; Mills, 2014) and the spiral process (Pine, 2009), the specific steps can be illustrated as follows using a classroom action research example that focuses on improving student engagement and achievement in mathematics:
- Identify an area of focus.
- The problem noticed by a mathematics teacher is that some students in their Grade 7 class were disengaged and having difficulty comprehending essential concepts.
- Collect data.
- A pre-assessment was administered to pinpoint the difficulties encountered by the students while their learning behaviors were observed, and student interviews including a survey about attitudes toward math and their in-depth perceptions on learning were conducted.
- Analyze and interpret data.
- By analyzing and integrating the data, the teacher found that students’ struggling areas were focused on algebraic equations and understanding proportional relationships, and there were also negative perceptions of the subject among peers or even some parents.
- Develop and implement an action plan.
- The teacher developed and implemented a plan of action that involved using collaborative learning, scaffolded instruction, adopting interesting real-world examples, and incorporating more group work.
- Monitor progress and evaluate results.
- The teacher monitored the student progress by documenting and analyzing the formative data throughout the classroom action implementation and conducted a post-assessment to measure improvement. In addition, they gathered feedback from students regarding the efficacy of the interventions.
- Reflect on and spiralize the process.
- The teacher revisited and reflected on the process and identified further areas for improvement, gradually increased the complexity of problems or tasks related to the identified teaching content, and deepened students' understanding and mastery of the learning material.
Summary of Key Points
- The strong model of teacher professionalism emphasizes individual teacher responsibility and autonomy, making decisions based on both theoretical and practical justifications including classroom-based research.
- Classroom-based research is a systematic process of inquiry conducted by teachers in their own classrooms, with the aim of enhancing teaching effectiveness, improving student outcomes, developing innovative practice, and advancing the knowledge of education.
- Classroom-based research empowers teachers to improve student outcomes by gaining a better understanding of their students' learning needs, identifying effective teaching practices, and implementing new strategies.
- Classroom-based research benefits schools in creating a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement, while contributing to evidence-based policies and practices in the wider education community.
- Classroom-based research as teacher-driven, context-driven, and data-driven activities provide valuable insights that inform and enhance teachers' practice.
- Teachers can conduct or engage in a variety of classroom-based research activities including experiment, comparative research, survey, case study, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, and action research.
- Classroom action research is a practical and systematic investigation by teachers, administrators, and stakeholders through cyclical or spiral processes of inquiry and action.
- The typical steps for classroom action research include identifying an area of focus, collecting data, analyzing/interpreting data, developing/implementing an action plan, evaluating the results, and reflecting on/spiralizing the process.
Avci, B. (2021). Research methodology in critical mathematics education. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 44(2), 135-150. https://doi.org/10.1080/1743727X.2020.1728527
Betzig, C. K. S. (2021). Implementing project-based learning in high school algebra under the shadow of standardized testing. Journal of Teacher Action Research, 8(1), 56-70.
Forster, C. & Eperjesi, R. (2021). Action research for student teachers (2nd ed.). Sage, UK.
Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Aldine.
Johnston, O., Wildy, H., & Shand, J. (2023). A grounded theory about how teachers communicated high expectations to their secondary school students. European Journal of Psychology of Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-023-00689-2
McMillan, J. H. (2022). Educational research: Fundamental principles and methods (8th ed.). Pearson.
Mills, G. E. (2014). Action research: A guide for the teacher researcher (5th ed.). Pearson.
Pine, G. J. (2009). Teacher action research: Building knowledge democracies. Sage.
Skovsmose, O., & Borba, M. (2004). Research methodology and critical mathematics education. In P. Valero & R. Zevenbergen (Eds.), Researching the socio-political dimensions of mathematics education: Issues of power in theory and methodology (pp. 207-226). Springer.
Taber, K. S. (2013). Classroom-based research and evidence-based practice: An introduction. Sage.
Stough, L. M., & Lee, S. (2021). Grounded theory approaches used in educational research journals. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 20, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1177/16094069211052203