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Two Dimensions of an Inquiry Stance Toward Student-Learning Data


by Tamara Holmlund Nelson, David Slavit & Angie Deuel — 2012

Background/Context: Schools and districts are increasingly emphasizing evidence-based decision making as a means for improving teaching and learning. In response, professional development efforts have shifted toward situated, sustained activities that involve groups of teachers in reflective inquiry about student learning data, instructional practices, and curricular goals. Although strong evidence exists regarding the benefits of looking at student work, there is little research that investigates how teachers might work together to attain these benefits. Classroom teachers often lack the necessary skills and supports to enact data-based inquiry in a manner that informs and influences classroom practices.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In response to a need for specific frameworks to support teachers’ collaborative interactions around student learning data, we have developed a conceptual framework for describing and characterizing key influences on teachers’ actions and interactions. The purpose of this article is to fully describe the two dimensions that constitute the framework, illustrate them with examples from multiple cases, and discuss potential implications of the framework on research and practice.

Population/Participants/Subjects: This framework was developed from multiyear case analyses of seven professional learning communities (PLCs). The teachers in these PLCs were secondary science and mathematics teachers who were supported by a 3-year professional development project.

Research Design: We began to derive this conceptual framework using constant comparison in the development of semiannual case studies. Preliminary results and hypotheses on the specific ways in which teacher groups were interacting as they worked with student learning data led to the need to better conceptualize what was occurring. Building on others’ work related to stance, we used grounded theory methods to construct and refine this framework.

Findings/Results: A detailed framework and examples are provided regarding collaborative teacher inquiry groups’ inquiry stance along two dimensions: (1) their epistemological stance toward student learning data, and (2) the nature of their dialogue when using these data in their inquiry process. The first dimension is delineated by four descriptive categories ranging from an improving to a proving stance; the second dimension ranges from sustained negotiation to no negotiation.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This analysis of inquiry stance in a collaborative group is valuable in providing a detailed tool for empirical analyses of collaborative teacher development in the context of working with student learning data. Additionally, it provides practical support for facilitators and school leaders by characterizing fundamental and often hidden influences on PLC processes and outcomes.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 8, 2012, p. 1-42
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16532, Date Accessed: 7/25/2014 11:56:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Tamara Nelson
    Washington State University Vancouver
    E-mail Author
    TAMARA HOLMLUND NELSON is associate professor of science education at Washington State University Vancouver. She has been PI on a National Science Foundation grant researching collaborative inquiry among secondary science and mathematics teachers. Information on this work can be found at http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/stride. Her research interests focus on the transformation of science teacher knowledge and beliefs through professional development (including preservice education) and how teachers translate their new understandings into practice. She is especially interested in how teachers think about teaching and learning in relation to students from populations underrepresented in science achievement. Recent publications include: Nelson, T. H. (2009). Teachers’ collaborative inquiry and professional growth: Should we be optimistic? Science Education, 93(3), 548–580; Nelson, T. H. (2008). Making the hidden explicit: Learning about equity in K–8 preservice science education. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 19(3), 235–254; and Nelson, T. H. (2005). Knowledge interactions in teacher-scientist partnerships: Negotiation, consultation, and rejection. Journal of Teacher Education, 56(4), 382–395.
  • David Slavit
    Washington State University Vancouver
    DAVID SLAVIT is Boeing Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Education and Mathematics at Washington State University Vancouver. His research interests center on local and systemic forces on teacher development, particularly in collaborative settings, as well as research on students’ algebraic understandings. Recent publications include: Slavit, D., & Roth McDuffie, A. (In press). Self-directed teacher learning in collaborative contexts. School Science and Mathematics; Slavit, D., & Nelson, T. H. (2010). Collaborative teacher inquiry as a tool for building theory on the development and use of rich mathematical tasks. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 13(3), 201–221; and Slavit, D., Nelson, T. H., & Kennedy, A. (2010). Laser focus on content strengthens teacher teams. Journal of Staff Development, 31(5), 18–22.
  • Angie Deuel
    Washington State University Vancouver
    ANGIE DEUEL is a research associate on the NSF-funded research project on collaborative inquiry among secondary science and mathematics teachers. Her research interest is in the area of social processes of student and teacher learning, and discourse analysis. Recent publications include: Kennedy, A., Deuel, A., Nelson, T. H., & Slavit, D. (2011). Distributed leadership in professional learning communities. Phi Delta Kappan; Deuel, A., Nelson, T. H., Slavit, D., & Kennedy, A. (2009). Looking at student work. Educational Leadership, 67(3), 60–72; and Nelson, T. H., Deuel, A., Slavit, D., & Kennedy, A. (2010). Leading deep conversations in collaborative inquiry groups. The Clearing House, 83(5), 175–179.
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