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If This Isn’t A Great Reason To Do Teacher Action Research And/Or To Write A Blog, I Don’t Know What Is…

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Though I do a lot of what I consider “teacher action research,” I’m sure many readers know more about it than me. My simple understanding of it is that it means teachers take on small-scale “action research” projects in their classroom. For example, I wrote about my experiment with teaching United States History to one class in the classroom and one entirely in the computer lab, and used pre-and-post assessments.

My students are pretty aware of the kind of research that I do, and know that I write about it — and them — in this blog, in articles for other publications, and in my books. They know because I share what I write with them — sometimes individually and sometimes as a class (see How I Milked A Lesson For Every Last Ounce Of Learning And Why I’m An Idiot For Not Thinking Of It Earlier).

I’ve previously thought that the major reason that sharing has always gone well is because it helps students see that I think about them when I’m outside of the classroom — not just when I’m officially “on the job.” And most of what I’ve tried in my action research has turned out pretty well, which I’ve attributed to the fact that I generally have good ideas (though, let me tell you — as others would — I’ve sometimes come up with some nutty ones, too) and that I’m a pretty good teacher.

I still think those two reasons contribute to my classroom success. However, today, I read something that got me thinking.  An extraordinarily insightful column by Joanne Yatvin was published in Education Week over twenty years ago and was just reprinted in Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post blog. It’s titled Letting teachers re-invent their own wheel.

It makes several important points, and I’d encourage everybody to go over to the Post and read it.

The point she makes that relates to the purpose of this post, though, talks about the Hawthorne Effect. You’ll have to excuse my ignorance but, though I had heard of it before, I never really knew what it was.

Here is how Joanne writes about it:

“…the Hawthorne anomaly illustrates the fact that human subjects who know they are part of a scientific experiment may sabotage the study in their eagerness to make it succeed. What it really shows is that, when people believe they are important in a project, anything works, and, conversely, when they don’t believe they are important, nothing works.”

That made a light bulb go off in my head. Perhaps the Hawthorne Effect is a contributing reason to the generally positive response in my classroom — because they know that they are part of a teacher action research project and/or they know that I am going to write about them?

If, and I suspect there are probably some big “if’s” involved, that could be the case, what better reason could there be to do teacher action research and/or for a teacher to write a blog?

What do you think? Could there be something to this connection, or is just another one of my “nutty ideas”?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. I learned about this in grad school. Our professor said it was also called “the halo effect.”

    I am a school librarian and I am considering correlating the number of books students check out to their CRCT scores. There are so many mitigating factors though, that I really do not know how valid the findings would be.

    However, it might help to show the importance of pleasure reading to the administration.

    It eludes me how educators do not understand how important reading is in all subject areas.

    I come from an high school math background, so I am not just talking as a librarian. How can students expect to do well in any subject if they cannot read the content?

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