Action Research and “Knowledge of Practice”

What kinds of professional development activities can lead to the greatest positive changes in the classroom?  It seems that professional development activities are often planned for large groups, with little applicability to one’s individual situation or classroom.  In this article by Karen Goodnough, a collaborative action research model is reflected on through a case study of a first grade teacher. Professional development using collaborative action research may prove to have greater effects on teacher and student outcomes than other models of professional development.


Goodnough, K. (2010). Teacher learning and collaborative action research: Generating a “knowledge of practice” in the context of science education. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 917-935. doi: 10.1007/s10972-010-9215-y

This article followed a first-grade teacher who was participating in an individual action research project while sharing resources and feedback from teachers working in three different school districts, as well as research assistants. The author wanted to focus on teacher learning in this case study, as opposed to student outcomes.  “The main purpose of this study was to examine how conceptions of teacher knowledge and learning (knowledge-for-practice, knowledge-in –practice, and knowledge-of-practice) emerged within a collaborative action research community.” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 918).


As this study references a specific method of describing the relationship of teacher knowledge to teacher practice, it is important to clarify these terms:

Knowledge-for-practice: content area knowledge, important based on the idea  that “the more teachers know, the better they will teach” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 919).

Knowledge-in-practice: day-to-day classroom experiences, based on the idea that “formal and practical knowledge are viewed as separate entities”  (Goodnight, 2010, p. 920) .

Knowledge-of-practice: this is most closely related to the concept of action  research as “teachers themselves become the researchers and knowledge creators…It is strongly linked to the context of where teachers work; however is  not restricted to improving the practice of one teacher.” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 920).

Study Context

This case study was set in the context of a large collaborative action research based project that involved more than 50 teachers over a 3-year period that joined and dropped out for a variety of reasons.   The design of the project was strongly dependent on collaborative action research as the teacher enhanced their individual projects through “self-reflective spirals of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting.” (Goodnough, 2010,p.922). The teacher followed in the case study, as well as the others involved in the project, has the opportunity to meet for approximately 40 hours each year of the project for the purposes of planning, support, feedback and reflection.


The participant in this case study early in the development of her action research project recognized that there existed a “gap between her beliefs in science teaching… and her actual practice.” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 925). Her action research project then was to find a way to narrow this gap.   In the reflection regarding her process, this teacher discussed the amount of time needed to plan appropriately, share, and reflect related to her action research project. One of the key ideas that came through was that the teacher was able to modify and improve based on student and peer feedback throughout her project to improve her teaching practice. The ideas, feedback, and modifications each teacher would gather during his own action research would likely be different, but can still be used to inform one’s practice.

The author of this article focused on the “knowledge-of-practice” conception of teacher knowledge in this study.  One important implication of this was that “the demarcation between novice and expert teachers is replaced with the notion of all educators working systematically to support each other in learning and to reach shared goals.” (Goodnough, 2010 p.930).  The focus becomes improving practice for the good of the student.  Teachers play a critical role in the development of their knowledge and are “not just being given information from a policy maker” (Goodnough, 2010, p. 931.)  This promotes teacher inquiry as a viable and practical form of professional development- one that has “considerable potential to effect positive change in the lives of teachers and students.” (Goodnough, 2010,p. 933).


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