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Practitioner inquiry of a teacher's practice through autoethnography

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Title:
Practitioner inquiry of a teacher's practice through autoethnography
Creator:
White, Phillip A ( Phillip Allen )
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Language:
English
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225 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Action research in education ( lcsh )
Classroom environment ( lcsh )
Gay teachers -- United States ( lcsh )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 214-225).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
Phillip A. White.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
50726046 ( OCLC )
ocm50726046
Classification:
LD1190.E3 2002d .W44 ( lcc )

Full Text
PRACTITIONER INQUIRY
OF A TEACHERS PRACTICE
THROUGH AUTOETHNOGRAPHY
by
Phillip A. White
B.A., California State University at Hayward, 1970
M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1994
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Phillip Allen White
has been approved
by
Mark A. Clarke
Date
Brent G. Wilson


White, Phillip Allen
Practitioner Inquiry of a Teachers Practice Through Autoethnography
Thesis directed by Professor Mark A. Clarke
ABSTRACT
This study investigates the activity of action research in teaching as practiced
by me, a classroom teacher, understanding my personal and professional history as it
influences the present, while anticipating my future as a teacher educator. The
problem, from a level of professional education, is the need to explore how the
activity of action research emerges within the teaching environment. Action research
can increase the likelihood that ones behavior is congruent with ones theories about
teaching and learning. Action research permits the teacher to model the practice of
teacher inquiry that public school k 12 educators are often expected to demonstrate.
Three themes emerged from this action research: time, group constructed learning and
teaching, and invisibility. I became aware of how administrative and structural and
time constraints served to limit and restrain the practices of teaching and learning
within the classroom. I also realized how dynamically the students and I actively
constructed our learning and teaching. And finally, I came to acknowledge how I
erased my identity as a gay man, limiting the personal relationships between students,
fellow workers and myself. As a result of this research I have come to a deeper
m


understanding of how I, in the role of teacher educator, can support the efforts of
novice and veteran teachers as they engage in their own action research.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed________________________
Mark Clarke
IV


For Vitauts


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that his dissertation, Tractatus had two parts: the
one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part
that is the important one (Edmonds & Eidinow, 2001, p. 158-159). This dissertation
has two parts also, the one presented here as a simulacrum of my learning, and the
most important part, which I have not written, but which embodies my most
important learning, which is what I have learned from Mark A. Clarke. For this
learning which has been a way of compassion, I am deeply grateful. To be sure, a
document like this depends on the support, encouragement and expertise of many
individuals. My doctoral committee members, Ellen Stevens, Lynn Rhodes, Richard
Powell, Steve Guberman and Brent Wilson have all been unstinting with their time,
energy and knowledge, both formally and informally. My dear friend, Kathie Goff
has read and commented and edited cumbersome chunks of text, also providing
insight, clarification and confirmation. I am deeply grateful to my many students,
especially Rosa, Miranda, Jorge, Dolores and Elizabeth.


CONTENTS
Figures.....................................................xi
Tables.....................................................xii
Preface...................................................xiii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION............................................1
An Autobiographical Sketch......................2
Being an Elementary School Teacher........2
Becoming a Student Teacher................4
Becoming an Elementary School Teacher....13
Becoming a Peripheral Participant of the
University...............................18
Acknowledging my Sexual Orientation......20
Becoming a Participant of the University.26
Practicing Action Research as a
Teacher Educator..................28
Statement of the Problem.......................31
Conceptual Framework.....................38
Conclusion.....................................48
vii


2.. LITERATURE REVIEW.......................................51
Introduction...................................51
Teacher as Researcher....................52
My Working Definition of
Action Research...................62
Literacy.................................66
Three Cautionary Tales............72
Homos....................................76
Conclusion.....................................79
3. METHODOLOGY...........................................80
Introduction...................................80
Questions................................80
General Design...........................81
Timeline of the Action Research..........86
Classroom Setting........................91
Analysis................................100
Trustworthiness.........................105
Trustworthiness for
F ellow T eachers................105
Trustworthiness for Action
Research Practitioners...........106
vm


Trustworthiness for an
Ethnography.......................109
Trustworthiness for a Dissertation.... 109
Conclusion...............................Ill
4. FINDINGS.............................................115
Introduction...................................115
Harrison Elementary and Its Students.....116
The School and Neighborhood..............116
Cultural and Historical Connections
With Mexico..............................117
My Classroom.............................121
The Theme of Time...............................122
Decisions About Time.....................125
Ways I Made Decisions About Time.........128
The Theme of Group Constructed
Learning and Teaching....................135
The Group ofFive.........................136
Two Activities of Group
Learning and Teaching....................142
My Decisions.............................146
Student Decisions........................148
Student Narration........................149
ix


The Emergence of Goals
152
Group Constructed Learning and Teaching
Through Discussion Activity........156
Group Constructed Learning and Teaching
Through Comprehension Activity.....171
Summary............................188
The Theme of Being Invisible.............189
Conclusion...............................196
5. CONCLUSIONS...................................202
BIBLIOGRAPHY..............................................214
x


FIGURES
Figure
1.1 Reading Instruction Activity System...........................69
1.2 Research Activity System......................................83
1.3 Reading Group Activity System Goals..........................200
xi


TABLES
Table
1.1 Taxonomic Analysis of Time..............................101
1.2 Componential Analysis of Time...........................102
1.3 Taxonomic Analysis of Time..............................125
1.4 Ways of Constructing Learning & Teaching................144
1.5 Comprehension Activity Discussion Activity............147
1.6 Comprehension Activity Discussion Activity............148
xii


PREFACE
The initial questions for this research were:
1) How do I make decisions as I teach?
2) How do I assess those decisions?
3) How does action research inform my practice of decision-making?
After the research was begun, data gathered and then analyzed, other questions
came to mind:
1) Why did I find working within the system of education to be so
painful?
2) Why did I continue to work in an educational system that in retrospect
appears to be so abusive?
3) How can I make sense of any of this?
Initially I used activity theory as constructed by Cole (1996), Wertsch (1998)
and Valsiner (1998) to provide the theoretical foundation of this inquiry. However,
while the additional use of the theoretical frameworks of Susan Krieger (1996) and
Jose E. Limon (1994) provided intellectual and emotional inspiration in the ways of
ethnography, in the working of the dissertation it was the work of Holland (1998),
Bateson (2000) and Johnson (2001) who provided the theoretical tools of
understanding my participation within the figured world of education in particular,
XUl


and other figured worlds in general, as well as a theory of learning. I wish to
introduce two key constructions of understanding that I will use throughout the
dissertation. They are, figured world (Holland, 1998), and emergence (Johnson,
2001) and immanent mind (Bateson, 2000). As important as the concept of figured
world is for me, Johnsons work on emergence has proven to be equally important.
First I shall discuss figured worlds, and then I shall discuss emergence, followed by
immanent mind.
Figured worlds are historical phenomena, to which we are recruited or into
which we enter, which themselves develop through the works of their participants
(Holland, p. 41). Figured worlds, like activities, are not so much things or objects to
be apprehended, as processes or traditions of apprehension which gather us up and
give us fonn as our lives intersect them.
Second, figured worlds, like activities, are social encounters
in which participants positions matter. They proceed and are socially
instanced and located in times and places, not in the everywhere that
seems to encompass cultural worlds as they are usually conceived
(P- 41).
Certainly, education is a historical phenomenon into which I have entered.
However, education itself is made up of multiple figured worlds, some of which
intersect or overlap, such as early childhood, or high school, or schools of education.
In particular, I have spent thirty years deeply involved within the figured world of
elementary education, in which the social positions of all those I encountered
xiv


mattered a great deal, as well as did my social position. Further, the activities of
elementary school are tightly bounded by time and place, not just within the hours of
the day, but the days of the week and the weeks of the year and inside of classrooms
of very particular buildings.
Third, figured worlds are socially organized and reproduced;
they are like activities in the usual, institutional sense. They divide
and relate participants (almost as roles), and they depend upon the
interaction and the intersubjectivity for perpetuation (p. 41).
I consider intersubjectivity to be individual identity in practice. Within
elementary school there are the subjectivities of parent, principal, superintendent,
student, teacher, teachers aid, kitchen staff, custodian, secretary, to name the most
prominent participants. It is important to realize that both these figured worlds and
the subjectivities are psychological constructions, and as such involve positionalities
that change according to the roles assumed. To be a principal interacting with a
teacher is much different from being a teacher and interacting with a principal due to
differences within the administrative hierarchy and who is allowed to officially
evaluate whom. While both the teacher and the principal are able to exercise power,
the ways in which the power may be exercised is markedly different.
As I moved through various landscapes of action within my life, I proposed
specific senses of my self in multiple fields of activity. While in a parent conference,
I could also speak as a parent in general, and as a father specifically, not merely as a
xv


teacher. With some parents I might even come close to speaking as a friend, or even
a fellow student. Sometimes I would interact with my students as a teacher, a nurse, a
confident, a counselor, a friend or someone in turn who is in need of help. All of
these identities are historical developments, and most people can recognize the
general outlines of these developments through the shared activity in which these
identities are acted out. Yet, above and beyond all this is my voice, both its physical
characteristics as well as its tone, my own particular body language, ways of
laughing, ways of being angry, to name but a few aspects of what specifically
constitutes my self. My age, my gender and sexual orientation, the ways I interact in
relationships, all these social markers are part of my identities, and play a part in my
interactions within figured worlds as well as the actions inscribed upon me.
As I mentioned earlier on, Johnsons work on emergence has also deeply
influenced me. Johnsons work on emergence is a multi-disciplinary exploration,
examining emergence within slime molds, ants, brains, cities and computer software.
Emergence occurs when a difference which makes a difference (Bateson, 2000, p.
459) is noticed, and change or learning then begins. For example, at one time it was
assumed that change occurred at the cellular level because of a master cell, or a
control cell, that determined the change. However, such cells have not been found,
and instead it has been learned that cells changed at an individual level when
individual cells responded to a specific difference within their particular environment.
xvi


Cells in the immediate locale then too took a notice of changing cells, and began to
change themselves. It is important to recognize that it cannot be predicted which cell
will first notice a difference, nor the specific time when the difference will be noticed.
Change is instead dependent upon feedback loops of interconnectedness through
which a notice of a difference is communicated. As Edelman (1992) notes, the brain
as a self-organizing system is more or less similar from individual to individual, but it
is never identical. There is considerable difference in both the neuronal shapes and in
then- connection patterns. This is not surprising, given the stochastic (or statistically
varying) nature of the developmental driving forces provided by cellular processes
such as cell division, movement, and death (p. 25). Bateson describes how learning
is both stochastic and constrained through a budget of flexibility which includes both
physical resources as well as cultural tools and resources appropriated through
participation in various figured worlds that one has access to. Importantly, it is
through the activity or activities of those figured worlds that the emergence of what
Bateson refers to as the mental characteristics (which are) inherent or immanent in
the ensemble as a whole (p. 315) becomes apparent. As Bateson writes:
What has happened is that many theorists now assume learning to be
fundamentally a stochastic or probabilistic affair, and indeed, apart
from nonparsimonious theories which would postulate some entelechy
at the console of the mind, the stochastic approach is perhaps the only
organized theory of the nature of learning. The notion is that random
changes occur, in the brain or elsewhere, and that the results of such
XVII


random changes are selected for survival by processes of
reinforcement and extinction. In this basic theory, creative thought has
come to resemble the evolutionary process in its fundamentally
stochastic nature. Reinforcement is seen as giving direction to the
accumulation of random changes of neural system just as natural
selection is seen as giving direction to the accumulation of random
changes of variation, (p. 255)
An entelechy is a physiologically built-in final goal or telos. In other words,
there is no central control within the brain that organizes everything else. The brain
works as a complete structure, correlating information into patterns and relationships
of value (Edelman, 1992) Likewise, learning occurs not because of any central
control, though within our culture we have a profound belief in this explanatory
principle. Our social structures, especially our institutions like schools, are organized
hierarchically. Reflecting this hierarchy, learning is described within top-down,
hierarchical control. The school board provides policy, which is implemented by the
district superintendent, delegating particular implementations to central
administrators, who are in change of curriculum, staff development, and directing and
evaluating building principals. Curriculum is written that reflects a spiral of learning
moving ever upwards. It is organized, rational, sequential and predictable. As
Johnson points out, it took the figured world of biology twenty years before it was
able to give up the cultural belief/theory that cells responded to master cells, even
though no one had ever demonstrated the physicality of a master cell.
xvm


It is from the conceptual framework of emergence that I now understand
learning, as well as social practice. Within the various practices and activities of the
multiple figured worlds that one finds oneself in, it cannot be predicted who will do
or say what, nor can it be predicted who will learn to say or do some act at any point
in time. One can speak in terms of probabilities, with an understanding that within
certain historical constraints and resources and beliefs, that certain practices will
occur. Children, within the normal range of hearing and interacting with others who
employ spoken language as a way of negotiating their way through figured worlds
will in time appropriate that language, along with cultural practices within that
language use. However, we cant predict with any certainty which words will appear,
much less when. We can provide ranges based on empirical evidence, that we might
expect words and sentence structures to appear, but we cant predict the specifics.
Each person is individually constituted both physically and socially in ways that are
similar but not identical with another person.
As I move through my brief autobiography and then into the body of my
dissertation, I will refer to the concept of figured worlds as a way of delineating my
understanding of my activities during specific times in my classroom or in my
activities outside of the classroom. I also point out what I understand as evidence of
the process of emergent, stochastic learning as I understand it. This dissertation has
become an act of prolepsis (Cole, 1996, p. 185), in that as a classroom teacher
xix


engaged in action research I am studying what I am doing in the present, while at the
same time I am looking back to understand the history of my actions, as well as
anticipating how the present activity will support my future activity as a teacher
educator.
The theoretical construction of figured worlds has proven helpful in my
understanding my interactions with children and adults both in and outside of schools.
Figured worlds, the politics of social positioning, and spaces of authoring are our
attempts to conceptualize collective and personal phenomena in ways that match the
importance of culture in contextualizing human behavior within the situating power
of social position (Holland, p. 287). Or, within figured worlds, within the social
hierarchies and authorities, are the places in which individuals construct their self-
identities or self narratives. Further, it is within figured worlds that we construct
conceptions of both group activities as well as our own activities and, importantly,
give them emotional and intellectual meanings. These meanings are constantly
compared and contrasted with the ways within a culture that the behaviors of others
are played out within their own social positions that allows ways of exercising power
and social values and meanings. It is always within figured worlds that learning
occurs. Learning occurs in part precisely because of our attempts to understand the
behavior of others around us, as well as how to use the multiplicity of cultural tools
and artifacts. My understanding of how learning occurs both within the individual
xx


and within the social group, has been more deeply conceptualized and understood
through my readings of Johnson. The importance of understanding learning as
emergent, stochastic and constructed through social relationships and within ongoing
activities, I have understood through my readings of Vygotsky, Cole, Bakhtin,
Bourdieu and Bateson, but it was through reading Johnson and Holland that their
variously defined ways of interconnectedness came to underpin my understanding a
particular theory of learning.
xxi


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
I believe it is important for those of us who say we want to
prepare teachers who are reflective practitioners to make more visible
to our students our deliberations about our own work. They can then
see up front how a teacher experiences the inevitable contradictions
and tensions of the work and goes about trying to learn from his or her
teaching experience. Too often, what we hear at professional meetings
and read in academic journals and books are stories of success, of all
of the wonderful things we have done with our work. We all know
that both teaching and teacher education are much more complex than
they are often made out to be. We ought to let our stories about our
work as teacher educators appear to others to be as complex as they
really are.
Kenneth M. Zeichner, 1995, p. 21
I wish to introduce to the reader my understanding about why and how I had
come to the research questions stated in the preface, and while within my research I
position myself as an elementary school teacher, within the actual writing of this
dissertation I position myself as a teacher educator. I begin by discussing how I
entered the figured world, the activity of an elementary school teacher, and how my
relationship with university professors emerged and influenced my understanding of
the practice of teaching. Then I describe how I became a peripheral participant of the
figured world of the university, out of which emerged a new relationship with
university professors, and in time began to emerge into the role itself of a university
professor, out of which emerged this research.
1


Interwoven with this narrative is a parallel narrative of my participation in a
very different figured world from that of formal education, the figured world of gay
men. While the world of education had little if any affect on my gay world, my
participation within the gay world certain had an effect on my participation within the
world of education.
An Autobiographical Sketch
Being an Elementary School Teacher
Ive been teaching now for thirty years. I have always taught in elementary
schools, and except for a four year period as a literacy resource teacher, I had my own
classroom. Some years I have taught several grades together, such as kindergarten,
first and second grades. Other years I have taught just a single grade. I have taught
with teams as large as six, and I have taught alone. I have taught in classrooms
without walls, in self-contained classrooms, and variations between. There have been
times when I tried to be a silent teacher working only within the constraints of the
classroom, participating as little as possible with other teachers and administrators in
the school. At other times Ive rewritten curriculum on both a school-wide basis and
district-wide basis, participated in hiring committees, text-book adoption committees,
child assessment groups, innovative programs for gifted and talented, study groups
for setting standardized grades and study groups for eliminating grades. Ive helped
2


design new report cards, new school schedules, new staff development programs, and
new curricula. Ive participated in controversies that polarized staff and participated
in activities that brought staff together. Ive worked closely with administration and
worked antagonistically against them. Ive worked closely with fellow teachers and
antagonistically against them. Ive never been late to work. I am almost always at
school at least an hour before the students arrive. I have worked with approximately
one thousand children, ages five to thirteen. I have maintained a distance from their
parents, preferring limited contact with them.
What I most enjoy about teaching is working directly with children. The
practice in which I have derived the next greatest pleasure as a teacher has been my
explorations in learning what research says works in education and then figuring out
how to put this into practice. With the exception of the works by Jonathan Kozol
(1967), Sylvia Ashton Warner (1986) and Herbert Kohl (1969), all of what I
explored originated with research done by teacher educators who worked for
universities. Only one researcher that I know of, James Moffett (1968), did not have
a doctors degree. He did his work at Harvard, and from his work came Interaction, a
language arts program published by Houghton Mifflin. I learned that he refused to
get a Ph. D., on the grounds that he could more than sufficiently do his work with a
Masters degree. I learned about Interaction the first year I was teaching. It matched
nothing I had experienced as a student teacher nor as a student in the elementary
3


teacher preparation courses at Berkeley. At the university, classes were teacher
centered, while in Moffetts work, classrooms were to be student centered.
Becoming a Student Teacher
The modeling I received as a student teacher was teacher-as-lecturer. I
student taught for one quarter in a fifth grade classroom in which all the students sat
in straight rows facing the longest blackboard in the room. From there, in front of the
blackboard, the teacher lectured and the students read textbooks, copied math
problems from the text book, and in all of the other subject areas answered questions
that were at the end of each section of study in the textbook. This was in 1970/71.
One of the biggest concerns at the time was racial integration. The city of Berkeley,
where I was student teaching, had voluntarily initiated bussing in order to integrate its
schools and an effort was being made to hire more African-Americans. There were
African-Americans teaching at the school in which I student taught, but I dont
remember meeting any of them. I did hear about them, however, from my master
teacher, Mr. R. He was agitated that the African-Americans were wanting to have
separate faculty meetings in which they could discuss issues pertinent to African-
Americans, without any Anglo-Americans present. Their argument was that Anglo-
Americans dominated all staff faculty meetings so that African-American issues were
never addressed. Mr. R., who had been supportive of school integration, was
4


dismayed by this request, which he understood as a return to segregation. As for
myself, I never attended a faculty meeting, so all of my information was hear-say. I
have only one memory of teaching in the classroom, in which I taught math classes
working at the board, writing out the problems, attempting to do exactly as Mr. R.
did. I never felt successful and I dont think that Mr. R. thought I was very
successful.
I next student taught in a second grade classroom with Mr. S. He was known
for his innovative approach to teaching reading. He taught reading by having
students tell him stories, which he wrote on large chart paper. That became the
reading text for the day. I practiced doing this. It wasnt until the next year that I
read Sylvia Ashton-Warners Teacher, that I began to understand the theoretical
grounding of such an approach. However, when I taught reading, I used stories from
the students and wrote them on chart paper, imitating exactly what my cooperating
teacher did.
In both student teacher experiences I never became a full participant of the
classroom. Instead, I imitated what my master teachers practiced with little
understanding of why they were doing what they did. Student teaching became an
activity to be gotten through with as little hassle as possible. I figured that Id learn
how to teach when I had my own classroom.
5


Within the figured world of education, my position as a participant of
university classes had little relationship with what I was doing in the position of
student teaching. Within the university I was a student, sat in classrooms, received
instruction, followed the university schedule of courses and attendance times,
completed assignments and was given a grade of either pass or fail. Within the
practice of student teaching I was an inserted classroom appendage. I followed the
elementary classroom schedule, did a modicum of instruction, assisted students in
assignments, and graded papers with letter grades from A to F. Outside of the
university setting I never met with fellow students except in social occasions on the
weekend. Once, my wife, Anne, and I had dinner with my first master teacher after
completing the student teaching requirement with him. The dinner china had discreet
rosebuds painted on it. Anne said that it was Rosenthal. I remember only one class
in reading methods, in which we all came to the agreement that no one understood
reading, much less teach how to teach reading. I suffered tremendously through a
class on writing goals and objectives for social studies following the work of Hilda
Tabla. I never understood what constituted goals and objectives until my second year
of teaching when I began to write goals and objectives for a new reading and
language arts curriculum in my school district.
There are three other distinct memories from my university work as a student
teacher. One was that my entire cohort refused to write lesson plans, believing it to
6


be a worthless activity. The dean of the school came down to talk to us, admonished
us, told us we could leave the school through the front door or the back door, and that
if we chose to not write lesson plans then we were choosing to leave by the back
door. It was an empty threat I had come to associate with the university, an empty
threat that indicated that no one was willing to attempt to force us to write lesson
plans. Perhaps the fact that all course evaluation was based on pass/fail had a
restraining effect. After some worry about how it would look on our transcripts, none
of us had signed up for grades, the typical tool for leveraging student behavior. In
the end, I guess we evidently left by the back door, for no one wrote lesson plans.
Leaving by any particular door wasnt a goal for any of us; it was the gaining of a
teaching certificate that was our main goal. The world of the university was the only
path allowed us for that goal.
Second, several times we went up the hill to the Lawrence Hall of Science to
practice some hands-on science activities. I enjoyed the practice, and never yet
understood how the activities might fit within science in elementary school, which I
might have understood if I had done lesson plans. However, I never saw any
classroom teacher employing any sort of hands-on activity. In time, I did learn that
when the elementary school teachers I taught with were given a choice between a
hands-on science program with classroom science activities, and a text-book science
program, they always chose the text-book program. The two most common reasons
7


given for this choice was that with hands-on activities you could never tell how a
science experiment would turn out. In fact, it might turn out wrong. And, it took a
lot of planning and preparation with all of the materials. Everyone agreed that a
hands-on science approach was better for the students, but it wasnt better for the
teachers.
Finally, I wrote a paper, Values in Teaching, for Eugene McCrearys class in
which I asserted, echoing Virginia Woolfs assertions in Three Guineas (1938/1963),
that schools should be burned down once a year so that the means of perpetuating
power and authority would be disrupted. The professor responded positively to the
paper, commenting, Beautiful! Important! It moved me! I wish we could duplicate
it. If you wouldnt mind, see me. His secretary reproduced it for everyone in my
cohort to read. He also reported to me that the secretary hated the paper. His positive
recognition of my writing was important to me, validating my beliefs, from which I
gained confidence that somehow I was on the right track. This was important,
because the information that I was on the right track emerged so randomly over the
years that at the end of thirty years of teaching it was a surprise when both my
principal and a district administrator mentioned that they viewed me as one of the
ten best teachers in the district. The emergence of this information was bitter-sweet.
I wished I had known before.
8


In my classes I heard references to John Dewey, though we never read him,
and so on my own I read Experience & Education (1963). Excited, I underlined
whole paragraphs. The last words I underlined were ever onward and outward,
from the sentence It means that the scientific method provides a working pattern of
the way in which and the conditions under which experiences are used to lead ever
onward and outward (p. 88). This sentence is important as an example of my
emergent understanding of the world of education and of my position within it in that
I felt confident that somehow the right way could be found, which would lead to an
ever more positive and better method of education. Though I wasnt seeing any
specific examples of this around me, I assumed that somewhere these ideals of
education were being practiced and that much of the knowledge of the practice
resided within professors.
I was fairly certain that there was information within the university to be
learned, yet I also understood from my undergraduate studies experiences that the
larger part of my education was going to emerge through my own personal readings.
So, I continued to do readings on my own. Yet, I always believed that university
professors enjoyed some degree of knowledge that I didnt have access to, though it
never occurred to me to ask them how to appropriate it. The figured world of reading
for me was primarily constituted of friends and lovers who met with one another in
various coffee houses, the Mediterranean or the Florentine, a radical-left bar called
9


the Steppenwolf, or various restaurants. Most were graduate students at Berkeley in
the English, French or philosophy departments, and talking about our readings made
up much of our conversations, and the source of much of my readings.
While student teaching, I read Jonathan Kozols Death at an Early Age
(1967), and heard local teachers speak fervently about the need for schools and
teachers to change. Also I read about A. S. Neills Summerhill (Snitzer, 1968) and
for a while entertained the notion of setting up a similar school in a commune where
friends lived, two hundred miles north of San Francisco in an abandoned redwood
lumber mill. They had purchased three hundred acres for $100 an acre, and lived in a
scattering of four and five room redwood cabins that had initially been built for
loggers employed by the mill.
The immediate cultural milieu of Berkeley profoundly affected me. The
figured world of leftist bohemia that I entered was from which the Free Speech
Movement emerged, and involved all of my friends immediately, and me
peripherally. I was directly involved in the Anti-Vietnam War movement, and dinner
parties provided social space for enthusiastic conversations about these activities, as
well as venues for dropping acid along with dessert. In time it emerged that my
personal interests were always directed to ways of supporting beliefs, values and
activities considered liberal, leftist, revolutionary and liberatoiy. Certainly the
resistance to writing lesson plans was part of a much larger practice of resistance that
10


I participated in. A chunk of text written by Todd Gitlin (1987) encapsulates the rush
of historical events of the late Sixties that I either lived within or observed.
Years later, I still struggle to recollect in tranquillity. But it is
no easy thing to reconstruct the hallucinatory state in which the space
between illusion and plausibility has shrunk to the vanishing point.
Reality was reckless, and so there is the temptation to dismiss it say
with the cliche of compilation, snippets of pure spectacle, in the style
of a ticker tape or a clunky documentary: draft card burning ... the
Pentagon ... Stop the Draft Week ... the Tet offensive ... the
McCarthy campaign ... Johnson decides not to run for another term ..
. Martin Luther King killed ... Columbia buildings occupied ... Paris
... Prague ... trips to Hanoi... Robert Kennedy killed ...
Democratic Convention riots ... hundreds of students massacred in
Mexico City ... Miss America protest... Nixon elected ... deserters,
flights to Canada and Sweden, mutinies, fragging in Vietnam ...
Eldridge Cleaver underground ... San Francisco State, Berkeley,
Harvard, Stanford, etc., etc. besieged ... Peoples Park ... police
shootouts with Black Panthers ... student, freak, black, homosexual
riots ... SDS splits ... Woodstock ... womens consciousness-
raising ... the Chicago Conspiracy trial... Charles Manson ...
Altamont... My Lai... Weatherman bombs ... Cambodia ... Kent
State ... Jackson State ... a fatal bombing in Madison... trials,
bombings, fires, agents provocateurs, and the grand abstractions,
resistance, liberation, revolution, repression to name only
some of what was swirling. Images spewed forth from television
every night, hyping excitement and dread and overload and the sense
of America at war with itself, (p. 243)
A few months after Peoples Park in Berkeley, after participating on the May
30 march onto the park, itself ringed in chain link and an armed National Guard, I
became married on June 28th, 1969. On that same date in New York City the
Stonewall Riots began, perhaps the homosexual riots that Gitlin refers to above.
Nearly a year later, on May 5th, I helped shut down my college in response to the
11


Kent State Massacre of May 4th, 1970. Three months later, I was in the teacher
preparation program. Between these large societal breaks and fissures, I constructed
my personal life within a figured world of heterosexuality, going to movies,
restaurants, coffeehouses, socializing, drinking, somehow maintaining a day to day
coherence with the goal of becoming a teacher. While student teaching I read Herbert
Kohls The Open Classroom: A Practical Guide to a New Way of Teaching (1969).
On the back cover there is a photograph of Kohl surrounded by three young children,
heads close to him, all of them with their backs to the photographer, heads turned
down, presumably intensely studying something. Looking at the photograph now, I
can see that Kohl had shoulder length curly hair, and a necklace was falling loosely
over his shoulders. He looked slight of build. I remember again of how much I
identified with him immediately, romantically seeing myself in his place. For wasnt
my hair long, longer, even than his? And I wore beads. And wasnt I a man, too, just
like Kohl, with his back to the world, hiding his face? Kohls last paragraph was for
me a cry to battle.
Our schools are crazy. They do not serve the interests of
adults, and they do not serve the interests of young people. They teach
objective knowledge and its corollary, obedience to authority. They
teach avoidance of conflict and obeisance to tradition in the guise of
history. They teach equality and democracy while castrating students
and controlling teachers. Most of all they teach people to be silent
about what they think and feel, and worst of all, they teach people to
pretend that they are saying what they think and feel. To try to break
away from stupid schooling is no easy matter for teacher or student. It
12


is a lonely and long fight to escape from believing that one needs to do
what people say one should do and that one ought to be the person one
is expected to be. Yet to make such an escape is a step of beginning
again and becoming the teachers we never knew we could be. (p. 116)
These words deeply resonated in me when I first read them, and still do thirty
years later. School has always been difficult for me. Here was an explanation that
relieved me of any responsibility for how I had participated in making school difficult
for myself.
Becoming An Elementary School Teacher
After I received my California teaching credential, good for my lifetime, I
found a job teaching in the fall of 1971, in a multi-aged, non-graded elementary
school in Idaho Springs, Colorado, working with a team of three other teachers. For
all but one of us, this was our first year of teaching. We taught ten and eleven year-
old students on the second floor of what had once been a high school. The walls
between four classrooms had been knocked down, elegant Herman Miller modular
office furniture, desks, chairs, shelving and filing cabinets accented in contemporary
colors, had been put in for the teachers, which we could move about at will, so that
we placed all of our desks together in one space, creating an inner cubicle of teacher
workspace. After leaving this school district, I never again in schools experienced
comfortable adult working furniture. The entire south wall, the length of the class,
13


was a single stretch of double-sash windows, two tiers high, providing an endless
source of natural light. Besides the classroom space, we had the entire inside corridor
that had once connected the classrooms, and a two small rooms tucked off from the
stairs. Our first year was spent learning how to manage the logistics of team teaching
within an open classroom design. In addition, since the school superintendent had
jettisoned all text books, we had to figure out how to make, borrow, steal and buy
teaching materials that supported the curriculum. It all seemed so close to the ideals
of Kohls open classroom.
We were considered an IGE (Individually Guided Education) school. As
such, we were part of a very narrowly defined figured world in education, a group of
about fifteen schools scattered throughout the Denver metropolitan area.
Representatives met monthly, arranged for staff development, teacher exchanges,
planned for yearly conventions of IGE schools, and provided ways for teachers to
collaborate with other teachers. IGE schools were at their most vibrant during the
middle to late seventies, and slowly expired during the eighties. We were associated
with open space schools, multi-age student instructional groups, team-teaching and
non-graded activities and assessments. Within my school district, the teachers were
given control of the schools budget, hiring of staff, placement of students with
teachers, daily schedules, curriculum development and staff development, all
activities never talked about during student-teaching. We followed a guidebook that
14


delineated exactly how these processes were to be performed, and nearly all school
activities were the responsibility of the teams of teachers. I loved the sense of
professionalism and working autonomy. For years after I had participated in the IGE
schools, I kept all of the professional materials, guidebooks, references. Finally,
believing that this world would never again appear, I threw them out when I emptied
files at the end of perhaps my twentieth year of teaching.
After my first year of teaching, we, the team and I, applied for and received a
grant to build a geodesic domed terrarium about ten feet in diameter inside the
classroom so that the students could study life cycles of insects, reptiles and plants.
We began rewriting the reading and language arts curriculum. To guide us, a
professor from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley met with us several
times, focusing on transformational grammar as well as some work of Noam
Chomsky. Ironically, I discovered Moffetts Interaction reading textbook catalogues,
and convinced the principal to provide us the money to purchase the program. It was
very expensive for the time, providing a small library of books, tapes, activity cards
and student consumable materials. It was difficult to figure out the record keeping
system because it relied on anecdotal teacher notes rather than grades. No one else in
the school other than my team would look at Interaction, and all references to
transformational grammar were struck from the first draft of the reading and writing
curriculum.
15


However, I have referred to Moffett continually since those early days of
teaching. When I learned a year ago that he had died, I felt a deep loss. It was from
Moffett that I learned to never pre-plan a class before the first meeting, for inevitably
a different class than the one planned for walks in. Much that I learned from Moffett
emerged over the next twenty years through the Writers Workshop Project and the
Whole Language movement. Also from Moffett I learned that in order for children to
learn to write, they need to practice writing itself, rather than being taught
decontextualized skills such as punctuation, sentence structure or grammar. Moffett
emphasized the value of student learning through a stochastic (G. Bateson, 2000, p.
255) trial-and-error activity accompanied by or followed by effective teacher
feedback that was immediate and meaningful. He argued for a student-centered
classroom. Yet, with the exception of the IGE schools, the architecture of schools,
including the university I now sometimes teach in, with rectangular classroom filled
with student desks in rows, with little or no flat surface work and display space,
supports the more conservative, back-to-basics position within the figured world of
education where the teacher stands and faces rows of self-contained students centered
on the teacher. In the process of my work with the doctoral seminar High Achieving
Classrooms for Minority Students (HACMS), Clarke, M. A., Davis, A., Rhodes, L.
K., & Baker, E. DeL. (1996), here at University of Colorado at Denver, we have done
16


in-depth work with George Herbert Mead and Gregory Bateson, and here again in the
following quote they emerge in Moffetts argument against textbook instruction.
And when students make up a sentence or paragraph
demonstrating such and such kind of structure, they are not learning
what the teacher thinks they are: they are learning that there is such a
thing as writing sentences and paragraphs for their own sake, that
discourse need not be motivated or directed at anyone, that it is good
to write even if you have nothing to say and no one to say it to just so
long as what you put down illustrates a linguistic codification. The
psychological phenomenon, involved here called learning sets by
H. E. Harlow, and deutero-leaming by Gregory Bateson is that
when someone learns a certain context, he also learns that way of
learning. The second kind of learning tends to be hidden because it is
not under focus, and yet for that very reason may be the more lasting.
The student learns how to do exercises, and this learning is of a higher
order, ironically, than the learning of the difference sentence or
paragraph structures contained in the exercises. Thus in an a-
rhetorical learning situation, he learns to discourse a-rhetorically! (p.
206, authors italics)
My team continued with teacher-prepared materials, or purchased materials
that were not text book driven, but could be used for a variety of ways by the
students. However, as we moved on to other teaching positions, new teachers who
replaced us brought in text books. The schools I moved into all had textbooks
waiting for the teacher. I understand why teachers want textbooks, since their time is
so diminished by multiple demands. Textbooks provide ways for teachers to
conserve time, by not having to search out, create and prepare their own.
In time, for family reasons, after eight years within an IGE system, I moved
fifty miles away, and began teaching in a new school district that was hierarchically
17


top-down ordered, and within the figured world (Holland, 1998) of education the
position of teachers was as recipients of directives about curriculum, assessments,
budget or the organizational structure of their school. But, Im ahead of my story.
Becoming a Peripheral Participant of the University
During my fourth year of teaching, I transferred to Georgetown Elementary
School, across the street from where I lived in Georgetown, Colorado. That next
summer, 1976,1 was sent by my school district for a summer of work in Boulder at
the University of Colorado in their first Colorado Writing Institute, which was based
on the Bay Area Writing Institute. A large part of the summer was spent
understanding the process of sentence combining based on kernel sentences and
generative transformational grammar, as well as teaching writing through the process
of writing, rather than through skills lessons. This fit with both what I had learned
from Moffett as well as the visiting professor from Greeley. The assumption of the
university instructors was that what we teachers were doing in the classroom when
teaching composition was wrong, and that we had no knowledge about composition
to bring to the classes. It was made explicit that I would learn how to correctly teach
composition and would in turn teach my fellow teachers how they should teach
composition.
18


The following autumn, I provided monthly workshops in Georgetown and
Idaho Springs for interested staff on the processes of implementing writers workshop
for elementary classrooms. Few people attended, including those with whom I taught
in Georgetown. However, I was very excited by the writing process and began to
implement it within my language arts instruction. I was convinced that, based on
university research and instruction, I could somehow achieve Deweys exhortation to
move onward and upward. Faculty from University of Colorado at Boulder would
sometimes come up and lend moral support and I enjoyed their intellectual
companionship and approval.
I began to acquire the voice of the university and appropriate it as mine. For
me it was a voice of higher intellectual and moral authority. It was in part the voice
of Moffett, and the voice of my instructors at the writing institute in Boulder. I was
familiar with this voice, having experienced it for many academic years. It was a
voice with its own dialogic contradictions as well, as embodied by the contrary voices
of Virginia Woolf, Herbert Kohl and Jonathan Kozol, and the many dissident voices
of Berkeley. It wasnt a particularly reflective or reflexive voice. It was a voice of
anger and judgement. It was a voice of blame. It was, as I understood it, an academic
voice.
Because I had enjoyed the institute so much, I applied for the masters
program at the school of education in Boulder, and was accepted. My advisor and I
19


expected that I would continue on into the doctoral program. My GRE scores were
low in math, so I was accepted provisionally. Still, moving to Boulder hinged on
selling the house in Georgetown, and that didnt happen. The gasoline shortages of
the middle seventies weakened the real estate market in Georgetown, which actually
never recovered until the middle nineties, so that by the mid-eighties it was not
uncommon to see properties in Georgetown foreclosed by HUD.
Acknowledging My Sexual Orientation
However, in July of 1979, the Georgetown house was rented out, and my
family and I moved to Denver. I began working for Adams Country School District
Twelve that autumn. Within a year, my wife and I separated, and I began
constructing my life around, primarily, ways of being a gay man, and, secondly,
more academic pursuits. I returned to Boulder, this time to pursue a masters degree
and credential requirements for an administrators license. At the same time, at my
new elementary school I became involved in, again, reading and language arts
curriculum writing. With two other teachers, we developed a staff development
program for our elementary school, based on what I had learned in Boulder, to train
all of the teachers in the writers workshop process. This time we provided staff
development that was attended by all of the teachers. With administrative urging, the
entire staff participated and within a couple of years writers workshop was a regular
20


method of instruction throughout the school. We understood my role as one bringing
to the staff what I had learned at the university, not unlike Moses bringing down from
the mountain top the tablets inscribed with the law. We believed that what the staff
was doing in the teaching of composition was wrong, and that the staff had no
knowledge of composition to bring to staff development.
At the beginning of the above paragraph I very briefly mentioned that I was
exploring ways of being gay. Its a problematic figured world, not just the larger one
more often described as an alternative lifestyle, but more narrowly that of a gay
elementary school teacher. For Sumara and Davis (1997), merely being a gay man is
a world of Orwellian themes of surveillance, suppression, exclusion, and personal
violence (p. 300) whose identities and cultural contributions are automatically
censored from most public information venues and explicitly in high school and
elementary school curricula. This was certainly my own experience. As Loughery
(1998) points out, the 1970s was a time of multiple political attacks on gays. It had
seen the formation of Anita Bryants Save Our Children, Inc., in Dade County,
Florida, which was instrumental in the reversal of civil rights protections for gays and
lesbians. In California, state senator John Briggs Proposition 6, advocating the
dismissal of gay teachers was fought over, and defeated in a state wide vote, but it
had a frightening affect on gays. The U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of
James Gaylord, fired after thirteen years in a Tacoma, Washington, high school after
21


disclosing his gay sexual orientation to his principal. He had been considered an
excellent teacher by his supervisors. So it was with a great deal of trepidation and
personal anxiety that I began to re-explore the gay world. It was a world that at first I
did not talk about at the elementary school I taught in and that I never talked about in
the academic world in Boulder.
In fact, the only person I remember mentioning any activity within the world
of gay men was the instructor of school finance. One day at the beginning of class he
was relating that he was just returned from an education conference in Reno, Nevada,
and that as usual he had noticed all sorts of odd things in that city. But the most
confusing oddity for him had been the discovery of the Gay Rodeo which was
simultaneously being held as the conference. He laughed about this discovery. The
class laughed along with him. It didnt seem like ridiculing laughter, more like
laughter at the incongruous or absurd. I ever so briefly considered raising my hand
and explaining that there was a Gay Rodeo right here in Denver, Colorado, that
happened annually every Fourth of July. But my courage failed me. My greatest fear
about confessing that I am a person with same-gender sexual attraction is that then
not only what I say, but perhaps more importantly who I am, will be discounted, if
not attacked.
After two years of academic work at Boulder, I found that I had no interest in
continuing. I felt fairly certain that I didnt want to work in administration and other
22


options seemed incomplete. I told myself that there were already too many white
male principals and that by taking myself out of the professional field then perhaps an
opening was provided for a person of minority status, which I considered to be all
women in general, and men of color. I did not believe that a person with same sex
attraction would be thought of as a viable minority that could withstand the withering
scrutiny of particular religious or political groups that understood being gay as, at
best, a psychological impediment.
I enjoyed being a classroom teacher. Much of the time it was just me and the
children. I took a wading pool, placed it up on a large table, filled it with water, and
turned it into a small pond so that we could study the life cycles of aquatic organisms.
I got a grant to purchase eight Tandy computers and set up eight word processing
stations, so that every student got forty minutes of daily writing time at the computer.
Using a classroom in a different school as a control group, I compared the writing
projects of both classrooms to see what kind of differences arose. (On the whole,
students working with computers demonstrated greater fluency, but not fewer errors.
They wrote a great deal more.) I learned about and then implemented readers
workshops to support my writers workshop.
My school district was growing, and a new school was opened. The principal,
who Ill call Jerry, was a man who had once been an assistant principal at my school.
I applied for the position of team leader, a non-administrative position, and was hired.
23


Working with Jeny and three other team leaders, we hired the rest of the staff. The
school was a center for children with severe and profound learning, emotional and
physical disabilities, as well as a regular education school. The goal was to integrate
all students into the regular education classroom. All of the university literature said
that not only should it be done, but it could be done. We knew of no other schools
were doing this, though the literature maintained that the major impediment seemed
to be inflexible teaching staff who were resistant to change. Jerry was all for change,
as was I. We were certain that, with a hand-picked staff, change could be easily
implemented. Unhappily for us, within three years the staff was severely polarized
over issues of special education inclusion, multi-cultural diversity, and multi-age
classrooms. Still, working with a special education teacher and another regular
education teacher, I was able to set up a multi-age primary unit of kindergartners, first
and second graders, as well as all of the special education students of that same age
range, using the Stanley British Primary School as an organizational model. It was
called Links, and all learning was project based, student centered, non-graded, with
learning centers and few, if any, textbooks.
Presenting the Links proposal to the staff, I used my academic voice, citing
academic writings which supported a student-centered, inclusionaiy model of
education. Some teachers were irritated that my explicit and implicit message was
that Links would be better than what they were doing within regular education
24


classrooms. Yet throughout my career in education the information coming from the
university was always that change and reform were needed and I came to believe that
what teachers were doing wasnt good enough, that too many students werent
experiencing academic success.
As a classroom experience in the late 1980s through 1991, the Links years
was my favorite time of teaching. It took enormous amounts of time even as one of
my goals was to be able to demonstrate that a student-centered classroom took not
much more planning time than did the usual textbook, teacher-centered classroom.
Yet as an elementary classroom teacher who is gay, the 1980s and early 90s
were a time of tension, anxiety and grief. In June of 1986, the U.S. Public Health
issued estimates that one million Americans had been infected with HIV, while in that
same month the U.S. Supreme court in Bowers v. Hardwick affirmed the right of
states to make illegal private homosexual sex. Further, in 1987 the Helms
Amendment in 1987 banned the use of federal money for AIDS education that
promoted or encouraged homosexuality( Loughery, 1998, p. 430). In the school
cafeteria we faculty gathered together for inservices about AIDS, how to use latex
gloves, to view even a childs open scratch as a threat to our health, and to accept the
fact that knowledge about a childs or fellow adult workers health status was not to
be revealed. Some teachers were agitated that they might be working with a child or
adult who were HIV infected. Others stated that AIDS was Gods curse against gay
25


men, that it was a deserved plague. It was at this time that I first experienced being
privately confronted by parents wanting to know if I were gay, and if I were that they
wanted their child out of my class. I refused to answer but still felt deeply
intimidated, humiliated and even guilty. My school district did not have a policy of
protection for sexual preference and I felt even more isolated. When the Colorado
anti-gay amendment was passed in 1992, it was painfully chilling. Even though a few
years later the Supreme Court struck it down, I still lived with the knowledge that as a
general political atmosphere there was little tolerance for gay civil rights. It was,
after all, the time when Clintons political compromise of dont ask, dont tell was a
policy mantra.
Becoming a Participant of the University
While teaching within Links, I became a member of a Title VII cohort at the
School of Education, University of Colorado at Denver, to earn a masters degree in
literacy and second language acquisition within this figured world. A primary theme
found in every class in the program was the belief that all students had strengths
culturally, intellectually and in literacy. One teaching emphasis was to get us
teachers to learn about those strengths, and build from them, rather than using deficits
as a way of defining student actions. It was easy enough for me to accommodate this
idea. Yet, in the middle of the program, I was suddenly struck that teachers were
26


being described from the viewpoint of deficits. It became a struggle for me to leam
how to no longer use deficits as a way of describing teacher actions. As I completed
the masters program and continued on into the doctoral program, it became clearer
and clearer to me that the prevalent discourse was one in which teachers were
described as having multiple deficits.
The discourse which described teachers with deficits certainly wasnt
anything new; it had been part of my personal and professional discourse as well as
the public, university and professional discourse that I had been familiar with since
the advent of Sputnik. The difference for me was the parallel discourse within the
university classroom in which describing students as having deficits was viewed as
problematic, while teachers also would be described has having deficits. As I
continued teaching elementary school, it was a challenge for me to not use deficit
theory to explain both my and the students behaviors. About this time I discovered
activity theory, first through my early childhood readings as I organized the Links
program, and read multiple references to Lev Vygotsky. Then at conferences on
early childhood education I learned about the zone of proximal development, then
considered to be one of the most important aspects of Vygotsky. I signed up on the
XMCA listserve, and slowly discovered the entire world of activity theory from
which I reconstructed my understanding of how everyone, not just students, learns.
27


Practicing Action Research as a Teacher Educator
Still, the challenge of deconstructing deficit theory continued as I entered the
doctoral program. After a few years in the program I was asked to teach ITE-5070,
Teacher Inquiry, wherein initial teachers would be taught methods of researching
their own practice. Working with other ITE-5070 instructors I was startled to learn
that none of them was researching their own practice. It gave me pause and I began
to reconsider the relationship of learning and teaching between the university and the
practicing and/or initial teacher. Now I think that Moffetts critique of writing
instruction, that when someone learns a certain context, he also learns that way of
learning (p. 206, authors italics), relates also to initial teacher education. The
teacher candidate learns from the context of the university classroom and from the
teacher educator that deficit theory is the way of understanding the world, and that,
perhaps even more importantly, the teacher is not expected to practice what she
teaches. Thus, it is not unexpectable that just as the teacher educator does not
practice teacher inquiry, but rather teaches the method of teacher inquiry, so does the
classroom teacher teach the methods of reading and writing, but does not practice
reading and writing. I will write more fully about this when I consider the
implications and conclusions of my dissertation, but, I believe that for positive change
in education to occur, it must occur in the classrooms of both the teacher educator as
well as that of the public school teacher. When the practice of change is an activity of
28


practice within teacher education classrooms, then perhaps there will be a greater
chance that practice of change will become a practice of the public school classroom.
I have taught three times a course on teacher as teacher researcher, ITE-5070.
In the summer of 1999 I taught REM-5080, Teacher Research, also a course on
teacher as researcher. In the winter of 2000,1 co-taught ITE-5010, Learning to
Observe, and Observing to Leam, and next I taught IPTE-5080, Principles and
Practice of Change. Teaching these courses, I learned new ways of understanding the
complex relationship between what and how I teach and what and how learning is
practiced in classrooms. In the first ITE-5070 class that I taught, I found that there
were multiple difficulties with what I was teaching and how I was teaching, so I
decided that part of the solution would be found in my researching my own practice
as a teacher educator, and making that research transparent for the class to observe
and appropriate as a model for their own practice.
When I again taught the ITE 5070 class the next year, rather than employ
what I had observed to be standard teaching methods and attempted to replicate the
first time around, I struggled to situate my practice more closely to what I believe is
effective teaching. I placed the desks in a large circle so that all members of the class
could see one another. Knowing that students often sit in the same seat class after
class, I never sat in the same place from one class to the next in order to create
different lines of communication and to breakdown what constitutes the front of the
29


class. I wanted to make it explicit from the construction of the physical properties of
the classroom that students learn from each other as well as the teacher. I also wanted
to displace myself from being the center of the classroom, or at the head of the
classroom so that class discussion would move around from student to student rather
than student to teacher. I decided to research my own practice as a university
instructor and make that research explicit to the class, sharing my own field notes, my
own journals, my own readings. I made journals a class requirement, and spent more
time responding in writing to the journals. I came out to my students as a teacher
who was also gay. I worked to follow the students lead in how they understood the
practice of teacher as researcher. I dont know what the FCQ written results were
because they were lost somewhere in administration. Yet, one student said to me,
You changed my life. I believed that she meant for the better.
In the summer of 1999,1 taught REM 5080, Teacher Research. While
working with this class, I changed the syllabus three times, bringing in different
readings as well as changing assignments. I had never taught a summer class with the
severe time constraints of covering a semester of material within three and one half
weeks. I kept a journal of each days events, writing copious notes during class.
After rereading these notes, Id plan the next days set of instructional activities. I
made my learning as explicit as possible and shared my research on my practice with
this specific class. For me, the results of the FCQ were supportive, with students
30


stating that they found themselves thinking more deeply about teaching than they had
ever done before. Yet, they found the clarity of the course objectives obscure.
Perhaps the lack of clarity was precisely because the students were constructing their
own objectives. This is in contrast to the cultural practice of learning institutions
which envision learning as a blue-print of methods to be acquired. I didn't participate
in that practice. Yet I also wondered about how to make my course objectives more
explicit for the next time around. What would the explicit course objectives in my
class look like? Thus, from the experience of my teaching, and paying attention to
students evaluations, a new action research question arose for my next teacher
education class: How can I make the course objectives explicit, and yet provide for
student co-construction of the objectives?
Statement of the Problem
As a classroom teacher I observe continually for evidence that what I am
doing as a classroom teacher is supporting my students as they work to master the
given curriculum. Often I go to outside sources for understanding problems of my
practice as well as for possible solutions. Yet, as Gallas (1998) notes, this is not
always successful.
Observations that place problems of teaching and learning in
the foreground seem to beg for a solution, but the solutions of others,
however well intentioned, are rarely effective. They embody the
31


widely held opinion that if teachers only knew enough about their
craft, they wouldnt have messy questions that clearly represented a
problem with a teachers methodology or a childs deficits. The
solutions also represent an approach to teaching that portrays
classroom problems and teachers questions as entities that can be
remedied by tapping a general, all-purpose store of knowledge about
teaching and learning, regardless of the unique nature of that
classrooms students, physical space, materials, and teacher, (p. 17)
So, like many teachers, I have struggled to understand what does and doesnt
work within my classroom, and how to respond to what I learn, how to inform my
practice of teaching. Teacher educators (Brennan & Noffke, 1997; Carson & Sumara,
1997; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Corey, 1953; Ellis, 1998; Goswami & Stillman,
1987; Hubbard & Power, 1993; Kincheloe, 1991; Levin, 1990, 1992; Schmuck, 1997;
Stenhouse, 1975; Sumara & Davis, 1997; and Wells, 1994) write and talk about the
value of action research as part of the practice of teaching for classroom teachers.
Gordon Wells (1992, 1994) has written informally about researching his own
practice, but without explicitly describing what he has done. In greater depth Sandra
Hollingsworth (1991) described an approach she took in examining her own practice
as a teacher educator: With the historical difficulty of changing classroom practices
as background, this paper represents a teacher educators critical investigation of the
outcomes of her own instructional practices (p. 5). Hollingsworth used critical
feminist theory and narrative inquiry to contain and critique varying epistemological
stances she took across a span of four years with respect to her responsibility as a
32


literacy educator for elementary teachers (p. 5). Alan Feldman (1995) reported in a
paper presented to the American Educational Research Association his self-study of
his own practice when he taught a university course on action research. One year
later, Feldman (1995) again reported in a paper presented to the American
Educational Research Association a self-study by doctoral students and himself as
they taught courses of action research in a preservice teacher education program.
Peter P. Grimmet (1997) has written about researching his own practice as a
teacher educator.
For the past decade or more, education professors have been
well socialized to the academic aims of the university. In the process,
however, they have tended to neglect their teaching responsibilities in
favor of worshipping the golden calf of publishing. One feature
accompanying this neglect is the tendency of professors involved in
teacher education to state what research suggests teachers should be
doing instead of demonstrating its vitality and applicability in their
own teaching. So, we have ironies such as professors lecturing on
constructivist teaching or telling students about reflection and how it
enables teachers to develop a feel for students and their learning.
I am one such professor. Because I also encourage inquiry into
the practice of teaching, I felt challenged by the need to engage in
action research myself. This process led me to realize that I had been
espousing learner-focused teaching in a teacher-centered way, a case
of talking the walk but not walking the talk. (p. 121)
Marie Brennan and Susan E. Noffke (1997) have also written about their work
as teacher educators and action research on their own practice. Brennan and Noffke
found themselves focusing on relationships formed through classroom management
and discipline, informed through feminist works.
33


However, merely understanding these things in our teaching
and supervisory practice is not enough. We see this work as part of a
much broader effort to redefine educational research, building on the
work of feminist and other critical social scientists. There are many
points in our own practice which seem to contradict our most deeply
held and articulated positions. (My emphasis.) Through examining
them together, we uncover more of the contradictions as the next place
to start our questioning. For instance, while we are trying to practice
this form of action research, we remain part of an unjust and unequal
society. This affects not only how much we can make our
relationships symmetrical and dialogic but also acts back on the
institution and on our teaching within it. Injustices and problems
become more apparent, and seemingly intractable, especially in the
limited sphere of action of undergraduate student teachers and even
their supervisors. The pessimism which may result has to be
overcome, not merely rejected or ignored. Uncovering contradictions
helps us all to see those spaces in which strategic rather than naive or
idealistic action is possible, (p. 40)
I emphasized with italics Brennan and Nofkes stand that any teachers
practice embodies contradictions. Whenever I am engaged in action research, I have
learned that much of my practice is affected and informed by my being a gay man.
During a period when education appears to stress diversity and respect for difference,
few examples or models have been provided of action research from those
traditionally marginalized in educational discourse. A dissertation documenting my
reflective processes through teacher research could be a small beginning in providing
literature on these subjects of the practice and the reflectivity of a teacher who is also
by practice a person of difference.
34


Much has been written about teacher biography, teacher beliefs, teacher
values, and how the constraints of life experiences, beliefs and values play out within
the classroom. The main body of this research has been written by university
researchers who for the most part are teacher educators. This work has been written
to and for other university researchers and teacher educators. The teachers
themselves, their lives and experiences, are problematized objects of study. The
result, if not the intention, of most of this research is to problematize teacher practice
and then provide prescriptions to correct it. This has always presented a tension for
me, how to understand the work and lives of teachers, and how to not problematize
them.
For me, the resolution to that tension is for the teacher to be both the object
and the subject of the study of a teachers life and work. S. Middleton (1992)
manages this as she explicates the changes in her understanding of her practice as a
teacher. She writes that she wants to give a substantive account of the production of
one socialist feminist teachers pedagogy within the specific socio-cultural setting of
post-World War Two New Zealand ... as well as to exemplify for teachers a
process of curriculum theorizing which may be of value to them in theorizing their
own teaching practice(p. 19, authors emphasis). Similarly, the work of P. Schmidt
(1997) provides another example of the teacher as both subject and object during
which she wrote her autobiography in order to understand what influenced her
35


teaching of high school English over a period of twenty-two years. Writing as
honestly as I could, reconstructing, telling, and reflecting on my life experiences, I
sought to disembed my story, with which for many years I sat alone in silence (p.
172). Here, Schmidt has coined a new word, disembed. The root of this word is
embed. So, she means, I think, that she has had to work her story out from a kind of
hardened, fossilized life. In a sense she is attempting to break free of silence and
become a full participant within the figured world of education.
I contrast the research where the teacher is the subject and object to some
instances when autobiography is used to understand how teachers come to think and
act the way they do (Butt, Raymond, McCue & Yamagishi, p. 51, 1992), and the
teacher is problematized: We think that understanding how teachers, individually
and collectively, think, act, develop professionally and change during their careers
might provide new insights as to how one might approach reform, change and
improvements in education that are necessary to equip our students for a desirable
future within a context that is rapidly altering the nature of teachers work (p. 51).
The sentence begins with the personal we, moves then into the impersonal one
and the to the possessive our. The autobiography of the teacher is an object of
study so that reform, change and improvement in education might be brought
about. The autobiography of the teacher is instrumentalized in order to equip our
students for a desirable future. Within this research there is a split between the two
36


researchers and the two teachers. The autobiographies discussed are those of McCue
and Yamagishi, both classroom teachers. Butt and Raymond, university faculty, do
not even present, much less discuss and analyze their own autobiography. In other
words, the autobiography, the practice of the university teacher is hidden. Instead,
both classroom teachers, McCue and Yamagishi, are written about in the third person,
through excerpts of their writing used by the researchers to demonstrate particular
points that the researchers wish to emphasize. This suggests to me that, even though
authorship is attributed to both classroom teachers and university researchers, the we,
of the text is the university faculty, rather than the classroom teachers. The classroom
teachers wrote their autobiography as part of academic university coursework. It was
the university researchers, however, who controlled the research text that was
published.
Therefore, what I wish to do in this dissertation is keep in mind at all times
how to best express my voice during all phases of this research process. Recognizing
that this dissertation is an act of prolepsis, that it is a moving through several
positionalities within the figured world of education, the positionalities of classroom
teacher, university student, teacher educator and gay man depending upon which
activity Im engaged in, I am also am also engaged in a kind of positional bifurcation
within this dissertation. One position is as a self-reflexive classroom teacher who
researches my own practice, and the other position is as a teacher educator who
37


analyzes and discusses the implications of this classroom based research in order to
better understand and improve my own practice as a teacher educator.
Conceptual Framework
For Carson and Sumara (1997), action research is a lived practice that
requires that the researcher not only investigate the subject at hand, but, as well,
provide some account of the way in the investigation both shapes and is shaped by the
investigator (p. xviii). Their case studies demonstrate teacher not as triumphant, as
is so often the genre of teacher research, but rather, as in the case of a university
professor who researched her own practice working with several elementary school
teachers, teacher caught in multiple disruptions which provide a harsh reminder of
the ways in which I still often remain entrenched within traditional academic contexts
and expectations even as I work against them (p. 211).
For my own work as a teacher who researches his own practice, I want to
follow Kincheloes suggested example of possible teacher research. Kincheloe
(1991) recommends a critical constructivist historiography which could provide a
starting place for our exploration of consciousness construction and the forces which
have helped shape the lived world of our students and ourselves (p. 181). He asserts
that (m)emory is the means that teachers, educational leaders, community members,
and students use to gain self-consciousness about the genesis of our own common
38


sense beliefs, derived as they are from our ideological, social, and cultural milieu (p.
182). I propose to use Kincheloes framework to develop an autoethnography of my
adult development: a work of teacher research constructed through the theoretical
lens of activity theory, that will have educational value for teachers and teacher
educators.
Two university professors, Mary Catherine Bateson and Susan Krieger, have
provided models of reflective practice. M. C. Bateson notes, Teaching in
Massachusetts and Virginia and Georgia, in Manila and Tehran, I have tried to enter
the classroom as a participant observer, hoping to learn from the students, even
though they see me as the one who is supposed to know the answers. In a world of
lifelong learning, whatever the task or role to be played at a particular moment,
participant observation can become a way of living (p. 11-12, 2000). Like Spradley,
M. C. Bateson understands the value of participant observer as a tool for the analysis
and evaluation of ones participation in a social activity. And, like Carson and
Sumara, Bateson understands the practice of teaching as also the practice of learning.
Susan Krieger (1991) has also engaged in action research and university
teacher, not as the anthropologist like M. C. Bateson, but as a social scientist, the field
in which Krieger was trained. While teaching a course on women and organizations
at a California university, Krieger pushed her students to write reflection pieces about
experiences and their emotions.
39


Often I wish I could write more candidly than I do, with less
resort to camouflage and generalization. That recent class seemed to
say to me, Try. It was the first time I had felt teaching so
completely circle around. I had taught the students to experiment with
something I valued, and then they expected no less of me. A student
in a military uniform once tried to tell me that students wished to learn
from teachers, rather than from textbooks. A woman in a seminar on
qualitative methods made me think about the sensitive nature of asking
for personal disclosure in an academic setting. This recent class
pushed me to acknowledge more fully what I was about, if only
because my concerns affected them and raised questions that were
sometimes difficult to answer, (p. 148-149)
For me, this paragraph describing Kriegers practice of doing with her
students both what was difficult for herself, as well as what she valued for them to
learn, demonstrates the recursive nature, the circle around, of authentic learning, in
a classroom where the university professor is as much a learner within a community
of learners as are the students.
Several years later, Krieger (1996) writes about her practice as a university
professor who teaches to learn, and who documents her own activity as a teacher in
order to develop and strengthen her reflective practices of teaching.
I have taught a course called Women and Organizations for the
past eight years, seven times at one institution and once each at two
others. Students, most of them women, take this course because they
wish to be successful in a mans world and not to be disadvantaged
because they are women. I teach the course for a different reason,
because I like women and am interested in womens worlds. There is
a basic set of topics in my course: womens development, boundaries,
and styles of communication; womens experiences in organizations;
womens work; and female separatism. But equally important are
implicit processes that occur during the term, reflecting the students
40


needs for their own growth, their resistances and fears, and my own.
(P- 171)
This seminar has provided for Krieger many of her main ideas for
understanding womens social patterns (p. 171). And to give a sense of the key
learnings, she writes a lengthy description of her teachings of this seminar.
Following Kriegers model, I will write descriptions of my teachings in reading of a
small group of Spanish-speaking students from Mexico who are working to
appropriate the English language as they also learn to read and write.
While M. C. Bateson and Krieger have provided models of reflexivity in the
field, for theoretical grounding I draw on two theories to develop my study: 1)
Cultural Historical Activity Theory as an intellectual positioning (Cole, 1996; Bruner,
1996; Valsiner, 1998; Wertsch, 1998), and 2) Van Maanens (1988) narrative theory
for ethnographies.
Cultural Historical Activity Theory began with Lev S. Vygotsky, bom in
Imperial Russia, November 5, 1896, in the provincial town of Orsha in Byelorussia.
Vygotskys father was a banker, and his mother was a teacher (Guillermo Blanck,
1990). These are important family details, I believe, for they give evidence that
Vygotskys theories of learning have a historical tracing both through his fathers and
mothers profession. From his father, Vygotsky may have appreciated a world view
greater than that of White Russia, and from his mother Vygotsky may have gained
41


his first understandings that learning is acquired through personal relationships
involving close reciprocity. From this intimate family dynamic, Vygotsky intended,
on the one hand, to reorganize psychology on Marxist fundamentals; on the other
hand, he sought solutions to the serious problems of Soviet society, such as education
to counter a high rate of illiteracy and the neglected problems of defectology
(roughly, research on disabilities, e.g., deafness, blindness, mental retardation)
(Blanck, p. 40).
In 1933, Kurt Lewin, who in the 1950s urged the use of action research, fled
Nazi Germany for Moscow, where he met with and had several long conversations
with Vygotsky. Jerome Bruner (1990) writes that while no records of their
conversations exist, it is reported that they got along famously in spite of the
enormous difference in then- attitudes toward the role of history in psychological
interpretation (p. 169). In June of 1933, Vygotsky died of complications from
tuberculosis. Vygotskys work was banned in the Soviet Union from shortly after his
death until 1956. It was not until the 1980s that the Soviet Union acknowledged he
was Jewish. It is important to me that acknowledgement of Vygotskys Jewish
heritage, not because he was Jewish, but because he lived in an anti-Semitic society
that constructed being a Jew as a deficit and problem. For my own self as a gay man,
the issues of acknowledgement of the contributions of the work of gays and lesbians
is not important except for the fact that gays and lesbians have historically been
42


problematized. For this reason it is important to make evident positive contributions
from those who are gay and lesbian.
Introducing his book Mind in society (1978), Vygotsky states that the purpose
is to characterize the uniquely human aspects of behavior, and to offer hypotheses
about the way these traits have been formed in the course of human history and the
way they develop over an individuals lifetime (p. 19). He is primarily concerned
with three issues: (1) What is the relation between human beings and their
environment, both physical and social? (2) What new forms of activity were
responsible for establishing labor as the fundamental means of relating humans to
nature and what are the psychological consequence of these forms of activity? (3)
What is the nature of the relationship between the use of tools and the development of
speech? (p. 10, Vygotsky, 1978). These three huge questions, as well the methods in
which Vygotsky researched these questions, are the core of Cultural Historical
Activity Theory.
Approaching these questions, Vygotsky proposed the zone of proximal
development: It is the difference between the actual development level as
determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as
determined through problem solving under adult supervision or in the collaboration
with more capable peers (p. 86). It is this theory of a zone of proximal development
that is most likely of any of Vygotskys theories to be taught in an American school
43


of education.
However, others in the field of education and psychology have used additional
Vygotskyian theories of activity to inform their research. Jan Valsiner (1998) has
used Vygotskys work to build his own understanding of how human personality
develops through constant construction and reconstruction within the constraints of
conduct and context.
Also in the field of psychology are Fred Newman and Lois Holzman, whose
work Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionaiy scientist (1993) is a personal interpretation and
extension of Vygotskys work. They argue that to benefit fully from Vygotskys
work contemporary psychologists would have to continue in a scientifically
revolutionary tradition. In other words, it is not Vygotskian to simply apply
Vygotsky (p. 17). Noting Vygotskys insistence on the primacy of the search for
method, specifically on the necessity of discovering the proper unit of study (p. 22),
they argue for situating research within a non-laboratory psychology of person-
environment interaction, i.e. the life space/activity in which people exist, or the
person-environment interface (p. 22).
Michael Cole (1996) urges those interested in cultural psychology, based on
Cultural Historical Activity Theory, to similarly situate their research:
Adopt some form of cultural-historical psychology as your theoretical
framework. Create a methodology, a systematic way of relating theory
to data that draws upon both the natural sciences and the cultural
44


sciences, as befits its hybrid object, human being. Find an activity
setting where you can be both participant and analyst. Enter into the
process of helping things grow in the activity system you have entered
by bringing to bear all the knowledge gained from both the cultural
and natural sciences sides of psychology and allied disciplines. Take
your ability to create and sustain effective systems as evidence of your
theorys adequacy, (p.349-350)
Both Michael Cole and Jerome Bruner are cited for first bringing the work of
Lev Vygotsky to the attention of American scholars. Bruner remembers first reading
Vygotsky in the late 1940s: What captivated me most was his approach to the role
of context in mental growth (p. 139, 1983). In time Bruner became friends with
Alexander Romanovich Luria, one of Vygotskys fellow researchers. Bruner
understood Benjamin Lee Whorf and Lev Vygotsky as moving beyond the banality
that language influences mind and thought. Theirs was the claim that language must
influence, must even shape thought language not just as narrative or label but as a
system for cutting up the world into categories and relations by virtue of grammar and
lexicon (p. 158, authors italics). Considering human development theory, Bruner
(1986) asserts that the truths of theories of development are relative to the cultural
contexts in which they are applied (p. 158). Human culture simply provides ways of
development among the many that are made possible by our plastic genetic
inheritance. Those ways are prescriptions about the canonical course of human
growth. To say, then, that a theory of development is culture free is to make not a
wrong claim, but an absurd one (p. 135).
45


Michael Cole applied Vygotskys theories to his early research efforts to
understand how children change cognitively in schools. Collaborating with Denis
Newman and Peg Griffin, Michael Cole researched the question on how thinking
can be identified and studied in varying social contexts (p. xv, Newman, Griffin &
Cole, 1989). They concluded that their original definition of a task as a goal and the
conditions for its achievement are quite inadequate in the face of (p. 135) changing
goals within different settings. Coles most recent work, Cultural psychology: A once
and future discipline (1996), is an attempt to answer the question Why do
psychologists find it so difficult to keep culture in mind? (p. 1), followed by If you
are a psychologist who believes that culture is a fundamental constituent of human
thought and action, what can you do that is scientifically acceptable?(p. 2).
Of equal importance with Coles work in Cultural Historical Activity Theory
is the work of James Wertsch. His Mind as action, (1998) is a working of the
theories of Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, Kenneth Burke and Lev Vygotsky, in an
attempt to understand how mental functioning is related to cultural, institutional, and
historical contexf (p. 3). Building on the theoretical constructions of Burke, Wertsch
states that human action can be adequately understood only by invoking multiple
perspectives and by examining the dialectical tensions that exist among them (p. 13).
Still, Wertsch proposes to narrow his work to mediated action as a unit of analysis:
In Burkean terms, this involves a version of the dialectic between agent and
46


instrumentality (p. 17).
M. M. Bakhtin has proven to be a rich source of theoretical enlightenment for
those working with Cultural Historical Activity Theory. A contemporary of
Vygotsky, he lived from 1895 to 1975. Arrested during Stalins terror, his writings
had been hidden in Saransk, where rats and seeping water damaged much of his work.
Therefore, much of our contemporary texts of Bakhtin are fragmentary.
One of my favorite paragraphs of Bakhtin is:
Every thought of mine, along with its content, is an act or deed
that I perform my own individually answerable act or deed. It is one
of all those acts that make up my whole once-occurrent life as an
uninterrupted performing of acts. For my entire life as a whole can be
considered as a complex act or deed that I perform: I act, i.e., perform
acts, with my whole life, of the continuous performing of acts. As a
performed act, a given thought forms an integral whole: both its
content/sense and the fact of its presence in my actual consciousness -
the consciousness of a perfectly determinate human being at a
particular time and in particular circumstances, i.e., the whole concrete
historicalness of its performance both of these moments (the
content/sense moment and the individual-historical moment) are
unitary and indivisible in evaluating that thought as my answerable act
or deed. (p. 3)
This paragraph is a favorite of mine because it expresses so well my own
understanding of the multiple relationships between my thoughts, my incremental bits
of performances, and how when all of these acts are placed one after another in a
narrative in one form or another combines to create a holistic coherence of meaning.
This viewpoint allows me to take a particular chunk of acts or deeds, considered with
47


my actual consciousness, and understanding why I decide to do what I do, when
evaluating that thought as my answerable act or deed.
Finally, the works of Charles Sanders Peirce (1955), Gerald M. Edelman
(1992), Gregory Bateson (1972), John Dewey (1916/1944) (1939), Michel Foucault
(1972) (1979) (1980) (1988a) (1988b) (1989) (1990), and M. A. K. Halliday (1978),
like Bakhtin, have all provided theoretical perspectives that practitioners of Cultural
Historical Activity Theory have found useful. The additional research done by
Barbara Rogoff (1990), Jorge C. Moll (1990), Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger (1991),
Courtney Cazden (1988), Seth Chaiklin and Jean Lave (1993) and Roland G. Tharp &
Ronald Gallimore (1988), to mention but a few, have all provided multiple
perspectives on understanding activity within diverse cultural and historical contexts.
Conclusion
I have learned to value Cultural Historical Activity Theory as a means of
disciplining my research methods and scaffolding my analysis so that I may account
for as many variables as I am able. Vygotskys first question (1978), What is the
relation between human beings and their environment, both physical and social? (p.
10) shall be a primary focus, since I will be researching relationships between me and
my students, as well as our environment both within and outside of the university,
public education, and those multiple socially constructed activities. Valsiners (1998)
48


understanding about the interplay of construction and reconstruction within the
constraints of the social relationships and the social and physical contexts will further
guide my identification of patterns of practice within and outside the university
classroom that impact my practice as a teacher researcher. This research will follow
Newman and Holzmans (1993) argument that the proper unit of study is within the
life space/activity in which people exist, or the person-environment interface (p.
22). Similarly, Michael Cole (1996), insists that for those interested in using Cultural
Historical Activity Theory, they situate their research in an activity where you can
be both participant and analyst (p. 350). And finally, following the work of Bakhtin,
I shall be mindful that each thought and deed, each act as a teacher, as a teacher
researcher, is an act or deed that I perform my own individually answerable act or
deed (p. 3). And it is from these multiple acts, deeds, and thoughts that fundamental
change occurs. This is a proleptic activity (Cole, 1996), recursive, analyzing the
present activity, reflecting back of the history of the activity, anticipating where to go
next, based on goals and desires, beliefs and values, reflexively aware of the
construction of the figured world within which one is participating, and the
positionality of that participation (Holland, 1998).
Therefore, I view the activity of teacher as researcher as rooted in a history of
social activism with a particular goal of examining my teaching and learning as well
49


as the learning of my students in such a way as to support and extend the socio-
cultural activities of individual rights and liberties.
50


CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
Yet, I believe that school should be a safe place, the way home
is supposed to be. A place where you belong, where you can grow and
express yourself freely, where you know and care for the other people
and are known and cared for by them, a place where people come
before information and ideas. School needs to comprehend the
relationship between the subject matter and the lives of students,
between teaching and the lives of teachers, between school and home.
Jane Tompkins, 1996, p. 127.
Introduction
My primary focus in this literature review is on the socio-cultural history of
the activity of teacher as researcher where I look at the beginnings of action research
and the reasons for its proposed practice. Then I shall briefly review activity theory,
and how it informs my practice as a teacher researcher. As it turned out, as I began to
document my practice as an elementary classroom teacher in order to understand how
I make decisions, how I assess decisions, and how the activity of teacher research
itself informs my decision-making, I narrowed my focus to my decisions involving a
group of five Spanish-speaking Mexican students during reading. Therefore, I shall
also briefly review the literature that informs my practice as a teacher of literature.
Finally, since many of my larger goals as a classroom teacher are informed by my
positionality as a gay man, I shall touch upon the sparse literature of gays and
51


literature within the figured world of education. The reviews on literature and gays in
education are meant to be illustrative of what I use to inform my practice, which of
course informs the decisions I make. These two final reviews are not meant to
demonstrate breath and depth of the literatures.
Teacher as Researcher
Many of my decisions as a teacher are as a result of my wanting to
comprehend the relationship between the subject matter and the lives of students,
between teaching and my life, between school and home. A way of documenting
and then analyzing the decisions that I do make as a teacher can be done through
action research. I like the activity of observing, documenting and researching my
practice of teaching. It provides me ways of capturing insights about my practice that
otherwise I would never have noticed. Once, writing in my journal, describing the
ways students interact on the playground with one another and the ways they expect
me to intervene, I was startled and saddened to notice that my interventions with the
boys was centered on problem solving skills, while with the girls I took control and
solved the problem for them. At the time of these interventions, I was focused on
being a teacher. During my writing on the journal, I was focused on being a teacher
researcher engaged in reflexivity, self research. It was then that I was able to
delineate my teaching behaviors which provided chances for the boys to practice self
52


reliance and for the girls to practice submissive behavior with men. I didnt
particularly like what I self-divulged. At least it was within the privacy of my own
journal and I had time and space to critically acknowledge my own sexist stance and
consider ways of changing it. This anecdote was also one that I shared with an ITE-
5070 class when I was the instructor and researching my own practice as an on-going
model for them to observe and participate in.
I dont remember exactly how I first learned about teacher as researcher. It
was perhaps more that ten years ago, and I found myself immediately wanting to
practice it. It seemed like a chance to legitimize and exercise teacher voice. I first
began this literature review in the stacks of the Auraria Library. It was here I found
Stephen Coreys work (1953), which set me on a track of finding the historical roots
of action research. I have searched the web many times, mostly looking for examples
of teacher research written by elementary, middle and high school teachers. In the
main, the body of the literature is written by those who work at the college and
university level. The most common definition of teacher research is that it is research
focused on teacher improvement. While some (J. Edge, 2001, OHanlon, 1997, L. S.
Tafel & J. C. Fischer, 1996) cite John Dewey as an inspiration for teacher research, I
could find no evidence that Dewey explicitly proposed the actual practice. And
finally, in doing this literature review, I went through multiple book company
catalogues looking for books on the subject, as well as did an ERIC search.
53


Marsha Levine (1992), writing for the Encyclopedia of educational research,
asserts that teacher research is done by K 12 teachers and by student teachers,
either individually or in collaboration with other teachers and/or university
researchers (p. 1367). While nearly every writer on the subject of action research
sees it as a practice such as described by Levine, the definition of the term itself
varies according to the practitioner. Hubbard and Power (1993) in their text, refer to
classroom inquiry, as does the course title for this universitys ITE-5070, Teacher
Inquiry. Others prefer the term action research, as in Action research as a living
practice, Carson & Sumara (1997). Stephen M. Corey (1953), possibly the first
university level advocate of teacher research, preferred the term action research,
attributing it to John Collier since Collier used the expression action research and
was convinced that since the finding of research must be earned into effect by the
administrator and the layman, and must be criticized by them through their
experience, the administrator and the layman must themselves participate creative in
the research impelled as it is from their own area of need (p.7, authors italics).
Coreys citation of Collier is United States Indian Administration as a laboratory of
Ethnic Relations. Social Research, 12:265-303, May 1945. However, K. R. Philp
(1979) writes that John Collier had long been working in socially active groups
before he became commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Beginning in 1907
when he was civic secretary for the Peoples Institute in New York City, he began a
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long struggle to preserve and build community life based on Gemeinschaft, of shared
obligations. These beliefs he attempted to implement within the Bureau of Indian
Affairs. As commissioner, he ordered the closing of numerous boarding schools. To
replace them, day schools that also served as community centers were built, and a
new curriculum that emphasized skills connected with rural life such as care of
livestock, homemaking skills, and personal hygiene (pg. 276) appeared. From this
effort came his call for action research. Bilingual programs were implemented to
improve Indian literacy. He brought in anthropologists and removed missionaries.
Collier (1949/1962) had a deep belief that for modem culture to survive the wastage
of cultures and value systems which ages have made, wastage of natural resources
stored by the organic life of a billion years, wreckage of the web of life (p. 160), it
needs to return to its roots of small communities, rather than continue a world of
social isolates (p. 160).
Collier, an admirer of Peter Kropotkins Mutual Aid and the essential human
value of primary social groups, wrote:
That thesis was that democracy political, social, and
economic democracy, complexly realized all together is ancient on
earth; that cooperation and reciprocity were the way of men through
many thousands of generations; that the conserving and cherishing of
earth and its flora and creature life were mans way through these long
ages; that the art of education the art of informing, enriching,
tempering, and socializing the personality, and of internalizing the
moral imperatives was practiced triumphantly by village
communities in every continent, without ceasing for tens of thousands
55


of years; and that like countless flowers in a long April of our world,
human cultures, borne by memory alone, illuminated with all rainbow
hues the almost unimaginable thousands of little societies wherein
immensities of personality development were achieved across the
aeons of time. (p. 160-161)
Touched by his, what seems to me to be utopian, naive romanticism, I also
find myself admiring his passionate commitment to a particular vision of life from
which he informed all of his activities. For it is out of this belief in value of small
communities that the practice of action research was formed, and I admire this. As a
result, I too wish to inform my own practice of teacher as research through my own
particular vision of life, taking into account lifes political, social, emotional and
economic constraints. I shall return to this theme later.
Contrary to Corey, Richard A Schmuck (1997) asserts that Kurt Lewin
(1890-1947) is the father of action research (p. 140), and there is no citation of
Collier at all. Goswami & Stillman (1987) use the term teacher research, and its
their belief that the notion can probably be traced to the influence of Lawrence
Stenhouse and his successors in the United Kingdom (Preface). They in turn fail to
cite either Lewin or Collier. Cochran-Smith & Lytle (1993), while employing the
term teacher research, cite Stenhouse and Lewin as the originators of the practice.
And finally, Julia L. Ellis employs the phrase teacher as interpretive inquirer (p. 5),
while at the same time ignoring any historical roots.
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I will use the term teacher research or teacher as researcher, while at the
same time recognizing that all other terms are equally important. In recognizing the
historical roots of teacher research, I find myself gravitating towards citing John
Collier as the originator of the term and certainly of the practice. For it was within
the schools of the B. I. A. that Collier supported teachers researching the community
within which they taught in order to define the local knowledge and values, from
which the classroom curriculum should spring. Lewin did not practice action
research. Although he alluded to specific research, mostly action research, he did
not dwell on specifics (Gold, p. 295). Lewin suggested that action research be used
by Jewish organizations for a scientific study of human behavior on a group
level, since he believed that Jewish political and communal life has been too much
guided by emotions, blind forces, and too little rational consideration about whether
the means really serve the end(Gold, p. 263). For me, the primary concern about the
practice of any teacher as researcher is less the terminology employed and more the
intentionality of the practitioner of action research. For both Collier and Lewin,
action research was a means for strengthening the local community.
Lawrence Stenhouse (1976) espoused teacher research in England, without
attributing it to anyone. He believed that teacher research is adopting a research and
development approach to ones own teaching gap between aspiration and practice(p.
3). Stenhouse believed that the school has the task of making available to the young
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a selection of the societys intellectual, emotional and technical capital (p. 6), and
that culture is an intellectual commodity; and it is the commodity in which schools
deal, and out of which they quarry the content of education (p. 9). For Stenhouse,
since school is a distributor of knowledge rather than a manufacturer w/ reference
points outside the school for the subjects it teaches(p. 10), and teaching strategies
can never be worked out a priori they are worked out by teachers collaborating
within a research and development framework(p. 25), it seems only sensible that
teachers practice action research.
What are some reasons for practicing teacher research?
Teacher research is concerned with the questions that arise
from the lived experiences of teachers and the everyday life of
teaching expressed in a language that emanates from practice.
Teachers are concerned about the consequences of their actions, and
teacher research is often prompted by teachers desires to know more
about the dynamic interplay of classroom events. Hence teacher
research is well positioned to produce precisely the kind of knowledge
currently needed in the field.
Cochran-Smith & Lytle, p. 59.
Cochran-Smith & Lytles position on why to practice teacher research, a
concern for consequences and for understanding classroom dynamics, is deeply
thought out. The case studies presented by Cochran-Smith & Lytle reveal how in
kindergarten genres, language, and world knowledge are displayed, untangling the
complex interactions of school practices, family, and community values; how
ethnicity and language differences may create barriers between students and teachers
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between students and their own aspirations; or questions about traditional
elementary school reading curriculum (p. 117).
Hubbard and Power think that teacher researchers are a wonderful new breed
of artists-in-residence (p. xiii). Research is for growth and change with your
students (p. xvi). The why of research is never really addressed. The case studies in
Hubbard and Power are instrumentalist, focusing on how a cooperative classroom
influences an autistic/gifted child; the value of response logs; the content of student
talk in response groups; or wondering about the impact of ability grouping. Of the
examples given, only the teacher researching the impacts around ability grouping
hopes to make a difference, by reporting her results to the school board, (p. 141).
Ellis understands that the values of teacher research can give teachers the
chance to question, clarify, and extend their own understandings about their work
with students. In this way, their research and writing become the source of their own
professional development and curriculum planning (p. 6). But reasons for why this
growth of personal edification is important is never addressed.
Goswami and Stillman understand the why of teacher research is that
teachers who cast themselves as learners redefine their roles in the classroom: they
are part of the classrooms that are Teaming communities. This consequence of
classroom inquiry is more important to us than findings or publication (Preface).
While Goswami and Stillman assert that they will explain the why of teacher
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research, I failed to find their explanation. (And in my experience, most texts on how
to do teacher research rarely express reasons beyond the mildest of soporifics for why
to do teacher research.)
Joe L. Kincheloe (1991) has a very specific reason for why to practice teacher
research.
Without romanticizing, patronizing, or denigrating them, I
attempt to engage teachers with some ideas that may be helpful in their
struggle to control their own professional destinies. These ideas
revolve around the notion of teachers as researchers, an old idea which
when reconceptualized in conjunction with a reasonable system of
meaning may provide a starting place for a democratic reorganization
of the way school work. This democratic reconceptualization of
education embraces a vision which takes seriously notions of social
justice, racial, gender and class equity, and alternative ways of seeing
the world borrowed from people who have traditionally been ignored
(p. viii)
However, perhaps primarily interested in writing an argument in favor of
teacher as researcher as an act of empowerment, Kincheloe does not provide case
studies of teacher as researcher providing empowerment, though he provides a
possible example, which Ill refer to later.
Carson and Sumara (1997) achieve greater success in providing examples of
teacher empowerment. Of all the works on teacher research, theirs is the only text
that indexes the term homosexuality, or homophobia. Carson and Sumara are very
clear about why a teacher should engage in teacher research.
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This book aims to reconceptualize educational action research
as a living practice. Drawing from a wide range of interdisciplinary
influences such as complexity theory, deep ecology, Buddhism,
hermeneutic phenomenology, postmodern philosophy, poststructual
and literary theories, and psychoanalysis, this book will show how
participation in educational action research practices are particular
ways of living and understanding that require more of the researcher
than the application of research methods. Rather, action research is
a lived practice that requires that the researcher not only investigate
the subject at hand, but as well, provide some account of the way in
which the investigation both shapes and is shaped by the investigator.
(p. xiii)
For Carson and Sumara, action research is understood as something that is
inextricably tied to the complex relations that form various layers of
communities "(p. xvii) Suddenly, one is back to the original vision of John Collier,
although they cite Kurt Lewin as the founder of the action-research movement
(xviii). The case studies demonstrate not teacher as triumphant, but rather as learner,
as in the case of a university professor who researched her own practice working with
several elementary school teachers, and found the teachers caught in multiple
disruptions within hierarchical relationships, disruptions which provide a harsh
reminder of the ways in which I still often remain entrenched within traditional
academic contexts and expectations even as I work against them (p. 211).
For my own work as a teacher who researches his own practice, I want to refer
to Kincheloes suggested example of possible teacher research. Kincheloe suggests a
critical constructivist historiography which could provide a starting place for our
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exploration of consciousness construction and the forces which have helped shape the
lived world of our students and ourselves (p. 181). Memory is the means that
teachers, educational leaders, community members, and students use to gain self-
consciousness about the genesis of our own common sense beliefs, derived as they
are from our ideological, social, and cultural milieu (p. 182).
Mv Working Definition of Action Research. It is within this example of
Kincheloes framework that I understand the value of an auto ethnography of my adult
professional development. It is a work of teacher research constructed through the
theoretical lens of activity theory, that will have educational value both in the
positional practices of teacher as researcher and of teaching as teacher educator. I
believe that at its narrowest definition, teacher action research is the research of any
activity done by the teacher which involves the teachers professional experience.
The goal of that research is going to differ according to the reason for the activity of
the research. My personal goal for teacher research has been in the main liberatory.
Im interested in finding ways to liberate my own practice of teaching from the
confines of a bureaucratic, hierarchically structured institution of education. I am
also interested in knowing how my own teaching practices both inhibit and support
my students as they acquire the necessary tools to mediate their lives within a world
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replete with constraints, both successes and rebuffs, that they meet on a day by day
basis.
Earlier I noted that Carson and Sumara advocated looking at how the
investigation both shapes and is shaped by the investigator. I began this chapter
with a story about how through action research I unexpectedly discovered that I was
perpetuating sexist behaviors through the differences in which I treated the boys and
the girls. For me the greatest value of action research is not in the finding of the
answers to the asked questions, but in the revelations of the unexpected that emerge
from the reflective studying of the research documentation. So, my ultimate goal in
teacher research is to foster, encourage, support and strengthen my ways of
documenting what it is that Im doing when working with students and then in
reflecting back and understanding whether or not what Im doing fits with my beliefs
and values about teaching, what it is my students are learning and if that is close to
what I hope for them to be learning.
I use activity theory as a theoretical lens in understanding my research as a
teacher. With this lens I view my identity and my position within the world of
education. My practices and activities as a teacher within the elementary school
classroom I share with my students, are situated in historically contingent, socially
enacted, culturally constructed worlds (Holland, 1998, p. 7). These worlds are
inscribed with the political, religious, economic, sexual and social systems of belief.
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Activity theory asserts that the individual develops out of the daily activities in which
the individual participates. The individual emerges out of the socio-cultural milieu.
Personal cultures emerge on the basis of the collective culture, yet they do so in
ways that do not necessarily reflect the exact forms of the collective culture
(Valsiner, 1998, p. 32). Mediating these activities, as well as the individual
development are tools, or artifacts. According to Cole (1996), artifacts include not
only tools, but all means of cultural behavior (p. 110).
As a way of contrast to get a clearer grasp of cultural historical activity theory,
consider Heaths (1983) ethnographic work in the communities of Trackton and
Roadville that was centered on the question What were the effects of preschool
home and community environments on the learning of those language structures and
uses which were needed in classrooms and job settings? (p. 2). While noting that the
neighborhoods were divided by race, and that there were different ways of
communicating, because their communities had different social legacies and ways of
behaving in face-to-face interactions (p. 11), Heath focused primarily on uses of
language. With activity theory, the research needs to focus on all the cultural tools, or
artifacts, at hand that are used to mediate activities in which people are engaged.
Nevertheless, Heaths work also provides a powerful model for me when she
describes changes in the teachers she was working with.
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These teachers not only reassessed past patterns, but as they
became more familiar with the role of teacher-researcher they had
begun in their social science classes, they also reflected on what was
happening to them as the first years of desegregation passed. For
many, seemingly simple insights into their past classroom behaviors
and attitudes opened the way for curricular reforms and modified
teaching practices, (p. 270)
Now, as I write, I wonder if it was perhaps when I first read this book of this
book of Heaths that I first read the term teacher-research. I am struck by the fact
that Heaths work was finishing up in the early seventies, when I was first beginning
teaching. I learned about the book sometime in the late eighties when I attended a
conference on anthropology in education, in which Lorrie Sheppard and Margaret
Eisenhart were speakers. At the end of the conference during a brief conversation,
one of them recommended that I read the book, which I did in 1989. I include this
anecdote here, because it is an accurate demonstration of activity theory. It
demonstrates first, about how long it takes for research in education to come to the
notice of practicing classroom teachers. It is an example of how long it can take for
an artifact, in this case Heaths book, to be appropriated from one group of
practitioners to another within the figured world of education. Further, I did not find
a local community in which to discuss Heath until I took a class on literacies in 1992
at the university. In short, it took two decades for the knowledge constructed within
one activity community to reach me, and then several more years before I found an
immediate community of practice within which I could stabilize and practice my
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learning using the shared artifact, Heaths book. Heath posits that the students from
Tracton and Roadville were unsuccessful in school because they didnt have the
culturally constructed ways with words. Yet, in my own experience, while I certainly
did have the literacy skills necessary to read and comprehend Heath, I did not have
the community of practice within which to enact the information found within
Heaths book. What I didnt have was a particular community of practice (Lave and
Wenger, 1991) in which to appropriate the research done by Heath. It is activity
theory which makes a broader attempt in accounting for learning as constructed
through all of the tools of the community, not just language, in which a person finds
himself or herself historically bound.
Literacy
The preponderance of my understanding of reading instruction is a result of
my participation in the course work for the masters degree at the University of
Colorado at Denver. In particular, it was working with Kathy Escamilla when she
taught reading methods based on Marie Clay (1991) in a workshop for teachers in
Commerce City. While the workshop was in Spanish, as were the materials used,
since the emphasis was on reading instruction for Spanish speaking children, I was
able to begin a working understanding of the conceptual framework. According to
Clay, when teaching reading the instructor chooses texts that the child can read with a
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ninety to ninety-five percent accuracy so that reading miscues dont interfere with the
meaning of the text. The final goal is an independent reader based on a rich
repertoire of appropriated or internalized skills that support the basic skills of reading
for comprehension. Clay urges the teacher to begin instruction based on where the
child is, focusing in on the zone of proximal development (Clay, p. 65), a theory of
Lev Vygotskys (p 84, 1978). One of the primary roles of the teacher is to listen to
the child read, maintain a running record of the way the child has read the text, and
then based on the kinds of miscues, provide immediate instructional feedback
focusing both on what worked as well as to practice a reading strategy to better
support the reading process.
However, there is much more to L. Vygotsky than the zone of proximal
development. The core of Vygotskian theory is that learning occurs in social
activities mediated through cultural artifacts.
From the very first days of the childs development his activities
acquire a meaning of their own in a system of social behavior and,
being directed towards a definite purpose, are refracted through the
prism of the childs environment. The path from object to child and
from child to object passes through another person. This complex
human structure is the product of a developmental process deeply
rooted in the links between individual and social history.
Vygotsky, 1978, p. 30.
A child is bom into a complex system of socio-cultural relationships and ways
of understanding the world. As the child begins to leam, or appropriate, these
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relationships and ways of understanding, these relationships and understandings take
on specific meanings relational to the child. This is one way in which change occurs
within a culture, because no one understands things identically with everyone else.
The relationships and understandings within a culture are always for a specific
purpose, or goal, which is in turn affected by the immediate environment. This
environment is made up of the rich multiplicity of cultural artifacts and tools,
including language. The ways in which the artifacts, the tools, the words are used are
socially mediated, as the child is engaged with different people, engaged in using the
artifacts, tools and words within particular socially constructed activities. These
activities have a historical lineage which has influenced the ways of activities, which
is rooted in both the individuals personal history, and the history of the community.
This can be illustrated in Engestroms (1999) diagram of a complex model of
an activity system (p. 31), as I have drawn it to illustrate the socially constructed
goal of learning to read.
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Figure 1.1. Reading Instruction Activity System
Texts, blackboard, chairs in circle, our language, instructional methods.
Mediating Artifacts
CSAP, grades. school, student families parents, community.
In this figure, it is important to understand the lines of the triangle as
representing multiple paths of information in a multiplicity of directions, realizing
that each of the six points (subject, mediating artifacts, object, roles, community and
rules) all affect, though not equally, the processes of the activity. Furthermore, the
histories, though invisible within this system, of the students, their families, the
teacher, the school, the community, writing, books, and on and on, all affect this
particular activity system of reading instruction. And of course, the examples Ive
listed by each of the six points are not all inclusive. However, when I am interacting
with a group of students in the activity of reading instruction, I am attempting to hold
all of this in my mind as a way of guiding my practice of reading instructor. In
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particular to this research, where I am working with Spanish-speaking Mexican
children I keep other aspects in mind more prominently.
I specifically try to keep in mind aspects of the larger system of education
which can hinder or limit the learning of the students. In reading Foucault ( 1972,
1979, 1988a, 1988b, 1988c, 1989,1990, 1994a, 1994b) I began to see how ways of
power and control exercised systemically served to not only limit ways of learning,
but also to privilege ways of learning over others, the affects of which are still felt
today. Two examples would be ways in which school discipline serves to structure
docile bodies (1979a), and ways in which to reveal the positive unconscious (p. xi)
of knowledge (1994b). To be brief, Foucault described how cultural conventions are
inscribed on how the body may move within a school classroom. The ways in which
schools are hierarchically organized structures place limits on the body.
The organization of a serial space was one of the great
technical mutations of elementary education. It made it possible to
supersede the traditional system (a pupil working for a few minutes
with the master, while the rest of the heterogeneous group remained
idle and unattended). By assigning individual places it made possible
the supervision of each individual and the simultaneous work of all. It
organized a new economy of the time of apprenticeship. It made the
educational space function like a learning machine, but also as a
machine for supervising, hierarchizing, reward. (1979, p. 147)
At the same time, the discipline of the schools, the ways of being organized,
these in themselves structure knowledge, or ways of knowing that are not explicitly
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conscious. One comes to know that the sixth grade is a higher grade. School lore
is replete with stories of sixth graders who regularly exercise dominance on the
playground. Where a child is seated in room can reflect that childs social status. In
an elementary school I worked in, a principal became furious with a third grade
teacher and accused her of racism because she had placed four Spanish speaking
students at the same table. Regardless of the teachers original reason for placing the
students in a particular place, which she understood to be for educational reasons,
everyone understood the possibility of placing students in particular places within the
room for purposes of hierarchizing or reward.
With Foucaults work on power, hierarchy and normalizing in mind, and
recognizing that my Spanish-speaking students are members of the Mexican
community which is often marginalized within the dominant U.S. culture, I have also
looked toward some the literature on bilingual education, as well as being alert to the
controversies that cloud its practice. Crawford (1992) has given me a political
grounding in understanding the English Only and anti- bilingual education as an
attack on Spanish-speakers, cultural diversity and tolerance, as well as on democratic
values. One guide for working with my Spanish-speaking students and their families
has been the research of Delgado-Gaitan (1990). Her focus in research has been in
understanding how the Spanish-speaking Mexican families live, work, leam how to
assist their children in school and to empower themselves (p. 8). A volume of
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research done by twelve different researchers on second language literacy edited
Goldman and Trueba (1987) has provided examples wherein second language
acquisition is understood an interactive process in which literacy is constructed and
responsibility for the outcome is shared by the individual and by the sociocultural and
economic factors, such as those present in school, home, and community contexts (p.
4). Furthermore, there is an emphasis on the teacher being alert to which reading and
writing skills are general to all languages, and which are specific to particular
languages. As well, there is an emphasis on situational based assessment, diagnosis
and evaluation informed by the individuals perspective on the functional value and
adaptive significance of the task and performance on it (p. 5).
Three Cautionary Tales. One other perspective informs my reading
instruction with Spanish-speaking Mexican children, though the works that have
informed this perspective were not written with these specific children in mind. This
is a perspective of protecting the individual child from what I understand to be
bureaucratically constructed, institutional behaviors, and socially constructed,
classroom behaviors that objectify and marginalize. These works were written by
Bissex (1980), Lensmire (1994) and Taylor (1991).
The work by Bissex, Gnvs At Wrk: A Child Learns to Write and Read, gives
an account of one childs, the authors son Paul, learning to read and write, from the
beginnings of literacy at age five up to age eleven (p. v). Pauls trajectory in literacy
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begins at home, is nurtured at home, and is self-directed at home. Paul was an active
learner, experimenting and finding out things for himself; he preferred inventing,
constructing, and elaborating to following directions precisely; he had strong interests
and even as a very beginning reader worked at home for extended, concentrated
stretches of time. He did not use his capacities as fully in school, perhaps because of
the routine nature and unchallenging level of some of the assignments, and also
because his self-directedness did not yield to teacher direction (p. 169). As for his
writing, the variety of kinds of writings that Paul did on his own were greater than
what he did in school. For me as a teacher, this is a cautionary tale, for all through
the years of the study, Pauls teachers commented on his inefficient use of time and
slowness in completing tasks (p. 146). The story of Paul is for me an on-going
reminder that a childs life is far larger than what appears within the structure of
school and that I need to know as much as possible about that greater world in order
to work more comprehensively with the child.
Taylors work, Learning Denied, tells the story of a familys clash with
public school, special education bureaucracy. It is a personal story of Claudia and Pat
as they attempted first to help their son Patrick in school, and then, ultimately, to
protect him from school (xi). During a prekindergarten developmental screening,
Patrick was identified as maybe having perceptual problems (p. 11). In time the
kindergarten teacher noted that Patrick was having trouble following directions, and
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towards the end of the kindergarten year a resource teacher observed Patrick and
wondered about his maturity (p. 17). The concerned parents arranged for formal
testing. At the staffing there was a recommendation for language development
intervention, along with the suggestion that Patrick be retained in kindergarten. The
parents refused, and thus begins a sad story of the school using the multiple tools of
special education to work with Patrick. This culminates is confrontations between
district lawyers and family lawyers, home tutoring, Patricks second grade teachers
recommendation that Patrick repeat second grade, and finally home schooling. For
me, its a reminder to proceed cautiously when diagnosing and prescribing whats
best for children.
The last cautionary tale is When Children Write: Critical Re-Visions of the
Writing Workshop, written by Lensmire. In this work, Lensmire begins research on
how to run a writers workshop class in a third grade public school classroom. Hes
theoretically grounded with Bakhtin, Calkins, Freire, Giroux, Graves and Vygotsky,
to name a few, but he soon runs into problems. This was a tough class to work with,
partly because a number of children actively resisted teachers in the classroom (p.
28). Further, the students wrote stories about other students in the class that were
hurtful and marginalizing. None of this fit with Lensmires romantic understanding
of writers workshop. Lensmire proposes that the involvement of teachers within their
classroom communities be one that takes a critically pragmatic response (p. 148).
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He encourages teachers to recognize that they are a participant of the culture of their
classroom and that they will restrict student action (p. 148) for the good of the
whole community.
But teacher engagement, like student engagement, also refers
to the teacher being open to, learning from, and caring for the children
he works with. When the teacher is engaged with children, he is
enriched by the fictional worlds they create on the page, and gains
insights into his own and others lives as he listens to children talk and
interpret their own. He has the responsibility to care for children,
nurture their growth, enrich their lives, (p. 148)
The paragraph above in many ways captures what guides my instructional
practice in teaching reading, and especially in teaching reading to my group of five
Spanish-speaking students. I want to learn from them and I want to be caring for
them. My life is enriched by working with them, in the ways I learn from them,
through stories they tell me, and even more importantly through what the stories
mean to them. This is for me the greatest emotional, aesthetic and intellectual
richness about teaching, the local community of practice.
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Homos
No one wants to be called a homosexual. The revulsion that
designation would inspire in a Christian fundamentalist is
understandable. Given the pressures and privileges intrinsic to the
position one occupies on the great homo-heterosexual divide in our
society, we can only appreciate the anxiety, on the part of those
straights most openly sympathetic with gay causes, not to be
themselves mistaken for one of those whose rights they commendably
defend. It is even possible to sympathize with all the closeted gay men
and lesbians who fear, rightly or wrongly, personal and professional
catastrophe were they to be exposed as homosexuals.
L. Bersani (1995, p. 1)
For most of my life I have maintained a public and professional silence about
my same-sex sexual preference. That nineteenth-century psychological invention, the
homosexual, was not what I ever wanted to be associated with. There is no
question that the appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and
literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of
homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and psychic hermaphrodism made possible a
strong advance of social controls into this area of perversity (Foucault, 1990, p.
101). When I was bom homosexual acts were illegal in every state. While no longer
illegal between consenting adults here in Colorado, twenty-three states still have laws
on the books forbidding homosexual acts (Harbeck, 1997, pg. 287 291) either as a
misdemeanor or a felony.
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The existence of these laws is evidence of the professional uncertainty that
gay men and lesbians face if they decide to work in public schools. The existence of
these laws is evidence of the long history of heterosexual antagonism towards
homosexuals. This antagonism is embedded in all cultural institutions, including the
legal, educational, religious and political. While gay men and lesbians may be
growing more visible in American life, teachers who come out in school still risk
harassment, dismissal, and physical violence (Kissen, 1996, p. 3). These risks apply
not only to adult gay men and lesbian educators, they apply also to gay and lesbian
students in public school. One of Harbecks conclusions at the end of her research on
professional freedoms and public constraints of gay men and lesbian educators, is
that gay and lesbian youth continue to be victims of bigotry, ignorance, and
violence (p. 10). For me, these antagonisms and risks have played a great part in
both my attempting to pass as straight as a kind of on-going life strategy, as well as an
alertness to students of any kind of difference. For those students I try especially hard
to provide a classroom of physical, emotional and academic safety.
S. Talburts (2000) interpretive ethnography of three lesbian academics notes
unease experienced in some by the putting together of the two words lesbian and
academic. One of the perplexing things about speaking of lesbian academics is
that lesbian is often understood as a private term, referring to who one is or what one
does in ones private life(Talburt, p. 1, authors italics). To be a Mexican-American,
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a Latina, a feminist, a Black, a physically disabled, or learning disabled person, a
Republican or a Marxist, to name but of few of the wide range of terms when noting
differences, only the terms gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or transsexual suggest
ones private life. To say that I am a gay man is also to bring to the foreground a
suggestion of my sexual practices. To say that I am a White Anglo Saxon Protestant
(WASP) is not to foreground my sexual practices. In fact, it is usually used to
foreground a set of prejudices and privileges.
Yet, of course while homosexuality is about sexual attraction, what
that means is not a shared understanding among even gay men. Writing about his
own struggles to understand homosexual sex, D. Sadownick (1996, p. 9) writes:
I first began this book under a hypothesis that sex is
the sine qua non of homosexuality that I now see as faulty. For
every gay man for whom sex is the highest value in his life, there is
another for whom love reign supreme. Then there are gay men who
dont need either lovers or sex companions. Their first love is their
work or friends. But you would risk offending them if you told them
they were not gay, or homosexual.
However, it is this naming of a person, this labeling, its blurring of the
relationships between public and private, between sanctioned and illegal sexual acts,
between norms and perversions, that creates such a socio-cultural tension. To have
this tension as a part of ones life, as it is a part of mine, is conflicting. Sometimes I
want to participate in it, allow for the interplay of the tension to be public for others to
observe and even participate in. Other times I want to make my sexual preference
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invisible, to remove myself from being the object of observation, which I fear will
become one of scrutiny, criticism, abuse and violence. But most of all, I would like
my sexual preference to allow me a positionality of strength, of insight, of
compassionate understanding. This would be not just for myself, but for all of those
others who have been subject to socio-cultural marginalization, which always
includes my students both within the elementary school classroom and the university
classroom.
Conclusion
This literature review began with an overview of the historical roots of action
research, my understanding of action research and how and why I practice action
research. It concluded with looking at literacy instruction as I practice it, some
cautionary tales, and a very brief glimpse into the practice of being gay in the figured
world of education, as well as the figured world of heterosexuality. Throughout the
review has been the implicit and explicit theme of pushing at the socio-cultural
boundaries of tolerance and acceptance of difference. It is this theme that has been
and continues to be a primary focus in my professional life.
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