Teacher research on literacy: turning around to students and technology

Walsh, Christopher S. and Kamler, Barbara (2013). Teacher research on literacy: turning around to students and technology. In: Hall, Kathy; Cremin, Teresa; Comber, Barbara and Moll, Luis C. eds. International Handbook of Research in Children’s Literacy, Learning and Culture. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 499–513.

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Over the past 30 years, we have seen 'moral panics' over literacy education fuelled by the media in the British, Australian, Canadian , and American press (Barron, 2000). 'Moral panics' as a rhetorical strategy promote deficit thinking and construct literacy crises that require expedient political solutions. Too often children are blamed for poor attention, disruptive behavior or disinterest; parents are blamed for disorderly family routines and turmoil in the home; teachers are blamed for failing to teach traditional values and get their students to perform; and teacher educators are blamed for failing to impart the necessary knowledge to reach children who lack mainstream social values and literacy practices. As long-time researchers of literacy, we know it is no easy matter to disrupt discourses of blame that attend literacy failure and underachievement.

In recent times, we have seen the emergence of increased and pervasive accountability regimes that monitor literacy teachers ' performance. The pressure to perform and produce quality outcomes has been accompanied by a greater reliance on standardized testing and normative assessments of literacy curriculum - and a devaluing of the professional judgment of teachers. At the same time literacy, and what it means to be literate in the twenty-first century, is changing due to the communicative affordances of digital and mobile technologies. Against this backdrop of top-down prescriptive standardization, micro-management of teachers' work, and the changing nature of literacy, it is timely to think about the role of teacher research and its relationship to children's literacy education.

We argue that in current times, teacher research is more significant than ever. Facilitating a researcher disposition in pre-service and in-service teachers is crucial not only in confronting deficit assumptions about children's literacy, but in dealing with the provocative challenges of the twenty-first century. While teacher research has a long history of providing spaces of inquiry that sustain teachers' professional learning, we worry that it may be under threat given reductions in spending and a global inclination to quick political fixes for educational problems. By contrast, teacher research takes time, requires trust and a sustained commitment to working collaboratively to question, observe, analyze, and problem-solve in local communities. It can be, however, a key methodology for confronting deficit thinking, and more fully engaging students as literate learners (Comber and Kamler, 2004) who explore 'new possibilities for knowledge-building, action and communication' (Comber, Nixon, and Reid, 2007, p. 12).

In this chapter, we first review the evolution of teacher research that links inquiry to democracy, social justice, and educational change. We then examine key moves in teacher research in and on children's literacy education. Using the metaphor of teachers 'turning around' (Comber and Kamler 2005) to students as researchers and to technology (Beavis ct nl., 2009; Walsh , 2007, 2009, 2010), we explore productive directions for future teacher research, given the strengths of past research and opportunities of the present.

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