Teacher Inquiry as Transformative Learning: The Work of an Adolescent Literacy Education Study Group

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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adolescent literacy
adult learning
English Education
professional development
teacher education
Liberal Studies
Teacher Education and Professional Development
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Teacher inquiry communities are an essential part of the teacher research movement. They allow teachers to see new possibilities for themselves and students, often within constrained policy environments. These communities have at their heart the generation of knowledge for improving practice and are sometimes posed as a powerful form of professional development. However, it has been argued that viewing inquiry communities within some of the most prevalent professional development frameworks common in schools limits their transformative potential (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). This study builds on existing research about inquiry communities to conceptualize inquiry as transformative adult learning. It uses participatory and practitioner methodologies to offer an account of an inquiry community, comprised of five teachers and me, focused on adolescent literacy education. The conceptual framework for this study was drawn from adult learning theory (e.g. Brookfield, 1986; Mezirow, 1991); emancipatory traditions (e.g. Horton & Freire, 1990; McIntyre, 2007); feminist pedagogies (e.g. hooks, 1994; Weiler, 1991); and teacher inquiry (e.g. Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Campano, 2009). Data for this study were transcripts, field notes, interviews, a research journal, and artifacts from the group. A combination of analytic approaches, including ethnographic coding, narrative analysis, and case studies, were used to arrive at a multi-dimensional view of this learning community. The three major findings from this study were: 1) Transformative learning occurred through both the structured and open spaces. 2) Teachers' stories were a central text for learning in the group and performed different kinds of transformative work. 3) Viewing inquiry communities through an adult learning framework allows for consideration of the personal, political, and professional dimensions of teachers' lives; the relationship between their past and present experiences; and analysis of how they direct their own learning. This study offers "proof of possibility" (Cochran-Smith et al., 1999) for teachers, teacher educators, researchers, and school leaders trying to create meaningful learning environments that position teachers as autonomous learners and agents of change.

Susan Lytle
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