Developed by
Dr. Judith M. Newman

Action Research Course


Jacqui MacLennan

'What's the point?' he asked over and over while rocking back and forth in his seat with his lunch box positioned on his head like a hat. This was the query from one of my Special needs student after I addressed the class that it was time to get out our problem solving work for Math. This was when I began to really question my approach to teaching. Were the points I was making during my instruction clearly indicated? Did I know the point to what was going on in my classroom, let alone the students? (MacLennan 1995)

This is where I started when I was searching for my inquiry. What's the point in all I've researched and collected? What basis did it have on my teaching? After many attempts at looking and riffling through all the critical incidents I've collected over the last few weeks, I made an important underlying theme was emerging and that was assumptions -- assumptions I had been making about my students and their capabilities. I saw a neat little trend evolve from everyday occurrences; occurrences which went unnoticed until I saw it here.

It was dinner so I ran to the staff room to quickly grab something to eat. I had no time. I had to be back to the classroom to instruct the Newspaper Committee, made up of my grade six students. They had to be told what to do so we could get the newspaper out today. I was scurrying up the hall, tea spilling as I tried to make my way between the crush of students heading outside, and as I reached my classroom I stopped short. There they were with an assembly line already formed and well on their way with production, music playing, smiling faces and everyone on task...they didn't need me after all. I sat down next to them, sipping on my tea, and found myself asking if there was anything I could do. (MacLennan 1998)

My students are constantly amazing me. Everyday, they take on more...after doing this inquiry, I find myself wondering whether or not I actually hold them back due to my inhibitions? Do I keep them from flying on their own? It seems, lately, that my students are constantly outwitting me. This held true when I asked my students to prepare their Portfolios for viewing, making final selections for display and conferencing.

Upon passing in his perused Portfolio, I noticed that Thomas' was still unusually thick -- papers and projects bursting out its seams. Naturally, I assumed that he hadn't taken the necessary time to go through his Portfolio properly and asked him if he'd like to take a second look. Thomas simply replied, 'Not really, I'm done Miss M.' I replied that it just seemed overly stocked. Thomas stood in front of me with a little smirk on his face and twinkle in his eye and asked, 'Miss M. did you read the Portfolio response I attached to the front?' As I blushed, I answered, 'No, Thomas, I'm sorry, I didn't.' I stepped back and opened the Portfolio. Neatly stapled to his front cover was a very detailed response indicating a valid reason for every choice he included in his portfolio. I was caught. (MacLennan 1998)

Every time I make these assumptions, I could kick myself. At least I'm noticing myself do it now, but what about all those times that it skipped right by me? I am really floored when it happens and I even had the students help me 'catch' myself.

I was giving the students their Spelling Pretest for the Mystery Unit we were involved in. I usually say the word, use it in a sentence, then repeat the word. As I approached number fourteen, before I said it, I commented how this next word was quite tricky... Just as the words were coming out of my mouth, I not only caught myself setting the students up for difficulty, but Whitney raise her hand and said, 'Remember Miss M. don't assume that we are going to find it hard, maybe we all know how it's spelled.' I shook my head in amazement...these kids don't miss a thing! You know what is even better, not one had the word misspelled on their test. (MacLennan 1998)

Frank Conroy 1speaks about superficial judgments in his article 'Think About It'. I found his discussion rather interesting. I've never realized that I've made such assumptions before; at least not until I started noticing and recording what was going on in my classroom. I guess I underestimate what my students can actually accomplish. I thought I was trying to 'let go' of the reins a little more each year, yet it appears to be something I need to continue to work on. I found evidence of this while my students were working on their Ethnic Groups project.

I asked the students to assemble in their Ethnic Groups to continue working on their plans for their upcoming presentations. (The project enabled them to sign up for a particular Ethnic Group of their choice with a goal of preparing and teaching about it to the rest of the class.) As they were meeting, I wandered about the classroom making some anecdotal notes and trying to squeeze my way into the groups. I found myself asking the students what they needed ME to do...did they need help with extra resources, suggestions, etc. All the while, they were doing quite fine on their own. Somehow, it's still a little tough to let go completely. (MacLennan 1998)

Through this inquiry, I've really taken a look at myself and my teaching and I've been rather surprised by what I've seen.

So what?

There's the question -- so what? What's the point? Well, I think I can safely say that assumptions have been a big part of the frustrations and obstacles I've faced in teaching thus far. Many times I have been taken back or stumped by the actions of my students. I have seen them challenge themselves and now realize that I have to let go and allow them more freedom. They need to be able to make their mistakes and I need to allow them to learn from those mistakes. I think the mothering nature in me has to step back and allow for this natural process to take its place. I am bothered by the fact that I may have been holding them back due to my insecurities about them.

It's quite ironic, you look in a mirror everyday and think you know who it is that you are seeing, but that image can really change if you look at it long enough. From this experience with Action Research, I hope to be looking in the mirror a lot more closely from now on.

Conroy, Frank 1991 Think About It. Harper's Magazine. Nove,ber: 68-70. Return