Professional Learning Teacher as Writer

A Year of Action Research: An Adaptable Model


“We meet in faculty rooms and hallways, at conferences and in college classrooms, sharing stories, frustrations, tools, and triumphs….Our curiosity about our students leads us to ponder, ask questions, and search for answers. Who are we? We are teacher researchers.”—Ruth Hubbard and Brenda Power


Our goal is to design and carry out ethical and insightful action research projects in our own classrooms. Together we will learn how to craft specific and answerable questions, to collect data ethically, to analyze data responsibly, and to write our findings up through multiple drafts. Why bother? Doing action research helps us to improve our teaching and our students’ learning. Maybe what we learn will even inspire others.

Together we will read and discuss other examples of the teacher research genre. We will spend time in class discussing the questions that plague our teaching. We will plan to take action, and we will write, step by step, several sections that will become a cohesive research article. In the spring, we will respond to each other’s drafts. Creating time, space, encouragement and direction to support your writing will be my greatest priority.

As teachers who care about the teaching of writing, we often ask: how can we know if we are teaching writing effectively? How can we know whether students are learning? In previous years, teachers have pursued specific lines of inquiry such as these:

  • What types of teacher responses result in the greatest growth in student writers?
  • What makes peer response helpful or a waste of time?
  • Under what circumstances are “formulas” for writing (for example, the 5 paragraph essay) ever useful? How helpful are tasks asking students to identify a composition’s parts (for example, the thesis statement, transitions, topic sentences, etc.)?
  • What effect does choice have on student fluency?
  • How does looking for errors v/s imitating correctness improve students’ mechanics?
  • Does the study of mentor texts transfer into students’ independent reading?

What issue in your teaching might you want to study? This year I am hoping to study both how students develop schema of English sentence structures, and how students deepen their critical thinking skills (and resist confirmation bias) when they develop thesis statements and gather support them. I am looking for research partners to study these two issues, but I am eager to also support teachers who want to answer other questions that seem pressing in their teaching. I am also inviting GVSU faculty to study these two research questions with me. Periodically, those who are studying similar issues may want to meet to share insights.

Work Expectations

Reading—Our text for the year is Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher by Geoffrey E. Mills, 3rd Edition (2014). Older editions are fine. We will all read this book and discuss it in class. Beyond this, each of us will find six to ten articles about the issue that we choose to research. Learning when to skim research and when to read carefully and closely will be a topic of our conversation. Part of learning to become an action researcher is learning to keep up with the relevant research on a topic without being overwhelmed. (Skimming and reading strategically is key!)

Flipped Instruction Videos—Each month, I’ll work with one of you to create a video that’s the “lecture” that I would give in class if we had another hour together. Please watch the video and do the activity associated with it each month in advance of class. I want our three-hour meetings to function as a supportive community of friends and colleagues discussing our teaching. One month you will complete one online module about how to conduct research ethically, required by GVSU. It takes about 45 minutes.

Journaling—We will practice keeping teaching journals about how (and what happens when) we teach writing. Like ethnographers, we hope to jot a few notes down during the swirl of activities. Later, we flesh out our jottings. Personal, emotional reflections on your observations are part of the research. These notes will help you define your question and will become part of the data you analyze in order to determine what fosters student learning and what doesn’t.

Research protocol & other data collection—In order to do action research studies in your classrooms, we need to submit research protocols to the ethics review board at GVSU. In order to answer your research question, you will design a data collection plan. It may include giving surveys, interviewing students, and/or collecting and analyzing students’ written work.

Presentation & paper—In this class, we support each other to develop rough drafts of teacher-research articles that reflect on our practices in the classroom. By the last week of May, we will present 15-20 minute conference-like presentations of our findings to each other and have written a first draft of an article.


This is a writing community. To improve students’ learning, we need to support each other. I hope that each participant can support the intellectual life of the group by doing the above work and coming to class prepared to share, to listen, and to write. I hope that each of us will, by virtue of being a working member of our intellectual community:

  • demonstrate a growing understanding of the teaching of writing
  • engage with texts in reflections and responses
  • grow as a writer (by studying mentor texts, revising, editing, giving feedback on classmates’ drafts, reflecting on own writing process, and risk-taking in your writing for workshop)

Both as a class and as individuals, we will establish and refine our writing goals as we proceed. Your final grade will come out of this conversation as you self-assess your progress as a writer of teacher research.

Required Reading

  • Mills, Geoffrey E. ((2014). Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher. New York: Pearson.
  • Articles, texts and other resources related to individual research questions focused on teaching writing
  • Online training module on ethical research (


We will meet in-person once a month for 3-hours of talking and writing.

September 26
Before Meeting

  • Watch video
  • Read: Mills Chapter 1 & four page article by Hole and McIntee
  • Write one curious occurrence at school or in your own memory of schooling (Less than a page is fine.)

In Class

  • Discuss reading and video: Why teacher research and how?
  • 2 writing prompts and sharing
    1. Teachers are…objective & subjective; observers & interpreters; listeners & advocates; instructors & researchers.
    2. Describe as objectively as possible a second curious occurrence at school or in your own memory of schooling.

October 24
Before Meeting

In Class

  • Discuss video, research ethics, and research questions that are specific & answerable. Give Lindsay several search terms to use for literature review.

November 14
Before Meeting

  • Watch video
  • Read Mills Chapter 3 & skim relevant articles

In Class

  • Lit review workshop (sharing and finding sources)
  • Drafting action and data collection plans

December 12
Before Meeting

  • Watch video
  • Read Mills Chapter 4 & closely read most relevant articles
  • Take notes on 2 most relevant articles. Draft two paragraphs about two different sources, summarizing what they say about an issue or concept.
  • Finish drafting action and data collection plans

In Class

  • Share and discuss summaries of sources.
  • Share and discuss action and data collection plans

January 23
Before Meeting

  • Watch video
  • Read Mills Chapter 5 & read/skim 2 more relevant articles

In Class

  • Writing prompt: explain why you chose your data collection methods
  • Protocol discussion: What do you notice in mentor texts in Mills?

February 27
Before Meeting

  • Watch video
  • Read Mills Chapters 6 & 7
  • Collect/analyze data

In Class

  • Data analysis

March 26
Before Meeting

  • Watch video
  • Read Mills Chapter 8
  • Collect/analyze data

In Class

  • Data analysis

April 23
Before Meeting

  • Watch video
  • Read Mills Chapter 9 & Appendices
  • Offer peer response

In Class

  • Discuss quality criteria and drafts in progress

May 21
Before Meeting

  • Prepare presentation of findings

In Class

  • Presentations

June 25
Written Drafts Due

July 12
Open House

Intersection between LMWP and WAC

At GVSU, the work of the LMWP intersects with the WAC initiative because the LMWP director is also the WAC director. In 2015, I did the background research to propose a Faculty Learning Community at the university.

Title: Confirmation Bias: What is it? How does it affect us and our students? Can Our Writing Assignments Inhibit It?

Confirmation bias is a recognized problem in many fields and professions (Nickerson 1998). It is generally defined as the human tendency to notice only the information that supports our pre-existing ideas (that confirms our biases). On the one hand, it is a necessary cognitive strategy to manage overload in a data-rich environment, on the other hand, it poses a threat to inquiry and critical thinking in both the sciences and humanities.

This faculty learning community will discuss what is currently known about confirmation bias, reflect on how it affects our and our students’ thinking, and collaboratively strategize ways to help our students to inhibit it. The work of this FLC will inform a workshop in March or April offered to all faculty, one that examines writing assignments designed to inhibit confirmation bias and deepen critical thinking. This workshop will be carefully marketed to faculty teaching SWS sections of courses. In addition, participants will be invited to design small action research projects on inhibiting confirmation in their own courses, in collaboration with Lindsay Ellis, director of Writing Across the Curriculum. These Scholarship of Teaching (SoT) projects can be written into Faculty Activity Plans (FAPs) as an area of significant focus.

Reading List:
Allen, Sarah. (2015). Beyond Argument: Essaying as a Practice of (Ex)Change. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. Available at

Morin, O. (2014). The virtues of ingenuity: Reasoning and arguing without bias. Topoi, 33(2), 499-512. doi:10.1007/s11245-013-9174-y

Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175-220. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.2.2.175

Roeder, Tara, & Gatto, Roseanne (Eds.). (2014). Critical Expressivism: Theory and Practice in the Composition Classroom. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press.

Thibodeau, P., Peebles, M. M., Grodner, D. J., & Durgin, F. H. (2015). The Wished‐For always wins until the winner was inevitable all along: Motivated reasoning and belief bias regulate emotion during elections. Political Psychology, 36(4), 431-448. doi:10.1111/pops.12100