by Claire Miller
When Alan Hirvela got to the Columbus, Ohio, classroom he was scheduled to observe, he realized that the tripod he'd brought with him didn't fit his camera.
It didn't help that he was trying to set up his equipment while the lights were out and the students were watching the morning announcements on the classroom's TV. But he found a way to make it work – holding the camera in one hand and taking notes with the other – as he continued the work he and his nine-member research team started on teaching and learning argumentative writing in high school language arts classes.
"It's very important to learn how to work in a classroom, particularly when you're an outsider," said Hirvela, associate professor in the Foreign and Second Language Education Program at The Ohio State University, at the Sept. 12 Research Wednesdays. "How do you blend in, develop a good connection with students and work with the teacher? There's so much to learn."
Hirvela's research team has collected a plethora of data from 33 urban and suburban classrooms in Columbus, ranging from videotaped classes and field notes to teacher and student interviews, pre- and post-test essays and the school system's demographic information. They're still in the process of analyzing the data, but their main goal is to show the correlation between the teachers' instruction and how well students learned argumentative writing skills.
"You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to talk about what a teacher is doing because the classroom environment is so complex," he said. "How do we best capture the nature of teachers' instructional methods? That's still a challenge for researchers, but we think we've found ways to record what's going on in the classroom."
The research team has started analyzing what they call the "instructional chain" – how the language arts class evolves from the first day of class to its last – and once they finish examining all the data they've collected, they hope to publish a book with chapters detailing their analyses.
Hirvela also said two more research teams at other universities have received grant funding to study the connection between instruction and learning outcomes in reading and writing – areas he believes are important for educators to examine.
"I think it's encouraging that others are looking at similar subjects and leading the way for more work of this kind," he said. "We're seeing some other work in these areas slowly emerging, and hopefully people can get the training to do this kind of work – to develop a relationship with the teacher, to work with the students and to figure out how best to manage all this data from classrooms."
The Research Wednesdays Speaker Series is designed to fulfill three goals: to provide a platform for explorations of new ways of conducting and disseminating educational research, to discuss new methods of mentoring doctoral students in an effort to enhance their development as researchers, and to fill a professional development need by providing access to cutting edge researchers at the state and national levels.
For more information on Hirvela and the Research Wednesdays Speaker Series, visit http://education.gsu.edu/main/coe_events.htm.