Thanksgiving Dinner as Action Research

Large gatherings of really clever people provide fabulous opportunities to connect on many different levels. On occasion you might be lucky enough to engage in a transformational conversation with a critical friend that can help not only define your one best thing, but also remove the vaseline from the reflective lens and clarify a previously blurry path.

I was fortunate enough to have just such an experienced the other evening with ADE Phyllis Brodsky from Tucson AZ. We were talking about changing our assessment methods and the impact it was having on our practice and on our students. As I was listening to Phyillis I found myself making both social and temporal connections to my own experiences with action research. The conversational path took us to Thanksgiving dinner. It occurred to both of us that Thanksgiving dinner was a perfect metaphor for the teacher as a reflective practitioner, and it, in fact had many of the essential components of the action research process.

Every year you plan on a Thanksgiving dinner that’s going to be better than the year before. Every year you try to add something new to Thanksgiving dinner. As a practitioner you are driven by the iterative nature of the process in that progressive understanding grows from cycles of inquiry. The reflective process is most powerful when it cycles back, reviews and builds on each successive inquiry. In the Thanksgiving metaphor such iterative reflective work is facilitated by regular and consistent analysis of what dish and to what degree your guests are enjoying the meal.

Action research needs to be reasoned in that frequent analysis drives deep learning. Is there particular evidence of a student’s thinking and learning enough to draw general conclusions about what has been learned? How widely can an accepted practice can be applied in a specific instance with particular students in a classroom? There is also a reciprocal component to teacher inquiry in that theory and practice connect dynamically. Does the Thanksgiving recipe translate into a good meal?

What are some of our next steps? I think as reflective practitioners we need to be better at leaving a trail of bread crumbs, or stuffing in this case, that documents our journey. We need to make an effort to journal about our efforts and document the impact or instructional choices are having on our students, and on ourselves. We rely too heavily on our memory to rationalize our instructional decisions while we are sticklers for collecting multiple samples of evidence of student learning, sometimes on a weekly basis. If we are to accurately reflect on our journey we need to keep a record of it.

So my appeal to you is this; journal digitally or analog, use audio or video like ADE Reshan Richards, or perhaps draw something like ADE Brad Ovenell-Carter. It doesn’t matter. Document your own learning in whatever way is sustainable. Then in November (or October) we can sit down to the best Thanksgiving dinner ever. Until next year.

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4 Comments on “Thanksgiving Dinner as Action Research”

  1. Angie says:

    Hi Colin,
    I’m glad you have had a chance to sit and talk and reflect with others. This is a beautiful post about your assessment and inquiry journey. I really like your Thanksgiving analogy. In our family Thanksgiving dinner is a traditional meal that is repeated each year. We have the exact same dishes. I swear. In the occasional year where I’ve nudged and provided new recipes or suggestions there has been huge discussion, “I don’t like cranberries mixed in with the turnip. Why are we having squash soup? It’s good but we don’t normally have squash soup. Where’s the regular mashed potatoes? Etc.” Our family members don’t like change. We have to have the same dishes at each Thanksgiving and honestly at every Christmas and Easter meal too. This makes me think about schools and how some classrooms reflect this too, especially in the area of assessment. It’s hard to break out of the pattern or traditions. There is always going to be some grumbling but as educators we must take the risks and tweak and improve in order to reach all of learners.
    Angie
    @Techieang

  2. I love the point about theory and practice interacting dynamically. Great post.


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