The Knowledge is in the Telling: Teachers’ Stories as Scholarship

Marsha Pincus, Carnegie CASTL Scholar, 1999-2001



Let me start this paper with the following assertion:  Analytic induction is not the most suitable method of data analysis and reporting for a teacher engaging in research into her own practice.

Different methods of data analysis and reporting are needed to best represent the epistemological realities of a teacher constructing knowledge about teaching WHILE in the process of teaching. The practitioner researcher unlike the field researcher does not have the ability to separate herself from actions taken in the classroom. She has an ethical responsibility vis a vis the students in her care that requires a very different relationship between herself and her data. Her data, unlike the data of the field researcher, is alive and in constant motion. It exists in the here and now. She must simultaneously ask questions, make sense, make decisions, and take action that will have further impact on what is happening with her students in her classroom.

The process of analytic induction requires a distancing from the data and some kind of closure. At some point in time, the fieldwork ends. The data analysis and the writing that ensue are completed in retrospect. A reader, encountering the finished study, experiences it as a fully conceived argument. The readers’ task is to understand the conclusions the researcher has drawn from the data and to critique the quality of the evidence and arguments. The finished study is de-animated. It is history- a story told about the past generally in the past tense.

As a practitioner researcher who is struggling to write a study of a high school class I taught which used drama as a tool for inquiry, I am confronted with three significant dilemmas:

  1. I would like to find/create a structure for analyzing and presenting my data which is more representative of the recursive, transformative and generative processes I use in my own teaching
  2. I would like to write in such a way as to invite the readers to experience and participate in the inquiry and
  3. I would like to learn more about ways in which others are using drama as a way of presenting the their research.

As an outcome of my participation in CASTL , I am in the process of learning more about the way other educational researchers have used the arts in general and drama in particular as a means of data analysis and reporting. So much for issue number 3.

For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the first two issues though I understand that writing the study as drama may help me address those concerns. I will attempt to share with you evidence to support my assertion that analytic induction is not the best way for a teacher to represent her own practice. I will also attempt to describe and explain a different structure for data analysis and reporting that is more representative of the practitioner researcher’s epistemological necessities and realities.  ( I am not unaware of the fact that I am using analytic induction to arrive at and argue the assertion I made in the first line of this paper. This paper however is not about inquiry into my teaching practice.)

Circle of Inquiry

Several years ago, I was asked to do a workshop for teachers in the Philadelphia Writing Project about teacher inquiry.  Unlike many of my other colleagues,  I had not written anything which would count as academic research, but I had been taking an inquiry stance on my practice and learning from what Lytle and Cochran Smith refer to as “systematic and intentional investigation.” Inquiry had become the process by which I was able to learn more about my students and grow as a teacher.

In trying to describe this process to other teachers, I drew the following model that I subsequently called the circle of inquiry.




taking action                            raising questions


making sense                           looking closely


                                             searching broadly          


I explained that for me, the inquiry was often instigated by a disturbing or perplexing event that then created discomfort or dissonance. This discomfort caused me to ask questions, often difficult ones relating to issues like race, identity, language, power, authority and equity. In attempting to find answers to the questions prompted by the dissonance, I would both look closely at my own practice employing some means of systematic and intentional investigation and I would search broadly by reading extensively in the filed and trying to make connections to my work. The looking and the searching would lead to a process of understanding or making sense of my questions in light of the looking and search. The new understandings would then prompt me to respond – to take some action e.g. teach in a particular way, assign a particular text etc. The new action would often create a new uncertainty, discomfort or dissonance, starting the circle anew.

In creating this model at the time, I had not read the work of Donald Schoen nor others writing about reflective practice, though later I was edified to learn that my circle of inquiry was very similar to models developed by others. I was not familiar with their work at the time, and I was not applying their model to my work. Rather, I was trying to understand my own knowledge-making process and share it in terms comprehensible and useful to other teachers.

Mea Culpa

My discomfort with analytic induction as a way of making sense of my own practice is best exemplified by my difficulty in completing the narrative vignette assignment for a graduate Data Analysis course I took in Spring 2001 at the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania. I completed four drafts and with each successive one (which did come closer to being “right,”) I felt as if my mind were being bent further and further out of shape. Now this bending out of shape could be construed as “learning.” After all, I was learning how to do this kind of analysis. And perhaps I should have been happy with this and be glad that I was coming closer to being able to write about my teaching in a way which would accepted by the scholarly community. Accept for that old dissonance thing. It continued to feel very wrong for me to write about my work in that way.

In order to tell the rest of the story honestly, I must first make a major confession.

When we were first given the narrative vignette assignment, I did what all good graduate students do: I recycled a paper I had written in another context. “Reading the Writing on the Wall,” my paper about my students’ multiple readings of the graffiti that appeared on the schools’ walls, was originally written as a paper delivered at NCTE this fall as part of a panel on teacher research. It is important to note that this NCTE presentation was my only audience for this paper; I was not writing it for any particular publication nor for a graduate education course.

What I handed in for this class as “draft one” of the narrative vignette was not the original draft. It was my attempt to reshape the telling of that incident into a narrative vignette.

            The painful moves I had to make as a writer in order to reshape my paper into an acceptable vignette, convinced me that I needed to find some other way to structure the telling of the graffiti story which would better represent the way in which I experienced it. It was then that I had the brilliant idea to reprint my original version of the paper – untainted by my attempts to “correct” it. What I discovered in re-examining my original paper was that the way I had chosen to structure the story was consistent with the processes I had previously identified in my “circle of inquiry” model.  (Click on each section title to jump to the corresponding section of this original paper).

Dissonance and Questions

The paper begins in the present tense with an excerpt from my teacher journal, the day of the inciting incident. The use of the present tense and the description of the incident with no explanation, invites the reader (or listener in the case of a presentation) to enter into my process of inquiry at my starting point – the moment of dissonance.

            From there, I step back and contextualize the incident and situate myself in that context so that the reader knows where I am coming from.  I describe a bit of my own history at the school and share the questions the incident raised for me which connected to questions I already had about my teaching. these questions related to race, identity, social class, equity and the difficulty in encouraging dialogue from multiple perspectives in a school which values debate and conformity.

Looking and Searching

            The reflective conversation which constitutes the next part of the paper, represents the “looking closely” phase of my circle of inquiry. In this part of the paper, I share what

my students said about the graffiti. The quotes which I share comprise some of the important information I received by looking closely at my own practice to find the answers . I do not offer my interpretations of their words at this point in the paper for two reasons:1) I am uncomfortable speaking for them – I’d prefer to let their words speak for themselves and 2) I want the reader the continue to be inside my process of inquiry. I do not share the conclusions I later drew about the students comments, because I had not drawn them at this particular time in the process.  However, I am offering a different kind of analysis when I share only those comments which stood out for me and by the way I highlight certain issues such as race and social class.

The next part of the paper corresponds to the “searching broadly” phase of the circle of inquiry. In it, I connect what I saw in my classroom ( the students responses to our collaborative inquiry into the meaning of the graffiti) and the additional questions it raised for me to the work of others, in this case Adrienne Rich, James Joyce, Carolyn Hesford and W.E.B. DuBois. Again, this reveals the way in which I look outside of my

own classroom experience and make connections to the work of others.

Making Sense

            The sense that I made from this looking and searching is represented in the following line on page 4:

While this incident represents on isolated event, the reading of one

particular text – some of the differences and the significance of those

differences revealed through this event can offer important insights for

whenever students and teacher read any text together in the classroom.


This comes closest to being an assertion; however, unlike the narrative vignette where the assertion begins the telling, this assertion is conveyed near the end of the telling at the point where it is occurring in the inquiry process.

Taking Action

The one part of the paper that I eliminated completely in my attempt to hand in a acceptable assignment immediately follows the assertion and again parallels my self-identified process of inquiry.  It is the step in the process that I call “taking action.” It is where I describe and explain the pedagogical moves I made in my teaching in response to what I had learned from my inquiry into the graffiti. I began to develop more expertise in employing teaching methodologies which promoted multiple perspectives:

Reflective conversation and Quaker style meetings replaced debates.

Group journals which students read and responded to each other’s

reactions to books stories and plays replaced individual literature

journals. Collaborative dramatic re-enactments of texts replaced

individual oral presentations.   p. 4


Thus, another teacher reading or listening to this paper is not only able to see the changes I made in my practice in response to my inquiry, she is able to experience the process I used in constructing the knowledge.   


The Circle Continues

I was pleasantly surprised to find the way I had ended my original paper. In a section I call “Coda,” I recount another incident, relating to the one described in the first paragraph, only occurring months later. The incident is about the way in which the graffiti resurfaced long after it had been sandblasted off the walls. In their literary magazine, the student drew a picture of the school building on the cover, the added the graffiti to illustration. And at the top of the drawing were printed the letters R.O.P.E.: Results of Public Education.  In concluding the paper, I brought it back to the incident which had sparked the inquiry, leaving just enough ambiguity and uncertainty to evoke a new sense of dissonance. The inquiry, it is implied, continues.

While the writing this (original NCTE) paper and the telling of this story in this matter was not planned nor conscious on my part, this analysis of my self-generated structure and my subsequent discovery of its consistency with my own epistemological processes has given me a direction for future work. It is one that feels like an honest representation of my work. I believe that in examining the structure of my own paper, I have uncovered for myself a way in which to tell the story and present the data which I have gathered about my own teaching.



Conclusions and Other Uncertainties

            One of the reasons I took this course was to help me complete my “Carnegie Project.” As one of the 20 K-12  Fellows of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) I have the opportunity to play a key role in helping to define the scholarship of teaching in a way which is most useful to and representative of the work of practicing classroom teachers. I do not believe that the work of teacher scholars must imitate the work of academic researchers. Classroom teachers make and use knowledge differently from academic researchers.

Lee Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has asserted that all scholarship share these three characteristics: it is 1) public, 2) built on the work of others and 3) open to critique from peers in the field. While I do not contest what Shulman calls the “holy trinity” of scholarship, I do have many concerns about these characteristics as they relate to the work of classroom teachers. For instance, who constitutes the “public?” Does public only mean publish? Would sharing one’s work at a department meeting or NCTE convention be making the work public? Who gets to/ must critique it? Are there unique ways in which teachers critique each other’s work? Is it different from the ways academics critique theirs? How should academics read teacher research? Should they critique it, or read it as insider knowledge crucial to their own understandings of schools and classrooms? Who builds upon it? In what ways?

It is my experience that practicing teachers listen or read each other’s research NOT to find that which is generalizable to all settings but to make connections to their own classrooms. In other words, another teacher’s research becomes part of the listening or reading teacher’s circle of inquiry about her own practice. The other teacher’s research becomes put to practical use as it enables the listening teacher to raise questions, think deeply about critical issues, and take a closer look at what is happening in her classroom. Teachers are less likely to say, “ I must do this in all my classes because it works for Sally. Rather they are more apt to think, “Sally’s work on portfolio assessment really makes me think differently about the ways I have looked at student growth in writing over time in my classroom. I need to take a closer look at what I am doing.”  In this sense, teacher research or the scholarship of ( K-12) teaching can be generative and transformative for both the reader and the writer.

Practicing K-12 classroom teachers not only construct knowledge differently from professors in graduate schools of education or researchers in the field, they have different ways of sharing that knowledge with one another.  The range and types of teacher writing that are included in the final Carnegie publication will have an enormous influence on what counts as “the scholarship of teaching.” And the ways in which the Carnegie Foundation decides to go “public” with the work of the K-12 Fellows will also have an impact on how that scholarship is used in the field.

            I am proud to have my work included with the work of the other K-12 CASTL Scholars and I am encouraged by the complexity and diversity of the final projects.