Atkinson, T. S., & Colby, S. A. (2006). Who’s teaching, who’s learning? Analyzing the professional growth of graduate student tutors. Mentoring & Tutoring, 14(2), 227-245.
Looking at a group of graduate students who were involved in one to one tutoring sessions with struggling readers, this study seeks to understand the impact of this experience on their own learning experience as professional teachers.
This research question is broad enough to capture the aim of the study, and at the same time, it is specific enough to narrow down the field of the study.
This study used Keene and Zimmerman’s notion of schema theory as a basis for a framework to organize its finding. Three main domains that the researchers were interested in included teacher learning within the tutoring situation, teacher learning within the classroom setting, and teacher learning within the wider educational community or ‘real world’.
Overall, this study provides interesting insights regarding professional growth of graduate student tutors. As a reader, I found it especially interesting that despite of their experience in teaching a class, teachers in this study still found the whole process (one on one tutoring) to be challenging. This realization put into question the ‘teaching’ that is applied to regular classes as whether or not it actually takes into accounts the ‘student factor’ in learning process. In addition, from participants’ testimonies and reports, it is clear that most participants gained significant learning experience throughout the study.
The context in which the study was done is explained thoroughly in the paper (place, setting, time, schedule, structure, teaching model used, etc), and multivocality of participants across different settings (for example: most participants agree that teachers should answer to students’ individual needs, but at the same time admitting that it is not reflected on their current practice in the classroom) were addressed. However, there is only little information regarding the context of the study, including the context of the participants (tutors) and the context of the tutees. More information regarding the participants and their history (what class they are teaching, whether or not they are currently teaching, how long they have been teachers, etc) might provide us with deeper insights especially in interpreting their perspectives. Similarly, while this study might not be interested on the tutees, it is still useful to know a little background about the students since they are still an important part of the study.
Researcher Positioning and Reporting Style
The first author of this study is the instructor of the course in which this study was conducted on. To prevent bias and conflict of interest, the analysis of data was delayed until after students’ grades were submitted. Regardless of this effort, the threat of bias cannot be eliminated due to the nature of data collected and the nature of professor – students relationship. Therefore, it might be more informative for readers if researchers explicitly identify possible biases in the data/findings.
While the first author of this study was actually linked very closely to the study and can be considered to ‘in’ the study, the result was reported in a non-personal and a structured way, based on themes that emerge across all data collected. The researchers started out with three domains of interest in mind and then seek to find different themes that emerge within each domain. Because the finding was organized to fit an existing framework, as a reader, I found it easy to understand the information provided.
There are 6 different data sources for this study. They are written reflective analyses of teaching audiotapes/videotapes, email messages to the instructor across the course of the second semester, written reactions to professional readings, email messaging among class colleagues about insights gained from professional readings, final reflections form tutees’ case-study reports, and reflective essay detailing understandings about struggling readers. While there was no explicit explanation of triangulation process within the study, it is clear that similar themes emerge across different data sources. This is evident in quotes provided for each theme. As we can see, support for each theme does not come from one data source only. Within each theme, there are indications that findings were drawn from at least 2 or 3 different data sources.
Member Checking and Outlier Analysis
There is no information regarding member checking in this study. In addition, there is no indication that there was any outlier in this study. All participants seemed to agree with each other. One of the possible explanations is that because this study included discussion among participants as the part of the study. By conducting regular discussion, it is not surprising that all participants seemed to agree with each other regarding the benefits of this one on one teaching experience for their professional growth.
There was no long term observation in this study. While there is an indication of positive changes across time, this study was mainly interested in the learning growth within a semester long period.
No representativeness check was done in this study. Given the design of this study, it is really hard to find representative sample. The fact that the participants were in graduate school might make them distinguishable from a bigger teacher population.
No coding check was done in this study. While there is no quantitative analysis of inter-rater agreement, since this study involved two different authors, it is assumed that there are some sorts of agreement between two authors in interpreting their findings.
THE RESEARCH REPORT
The report of the study is well documented which makes it easy for readers to understand the finding. Using an established framework, Atkinson and Colby (2006) organize their findings into 3 different domains: within tutoring situation, within classroom setting, and in wider educational community and the real world. Within each domain, several themes are reported.
All themes are clearly stated and there is no redundancy in the coding. Within each theme, the researchers include necessary dialogues and direct quotes from several different participants to support assertions. In addition, several quotes from several data sources are included to support a theme. Furthermore, an illustration of the context within which these themes emerge is drawn to help readers to understand it better.
Interestingly, there is no indication of any unexpected or discrepant findings. There are two possible explanations for this. The first explanation is that there was simply no discrepancy within the data collected. The alternative explanation is that the researchers might have treated any discrepancy as an outlier, and have excluded it from the report of the finding.
The findings are discussed in relation to other research in the area. In discussion section, the researchers link their findings with existing literature and discuss the possible implication and suggestions for teachers in general.
While one of the researchers was very closely involved in the whole tutoring period, they do not provide any explanation on how their own perspectives may influence the interpretation of the data. Addressing personal assumptions and possible bias can strengthen the reliability of the study.