Student Growth Begins with Action Research

By Melody Ann Wallace
Kentucky Student Growth Project participant and Daviess County Middle School Language Arts teacher

On June 8 and 9, elementary, middle, and high school teachers from as far away as Union County eagerly made the drive to attend a two-day training at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green.

What would prompt 49 educators from 13 different schools across seven different districts to be excited about attending professional development just days after they celebrated the last day of the 2014 school year? The answer: the Kentucky Student Growth Project. The project is part of the Advanced Learning Workshop Series and focuses on the implementation of classroom action research to support student growth at all grade levels.

The Kentucky Student Growth Project is a grant-funded project made possible through a joint effort between The Center for Gifted Studies and kid-FRIENDLY, a GRREC (Green River Regional Educational Cooperative) grant funded through Race to the Top. Dr. Angie Gunter, Dean of Liberal Arts at Daviess County High School and past-president of the Kentucky Council Teachers of English, leads the project.

Tracy Inman hands out books to teachers participating in the Kentucky Student Growth Project June 8 at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green.
Tracy Inman hands out books to teachers participating in the Kentucky Student Growth Project June 8 at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green.

Months prior to the professional development training, teachers applied and were accepted to the cohort program based on their suggested student growth goals in the areas of reading and writing. Those teachers would then make a year-long commitment to attend Twitter chats, face-to-face meetings, and conduct peer observations, where they could share and be held accountable for the research and evidence they had collected from their classrooms. During this two-day training, the educators were given a wealth of new educational and research-based resources, so that each teacher or group of teachers could propose and develop an action research project to be carried out in the upcoming 2015-2016 school year. The teachers were supplied with iPad Minis in order to collect video and photo evidence to upload and share with their peers.

The research ideas that were proposed covered a wide range of topics, yet were all current and applicable to real-world learning for students. Reading topics spanned from analyzing complex texts and decoding new meaning in vocabulary words, to teaching students how to develop and strengthen their own background knowledge of a particular topic. In the area of writing, teachers selected topics such as philanthropy, self-reflection of individual learning styles, and interest-based language arts classes in order to motivate and inspire students to be stronger, more engaged writers.

Each day, it was evident from the smiles on their faces that these teachers weren’t just excited about the resources that they had been given, they were motivated to work together in order to learn how to better affect their students’ growth in the classroom and refine their teaching practices.

Teachers participating in the Kentucky Student Growth Project participate in a discussion during a professional development session at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green June 8.
Teachers participating in the Kentucky Student Growth Project participate in a discussion during a professional development session at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green June 8.

The positive impact was immediately evident through online posts and tweets by many of the attendees. Ashley Hicks from Owensboro Middle School tweeted, “I should not be excited about next school year during the summer, but I am!”

College View Middle School teacher Lexie McDufee echoed the sentiment tweeting, “I’m excited to be here!”

Ginger Estes, Daviess County Middle School,  expressed how much she was “loving the culture here.”

While Apollo High School teacher Kendra Bronsink thought, “What better way to spend our first day of summer vacation!”

Facilitator Tracy Inman shared her excitement by tweeting, “What an incredible group of educators! Can’t wait to see where this takes us.”

Daviess County High School teacher Therese Payne summed it up best in her project introduction by saying, “I have had to re-evaluate the way I deliver instruction to students in order to make sure that the (Common Core) standards are being met. This project enables me to develop a specialized set of activities to do just that.”

Tracy Inman answers questions from a teacher during the Kentucky Student Growth Project professional development June 8 at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green.
Tracy Inman answers questions from a teacher during the Kentucky Student Growth Project professional development June 8 at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green.
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