One Step of Inquiry
Documenting the Voices
Western Mass. SABES
The objective of this paper is to
describe the effect documenting inquiry has on practitioners who
write for Adventures in Assessment. This is a journal dedicated
to writings on alternative, learner-centered assessment and published
by Massachusetts System for Adult Basic Education Support
The purpose of this research came from wanting to know if the process
of writing for the journal was useful staff development. It has
developed since then to also ask if the product itself provides
opportunities for staff development, and whether it increases the
fields knowledge base.
Many questions come into play when people talk about documentation.
It is my belief that a place that allows practitioners to document
their work also encourages them to continue to do research. It is
also my belief that the act of doing so is part of the process of
inquiry and not just the product of the research, that the act of
documenting encourages teachers to look more closely at what they
have done and to reflect on their process.
HOW THIS INQUIRY WAS CONDUCTED: METHODOLOGY
As originally published in the Introduction to Adventures in Assessment,
Volume I, the journals creators hoped it would become a resource
by and for practitioners from which to select and adapt tools for
their own contexts. (McGrail 1991). The development of this
resource depends upon programs-based practitioners research,
the results of which will help develop the field of adult education
(Lytle & Wolfe 1989). It was felt that giving practitioners
a place to publish would not only encourage teacher-research, but
be a place where their work could be validated and shared with their
colleagues. According to Lytle & Wolfe (1989) and Auerbach (1992),
many researchers believe it is imperative that practitioners begin
to document their inquiry, to record their objections and to engage
in dialogues with one another informing their colleagues and adding
to the body of qualitative research in education.
First, it was assumed that writing for this journal would be good
staff development. Good staff development is defined as the process
of building, reinforcing, and maintaining effective teaching practices.
Ultimately, staff development acts as an antidote to burnout. Second,
the actual process of writing would be important to develop-ment
of the field (Gillespie 1991). I felt that the actual steps in revision
that authors would take were important to their personal development
and that the act of publishing would be validating. Third, the journal
would increase the knowledge and understanding of alternative assessment;
and fourth, this is important to practitioners. The journal offers
a stage for the voices of teachers to be heard. It is a place where
other teachers can listen not only to the tale of the tools,
but to the narrative, the story of Who, What,
In the past several months, an attempt has been made to collect
data on the effect of the journal, to discover what both authors
and readers thought about Adventures in Assessment and was
it doing what we assumed it would do? When an article was published,
did it validate a practitioners work? Did it actually help
to spark inquiry in other programs? It is this data that I would
like to share with others.
All 21 people who contributed articles to the journal were sent
letters and surveys. Only eleven people returned the surveys. The
other ten authors were contacted, but their input never was completed.
Five hundred copies of the Readers Survey were sent out.
The actual survey form was developed by McGrail, two staff members
of SABES Central Resource Center, and myself (see
Appendix 2). There was no attempt to concentrate on specific
groups (e.g. the SABES coordinators mailing list versus regular
journal readers). The objective of the Readers Survey was
to discover whether practitioners were using their colleagues
writings to further their staff development or as encouragement
or inspiration to do their own plunge into alternative assessment.
Only twenty-three of the five hundred questionnaires mailed were
returned, less than 5%.
It should be noted that not only was the mailing list inappropriate
for this survey, but the turn-around-time on the survey was much
too short. In approximately a one-week period, twenty-three responded.
Out of that group, sixteen stated they had never heard of the journal.
Several conclusions can be drawn from this data. First, respondents
find it easier to simply check the box and mail the forms rather
than spend time reflecting and answering questions. Therefore, those
who could just check No on the Have you ever read
this journal? question had the easiest task and were most
apt to send it back. Second, unfortunately, practitioners were inundated
by surveys last fall and this was just one of many. It should be
noted that while attending the annual state conference, practitioners
did approach me and apologize for their absent-mindedness in not
responding to the survey. Third, the mailing lists were deemed inappropriate.
The decision was made to ask each SABES coordinator for the names
of ten practitioners to whom they had personally handed the journal.
Surveys will ultimately be sent to those people, supported by telephone
interviews. In the interim, copies of the journal were sent to those
individuals who had responded they were unfa- miliar with the Adventures
The seven responses that were most informative for this research
emphasized using the tools and peoples reflections as models
to adapt in their own classrooms, which is a major objective of
The authors answers were considered in reference to the assumptions
listed above. I examined whether our assumptions were repeated in
their answers. I also wanted to know if the journal was useful in
ways other than initially predicted. What was most interesting in
this process was that, while we attempted to show that the journal
was a product of teacher-research, which served a very important
role, it was actually just a snapshot which helped us to look at
the process of inquiry at a specific moment. Authors referred to
the journal as a useful tool.
Many of the authors did speak of their process with Loren McGrail,
editor of Adventures in Assessment, as important elements
in the writing of the article. Lorens behavior was reflective
of her theoretical beliefs of writing instruction for all. She treats
teachers and learners the same. These comments made it quite apparent
to me that Lorens input and her inclusion as co-researcher
was necessary to the project. She brought to the paper an entire
body of data she has compiled from her perspective as the editor
and from her close association with the authors (see
Adventures in Assessment is perceived by contributors and
readers alike as good staff development. It provides practitioners
with a process that builds, reinforces and maintains effective teaching
practices. It is also a successful vehicle for helping teachers
to write and declare their voice. The journal helped me to
believe in me. I have a voice and it, too, is worth
listening to. It reinforced my beliefs. These
comments are representative of the types of responses I received.
For ten of the eleven respondents, the act of writing for the journal
was a successful staff development activity. It should also be noted
that, of the respondents familiar with Adventures in Assessment,
the majority used the journal regularly. Thus, we believe the journal
fits the definition of good staff development.
The actual process of writing is an important one. Publishing
is valuable in validating educators voices.Most of the respondents
in both categories talked about sharing. They spoke about the importance
of sharing in the field and the place the journal played in that.
They spoke about it being a place in the process, not the product
at the end of the process. In his responses, Paul Trunnell suggested
we allow more dialogue to happen in the journal itself. I
would like to encourage the journal and the field towards dialogue-based
on dialogue-intended work. Particularly now that such a range of
tools and procedures has been discussed.
According to Janet Isserlis, the journal is not necessarily a vehicle
for closure; it is a way to lead to more questions.
The journal does create a public space for teacher writings. This
public space is an important step for teachers to now take (Cochran
and Lytle 93, Gillespie 90). These authors never
spoke directly about the publishing as being validating, however.
They were much more aware of the sharing with others as being validating
in and of itself and spoke of the act of writing as helping to clarify,
review, or be more succinct. I was
inspired by the work done by Janet Kelley. I was reminded of the
value of sharing tools, frustrations, and solutions and thought
that writing an article was the easiest way to share with a larger
group. I also thought that other practitioners might
think of improvements, and I would learn from them. The effect
would be that they might get some ideas about reflecting on
their own work in ways that would ultimately be helpful to them
and to their learners. They spoke of the journal as a useful
The journal increases ones knowledge base. This is evident
in how many adult education classes are now using Adventures in
Assessment as a classroom reading. Continued compilation of data
from readers will clarify just how their knowledge base is being
In regards to the authors voices, some saw their article as
an addition to the field; others did not.
There is a genuine interest in the journal. Thanks
for the encouragement. . . was a comment frequently noted.
Other comments indicated bona fide enthusiasm and support for the
journal. The following comments repeatedly surfaced during our research:
Lets get more people involved. dialogue
people should try. . . I appreciate its presence.
This research did not reveal anything startling. It basically confirmed
by hypothesis about the process. The only surprise for me was that
practitioners did not feel that the actual article was an ending
point, nor a concrete validation of their work. Instead, they focused
on what part the articles played in the process of inquiry; they
were a part of the process, one point along the trail. Although
that finding was surprising to me, it was also exciting and reaffirming.
It was a stronger indication that the journal was a stimulus for
further thought and conversation.
This research has not come to an end; it is not complete. The readers
surveys are a very important piece of the work, and I am planning
to continue this research. I believe that this information will
not only support the publishing of the journal, but will also support
inquiry-based staff development. Not all the authors who responded
to my questionnaire were involved in actual inquiry projects, however,
most were involved in their own questioning process. I hope that
further research will not only support the claims that inquiry-based
staff development is successful, but it will also indicate more
clearly why. Listening to the readers responses should shed
light on some of the answers, or at least help us to form new questions.
The authors of The Tale of the Tools, Volume 5, were
not interviewed. Their responses will be enlightening because many
of those articles came straight from either the assessment or math
inquiry projects. Their perspectives may be slightly different.
I hope to keep the research on-going and to provide an update later
It is still important to look at the changes in classroom practices,
changes in methodology, and learners success in which the
journal may be inspirational. Possibly more important, however,
is that it continues to provide a place where linkages can be made,
where teachers and eventually learners can write about practices
in assessment and curricula that model the most effective programs.
Adventures in Assessment models writing those practices in
its various steps towards publication. The collaborative efforts
of the editor, assistant editor, and author need to continue to
model the type of writing process work that we subscribe to. This,
in turn, models our understanding of good assessment practices as
well. Thus, for me, the data echoes what these voices
have said, that Adventures in Assessment is good staff development.
Now that I have completed this part of the research, taught a mini-course
on alternative assessment, and used the journal as text, I would
like to state that staff development is just that Development.
People are at different places with different needs. There were
nine regular participants in my class. At the end, only three were
comfortable enough to take a stab at writing for the sixth edition.
I thought in the beginning there would be more. However, all group
members had read all five issues and found pieces to respond to,
whether verbally or in their process of developing assessment for
Another example of the outcome of inquiry-based staff development
is the Mentor Project that the Component #3 practitioners
have now developed and begun. They are finding different programs
are at different points of the process. They need to fit what they
are doing to the individual program needs. Adventures in Assessment
will be appropriate to use for many points of this process.
The journal will always play different roles at different times
for different teachers. But most importantly, it provides great
linkages and begins to end the massive problem of isolation across
all members of the adult education community.
Auerbach, Elsa. Making Meaning, Making Change; (ERIC CAL) Delta
Systems, Inc., McHenry, Il. 1992.
Gillespie, Marilyn. Becoming Authors: The Social Context of Writing
and Local Publishing By Adult Beginning Readers. a dissertation
presented to Center for International Education, University of Massachusetts
at Amherst, MA. Feb. 91.
Lytle, Susan, and Marilyn Cochran-Smith. Learning from Teacher
Research: A Working Topology Teachers College Record, Vol.
92, No. 1, Fall 1990.
Lytle, Susan and Marcie Wolfe. Adult Literacy Education:
Program Evaluation and Learner Assessment. (Columbus: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education). 1989.
Lytle, Susan. From the Inside Out: Reinventing Assessment,
Adventures in Assessment, Vol. 2, No., Boston:World Education) 1988.
Survey. If you wish to fill one out, see pages 75 and 76
survey is to determine the effect that Adventures in Assessment:
Learner Centered Approaches to Assessment and Evaluation has
had on the field. Does the journal either change or validate
peoples practices and is it a good staff development
tool? We define staff development as the process of reinforcing,
maintaining and building effective teaching practices. Ultimately,
staff development acts as an antidote to burnout.
Have you read Adventures in Assessment? [ ]Yes [ ] No
If you have, which volume(s)? [ ] Volume 1 (Yellow) [ ] Volume
2 (Light Green) [ ] Volume 3 (Purple) [ ] Volume 4 (Dark Green)
Do you find the layout/design of Adventures in Assessment
accessible or easy to understand? [ ]Yes [ ] No
What criteria do you use when deciding which articles to read?
[ ] Titles or articles Do you read the introductions? [ ]
Yes [ ] No
[ ] Author Do you read Voices from the Field? [ ] Yes [ ]
[ ] Interests Do you read Getting Started? [ ] Yes [ ] No
[ ] Other (Specify)
Do you read Ongoing? [ ] Yes [ ] No
Do you read What Counts? [ ] Yes [ ] No
Has Adventures in Assessment affected your thinking or beliefs?
[ ] Yes [ ] No
Has Adventures in Assessment affected your practices (such
as sparked a new tool or thrown out all of them)? [ ] Yes
[ ] No
Have you changed the your assessment practices in your classroom
and/or program? [ ] Yes [ ] No
Do you have ways in which you include learners in your assessment
practices? What are they?
Have you ever used any ideas or tools from an article? [ ]
Yes [ ] No Which one?
Please comment on how you used it. Did you change it? Did
you adapt it?
8c. May we publish these comments in the Letter to the
Editor section of the journal?
[ ]Yes [ ] No
Would you be interested in writing for the journal? [ ] Yes
[ ] No
If yes, please fill in the information below or call Loren
McGrail at World Education, (617) 482-9485.
Top of page
This article was published in Adventures
in Assessment, Volume 6 (Spring 1994), SABES/World Education,
Boston, MA, Copyright 1994.
Funding support for the publication of this document
on the Web provided in part by the Ohio State Literacy Resource
Center as part of the LINCS
Assessment Special Collection.