Josephine Peyton Marsh is the Professor in Residence at ASU Preparatory Academies (ASU Prep) and an Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.  She received her Ph. D. from the University of Georgia in Reading Education after over a decade of teaching literacy to students in grades 5-12.  Since arriving at ASU, Dr. Marsh has taught undergraduate and graduate literacy education courses, mentored doctoral students, and served as a college administrator.  She has also consulted with local school districts about infusing literacy instruction into content-area teaching.

Her past research interests included adolescent literacy and issues related to gender, identity, and literacy.  Her current research focuses on school transformation and how teachers, administrators, students, and parents work together to create schools that prepare students for college and career success and to be contributors to their communities.  In particularly, her research concentrates on just-in-time literacy professional development, communities of practice for professional growth, and student perspectives on engaged learning. 

Somewhere along the way, as an associate professor and literacy education researcher, I became aware of the lack of impact my research seemed to be having on school literacy instruction.  My research was interesting to me (and the few others who read it), but did little to inform schools about teaching children and adolescents to read and write or use literacy to learn content and think critically.  I began to question why publishing in prestigious journals was rewarded at the university, but unread or unused by educational practitioners.  So, for a few years, disillusioned and confused, I became an administrator for the college of education at Arizona State University (ASU). It was a good place for me until I found ASU Preparatory Academies (ASU Prep), a university sponsored PK-12 charter school district that began fully operating in 2010. The district consists of two PK-12 campuses —ASU Prep-Phoenix, an urban Title I school of 1100 students near Arizona State University’s downtown campus and ASU Prep-Poly, a suburban school of over 600 students on ASU’s Polytechnic campus. For more detailed information see http://asuprep.asu.edu/about.

 At the beginning of the 2011 school year, I became a full-time professor in residence for the district.  In this position, I continue to learn how a university researcher can contribute to research and practice that eliminates achievement disparities between urban culturally and linguistically diverse students and their counterparts. By working side-by-side with administrators and teachers to create educational opportunities and learning environments in which ALL students are prepared to graduate from college, contribute to their communities and participate in the global society, I started to learn the value in shared collaboration and the importance of real-time research.

So what is a professor in residence? 

In sum, I am a school ethnographer, an action researcher, and professor who is part of the school’s leadership team—participating, documenting, analyzing, and writing about the processes, social interactions, initiatives, and programs that happen at ASU Preparatory Academies. I go to one of the ASU Prep campuses each morning, attend faculty and leadership meetings, observe in classrooms, meet with individual or small groups of teachers for just-in-time professional development (https://asu.academia.edu/JosephineMarsh/Papers) and participate in conversations that build shared knowledge about instructional practices. I write field notes, collect data, and review data regularly with teachers and administrators.  While, I teach and advise in the Literacy Education MA & Ph.D. program http://education.asu.edu/programs/view/master-of-arts-in-curriculum-and-instruction-literacy-education-concentrati, I am on leave from most of my other responsibilities at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

So what have I learned about conducting research that matters to schools, teachers, and students?

I have learned much as a professor in residence while conducting research and by watching my colleagues come to school to conduct their research. There are three important things I have learned in the process:

Everyday I am in a school.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned as a professor in residence about conducting research that matters is the importance of regular school visits.  Being in classrooms and talking with teachers, administrators, and students provides me a window into the lives of students, their families, the needs of teachers and administrators, and a sense of what matters to schools. While it is unrealistic to suggest university researchers go to school every day, it is essential that university researchers stay informed of and remain grounded in the ways the research is applied and the impact the research and its implementation have in transforming what happens for students. For our research to have an impact on educational practices that promote equal opportunities for ALL students, we have to understand the context and conditions in which it is applied.

Everyday I collaborate.

 I have learned collaboration among university and school educators is essential for impactful research to occur.  By collaboration I mean the process of sharing and building knowledge for a common vision or goal. It is a recursive process, one that requires a culture of respect, derived through listening and learning together. Collaboration is hard.  It requires time and nurturing so a non-hierarchical, trusting and respectful relationship can develop.  University researchers who join these collaborative efforts should listen more than they talk.  They should ask questions, suspend their preconceived ideas and listen deeply to the responses.  Likewise, school administrators and teachers should listen to researchers and share their knowledge and experiences with them.  The power in these collaborations shapes research that leads to meaningful changes in educational practice and systems so all students have access to PK-12 schools that prepare them for personal success and to contribute to their local and global communities.

 Everyday I participate in real-time research.

My last reflection about conducting research that matters to schools is the relevance of what I am calling real-time research.  It informs school practice in real time and university researchers can and should be part of it.  Real-time research at ASU Prep includes collecting and analyzing multiple forms of data the schools use to make decisions about educational practices. The practice facilitates the creation and maintenance of a learning environment that supports the ASU Prep mission.  For example, administrators, mentor teachers, and I conduct daily walkthrough observations and use a common form to record our observations.  Each week, we analyze these data to identify instructional needs and strengths and inform professional development efforts.  Other forms of data collected and analyzed include survey data, interview data, student assessment data, observational data, and teacher research data. Data is shared and analysis and rich discussions follow between and among teachers, teacher leaders, administrators and me.  Decisions about practice are made, revised, and outcomes documented. And a new cycle of continuous data collection-analysis begins.

As the professor in residence, my obligation is to persuade university researchers to hang out in schools and participate in shared knowledge building about educational practices that promote equal opportunities for ALL students.  It is also to share our on-going research findings and experiences in academic journals and other venues (such as this blog) in order to inform future research efforts and participate in larger conversations about school practice and how schools and universities can better work together to conduct research that matters.

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3 Responses to “Hanging Out at ASU Preparatory Academies: What One University Researcher is Learning from Conducting Real-Time Research in Schools by Josephine Peyton Marsh”

  1. Ansie Elizabeth Kitching on 2/27/14 12:23 AM US/Eastern

    I absolutely agree with your appraoch. University professors should be involved in the sites where they conduct research on a much deeper level. The concept real-time research resonates with my own work in the field of well-being promotion in schools and the participatory action research approach that I apply. All the best with your much needed campaign – I will gladly join the conversation.

  2. Adai on 2/27/14 4:59 PM US/Eastern

    Thank you so much for your insightful blog, Dr. Marsh. What a privilege to be a scholar-in-residence and to work and learn side-by-side with teachers, students, parents and the broader community. You serve as a wonderful example. Thank you.

  3. Donna Alvermann on 3/1/14 9:53 PM US/Eastern

    An informative and welcomed description of what you do daily, Josephine. As I read your blog post, I pictured you interacting, listening, collecting data, and analyzing it with the teachers and students in ASU Preparatory Academies. Now when I listen to you present at national conferences or read your articles in professional and research journals, I’ll have a better context for understanding your work. Thanks, and looking forward to more such posts!

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