Implications for the study and development of inquiry among early childhood preservice teachers: A report from one study

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Newcastle University]On: 20 December 2014, At: 23:41Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Early Childhood Teacher EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ujec20

    Implications for the study and development of inquiryamong early childhood preservice teachers: A reportfrom one studyMary Jane Moran aa Department of Child & Family Studies , University of Tennesse , Knoxville, TN, 37996, USAPhone: +18659749354 E-mail:Published online: 25 Apr 2008.

    To cite this article: Mary Jane Moran (2002) Implications for the study and development of inquiry among earlychildhood preservice teachers: A report from one study, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 23:1, 39-44, DOI:10.1080/1090102020230107

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  • Pergamon

    Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education 23 (2002) 39-44

    Jurna'f EarlyChildhoodTeacher

    Education

    Implications for the study and developmentof inquiry among early childhood preservice teachers:

    a report from one study

    Mary Jane Moran*Department of Child & Family Studies, University of Tennesse, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA

    Received 3 April 2001; accepted 10 September 2001

    Abstract

    The purpose of this article is to highlight key findings from a study of 24 early childhood preservice teach-ers as they moved away from a reliance on traditional interpretations of child-centered curricula toward oneof collaborative inquiry. Participants enrolled in a 15 week undergraduate teaching methods course were as-signed to teaching teams to implement collaborative projects with the same group of 3-5-year-old children. Thestudy utilized both quantitative and qualitative measures to assess conceptual level, changes in reflectivity, andinquiry-oriented teaching. Results suggest that the emergence of collaborative inquiry among preservice teachersis a dynamic and diverse process not readily assessed by static measures or discreet skills. Collaborative projectsdid provide a context for creating communities of learners within which time, space and opportunity to practice,reflect and use language and other tools contributed to young teachers' development of inquiry. 2002 Publishedby Elsevier Science Inc.

    1. Introduction

    Over the past century, our image of good teach-ers has changed. Early childhood teachers used tobe young, single women expected to meet the basicneeds of young children. By mid-century, this imagehad shifted to one of teachers as professionals whoemphasize the processes of children's learning.

    Contemporary expectations of good teachers con-tinue to expand upon these interpretations. As a resultof the growing understanding of the complexity ofchildren's learning and development, early childhoodteachers are challenged to create particular learningenvironments that are responsive to children's diverseneeds, interests, and abilities. Related to this chang-ing image of professional competence is a growing

    * Tel.:+1-865-974-9354.E-mail address: mjmoran@utk.edu (M.J. Moran).

    concern about teacher education as it corresponds tothese new challenges and understandings.

    The study reported in this article examined the de-velopment of inquiry-oriented teaching in a group of24 preservice student teachers. The study took placewithin a required undergraduate teaching methodscourse that seeks to establish congruency between theprocesses through which teachers construct knowl-edge and those by which teachers guide children'slearning. Aims of the study were: (a) to describe aframework for the creation of an inquiry-orientedlearning environment in which collaborative projectsserve as the primary communal activity for childrenand preservice teachers, and (b) to document theprocess and consequences of participation in such alearning environment evidenced by changes in theknowledge, skills and dispositions of selected pre-service teachers. A second purpose that evolved overthe course of this study was the need to demonstratethe utility of a multi-method approach to research on

    1090-1027/02/$ - see front matter 2002 Published by Elsevier Science Inc.PII: S1090-1027(01)00140-4

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  • 40 MJ. Moron/Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education 23 (2002) 39-44

    teacher development that acknowledges the natureand forms of change over time.

    A fundamental premise of this study and ar-ticle is that teachers require critical thinking,problem-solving, and relational competencies in or-der to meet these same needs among children theyteach. Support for this reconceptualized approachto preservice teacher education comes from threesources: key tenets of social constructivist theory,contemporary scholarship on reflective practice andteacher research, and collaborative projects as wit-nessed in the preprimary schools of Reggio Emilia,Italy. While there have been efforts to identify thecontributions of these new understandings of theteaching and learning processes to the design ofteacher education programs, this study is the firstto examine the integration of these three separatecomponents as they contribute to the development ofcollaborative inquiry among teachers.

    2. Research design

    2.1. Purpose

    The question that guided the study was, "How doesthe implementation of collaborative projects withinthe course Family Studies 635, Teaching and Learningin Early Childhood Classrooms, influence the think-ing and practice of particular preservice teachers whoparticipated in activities related to the implementationof collaborative projects?" This study of 24 preser-vice teachers took place at a child development lab-oratory school at a New England state university. Atthe time of the study, the school served 135 childrenranging in age from infancy through kindergarten inboth full day and nursery school programs.

    2.2. Description of the sample

    The 24 preservice teachers who participated in thestudy taught preschool-aged children with two mas-ter teachers in the part-day, nursery school programas part of their course requirements. These preser-vice teachers were Caucasian, predominately young(average age 19 years), single (only one student wasmarried), and middle-income. Eighteen of the stu-dents were family studies majors who were enrolledin the course because it was a requirement. Otherstudents were taking the course for an elective. Forthe majority of the students, this course representedtheir first experience in a classroom with young chil-dren. Six teachers comprised the sub-sample, andwere ultimately referred to by the name of the projecttopic they pursuedthe Leaf and Water Teams.

    2.3. The course

    The course within which this study took place in-cluded weekly lectures and a 4 hour practicum. Theprimary goals of the course were to introduce studentsto (a) key tenets of social constructivist theory; (b)the application of theoretical principles to classroompractices, and (c) the use of tools and processes asso-ciated with documentation within their teaching prac-tice. Each three- or four-member team was requiredto implement a project with a small group of childrenover a 6-week period of time. Many of the same toolsand procedures used to generate data for the studywere embedded in- the assignments and practices ofthe course. In addition to the project itself, other as-signments included reflective journal writings, teammeetings, and videotapes of classroom activities.

    2.4. Procedures

    Methods of data collection resulted in qualitativeand quantitative measures of students' knowledge,skills, and dispositions in their work with young chil-dren. Strategies were drawn from contemporary re-search on reflective practice, adult development anddevelopmentally appropriate practices:

    Reflective journals: Each student wrote re-sponses to guiding questions each week overthe length of the semester. Journal entrieswere coded at three time intervals (responsesto six questions) and judged to be reflective(R), unrefiective (U), or indeterminate (I), ona scale of 5 to +5, using an adaptation ofLaBoskey's (1994) battery of measures in-tended to assess "spontaneous reflectivity."Journal entries for each student were scoredby the researcher and an outside rater; a com-posite score was generated with an averageproportion of agreement between raters acrossall six questions was 0.86.

    Videotaped student teaching: Student projectteams were videotaped for a total of threevideotapes per student. A total of 72, lOminvideotape segments were coded on a scaleof 1-5, based on a modified version of theChecklist for Rating Developmentally Appro-priate Practice in Early Childhood Classrooms(Charlesworth et al., 1990). Rated items in-cluded: evidence of theoretical perspective,emphasis on curriculum, organization, prepara-tion, instructional activities, and learning ma-terials. Average Spearman correlations acrossraters on total practice scores was 0.90.

    Audiotaped team meetings: Teaching teamsmet regularly over the course of the semester.

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    Discussions were audiotaped and transcribedverbatim.

    Conceptual level scores: Conceptual level (CL)was measured for the sample using the para-graph completion method (PCM) (Hunt, Butler,Noy & Rosser, 1978). CL is an indicator ofthe degree to which a learner requires struc-tured settings in order to perform optimally.Scores fall within three clusters or levels(e.g., high, moderate and low). Teachers withhigh scores are typically more autonomouswhile low scores indicate a teacher's needfor fixed, detailed, and direct instruction.Inter-rater reliability for all CL scores was0.86.

    Retrospective interviews: Video-stimulated,retrospective interviews were conducted withthe sub-sample following the completion ofthe course. These interviews included reviewsof sample videotape clips from each teacher'sclassroom teaching of projects.

    2.5. Data analyses

    The study entailed two analysis phases quantita-tive (n = 24) and qualitative (n = 6). Spearman cor-relations were computed among and between threevariables across three time periods: conceptual levelscores, reflectivity scores, and the mean videotapescores. A cluster analysis (Ward's method, 1963)was subsequently performed on reflective journalscores at times one, two, and three to identify groupsof students as a function of their degrees of reflectiv-ity. A second cluster analysis was performed on thepractice scores, based on an average score from thesix measures on the observational checklist. A finalcomparison of cluster groups was made resulting ina four-dimensional classification of subjects basedon reflectivity and inquiry-oriented teaching. Theseanalytic strategies were utilized for the entire sampleof 24 students.

    Qualitative analyses focused on the journals andvideotapes of teaching practices of the sub-sample asa means of generating data related to the processesand outcomes associated with teaching collaborativeprojects. Transcriptions of team meetings and ret-rospective interviews of the sub-sample were alsoincluded in this analysis. Team meeting and retro-spective interviews were transcribed verbatim andanalyzed for evidence of the emergence of themes ofbehavior over time. Journal entries were reread withnotations made in the margins and memos generatedrepresentative of emerging themes. Videotapes werereviewed for evidence of change in teaching (e.g.,higher order questioning, self-regulation, use of di-verse media) indicative of an inquiry-oriented teach-

    ing stance and the application of social constructivistprinciples.

    Qualitative findings were triangulated by cre-ating data displays and using conceptual memos(Miles & Huberfnan, 1984; Grossman, 1990). To fur-ther complete this "thick description" (Geertz, 1973)of change in practice and thinking, journal entriesand audio transcriptions were cross-tabulated usingconstant comparative methods for individuals andteams across time.

    3. Contributions from theory, research,and practice

    3.1. Social constructivist theoryand associated practices

    During the past decade, social constructivist the-ory as articulated, for example, by Vygotsky and Ro-goff has become influential within the field of earlychildhood education. Tenets of social constructivisttheory instrumental to this study include the positionsthat (a) knowledge is constructed in social activityfrom which (b) shared understandings are generatedand (c) communicated and mediated through the useof tools and signs.

    This interpretation of learning is described by Ro-goff as taking place through participatory appropria-tion in which individuals transform their understand-ings of and responsibilities for activities through theirown participation (Rogoff, 1995, p. 150). Other so-cial constructivist scholars see learning as occurring atpoints of negotiation of meaning, when people worktogether to arrive at shared understandings. It is atthese points of negotiation that teachers can assist orscaffold children to carry out a task, moving beyondthe learners' actual development toward their poten-tial development. The mental region in which shiftstake place was described by Vygotsky as t...

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