Preservice Teachers Conducting Action Research in Early Education Centers

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    Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 29:4558, 2008Copyright National Association of Early Childhood Teacher EducatorsISSN: 1090-1027 print / 1745-5642 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10901020701878669

    UJEC1090-10271745-5642Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Vol. 29, No. 1, February 2008: pp. 129Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education

    Preservice Teachers Conducting Action Research in Early Education Centers

    Preservice Teachers Conducting Action ResearchR. A. Moore and J. L. Gilliard RITA A. MOORE1 AND JENNIFER L. GILLIARD2

    1Willamette University School of Education, Salem, Oregon, USA2The University of MontanaWestern, Dillon, Montana, USA

    The purpose of this study was to investigate the use of action research by ten preser-vice teachers earning their associates degree in early childhood education from asmall university in the West. Their goal was to assess the impact of their teaching onstudent learning with children birth to 8 years of age. This study represents the use ofundergraduate action research in early childhood at the associate degree level, andalso contributes to the early childhood teacher education knowledge base in the use ofthe action research method in early learning centers as a means of professional develop-ment as well as a tool to guide daily instruction, problem solving, and decision making.

    Using a variety of informal assessment procedures, the preservice teachers stud-ied the effects of specific learning strategies or activities, first upon the developmentand learning of the young children they taught, and then upon the results from theassessments in order to guide further instruction.


    Action research in teacher education is on the rise with many undergraduate and graduateprograms providing preparation for candidates in action research methods and/or citingaction research as graduation requirements (Levine, 2002); however, action research inearly childhood education remains virtually unexplored although the method is simple andeasily implemented. The purpose of this study was to investigate the use of action researchby ten preservice teachers earning their associates degree in early childhood educationfrom a small university in the West. Their goal was to assess the impact of their teachingon student learning with children birth to 8 years of age. This study is unique in two ways:First, it represents the use of undergraduate action research in early childhood at the asso-ciate degree level, and second, it contributes to the early childhood teacher educationknowledge base in regard to the use of the action research method in early learning centersas a means of professional development as well as a tool to guide daily instruction, prob-lem solving, and decision making.

    Action research presents a simple, reliable research process that may be used to focusteaching questions as well as organize and interpret the multiple classroom data sourcesthat reflect student learning (Calhoun, 2002; Glanz, 2003; Moore, 2004). The authors ofthis study approach action research as a framework and method for studying instructionaldecision making. We believe that conducting action research in early childhood class-rooms presents an especially appropriate method of daily inquiry and problem solving inclassrooms uniquely rich in differentiated learning, ages, developmental stages, as well as

    Received 14 May 2007; accepted 31 July 2007.Address correspondence to Rita A. Moore, 900 State St., Salem, OR 97301. E-mail: rmoore@

  • 46 R. A. Moore and J. L. Gilliard

    physical, social, and verbal abilities. In addition, we believe the work of early learningteachers conducting action research has potential for contributing to the knowledge baseinforming the curriculum for early childhood education programs at the undergraduateand graduate level.

    Rationale and Theoretical Framework

    Key to the accessibility of action research is assisting teachers in understanding thatthrough carefully documented learning outcomes, their instructional decision making isexamined and validated through systematic, thoughtful and reflective classroom researchmethods (Arhar, Holly, & Kasten, 2001; Moore, 2004). Action research encouragesteachers to look at their teaching actions in response to childrens learning and reflect ontheir own experiences, share those experiences with others in the field, and make changesin their classroom based on the careful documentation of student learning (Arhar et al.,2000; Moore, 2004; 2007). The depth and breadth of a preservice teachers knowledge,skills, and dispositions are measured by their impact on the students they teach (Lefever-Davis, 2002; National Commission on Teaching, 1996).

    Action research is a powerful form of assessment in which instructional decisions aremade by examining the events and outcomes of the classroom (Arhar et al., 2001; Leland& Kasten, 2002). It has been used in educational research since the early 1960s; however,the use of action research as a tool for studying teaching and learning in early childhoodprograms is relatively new to the literature. We include the following two examples.

    One study was conducted by teachers and practitioners in early learning centers inNew Zealand to explore the implementation of Te Whariki, the national early childhoodcurriculum. The intent of the study was to test the framework for assessment and evalua-tion using teaching tools associated with Learning and Teaching Stories (Carr, May, &Podmore, 2000). Outcomes of the study expanded on the idea that early childhood pro-grams should be grounded in quality and that quality should be based on the childs per-spective and interests.

    In another study, Hatch, Greer, and Bailey (2006) explored the action researchprojects of two early childhood interns enrolled in a 5th-year masters degree programworking in urban schools. The emphasis of this project was on the use of action researchmethod as a tool for teachers to use in problem solving for the daily challenges and issuesof the classroom rather than utilizing action research to add to the knowledge base inteacher education found in the work of others such as Glanz (2003), Cochran-Smith andLytle (1993), and Meyers and Rust (2003). The interns in the study explored opportuni-ties to better implement literacy and family literacy in a kindergarten and second-gradeclassroom.

    It is documented that early childhood educators may use ineffective strategies associ-ated with traditional teaching rituals and practices including daily calendar, rote exercisessuch as learning a letter a week, and other isolating skill-related activities that are teachercentered, as opposed to student centered (Borgia & Schuler, 1996). The use of actionresearch to explore interactive learning opportunities that are more developmentallyappropriate may be linked to the theory of social constructivism. For example, the basicpremise of social constructivism is that knowledge is socially constructed in communitiesof practice which provide the context for learning, and that knowledge is the tool thatguides teaching. Social constructivism emphasizes education for social transformation andreflects human development theory within a sociocultural context (Vygotsky, 1978).Hence, individuals construct knowledge by interacting with the environment, and in the

  • Preservice Teachers Conducting Action Research 47

    process both the individual and the environment are changed (Vygotsky). Action researchhas the potential to highlight not only what is learned, but how learning environments andpractices effect and change learning outcomes (Glanz, 2003).

    Defined within the realm of reflective teaching (Cochran-Smith, & Lytle, 1993;Hubbard & Power, 1999; Moore, 2007), action research today is recognized as an impor-tant tool in elementary and secondary teacher preparation programs but there is little in theliterature about action research in early childhood education programs. The impact of pre-service teaching on student learning represents a powerful means through which teacherpreparation programs may assess their effectiveness in preparing future teachers (Levine,2002; Shoyer & Yahnke, 2001) for any educational setting (Borgia & Schuler, 1996),including those found in early learning centers.

    Overview of the Study

    The purpose of this study was to investigate the use of action research by 10 preserviceteachers pursuing their associates degree in Early Childhood Education from a smalluniversity in rural Montana. Their task was to assess the impact of their teaching on studentlearning with children birth to 8 years of age using data from the action research projectsconducted during a 16-week semester. The action research projects were conducted by thepreservice teachers as a requirement for an early childhood professionalism class takenconcurrently with the curriculum class. The study was designed to help the early childhoodpreservice teachers better understand how assessment informs instruction through the use ofaction research method as a professional development tool.

    Each preservice teacher conducted an action research project in a different earlychildhood classroom. This was the first time the preservice teachers had been exposed toaction research method and the first time that the authors had studied action research withassociate degree level candidates. Steps for orienting the preservice teachers werethoughtfully and carefully presented by their instructor, Jennifer, using a variety of casescenarios and projects conducted by elementary and secondary education majors.

    Developing the Preservice Teachers Action Research Projects

    To gather data for their projects, the preservice teachers regularly assessed anddocumented student learning as a part of teaching a 6-week curriculum project based onthe interests and development of the young children at their field sites. The process ofdeveloping an action research plan to study curriculum projects was new to them.

    Steps in the process. Several steps led to the development of the preservice teachersaction research projects. First, the preservice teachers received direct instruction in thesteps of action research beginning with writing research questions. They then wrote two orthree research questions to focus specific areas of child learning or development during acurriculum project they would later teach.

    Second, the preservice teachers created a data gathering schedule and constructed alist of at least two potential data sources for each research question. These included: childinterviews; KWL charts (charts indicating what the children know, what they want toknow, and what they learned) (Vacca & Vacca, 2004); curriculum webs; running records;anecdotal records; behavior charts; photographs; reflections on implemented learningplans; reflective journals; and project activities linked to multiple forms of expression,such as art, dramatic play, investigations, and storytelling. After each teaching day, the

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    preservice teachers were required to write in a reflective journal describing what theywere observing, learning, and questioning about teaching and learning. The intent of thiswriting was to keep the research focused on the relationship between teaching and learning.Linking teaching to learning goals was continually examined in the written reflections. Torecord student responses or behaviors during the classroom day, anecdotal records weretaken by the preservice teachers and later examined through their reflective journals.

    Third, the preservice teachers were instructed in basic color data coding strategies(Bogdan & Biklen, 1992). Each question is designated a color and as data responses areread, those that are relevant to a research question are highlighted in the questions desig-nated color. For example, a reflective journal response might be highlighted in greenbecause it informed one of the questions.

    Following the training, each preservice teacher began to conduct an action researchproject to assess the impact of a specific approach, curriculum, or teaching strategy on thedevelopment of the children in their field classrooms. Each implemented a curriculumproject for 6 weeks under the supervision of the university instructor who taught the earlychildhood curriculum class and visited their field classrooms. For example, one preserviceteacher implemented a project on volcanoes in an after-school program serving 5-to-8 yearolds. The learning goals of the volcano project were to answer the childrens questions aboutvolcanoes while building literacy, problem solving, and social skills. The children learnedabout volcanoes through group and individual projects, journaling, reading, hands-onscience activities, and art projects. Other assessment checkpoints such as a KWL chartserved as data sources for the research questions as well. See Table 1 for a complete list ofprojects and age-level environments.

    Approximately 6 weeks into their research projects, the preservice teachers begancolor coding student learning outcomes, documenting various assessment activities totheir research questions which were written during the 1st week of instruction. In addition,they read their reflective journals daily, coding their written reflections to their actionresearch questions. They were encouraged to make changes in their teaching based onwhat they were learning from the data.

    Following the completion of their action research project, the preservice teachers rereadtheir coded data sources, scrutinizing for accuracy and noting the instructional changes theymade as a result of consistent coding and reflection. To verify their coding accuracy, thepreservice teachers reviewed their coded data with a small group of their classmates upon

    Table 1Action Research Topics and Age Levels Studied by the Preservice Teacher

    Topic Age levels Teacher

    Firefighters, police, and ambulances 27 years MaeveRocks (outdoor interests) 1224 months JasmineBabies and bears 624 months HannahOrganized play areas 13 years LorieBugs 23 years CathySensory activities with infants 624 months TessaTrees 35 years DebAfter-school learning programs 59 years SallyEnvironmental influences on behavior 636 months JoanCars 28 years Helen

  • Preservice Teachers Conducting Action Research 49

    completion of teaching the curriculum project as well as with both investigators of the study.In addition, they received input on their continuous coding and analysis from the projectinvestigators through a structured phone interview midway through the project, regular e-mail correspondence with instructors and classmates, and in-class discussions.

    The preservice teachers then summarized their findings under each question and usedthose findings to reflect on the implications of their research on their own teaching andlearning in a final written report. Table 2 is an abbreviated example. Near the end of theearly childhood curriculum and professionalism classes, they presented the r...


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