Making the Move: Empowering Student Teachers as Teacher Researchers

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Published: 
September, 2020

Source: The Teacher Educator, 55:3, 267-282

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper shares how a pedagogical redesign takes the practitioner action research (PAR) model for teachers and implements it with preservice teacher candidates during their teacher preparation program.
The authors call it student teaching action research (STAR), where student teachers have exposure to and develop research skills, then transfer these skills into the classroom.
It details how relocating the PAR model to the preservice arena supports both preservice and beginning teachers and can foster a culture of assessment practice designed to improve K-12 student learning.
The purpose of this study was to see how the pedagogical redesign could help preservice teachers enter the profession as research-based practitioners.
It includes the development of STAR, implementation in a small pilot program with honors elementary preservice teachers prior to and during their student teaching and follow up interviews to help improve and expand the implementation.
The authors’ research question considered if the STAR program helps preservice teachers enter the profession as data-informed practitioners, capable of recognizing the need to research their own practice and beginning to incorporate data to enact positive change in their classrooms.

Methodology
The scope of this exploratory case study included designing the STAR program, implementing it for a small honors cohort of preservice elementary teachers during coursework and their student teaching, interviewing them afterward to help understand the research-related impacts, and analyzing their projects and the interviews to look for themes that would help improve and expand the technique.
Recruitment for the honors program began in introductory education courses, to capture those early elementary education major students who were excited about the profession and interested in an alternative route for their program.
Five students met the qualifications and demonstrated passion and interest in the program through their essay and when interviewed by the coordinator of the program.
The other potential candidates did not demonstrate the same commitment to students and interest in becoming future change agents.

Data collection & analysis
After the first-year implementation of the STAR program, author 1 conducted over 2.5 hours of semi-structured interviews with participants following their capstone experience.
Student research posters were also included in the analysis.
The interviews were based on the following questions:
1. What did you learn from conducting undergraduate research?
2. Now that you have finished your undergraduate research, what would you have done differently?
3. What advice would you give a future student conducting undergraduate research?
4. How did conducting undergraduate research in student teaching impact your current teaching practices
5. Is this STAR model a realistic approach to analyzing student-learning outcomes in your current classroom?

Results and discussion
All students presented their STAR capstone projects at the annual university research symposium.
Both posters and interview transcripts were examined.
After the first year of the STAR program concluded, the five students graduated with a degree and a job offer at the school where they spent their practicum and student teaching experiences.
Based on the interview responses, the preservice teachers valued their experiences with STAR, and many of them are continuing to develop their research skills in their current classrooms.
This model helped diffuse some of the fear about conducting research as a beginning teacher, by equipping them with the necessary skills before they entered the field and showing them the value of the research in practice, not just theory.
Research became a practice they developed in the undergraduate program and transferred to their classrooms.
As one noted, “I am very capable now of doing little mini projects, collecting the data and reporting the findings.”
This study supports the utility of Zeichner’s (1983) inquiry-oriented curriculum model in teacher preparation programs.
As the primary mentor and lead faculty member of the initial STAR program, the first author watched preservice teachers develop into critical thinkers, able to more effectively analyze their practice.
STAR provided them with coursework, mentorship, and research support; their projects and interviews suggest they are becoming inquiry-based practitioners who can brainstorm and test ways to make improvements for their students, grade levels, and even the school environment.
The authors believe their increasing sense of comfort with this process is a direct result of the support and training they received in the semesters up to and including their student teaching.
One student mentioned “a big piece of the STAR model was the mentor.
The mentor guided us step by step through the process and as a first year teacher we may not have that kind of help or guidance.”
As the themes that emerged from their interviews showed, they developed research skills that carried over into their current classrooms as teachers of record.

References
Zeichner, K. M. (1983). Alternative paradigms of teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 34(3), 3–9. doi:10.1177/002248718303400302 

Updated: Aug. 30, 2020
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