What is Teacher Research? The nature of the inquiry MA/Credential students do in their teacher research
July 19, 2011
How do we define teacher research?
We define teacher research as systematic investigations of how
teaching influences student learning over time in a single
classroom or learning community. It is inquiry that is
systematic, intentional, contextual, ethical and above all
responsive to the learners’ strengths and challenges. We draw
from three principal traditions to inform our model of teacher
research: (1) action research, (2) the case study approach, and
(3) instructional interventions.
How is the inquiry for the thesis project developed?
The Teacher Research takes place in two phases: (a) the
development of a question or focus that addresses students’
learning needs culminating in a proposal for a study, and (b) the
unfolding, implementation, analysis and write-up of the study.
The MA/Credential Teacher Researchers (TRs) begin their inquiry
by first studying their students, their learning, and their
context in systematic ways. Based on preliminary analyses of the
data they have gathered, TRs justify an area of inquiry or
question they want to pursue to respond to their students’ needs.
Student TRs then explore the literature systematically to
identify promising approaches, instructional strategies and
procedures for implementation, data collection and analysis.
Student TRs are mentored in this process of development in a
community of practice composed of a small cohort of their peers
and the lead faculty charged with facilitating the inquiry.
Student TRs then propose a study to a three-person faculty
committee led by the lead faculty mentor.
Once their proposal is approved, student TRs design an
instructional cycle of lessons/instructional strategies, collect
baseline, process and outcome data, analyze their data and report
their findings in a written report. The report or thesis is
developed over time through an intensive process of discussion,
short writing assignments, and group and individual feedback. As
a capstone activity, student TRs present their inquiry at a
symposium to faculty and their peers at the end of winter
What do student TRs investigate?
The design of each study varies according to individual
circumstances and contexts. Typical designs include the study of
a “new” approach to some aspect of instruction, adaptations of
curriculum or strategies documented as effective in at least some
settings, integration of effective strategies in new ways with
different types of students, or testing out a new idea informed
by theories of learning and teaching. The design and approach
must be informed by the research literature, tap multiple genres
and negotiated within the context the student TRs work. Often the
inquiry is conducted in two phases exploring the implementation
of an instructional approach in two stages, or comparing a
traditional approach to an adaptation with data collection
occurring at the beginning and end of each phase.
How do faculty mentor the inquiry?
A lead faculty member, assigned to a cohort of 10-15 students,
mentors each student’s inquiry process. Each faculty member works
with two other faculty in a committee structure, drawing on the
committee’s expertise at key points of the inquiry. Faculty
mentor the inquiry process through the integration of “scaffolds”
or strategies designed to support students’ inquiry. These
supports include (1) a cohort based structure designed to promote
collaboration and provide support in a community of practice; (2)
the design of the inquiry as a series of steps, presented as
tasks to report on through field notes called “writing about
research progress” or WARPs; (3) the use of structured feedback
throughout the process in a systematic sequence every two weeks,
provided by both peers and faculty; (4) the use of models from a
variety of genres of the research literature; (5) and the use of
structured mini-lessons designed to expand students’ tools of
inquiry and explore teaching and learning, focusing especially on
critical skills for gathering, analyzing, and representing data.
What are the core features of teacher research in the
MA/Credential program at UC Davis?
Teacher research at UC Davis requires students to justify their
journey into their question through the exploration of their
learners’ needs as established through systematic data collection
of the learning environment and exploration of the literature.
Teacher research is mentored through a “scaffolded” approach that
provides support but pushes student TRs towards independence.
Teacher research builds on the rich experiences of the students’
preparation in the first year of the MA/Credential, including a
short inquiry conducted during student teaching as well as
methods classes taught by experienced teacher educators drawn
from the schools and scholars in teacher education and the core
Why do educators value teacher research?
We value teacher research in preparing teacher leaders because we
believe that teachers must be able to advocate, speak, and take
action, on behalf of the students they serve. To take action in
informed, ethical, and responsive ways, teachers must be skilled
in the tools of instruction and the habits of inquiry essential
to understand how to promote student learning. We value teacher
research because it is a powerful experience that develops a
richer understanding of teaching and learning. The steps of
teacher research—asking questions about students’ learning needs,
designing an intervention around a set of instructional
strategies to address these needs, planning systematic ways to
gather and analyze data in order to investigate the effects of
the intervention—develop habits of mind that enable teacher
leaders to make instructional decisions that further their
students’ academic achievement.