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 quarter.
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 disciplines.
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.