The ELC illustrates how teacher candidates and educators together undertake professional development by creating case studies of their Practicum placement. Case studies have notable strengths because, as stated by Stake (1995, p.1), they facilitate the exploration of rich, contextual information about specific challenges in each classroom and reveal why educators’ practice is as it is. Case Studies used with Action Research allow for the investigation and improvement of real teaching challenges in Practicum placement classrooms.
The ELC is aimed at educators becoming life-long learners who are empowered to investigate positive change in their own teaching. Rooted in children’s development, the ELC equips educators with a set of professional skills that enable them to implement developmentally-appropriate, research-backed, teaching strategies that are responsive to children’s current learning needs. The development of educators’ teaching skills in their own classrooms is at the very heart of effective and reflective professional development for it is on this premise that each child’s appropriate opportunities for development and learning rest. We hope our efforts may inspire the audience to create similar early learning communities in their early childhood settings.
Starting Point: Teacher Candidates’ Concern s in Practicum
A key characteristic of effective early childhood teacher education programs is demonstrated by alignment between the educational theory taught to teacher candidates in college courses, and the teaching practices those teacher candidates encounter during Practicum field placements.
Concurrently with the Practicum, teacher candidates at the college took a curriculum development course, and an assessment course, aimed at teaching 3 -5-year old children. During Practicum, teacher candidates were required to spend at least 75 hours in an early childhood field placement with a certified teacher. By the end of the semester, teacher candidates had to demonstrate satisfactory knowledge, understanding, and use of teacher education standards in their practice and lesson plan assignments they implemented during Practicum.
If the educational theory prescribed in teacher education standards used in teacher education programs and the teaching practices in field placement experiences are not closely aligned, the impact on teacher candidates can raise concern (Gismondi, Haser, 2003; Rust, 2009). Inconsistencies between theory and practice can leave teacher candidates feeling confused about their practice with children in classrooms. On the one hand, teacher candidates are required by their teacher education program to prepare assignments based on teacher education standards to implement during Practicum. On the other hand, the assignments must also accord with sometimes different teaching and care practices they encounter in their Practicum field placements. As a result, teacher candidates can come to believe that the theory taught in college courses, and the teaching practices used in field placements, are unrelated. This belief can perpetuate teacher candidates’ use of less effective educational and care practices in classrooms and reduce the quality of learning and development opportunities children experience.
NAEYC Standard s Alignment Issue s
Since 2002, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Standards (2009), were used in the college teacher education program and were also used in the ELC. NAEYC is a professional body in the USA, in which widely held truths about the theory, research, and practice that teacher candidates are expected to learn in teacher education programs, concerning the education and care of young children from birth to eight years are articulated. NAEYC standards (2009) can be seen at this link:
The NAEYC Standards (2009) are described as providing “a sustained Homevision of excellence for programs that prepare teacher candidates to work with young children between the ages of birth to eight years” (Hyson, Tomlinson, & Morris, 2009) and were organized under six Core Standards:
Standard 1: Promoting Child Development and Learning
Standard 2: Building Family and Community Relationships
Standard 3: Observing, Documenting and Assessing to Support Young Children and Families
Standard 4: Using Developmentally Effective Approaches to Connect with Children and Families
Standard 5: Using Content Knowledge to Build Meaningful Curriculum
Standard 6: Becoming a Professional
|Table 1.1 NAEYC Core Standards (2009)|
Key elements of each core standard highlighted the main aspects of each and expanded on the requirements for teacher candidates in early childhood degree programs. A version of NAEYC Standards (2009) included updates that placed more emphasis on Standard 5, concerning the teaching of content areas in early childhood education, and on Standard 1, concerning provision for the effective inclusion of each child with diverse learning needs in early childhood settings.
In the college early childhood teacher education program, NAEYC Standards (2009) served multiple purposes. They: (1) promoted competence in teacher candidates in the areas of ethics, child development, families, curriculum design, assessment, and professionalism; (2) shaped course assignments and rubrics that promoted focused assessment of teacher candidates’ competencies; (3) aligned the teacher education program with requirements for national accreditation; (4) aligned the program with New York State teacher education requirements; and (5) enabled smooth transfer of credit for teacher candidates who moved from community colleges to the teacher education program at the college.
Challenges arose during Practicum over how the “vision of excellence” portrayed in NAEYC Standards (2009) could be turned into reality in Practicum placements. The challenges and their implications are summarized in tables 1.2 and 1.3 below. The term “educator” collectively describes teachers, assistant teachers and administrators who hosted teacher candidates during the Practicum field placement.
College Teacher Education Program
Practicum Field Placements
Alignment between Early Childhood theory taught to teacher candidates in college, and conflicting practices they experienced in Practicum settings
Teacher candidates were required to prepare and implement assignments based on NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation Programs (2009) in Practicum settings
Educators’ practice was based on the particular Early Childhood Standards used in their setting
No collaboration existed between college faculty and educators in Practicum settings to ensure alignment existed between teacher candidates’ assignments and practice in Practicum settings
|Table 1.2: Summary of challenges that existed during Practicum|
Implication of Challenges
Early Childhood Program
Practicum Field Placements
Teacher candidates’ confusion
Teacher candidates reported confusion over the use of NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation Programs (2009) theory taught in college and their implementation in Practicum assignments…
…and conflicting practice they saw in Practicum
No collaboration existed between college faculty and educators in Practicum settings regarding consistent implementation of NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation Programs (2009) during Practicum
Teacher candidates’ mistaken perceptions
Teacher candidates commonly believed that Early Childhood theory taught in the teacher education program was unrelated…
…to Early Childhood practice they saw in Practicum
Concern about the quality of teacher candidates’ future teaching led to the formation of the Early Learning Community (ELC) designed to improve and align practice in Practicum settings with NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation Programs (2009)
|Table 1.3: Summary of the challenge implications for teacher candidates|
Teacher candidates’ comments in class discussions and entries in their journals, showed they were often “confused by having to prepare and teach lesson plans aligned with the 2009 NAEYC Standard 5: Using content knowledge to build meaningful curriculum” (page 15) for mathematics, science, social studies and the arts. Their confusion arose from rarely seeing children learning in these content areas in their Practicum classrooms. Other teacher candidates explained that because “literacy was huge in many Practicum classrooms, learning in mathematics, science, social studies and the arts was, by comparison, rarely seen.” As a result, teacher candidates found it difficult to assess children’s current understanding of concepts in these content areas, and plan and teach required developmentally-appropriate lesson plans. Teacher candidates also said it was difficult to find enough resources to support children’s learning of key concepts and skills in each of these content areas.
Teacher candidates’ beliefs concerning the disconnect between the early childhood theory they were taught in college courses, and some teaching practices they observed in Practicum, caused concern among early childhood college faculty. Such notions threatened to undermine implementation of NAEYC Standards (2009) in the future, when the teacher candidates became teachers themselves. Teacher candidates were at risk of not using recommended developmentally-appropriate practices (DAP) known to be most beneficial in supporting children’s learning in their Practicum placements.
DAP is described by NAEYC in Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8 (2009). The purpose of DAP is to promote excellence in early childhood education by providing a framework for best practice. Grounded in both research on child development and learning, and in the knowledge base regarding educational effectiveness, DAP defined the practices that did this best. In addition to the lack of DAP practices in some Practicum settings, educators in the ELC, identified the following teaching areas as particularly challenging: children’s ineffectual play; a lack of discrete activities to meet children’s individual learning needs; inappropriate management of children’s behavior; and insufficient opportunities for physical play.
Building the ELC
The search to find ways to help both teacher candidates and educators improve their teaching in Practicum placements was begun and the opportunity to create an ELC presented itself. An ELC is characterized by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child: Early Childhood Learning Community Examples. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/...ies-in-action/
“Rapid, breakthrough change cannot happen in the field of early childhood unless people, organizations, and systems learn from each other’s successes and failures. This requires a platform for asking and answering questions such as: which interventions work for which populations and why? The Center on the Developing Child facilitates the development of learning communities that provide the means for early childhood innovators to set goals, share results, and cultivate not only leaders, but also new ideas.”
This description accorded with our mission for our ELC. The strengths of Learning Communities, which featured in our ELC design, included goal sharing across agency boundaries, shared leadership, located in classrooms, local accountability, and shared results. At the same time, it was important to recognize obstacles that can exist in learning communities (Smith, 2001). Compliance with participating institutions in learning communities and their existing practice concerning, leadership structures, resource allocation, increased workload, time, curriculum design and willingness to make changes to teaching can all be contentious, may not be supported, and can affect anticipated outcomes. For these reasons, it was essential to find funding to put the ELC on a professional and independent footing.
Funding the ELC
Funding was necessary to secure participants’ involvement in the ELC and to pay them for the work they carried out. The New York State’s Office of Family and Children’s Services (NYSOFCS) Innovative Programs Initiative awarded the ELC $148,000 to provide professional development opportunities each semester over a two-year period.
The purposes of the grant were to: (1) establish the ELC to improve the alignment of NAEYC Standards between the early childhood curriculum development methods course and the Practicum field experience; (2) encourage teachers and teacher candidates in Practicum to use the same educational and care practices shown to be effective by current research (preferably NAEYC published research) to improve the quality of Practicum experiences offered to Practicum teacher candidates and the quality of childcare and educational services offered to preschool children (aged 3-5 years); (3) create ELC teams that each comprised two early childhood teachers (lead teacher and assistant teacher), a teacher candidate and a team leader that met in Practicum settings weekly for one semester; (4) provide educators and teacher candidates with a team leader to support them carry out and complete the professional development; (5) pay administrators of Practicum settings to provide substitute cover to release educators from their teaching and enable them to attend professional development team meetings each week; (6) pay team leaders, the librarian and the graduate assistant at an hourly rate for their work; (7) purchase books for training workshops, video cameras and digital voice recorders for data collection; (8) provide training to familiarize educators and teacher candidates with the implementation of Action Research in their classrooms to enable them to use it as a long-term problem-solving professional development strategy; (9) purchase materials for an end of semester conference where teams disseminated their Action Research findings.
The Institutional Review Board (IRB) was a legal requirement that had to be satisfied before the ELC could start. The IRB comprised an evaluation of the proposed research by a panel to ensure that all participants were protected from physical, psychological and sociological harm. Under IRB Category 11, it was determined that participants’ involvement was ethical. A satisfactory IRB review signaled that the ELC could start.
A letter was sent requesting families’ permission for their children to participate in the ELC by being video recorded in everyday classroom activities. Of the 100 families that were contacted each semester, approximately 95 families signed to give their permission. The children of families that declined were not included in video recordings or any other aspect of the ELC. Families did not participate in the professional development directly.
A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) contract issued by the NYSOFCS itemized the roles and responsibilities of both the College and of each participating early childhood agency during each grant-funded semester. The College had to agree to meet grant goals, facilitate teachers’ team leaders’ and children’s participation, communicate with families as necessary, communicate with NYSOFCS as stipulated, and manage the budget. Administrators and directors of Early Childhood agencies and settings were required to communicate with their executive boards and get participation clearance, give permission for video tapes of children to be recorded, provide a quiet room where professional development teams could meet each week for one hour to watch video recordings and reflect on their action research, support teams over the semester, provide substitute cover to release teachers from their teaching to enable them to attend professional development team meetings each week, oversee the budget and keep all grant materials for a statutory six year period. The MOA was agreed and signed by senior administrators at the College and by the senior administrator of each Early Childhood agency.
Directors of early childhood settings in which teacher candidates were placed for Practicum were each invited to participate in the ELC for one semester. If they accepted, they signed an agreement indicating that they would meet all grant requirements as determined by the College and by NYSOFCS. In addition, a sub-contract issued by the College Research Foundation set out the requirements and responsibilities that the Directors’ governing board must agree to concerning: checking grant implementation in their Practicum classrooms, being familiar with ELC activity and responding to curriculum and teaching changes as they transpired.
The Theory of Action Research
Action Research has already been introduced in this book. Action Research was a professional development approach that was known to authors and so were confident to use it in the ELC. Definitions of Action Research illustrate why it was suited to the ELC. Cochran-Smith & Lytle, (1993) defined it as research that educators do to investigate their own teaching in their own classrooms, to better understand and improve it. Arhar, Meyers & Rust, (2003) said action research contributes to the development of improved early childhood educational practice and theory.
Other characteristics of Action Research that suited the ELC included promoting professional collaboration across different early childhood agencies, and, between different educators, teacher candidates and team leaders in Practicum settings. This collaboration had the potential to spread improved teaching practice further and support greater consistency between college methods courses and teaching practices in Practicum field placements (Karp, 2006). However, it must be acknowledged that collaboration among team members, who had not worked together before, could be risky, because it may require them to change their teaching, with uncertain outcomes for children in their own classrooms (Griffiths, 1990).
Another advantage of using Action Research in the ELC was that it was a democratic form of professional development that put teams in charge of their own professional development. The process did not impose prescriptive change on participants which they might resist (Fullen, 1993; Bainer & Wright, 2000). Instead, Action Research gave the teams choice and control over their professional decisions and actions. Teams developed skills that put the onus on them to improve their own teaching both now and in the future. Teams were encouraged to ask questions and explore their own values about teaching challenges they faced, that revealed their current levels of professional thinking and understanding (McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 2000).
The use of a constructivist approach in Action Research was helpful because it recognized that educators’ teaching knowledge was built overtime and in layers of experience. New knowledge about new teaching practices in Action Research would then be built on prior knowledge and values about their teaching. A constructivist approach used in Action Research made it more likely that new teaching practices would be understood by teams and incorporated into their teaching (Kochan, 2000).
The problem-solving focus of Action Research accorded with the ELC because practical action and negotiated change were called for to address teaching challenges educators faced in their classrooms. When transformed into educators’ new understanding about their teaching, problem-solving can improve practice and learning opportunities for team members and for children. More consistent practice in Practicum classrooms, that was more closely aligned with NAEYC standards at the college, could then be expected. (Karp, 2006, Helmsley-Brown and Sharp, 2003). However, Action Research has been criticized for its lack of rigor in comparison with scientific methods of educational research (Brause & Myer, 1993 p.133). A lack of replication beyond the classroom in which the Action Research was carried out was criticized by Dick (1993). However, the main aim of the ELC was not to create new educational knowledge to be tested, measured, compared across large-scale samples. Instead, it was to provide professional development opportunities to teams of educators in Practicum classrooms, to improve their knowledge and practice, concerning teaching challenges and closer alignment with NAEYC Standards (2009).
Training in the ELC
At the start of each semester, training workshops were provided by faculty at the college, to prepare Hometeam leaders, teacher candidates, directors and educators for the roles and responsibilities they faced in the ELC. Team leaders’ roles and responsibilities. Training was undertaken at the start of the semester to prepare team leaders to guide and support teams in: using Action Research methods by using texts by Meyers & Rust, 2003, and Rust & Clark; following a weekly schedule to ensure project completion at the end of the semester; reading literature on the identified teaching problem and child development; selecting a strategy from the literature for implementation; creating an assessment tool to evaluate the implementation of the strategy; helping teacher candidates use video recorders and voice recorders to gather data; supporting the team in data analysis, reflection and formulating results. Each week throughout the semester, the team leader would lead hourly professional development team meetings that took place in the Practicum placement.
The roles and responsibilities of teacher candidates who agreed to participate in the professional development community. Teacher candidates attended a training workshop at the beginning of the semester and attended weekly professional development team meetings throughout the semester. Specifically, responsibilities of Practicum students were to: find professional literature that helped the team overcome a self-chosen teaching or care problem that was related to current NAEYC standards for initial teacher preparation; operate a video camera to record the implementation of a remedial strategy; operate a voice recorder to record weekly team meeting discussions; collaborate with the graduate student to embed iMovie video recording clips into a PowerPoint presentation; and lead the team presentation of their project at an end of semester conference.
Following each team’s identification of their teaching or care problem, teacher candidates met with the college Teaching Materials Center librarian to search early childhood electronic databases for relevant journal articles that their teams could read. Journal articles published by NAEYC, that strongly reflected NAEYC Standards were copied and read by teams during team meetings. Journal articles were used to help teams learn more about their teaching or care problem, identify strategies to improve it, and, at the same time align teaching in Practicum classrooms with NAEYC standards.
A graduate assistant media technician based at the college provided training to teacher candidates on using video cameras, voice recorders and the construction of PowerPoint presentations in which iMovie clips were embedded. The presentations were shared with the local early childhood community at an end of semester professional development conference held at the college.
Each semester administrative duties comprised arranging and copying materials for training events for participants; arranging secure storage of grant materials (particularly video recordings of children in Practicum classrooms), downloading voice recordings onto a computer, filing documents related to participating teams and settings, checking video cameras and voice recorders worked properly, working with the media technician to support Practicum students in the construction of iMovie PowerPoint presentations.
The ELC training consisted of familiarizing team leaders, teacher candidates, directors and educators in using Action Research in their classrooms, by reading chapters from McNiff (2002) and by familiarizing them with each consecutive stage set out in HomeTable 1.4 below. New stages added to the ELC Action Research model included teams at Stage (5) through Stage (8). The reading of professional literature was designed to establish the habit of teams consulting and using literature together. Through reading, teams new to Action Research were provided with early childhood professional knowledge that was concrete and was known to improve the teaching challenges they faced (Meyers & Rust, 2003; Dickinson, 2002). Reading deepened teams’ knowledge about their teaching challenge and ensured their decision-making opportunities within Action Research. Abundant examples of early childhood educational research existed in journals, but fewer case studies illustrated how educators used reading to improve their teaching (Kochran, 2000, Nelson, Leffler, & Hansen, 2009).
During Action Research, teams were introduced to two sources of literature that focused on the teaching challenge they identified. First, Using the NAEYC journal, Young Children was an obvious choice, because articles commonly reflected NAEYC Standards (2009), thereby modeling developmentally-appropriate practices, that had the potential to improve alignment between College class content and teaching practices in Practicum placements. Once teams had identified their teaching challenge, teacher candidates worked with the librarian at the College to carry out electronic database literature searches. Keywords connected to the teaching challenge were used to identify relevant journal articles at the website: if relevant articles were not found in Young Children, other professional journals were available for searching e.g. Early Childhood Education Journal and Early Childhood Research and Practice.
Second, Yardsticks (Wood, 2007) was an informative reference book that enabled teams to check whether their chosen strategies in journals were developmentally-appropriate to implement with pre-school children in their Practicum placements. Yardsticks enabled teams to revise their understanding of typical pre-operational child development and the factors that affected it. For three-year-old pre-operational children not included in Yardsticks, other early childhood developmental texts were recommended, e.g., Wortham (2006); Allen & Marotz (2010).
Following identification and video recording of their teaching challenge, teams were prepared to critically read 3-4 relevant literature articles. Guided by the team leader, the team evaluated each article and then agreed on one strategy to implement in their placement. At the same time, teams referred to Yardsticks to evaluate the developmental appropriateness of the strategy, relative to the developmental stages and characteristics of the children in their class.
During each of four semesters, six participating teams followed a weekly calendar (see Table 1.5 below.) The calendar was designed to provide teams with clarity about weekly workflow and timely completion of their Action Research by the end of the semester.
|Semester||Semester week number and week date||Date and time of team meeting||Activity||Location|
|Fall||Week 1, 8.18.||Mon 8.18. 3.00-4.30||Team leaders’ induction and training||ACCC|
|Week 2, 9.1.||Mon 9.1. 3.00-4.30||Complete IRB clearance||College|
|Week 3, 9.8.||Thurs 9.8. 4.30-5.30||Directors, teachers Practicum students and team leaders’ induction and training||College|
|Week 4, 9.15.||Mon 9.15. 3.00-4.00||Identify the problem, video and view||Preschool setting|
|Week 5, 9.22.||Mon 9.22. 3.00-4.00||Find literature on teaching problem and identify a strategy to implement||College library|
|Week 6, 9.29.||Mon 9.29. 3.00-4.00||Plan, model, implement and record implementation of strategy.||Preschool setting|
|Week 7, 10.6.||Mon 10.6. 3.00-4.00||Implement, record and reflect||Preschool setting|
|Mid grant payment||Week 8, 10.13.||Mon 10.13. 3.00-4.00||Implement, record and reflect|
|Week 9, 10.20.||Mon 10.20. 3.00-4.00||Implement, record and reflect||Preschool setting|
|Week 10, 10.27.||Mon 10.27. 3.00-4.00||Implement, record and reflect||Preschool setting|
|Week 11, 11.3.||Mon 11.3. 3.00-4.00||Analyze videos and identify findings||Preschool setting|
|Week 12, 11.10.||Mon 11.10. 3.00-4.00||Reflect and prepare documentation panels||Preschool setting|
|Week 13, 11.17.||Mon 11.17. 3.00-4.00||Reflect and prepare documentation panels||Preschool setting|
|Week 14, 11.24.||Fall Break||Thanksgiving||College library|
|Week 15, 12.1||Thurs 12.4. 2.30 -5.00||Mini-conference presentations||College|
|Final payment||Week 16, 12.8.||Mon 12.8. 3.00-4.00||Team leaders’ final evaluation meeting||ACCC|
|Table 1.5. Weekly calendar for team activity over one semester|
Data collection and analysis methods were used by teams to monitor the implementation of their strategy. Teams used mixed methods to collect and analyze data throughout their Action Research because both methods illuminated and complemented each other (Wellington, 2000). During weekly team meetings, data analysis enabled teams to quantify, evaluate and reflect on the impact of strategies on the teaching challenges they faced, on alignment with NAEYC Standards (2009), on educators’ and teacher candidates’ professional understanding and on children’s learning (Bell, 1999). The data collection tools used during Action Research comprised: weekly report forms; video recordings; assessment checklists; voice recordings and, questionnaires. Team leaders completed the weekly report forms after each weekly team meeting. The purpose of weekly report forms was to: (1) indicate the action research work that teams were to undertake each week of the semester; (2) keep a weekly log of each team’s progress in implementing the action research; (3) enable team leaders to identify and record findings during the action research; (4) assess how the team responded during weekly meetings throughout the semester and provide support as needed; and (5) use data recorded on weekly report forms in final State reports.
Team leaders analyzed the weekly report forms by searching for patterns, themes and repetitions that were relevant to the Action Research investigation. Team leaders used markers to color-code data into different categories. Categories were named to label common patterns identified during the implementation of the Action Research (Delamont, 1992). Categories were compared to reveal findings in the Action Research and illustrated how teams responded at each stage of implementation.
Video recordings were an efficient tool for teams to use to gather data in the ELC because they removed the burden to record events in writing and so reduced work load. Videos captured events in Practicum placements as they happened and enabled teams to watch them repeatedly. Teacher candidates used a mini-DV video camera and video tapes to record their team’s implementation of one strategy over a semester. Although most teacher candidates were already proficient in using a mini-DV video camera, they underwent training to ensure they were competent in operating this technology. Teacher candidates used ethical actions in the videoing of young children in placements during Practicum.
Videos (each approximately 20 minutes long) were recorded by teacher candidates about 4-5 times over the semester. Recorded videos were stored by the graduate assistant who converted them into document files in readiness for analysis (Stemler, 2001). Teams watched videos at weekly team meetings to evaluate, analyze and reflect on: strategy implementation; impact on the teaching challenge, how teaching was affected; how children’s learning was impacted and how far alignment with NAEYC Standards was achieved (Plowman, 1999; Heath & Hindmarsh, 2002; Walker, 2002; Walsh, 2007).
As teams watched each video recording, they used a checklist to consistently analyze it. (See Table 1.6 below: The strategy assessment checklist). Teams counted the frequency of outcomes observed in each video tape and compared the result from one tape to the next. Each week, teams answered the same questions about their Action Research that enabled them to consistently evaluate and reflect on the impact of strategy implementation over the semester.
Strategy Assessment Checklist
The strategy assessment checklist is used when teams view videos of strategy implementation in their classrooms. Assessment criteria come from: (1) categories in the video data and (2) strategy outcomes identified by the team as illustrating effectiveness of the strategy. The assessment grid is used to record quantitative examples of the criteria in the frequency column and qualitative examples in the Comments column.
|Table 1.6: The strategy assessment checklist|
Team reflection after video is viewed:
- Is the strategy working? How?
- Is the original teaching challenge being improved? How?
- Is the children’s learning improving? How?
- Is your teaching changing? How?
- Is your understanding of your teaching changing? How?
Team leaders used a digital voice recorder to record weekly team-meeting discussions. These were stored electronically by the graduate assistant on a laptop computer in a Wave voice format (WAV). Digital voice recorders were simple to use and left the team free to concentrate on discussion rather than writing down what was said (The National Centre for Technology in Education 2007). Each week teacher candidates returned the voice recorder, with saved voice files on it, to the team leader, who later analyzed Voice files qualitatively, by grouping recurring themes into named categories, concerning the impact of the strategy. At the end of each semester, analyzed data along with team discussions about video-tape data were used in the writing up of NYOFCS final reports.
At the end of each semester, questionnaires were given to the twelve participating educators in classrooms, and to the six participating teacher candidates, to gather their written evaluations of the Action Research professional development model. By this time, educators and teacher candidates had experienced a whole semester of Action Research professional development to reflect upon. Educators and teacher candidates were invited to anonymously write their responses because it gave them an opportunity to write freely.
Educators’ questionnaires included both closed and open-ended questions that enabled both quantitative and qualitative analysis of data. Closed questions required them to check a Likert rating scale that asked them to identify how far they agreed or disagreed with a statement about the Action Research. These responses were analyzed quantitatively. Accompanying open-ended questions enabled educators to explain their ratings. The open-ended questions were analyzed qualitatively by looking for repetitions and patterns in their responses that were formed into categories and named (McNiff, Lomax and Whitehead, 1996). The questionnaire for teacher candidates comprised open-ended questions that required qualitative analysis using the same qualitative methods described for educators.
There is a responsibility among early childhood Action Researchers to disseminate the processes and results of their Action Research so that others may learn from it and improved teaching methods are used in policy documents and in classrooms (McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 2000, O’Hanlon 1994, Henderson 2004). Early childhood Action Research is often of a case-study design involving a small number of people working in one classroom. It is important that early childhood Action Researchers move beyond the confines of their own classrooms and become contributors to the early childhood field by showing others what they did and the impact it had on their own teaching development and on children’s learning. When Action Researchers share their work at conferences and in workshops, they reach a larger audience. Action researchers can help other early childhood educators who face similar teaching and care problems to the ones they faced. They can demonstrate to administrators and faculty who work in different agencies, how theory and practice can work in harmony and help align Standards to promote greater consistency between theory and practice during Practicum for teacher candidates.
Early childhood educators and teacher candidates are commonly in the audience at early childhood conferences but less often do they make presentations together about their own Action Research carried out in their own classrooms (Nias, 1993). Early childhood educators and teacher candidates who have participated in Action Research together, have to be supported by more experienced supervisors and administrators, to go public about their professional development work, because of its authenticity. Reporting on the processes and results of early childhood Action Research that is located in classrooms with young children, provides the most compelling evidence of what works, and, what is therefore beneficial to future early childhood policy and practice. It also provides alternatives to present notions that early childhood professional development is about implementing Standards, without regard to important processes that support improved outcomes, and also, that purchased and even scripted programs imported into classrooms are the way to improve educators’ practice.
The opportunity for ELC teams to disseminate their Action Research work took place at half-day conferences held at the college at the end of each semester. Six participating teams showed their 20 minute-long iMovie PowerPoint presentation to invited members of the local early childhood community that included New York State Office of Child and Family Services (NYSOCFS) officials, librarians, technical staff, faculty, Practicum directors and other Practicum students. About 60 delegates attended each conference. In addition, about three team leaders and teacher candidates showed their iMovie PowerPoint presentations at State early childhood conferences, to further spread the model at work. In addition, three team leaders presented their teams’ Action Research work at national early childhood conferences.
Teacher candidates worked on their presentations throughout the semester of Action Research that included writing slides, editing and inserting video clips and voice recording clips and, reporting and reflecting on research results. At each end of semester conference, and with their teams present, teacher candidates led the presentation of their Action Research and answered questions from the audience. A rubric was used to evaluate teacher candidates’ work and course credit duly awarded.
At the end of the grant implementation, IMovie PowerPoint presentations were organized into a database of DVDs. These were used in subsequent early childhood college methods classes to model consistency of NAEYC Standards based college methods course content and teaching in Practicum placements. In addition, databases illustrated changed teaching among educators that resulted in improved learning opportunities for both teacher candidates and children. Final case-study reports of Action Research work undertaken at each participating Practicum setting and its results were submitted to NYSOCFS at the end of each semester. These reports constituted a permanent record of the ELC at work.
In Part II of this book, six ELC case studies of early childhood professional development are presented showing what teams of educators did to improve the teaching challenges they faced in their classrooms. Each case study show how teams used our ELC Action Research model to investigate teaching challenges in their classrooms; aligned new teaching practices more closely with NAEYC early childhood professional standards for initial teacher preparation; and reported on the responses of participants to the ELC. The six case studies were selected for inclusion in this book because they represented the same teaching challenges reported by teacher candidates, concerning: children’s poor quality free play; few opportunities for children to explore concepts in content areas; the problematical behavior of young boys; and, a lack of effective inclusion of each child with diverse learning needs.
To help readers, a summary of the Action Research carried out in each case study is provided at the start of each chapter.