Teacher Research: Improving Practice and
Developing Teacher Voice Among Diverse
Students in Early Childhood Education
Barbara Henderson
San Francisco State University
These materials describe Teacher Research (TR),
and how we use it in the graduate program at San
Francisco State University.
This slide show provides a resource for teacher
to see how TR programs can be developed, and
to introduce the concept and skills of Teacher Research to
graduate students,
upper level undergraduates, or
practicing teachers beginning a collaborative TR group.
Organization of these Materials
1. Defining Teacher Research.
2. Describing the graduate program at San
Francisco State University.
3. Steps new teacher researchers can take to
begin a study based on their practice.
4. Starred words throughout the document
appear in a Glossary.
Defining Teacher Research
Teacher research is undertaken by “insiders” in the
TR studies address one’s own practice
TR is systematically planned and involves data
collection, analysis, and public presentation of
TR includes an action component, that is, the
practitioner observes a problem, takes action on it,
and observes the results.
TR studies have implications for others. Findings
may speak to local, regional, national, or global policy
on education, children, and families.
Teacher Research Components
Looks at children's learning and development
using data that captures children’s voices
Looks at our own learning and development
in personal & professional ways
Highlights teachers’ & administrators’ voices
and demonstrates their role as knowledge
Requires self-study of our practice
Is inquiry-based & reflective
Emphasizes qualitative research approaches
Student Demographics of ECE Graduate
Students at SFSU: Linguistic Diversity
25% are international students or adult immigrants
who speak languages other than English as their first
20% immigrated to the U.S. as young children or are
first generation immigrant and bilingual (e.g., EnglishSpanish, English-Cantonese).
55% come from families who have been in the U.S.
for two or more generations. Most of these students
are monolingual English-speakers.
Student Demographics of ECE Graduate
Students at SFSU: Racial & Ethnic Diversity
25% European American heritage
25% Asian American heritage (including Pacific
10% African American heritage
5% Latina American heritage
10% Latinas from Central and South America
15% Asian, from Asia, India, and the Pacific Islands
5% from countries in Europe
5% from countries in Africa
Student Demographics of ECE Graduate
Students at SFSU: Professional Diversity
65% our students are teachers including:
25% administer early childhood and afterschool programs
preschool teachers (45% of total),
infant-toddler caregivers (10% of total)
elementary teachers (10% of total).
district-run sites,
private non-profits,
state-sponsored preschools,
home-based day cares, and
Head Start centers.
15% are in allied fields, including ECE evaluators, teacher
trainers, and social service professionals.
Teacher Research is the Centerpiece of
Graduate Work in ECE at SFSU
Courses focus on teaching the skills of Teacher
Research along with course content. Three
foundational courses are:
Students integrate TR skills through a 4th course:
Cognitive Development for ECE
Social, Emotional and Physical Development for ECE
Narrative Inquiry and Memoir for ECE
Practitioner Research in ECE
Courses have a sociocultural perspective and value
the home language and culture students bring to the
experience of doing TR.
Courses lead to a culminating field study in TR.
Teacher Research Skills are Built
throughout Courses and Assignments
Courses and the major papers for each
course are laid out in the following flowchart.
 In this flowchart, 4 of the major courses are
shown as boxes, with course projects shown
as attached tags.
 The flowchart shows how courses lead to the
culminating field study, which is depicted as a
Flowchart Showing How Elements of Teacher
Research are Taught in 4 Major Courses
TR Skills Taught in the Graduate
Course on Cognitive Development
A TR study focused on one’s
own teaching and the learning
& development of a focal
student or group of students
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 Pre-test  Post-Test
 Chronological
 Outcome seeking
 Discourse analysis* of
 Analysis of child’s skill, or
conceptual development
TR Skills Taught in the Graduate Course on
Social, Emotional, & Physical Development
Literature Reviews
that also integrate
teachers’ observations
of children
Skills Developed:
Critically interpret literature
in the field
Compare across literature
from a range of related fields
Integrate literature into the
argument of a paper
Integrate literature with your
own experience
Improve clarity of writing
TR Skills Taught in the Graduate Course
on Narrative Inquiry & Memoir in ECE
Collection of personal
narratives, professional
narrative, and other
expressive writing around
a theme
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Elements of Collection:
Vignettes that capture
moments of life
Narratives about students
and teaching
Poetry based on life
Other visual arts to express
life experience
TR Skills Taught in the Graduate Course
on Practitioner Inquiry in ECE
Skills Developed
Teacher research paper
on topic of choice (serves
as a pilot for many
students’ culminating Field
Identify a question that holds
your passion
Make that question
Collect relevant data
Organize and analyze data
Collaborate with other TRs to
give and receive critique
Develop the writing habits of an
See implications of your findings
that impact policy
Write to communicate with
practitioners and policy makers
Criteria for Quality Applied to Culminating
Teacher Research Field Studies & Theses
Completed at SFSU
Is the question posed researchable by
objective & expressive means?
Is the question is significant within the field of
ECE (e.g., current & relevant, original, of the
right scope)?
Has the author made links to the relevant
Was the study designed to effectively
address the research question?
Does the paper use an effective writing style?
Do the findings use a range of qualitative and
narrative inquiry* methodologies to present
evidence for claims?
Are there implications from the findings for
others outside of the teacher him or herself?
Undertaking Teacher Research
Begin with a real question, a problem, or
puzzle you have about your work
Research-based and practical/teachingbased
Action oriented -- one possible frame for
inquiry, “How can I…?”
Is done in conscious & systematic manner
Outline of the Steps within
Teacher Research Projects
1. Wondering about an issue, challenge, or new situation -- a genuine prompt for
inquiry that originates with the practitioner
2. Is the question I’ve asked researchable through objective means?
3. Using question frames to clarify the research:
a. “How can I…?”
b. “What is happening when…and what accounts for this?”
4. Study design: knowing how you will address your research question through data
collection and organization of the final product
Data collection: what to collect
Data analysis: tools to interpret data
Writing: data collection, data analysis, findings
Critical feedback on in-progress findings and early drafts
Implications of local findings
a. Making links to other literature
b. Realizing the impact of findings for other teachers and policy makers
10. Public sharing of products
Ask a Genuine Question,
Ask a Researchable Question
Starting Question:
“Should war and weapon play
ever be allowed in ECE
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Researchable Questions:
1. “What changes did I observe
in children’s play when we
shifted our policy so that
certain kinds of war and
weapon play were
2. “What effect did a change in
policy have on my practice
as an educator, in particular
how I viewed girls’ and boys’
play styles?”
Framing a Question by Using an Action
Research Frame, “How Can I…?”
How can I improve…
 my teaching of emergent literacy
with infants and toddlers?
 my practices for engaging children
with clay?
 materials to develop children’s
concepts of number?
 children’s observation of natural
phenomenon to develop science
 my use of authentic experiences
such as field trips?
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Framing a Question by Using Daily
Events as a Springboard for Inquiry
Ask, “What is happening when…and what accounts for
this?” For example:
What happens when children are called to circle and what
accounts for their behavior during this transition?
What is happening when children are in conflict and what
accounts for my reaction to step in and solve the situation?
What happens when children use materials in novel ways
and what accounts for their occasional ability to collaborate
for extended periods?
What is happening when children engage together in “goofy”
play, and what accounts for the energy this brings to their
Defining a question for a teacher research study demands
flexibility on the part of the teacher researcher.
Teacher researchers’ questions will narrow as the research
unfolds, but they may also shift. Both changes are positive.
For example, what starts out as a case study of a child, may
become a self-study of oneself as a teacher.
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Study Design
In qualitative research, the design, like the
research question is also somewhat
Nonetheless, you must have some idea of
how you will design the study so that you can
get started.
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Examples for Study Design &
Organization for Teacher Research
Chronological: documents changes that occur from the start
to the end of a project
Case Study: choose a child who poses an issue and describe
one’s teaching from the perspective of how it affects him or her
Comparative Case Study: choose two children to illustrate
how curriculum, materials, or the classroom environment are
experienced differently by children
Self-study: a case study of oneself as a teacher
Thematic: uncover the pattern of overarching themes that run
through data, and then present excerpts of data to document
these aspects of teaching,learning, and development
Data in Teacher Research is
Collected from a Variety of Sources
Reflective teacher journals*
Observational fieldnotes*
Student work samples (art, writing, numbers)
Photographs of children, children’s work, the setting, and materials
Audiotape of class interactions, then selectively transcribed
Videotape of class interactions
selectively transcribed
used as still photos
Interviews with colleagues or families
Surveys collected from parents, colleagues, or children
Chart paper you used during lessons
School documents (e.g., newsletters, faculty manual)
Tallies of events or interactions (make a data collection sheet)
Data Analysis
Discourse analysis* of speech samples
Analysis of photographs
Analysis of children’s work
Quantitative summary and analysis of something you
counted (e.g., event, response, words, time elapsed)
Patterns found in interviews
Grounded theory* analysis of fieldnotes and teacher journal
Narrative Inquiry*: narratives to pose questions and provide
perspectives on the situation
Memoir: use of your life story to illuminate current teaching
Habits of Writing
Writing is part of data collection: fieldnotes, teacher
journals, interviews.
Qualitative data analysis requires writing.
Data memos written to a collaborative group of
teacher researchers help to verify findings as
research is in-progress.
Sharing the results of TR is part of the cycle of
inquiry, so teacher researchers must be prepared and
supported to write final products on their findings.
TR findings have implications for policy; therefore,
documents should be distributed beyond education
(e.g., op-ed piece, policy input for legislation).
Embarking as a Writer: Diverse
Populations of Teacher Researchers
Writing within the inquiry cycle goes to different audiences and
serves different purposes.
Not all writing should be corrected, or even seen by others.
TRs need to ask their own questions about the response they
need to their writing.
Different audiences give different responses.
Good writing is well edited. All writing presented publicly will
have gone through editing and revision.
By reading and responding to other teacher researchers’ work,
TRs learn more about the structure, content, and form of written
TR is about finding ones’ voice and seeing its impact.
Giving & Receiving Feedback
from Critical Colleagues*
Teacher research is collaborative in nature.
Critical colleagues at one’s school site offer an
important insider perspective.
Critical colleagues from other sites provide distance
that can strengthen the trustworthiness of an
Data based one’s own perceptions, practices, and
judgments need external response for verification.
TRs see their own projects more clearly when they
work with others.
Collaboration provides emotional and practical
Teacher research’s central goal is to increase
access and equity within schools.
TR can improve conditions at school sites for
children, families, and teaching staff.
Classroom-based, insider, qualitative inquiry
like TR has implications that stretch beyond a
classroom’s walls.
Next Steps:
Roles for Teacher Educators
Teacher researchers need support to see links to
Teacher researchers need to share resources to find
similar educational research that can be compared
with their findings.
Teacher researchers need confidence to see that
their findings can make a difference to other teachers
and for policy makers.
Teacher researchers need support and facilitation to
reach public outlets, so their findings can take this
next step.
critical colleagues: a term from action research that describes peers who participate in research to provide one another with feedback
on the accuracy, trustworthiness, and depth of analysis, findings, and implications of the inquiry
discourse analysis: an approach to interpreting conversations where transcribed speech is treated as text and taken apart to find
patterns, for example by focusing on turn-taking, initiation of content or linguistic style, or types of responses given by each
emergent: developing in-progress through a feedback loop with other people who are impacted by the process. Curriculum may be
emergent when it is initiated by children and facilitated by teachers. Qualitative research is emergent when the exact question
addressed or the types of data collected and analyzed develop once the inquiry has already begun.
fieldnotes: a term from ethnography that describes writing done in a classroom or community to captures details of what is said and
done by the participants. The researcher attempts to distinguish between observed data and one’s own judgments on a situation.
grounded theory: an idea developed by Glaser & Straus in 1967 where knowledge about a set of data arises from an ongoing
conceptual analysis of the observed phenomena. The researcher develops knowledge by creating an explanation that can
predict and account for the recorded phenomena, that is, a creates a “theory.” This theory is then checked back to the original
situation to check its truth. Data collection and analysis approaches are modified based on the new perspective provided by this
theory of events. At the same time, the theory is fine-tuned through a cycle of interpretation and rechecking with events and
informants within the setting. The theory is, therefore, founded or “grounded” on the details of those events.
narrative inquiry: an artistically influenced research approach that uses stories, vignettes, and narrative poems to capture and
question events. Representing multiple perspectives on a situation in a believable manner is crucial. Different audiences will
interpret findings variously based on their own readings and experiences, which is valued within this methodology.
teacher journal: a personal document that includes reflection, critique, celebration, and ranting on teaching practices, reactions to
instruction, students, administration, families, and the research process. These notes can serve as data or may provide support
and direction to the teacher researcher for data collection in more public documents.

How Teacher Research Helps a Diverse Students in ECE