School of Education Prepares Teachers for Research Role

The School of Education prepares candidates to be educators of the twenty-first century: adept in technology, fluent in strategies to engage students to excel, and flexible to meet emerging challenges.

In this era of high-stakes testing and accountability, the role of the classroom teacher is increasingly growing to include collection and analysis of data to gauge and evaluate a variety of classroom factors, from new educational tools to student knowledge gains. Pace graduate students are prepared to meet the challenges that await them in the classroom by completing a rigorous research course, ED 690: Teacher as Researcher, prior to graduation.

“ED 690 has represented a long-standing commitment in all our programs to the idea that teachers are intellectuals who, if they put inquiry at the center of their practice, will yield better learning results for children of all ages,” says Pleasantville Department Chair Christine Clayton, EdD. 

“The course apprentices candidates in the habits of mind and the tools of practice that enable them to graduate as reflective practitioners who can actually use that reflective process to make positive change for individual students and their school communities,” she continues.

A Learning Process

The process begins through fieldwork observations where candidates identify an issue or area of need for student learning.  After framing the research question, the candidates examine past research findings to find approaches to combine with their own ideas to design a new, more effective approach. Candidates then implement their approach and gather data to evaluate the progress. The outcomes can impact future instructional approaches and assessment, says Fran Falk-Ross, PhD, who has taught ED 690 for several years.

“As I explain this to the graduate students, this cycle of research-based inquiry is really just good teaching,” says Dr. Falk-Ross. The process has important implications, she says. “Action research is an essential cycle of inquiry for social justice. It provides an organized format for investigation of pedagogical approaches.”

Candidates sometimes find the prospect of research intimidating, between taking charge of classroom instruction and effectively implementing a new learning intervention. But, Dr. Falk-Ross continues, as candidates learn and evaluate how to best support the all students’ learning, the process becomes one of empowerment.

“Teaching and research are similar activities and are much more parallel than most people realize,” says associate professor Joan Walker, PhD, who has also taught the course. “It is really important that teachers have this mindset and way of thinking that is data-driven.”

Teacher Researchers

Pace candidates understand and appreciate the teaching-research connection, as it prepares them to move forward in their careers.  “Teachers are researchers,” says Tamara Doiley, MST Childhood ’13, who completed ED 690 in December 2012. “We look for ways to reach students and assess the effectiveness of the strategies used and make adjustments where needed.”

Doiley, who graduated from Pace in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology, conducted a research project to help a first-grade English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) student in her student teaching assignment. “The Effect of Rhyming on Phonemic Awareness: An ESOL Student” came about after she noticed a student, recently emigrated from Africa who couldn’t speak English, becoming engaged in singing rhyming songs during morning meeting and at the close of the school day.

Tamara Doiley shares her research project with Dean Spencer during the Teacher as Researcher Exhibition.

To gauge the impact of rhyming and reinforcing gestures on the student’s learning, Doiley collected data in the form of the student’s classwork, homework, tests and informal observation. As a result of her focused study, the student was able to visually recognize letters and pictures, complete homework by recalling and following verbal directions. Post-intervention testing demonstrated the student’s successful knowledge retention. While she would have preferred more time to work with the student, Doiley sees great opportunities for her line of research.

“I feel that the strategies in my research can be used in my teaching when faced with an ESOL student and even [achieving] students as well,” she says. “The findings of my study can be useful to other educators as we share strategies that can be implemented in our classroom on any grade level. This all comes together to reach students on all levels of learning.”

Ashley Linda, MST Adolescent Education, was familiar with research having worked as a graduate assistant with Dr. Clayton. She became familiar with inquiry learning research prior to taking ED 690 in Fall 2012. “I couldn’t wait to begin my own research project and turn my own conceptualizations into practice,” she says of her project, “Teaching Students How to Question: The Socratic Seminar Inside an English Language Arts (ELA) Classroom.”

Linda used a student inquiry model to engage her urban high school students in discussions of Arthur Miller’s play “A View From the Bridge.” The play is a classical Greek drama set in 1950s Brooklyn, with mature content that is culturally relevant content to contemporary teens. Students were graded on a rubric with more points awarded for open-ended, relevant and insightful comments, and points lost for inappropriate or disrespectful comments or behavior. The key to Linda’s research was to get students to respond to questions with questions, and connect real issues to the text.

Ashley Linda explains the application of inquiry-based learning for her ED 690 project.

“Research is extremely important at this level of education,” she reflects. “It’s always important to question. And that question led to another, and another – hence my topic of study!”

“I learned that implementing inquiry in the classroom doesn’t always have to be a huge project. It can be done by promoting student autonomy and real-life discipline activity in the classroom, connecting the content to common core standards,” Linda says of her project.

“If I were to recreate this project, I would do so over a longer period of time,” she continues. who is currently working as a leave replacement teacher.

Skills For A New World

Not only are Pace graduates prepared to collect evidence to document and share best practices, they have the skills needed for grant writing and data reporting – skills which are needed in a new world of school funding and public reporting.

“As they complete their research, [our candidates] have learned to gather information about their students in careful, fair, and formalized ways in order to meet all students' needs,” says Dr. Falk-Ross. “As a result, they will be ready with research to support their teaching and assessment, and be able to contribute reliable information to state and local administrators to support the introduction of new programs and for curriculum development.”

The impact of this level of research can be substantial. Dr. Walker nominated a 2010 graduate student for recognition by the North East Research Association (NERA) award. The student won a regional award for research, and her paper on developing a peer-tutoring system in a high school biology class has since been downloaded from the NERA website more than 200 times by fellow educators and researchers alike.

For candidates like Linda, who is currently working as a leave replacement teacher, sees this level of research as helpful to meeting the multi-faceted challenges faced by today’s teachers.

“Research is helpful in backing up a claim, providing evidence. If there is something you want to do, something you want to learn, it always helps to see if someone out there has had the same questions and concerns as you,” she says.

“Research experience is just a piece of the puzzle.”