“Teacher as Researcher” Presentations Close Out Semester in Westchester & New York City

The School of Education is always delighted to celebrate the emerging scholarship among our teacher candidates completing their “Teacher as Researcher” coursework at the end of their graduate studies. This semester was no different, although in addition to our presentations in Westchester, we hosted an evening of research presentations on the New York City campus for the first time in many years.

“Teacher as Researcher” takes graduate candidates through the process of designing and implementing an action research plan, a skill which is becoming more important in contemporary classrooms. 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.

The ability to conduct research-quality investigations in the classroom is becoming a critical skill for classroom teachers, no matter where they teach. “Good classroom research informs practice, which is critical in the age of accountability and data-driven instruction,” said Brian Evans, EdD, Chair of the New York City department of the School of Education.

“Classroom practices that have potential to immediately impact student achievement include gathering and analyzing student data, and subsequently making data-based classroom decisions,” he continued. “Research has the potential to directly impact classroom instruction and student success.”

In addition to satisfying the intense call for meaningful data collection and analysis in schools and educational institutions at all levels, research can also help teachers refine their approaches and skills. “This research enables students to be reflective of their own practice and become more effective and efficient teachers,” said Lauren Birney, EdD, Assistant Professor in the School of Education on the New York City campus. Dr. Birney is one of the faculty members who teaches the course and guides 25 students each semester through the research process.

The course prepares candidates to undertake a research project from inception to presentation. Candidates create a research plan that can be implemented with the approval of school administration. “Upon completion of the course and project, students then have the capacity to conduct their own research, implement various plans and write articles and papers that justify their finding,” Dr. Birney said. “This course is valuable in that it teaches students how to plan a research project, implement the research and lastly, write a significant paper validating their findings and data.”

The Teacher as Researcher presentations across both campuses reflect a wide diversity of learning challenges and opportunities. Topics there ranged from questions around technology in the classroom contributing to content retention among students, to strategies to manage student behavior.

“In my experience,” she shares, “This is truly the candidates’ favorite course as it allows for autonomy, implementation of ideas and content and creates a tangible project.”

The act of undertaking research can be intimidating to candidates--at first. Candice Batson, MST ’14, presented at this first New York City presentation, admits this much, but that the end result was well-worth the effort. “Although teacher research can be a daunting endeavor, the insight it provides is tremendous for teacher instruction, student learning and as a contribution to the field of education,” she said. “It allows the educator to take a deeply reflective look at the teaching and learning that is occurring in the classroom. Based on these acts of reflection questions are formed, hypotheses are tested and data is analyzed so that the teacher is able to create a highly effective learning experience tailored to the unique needs of their students.”

Ms. Batson’s class, taught by Peter McDermott, PhD, engaged in collaborative examinations of different data collection and analysis methodologies, which gave all the candidates the opportunity to explore multiple approaches to their research question. She also brainstormed with other School of Education professors, which further enriched her research examination.

Ms. Batson is currently student teaching at an elementary school in Lower Manhattan, and her project “Outdoor Learning Activities and their Effect on Children’s Classroom Achievement,” is directly connected to that experience. “Reflecting on the real challenges faced in that experience helped to ensure my methods were authentic,” she said.

Ms. Batson drew from her previous professional experiences, particularly leading hands-on cooking programs for children. “Young students need concrete experiences to bring abstract concepts to life. I have seen firsthand the immense cognitive, social and emotional benefits that can come from connecting students to the world around them in an experiential way,” she said. “I believe that there are immense opportunities for organic learning opportunities that exist in our natural and urban world and I wanted to explore that with my study.”

Her research proposal sought to determine whether using outdoor learning activities will positively affect third grade students’ academic achievement as they continue to be immersed in Common Core Standards. “The most challenging aspect of my research was creating quantifiable data collection methods to address my research questions,” Ms. Batson said. “Many teacher research studies rely on qualitative data which can provide great insight into perceptions and feelings but it was important for me to create a study that had a balance of qualitative and quantitative analyses from which to draw conclusions.”

Heather Szarka, MSEd ’14 candidate, shared her research during the Westchester presentation. Ms. Szarka explored the value of  using themed vocabulary for retention with a group of mixed ability students in a sixth grade classroom, as opposed to a list of unrelated vocabulary words.

Ms. Szarka used themed vocabulary lists around a topic, like the Olympics, and tested both student acquisition of the new vocabulary and student retention week-to-week. She did find students demonstrated increased week-to-week retention of vocabulary knowledge using the thematic lists.

This research inquiry led to using a teaching strategy that could be easily implemented into her future classroom, Ms. Szarka said. “Data is essential for preparing lessons as well as informing instruction,” she said. “As an educator, data should be collected daily and can be a form of assessment for further instruction.”

On April 30, more than 80 graduate candidates shared their research projects with classmates, faculty and staff in a research showcase. The School of Education was honored with the presence of Provost Uday Sukhatme, SciD, who praised our candidates’ research undertaking.

“Research is a very important component of higher education,” Provost Sukhatme said to the students gathered in the Student Union at One Pace Plaza. “You share your passion for all knowledge through teaching and new knowledge through your research.”

In Westchester, more than 60 “Teacher as Researcher” candidates gathered in multiple roundtable discussions to share their projects with classmates and faculty members on May 14.

The candidates met in multiple rounds to discuss their research questions, school environments, methodologies, challenges and surprises while completing their research projects. Fran Falk-Ross, PhD, and Soonhyang Kim, PhD taught this semester’s sections.  The roundtable format allowed students to present their research abstracts to many peers and have meaningful, interactive conversations about the practice of research in teaching.

Undertaking a research project is no small task for candidates, and one completed often while simultaneously student teaching, completing coursework and completing certification examination requirements. Although it can be a challenge, it is an exercise that will serve our candidates, their future students and school districts, well in the future.

“’Teacher As Researcher’ has taught me the importance of analyzing data and seeking for change in results,” said Ms. Szarka.

“Experience with conducting this type of research in graduate study prepares teacher candidates to turn reflection into opportunities for growth,” Ms. Batson said.

Candidates presented at the "Teacher As Researcher" presentations in New York City (left) and Westchester (below)