Finding the Questions
Teacher quality is a central concern of the profession. College-based teacher education, the core of teacher preparation in the United States, has increasingly included some form of practitioner inquiry in the pre-service program to encourage teacher candidates to be reflective, adaptive teachers who systematically and intentionally examine practice to improve pupil outcomes and continue their own professional development. While it is assumed that pre-service practitioner inquiry has a positive influence on pupils' learning, there is still little empirical evidence to support this assertion. Most empirical data on pre-service practitioner inquiry is confined to a short time period and does not examine what happens to pre-service candidates when they enter their own classrooms. Additionally, this research is generally conducted using interpretive qualitative methods. Thus, this dissertation uses a longitudinal mixed methods approach to examine what happens when teacher candidates engage in practitioner research in a pre-service program focused on inquiry with the goal of improving pupil learning. A modified sequential explanatory mixed methods design was employed as the best means of addressing this complex question. The study included data from three sources in a teacher preparation program focused on practitioner inquiry. The first analysis took a broad view of the quality and range of teacher candidates' research papers through the analysis of rubric scores for 92 teacher candidate inquiry papers in two cohorts (spring, 2006 and spring, 2007). Looking at the quality and nature of these projects, content analysis on a sample of twelve papers taken from the range of these scores was conducted. Finally, in-depth case studies of two participants were developed using data accumulated during the one-year pre-service program and through the first two years in the classroom. Findings in the quantitative analysis indicated that the rubric was reliable in differentiating among papers, but that there were fewer outstanding inquiries than expected, which were not explained by analysis of the scores. Content analysis of a sample of these papers indicated that differences were in how questions were formed; candidates' ability to interpret and use data recursively; whether and how candidates connected their learning to pupil learning; and if candidates connected their inquiry to issues of social justice in meaningful ways. The case studies showed that several factors influenced whether and how candidates moved toward the development of inquiry as stance. These factors included candidates' view of inquiry; teacher capacity; demands of curriculum planning and development; understandings of learning to teach for social justice; as well as school support and context. Overall, the three analyses in this dissertation indicated that requiring teacher candidates to engage in pre-service practitioner inquiry did not guarantee that they would understand inquiry as intended, develop an inquiry stance, or continue to inquire into practice in their own classrooms. These findings suggest implications for research, practice, and policy, which are discussed.