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 Feature Story 

 

SPOTLIGHT

   

The Impact on Student Learning
through Action Research project

This spring, student teachers in the Elementary/Early Childhood and Special Education departments have been preparing not only for graduation, but to present the results of their individual Impact on Student Learning through Action Research projects on May 4th. Dr. James Preston has coordinated this project since 2008. This spring, Dr. Preston has stepped down as he took on new challenges within the College of Education.

What is the Impact on Student Learning through Action Research project?

This is a project that all elementary education and special education majors are required to complete as part of their student teaching semester here at SRU. Student teachers with those majors are asked to determine an academic area of need for the K – 6 learners in the classroom they are placed during their student teaching semester. They can determine this area of need through observation, conversations with their cooperating teacher, analysis of pre-existing data or any combination of the three. Typically, student teachers focus on a specific topic in literacy or mathematics because those are the areas being stressed on the PSSA tests but student teachers may also focus on topics in Science or Social Studies. Once the student teacher determines an area of need he or she is to become “smart” on a teaching strategy that the professional literature suggests will have a positive impact on the students relative to this area of need. After putting a plan together to implement this teaching strategy over a period of time, the student teacher assess the students in the academic area of need and analyzes the results of the data to determine the impact of the teaching strategy on student learning. The final step is for the student teacher to share the results of his or her study with a group of peers and panelists in a 15-minute presentation on campus. The panelists consist of recent graduates from the program, local teachers, local administrators, faculty from the College of Education and other members of the SRU community.

For example, a student teacher might find that the fourth graders in her classroom are very weak in their problem solving skills in mathematics after observing them for a week, talking with the cooperating teacher and reviewing the PSSA test scores from previous. If this is the case, the student teacher is asked to review the professional literature on best practices in teaching problem solving and refer back to her Methods of Teaching Elementary Mathematics course to determine a teaching strategy that she believe will have a positive effect on the learners’ problem solving skills. After determining a specific teaching strategy that she believes will have a positive impact on the learners in her classroom, she puts a plan together to implement this teaching strategy over the course of several weeks and assesses the students at the end of this time period. The goal here is not to use the data to assess the students but to assess the teaching strategy and how it was implemented by the student teacher. The student teacher will analyze the data and prepare a PowerPoint Slide Show to share her results during an on-campus presentation. The student teacher acts as the expert during this presentation and suggests whether the strategy was effective in having a positive impact on student learning. She will not be evaluated on the degree of impact on student learning. Rather, she will be evaluated on how she conducted the study and how reflective she was about the process. She will make suggestions to her peers and the panelists relative to the teaching strategy based on her experiences and the data.

     What inspired the birth of this project?

One organization that determines the effectiveness of Teacher Education programs across the country requires each program to measure the impact on student learning that the student teachers have during their student teaching semester. Every teacher education program that seeks to get the endorsement of this organization must measure this impact in some way. The Elementary Education Department chooses Action Research as the way to measure our student teachers’ impact on student learning. This specific method of measuring impact on student learning was initiated by the late Dr. Claudia Balach in 2005. She imagined that having student teachers conduct action research during their student teaching semester would be a great way for them to demonstrate their impact on student learning. Dr. Balach’s vision for this project set the stage for what it has become today.

      The role of faculty members

The Impact on Student Learning through Action Research project has gone through several changes since 2005 and owes its existence to the hard work of many faculty members in the Elementary Education Department. Along with Dr. Balach, Drs. Sherry DuPont, Robert Snyder and Geraldine Jenny did a lot of the foundational work for this project in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, Dr. James Preston synthesized all of the suggestions of the faculty involved in the project up to that point into what it is today. We have created an Impact on Student Learning through Action Research D2L support site that is released every semester to the student teachers. The student teachers can access a handbook, video tutorials, sample presentations and other resources that support their work throughout the semester. The student teachers are also supported by their University Supervisor of Student Teaching.

Dr. James Preston created most of the materials on the current D2L site, introduce the student teachers to the project at the start of the semester, meet with them midway throughout the semester and organize the final presentations that occur two weeks before the end of the semester.

      How does participation in this project benefit students and faculty at SRU?

The Elementary Education Department believes that our students should graduate as teachers who are reflective practitioners. It is no longer okay to implement teaching strategies based on personal preference or on hunches. Administrators today want teachers who are reflective and who make decisions based on sound reasoning and on data. The Impact on Student Learning through Action Research Project helps our graduates toward this journey of becoming a reflective practitioner. When our graduates are interviewed for teaching positions, they can speak confidently and intelligently about the process of making sound teaching decisions based on best practices and data. Our department is very proud of this project and what it does for our graduates.

However, beyond the benefit for the student teacher, we view the greatest benefit for the learners in the classrooms where our student teachers are placed. The K – 6 learners are benefiting from receiving new teaching strategies that are focused on a need in their classroom. We believe very strongly that our student teachers are value-added to the K – 6 classrooms and will take that value-added approach to the profession as they are hired in school districts across the country and beyond.

Our faculty benefit from knowing that we are graduating teachers who are reflective practitioners and that our students are making a positive impact on student learning.

 


 

 




A former student, Vanessa Garcia, was conducting her action research presentation.