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Department of Teacher Education

Learning to teach literacy in elementary classrooms: An ecological consideration of CT-INT interactions

Purpose of the Research

This dissertation study is designed as a multi-site field study of MSU's elementary teaching internship and focuses on interns' learning to teach literacy in elementary classrooms.  Using an ecological framework, I intend to describe and explain the interactions between collaborative teachers (CT) and interns (INT) that focus on learning to teach literacy in elementary classrooms.  In addition, I will describe the changes in the INT's knowledge, skills, and beliefs about effective literacy teaching over time.  Finally, I will also describe and explain the range of factors that might shape those interactions and changes.

This study proposes to holistically examine the experiences of a group of MSU interns and their collaborating teachers as they work in elementary school classrooms during a portion of their yearlong internship.  It is holistic in the sense that it is designed to attend to the ecology of experiences of the interns and CTs by looking at their professional lives and documenting their interactions with various contexts and people rather than isolating the interaction of interns and cooperating teachers from the contexts in which they are situated.  While the focus is on the intern and the collaborating teacher and learning to teach literacy, the intent is to document how those interactions lead to certain outcomes (INT behaviors and knowledge) and how those interactions and outcomes are nested in a web of other interactions and individuals (students, other teachers and interns, university instructors to name a few).

Program Participants Needed for the Research and the Recruitment Process

For this study 4 interns and 4 CTs were selected using a criterion-based sampling selection. As such the sample criterion included all of the following: 1) each intern had to start their internship in the Fall of 2010; 2) interns were placed in a Grand Rapids area elementary school to allow for close proximity and ease of data collection; 3) interns would be evenly dispersed across two school sites and would be in comparable grade levels (upper elementary or lower elementary); 4) the schools would have unique characteristics such as specialized student populations or themed focus to allow for variations in school/classroom contexts; and 5) each school site would have previously served as a partner school with MSU's teacher education program. Other participants recruited will be individuals from MSU's TE program who work with the intern-CT dyads who met the selection criteria. As such, 2 field instructors, 4 course instructors, and 4 other interns who work in the buildings, but are not a focus of the study will also be selected as participants.

Interns and their collaborating teachers meeting the selection criteria were recruited after receiving names from the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator of interns placed in elementary classrooms in the Grand Rapids Public Schools and their collaborating teachers.  I emailed the participants to invite them to attend meetings in their building. At the meeting I explained the purpose of the study and what their participation would require.  Interns and collaborating teachers were invited to contact me following the meeting if there were interested in participating.  A total of six interns and six collaborating teachers indicated they would like to participate in the study.  Four intern-CT dyads were selected from this sample (at School A: 1 second grade dyad and 1 third grade dyad; at School B: 1 first grade dyad and 1 transition first grade dyad). Once approval from the Department is received, I will contact the field instructors and course instructors working with these interns to invite them to participate in the study.

One final note concerning participants for the proposed study; I have received a fellowship from the Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education (CITE) Department to provide additional resources to support my dissertation work that will allow me to provide a stipend to each participant.  This allows me to provide a $250 stipend in the form of a Visa Gift Card for each INT and CT who participates fully.  In addition, field instructors will receive $50 gift card, and a $25 gift card will be given to course instructors, and the three additional INTs following the completion of their interviews.

Data Collection Procedures

This study is designed as a multi-site field study to examine how interns learn to teach literacy during their internship experience. Ethnographic methodological tools--observations, interviews, and artifact collection--will be used to collect data. Data will be collected at three sites--university teacher education program, and the intern-collaborating teachers' classrooms at two school sites.
Observations will be used to record occurrences where the various components of the internship (individuals and contexts) interact (such as between interns and collaborating teachers, field instructors, course instructors, and other interns) and to capture instances where potential learning about teaching occurs (in classrooms, teacher education courses, field seminars, staff-meetings, planning meetings, evaluation meetings). Written field notes will be created as a record of what is observed.
All participants in the study will be interviewed using semi-structured interview protocols. Interviews will assist in verifying observations against the meanings participants assign to events and interactions and will provide access to interactions that may not have been observed (e.g. the first semester of the internship, change in intern's beliefs about teaching and knowledge about literacy practices). Interns will be interviewed three times, collaborating teachers will be interviewed three times, field instructors twice, course instructors-one time, and other interns will be interviewed once. All interviews will be audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.
Artifacts will also be collected to gather additional information to help document the kinds of changes that are occurring in the interns' knowledge, skills and beliefs about literacy teaching and to help characterize the nature of the interactions between individuals participating in the study. Artifacts may include planning notes, evaluation feedback forms, final internship reports, meeting agendas, course syllabi, written concept maps, personal notes and emails.

Finally, I will give each CT-INT dyad a digital voice recorder to use to capture interactions that they wish to share with me but which occur at times when I am not present.  This might include an INT recording her thoughts about a debriefing meeting she has had with her field instructor or CT or a recording of the CT and INT talking during a planning session.  As a teacher-educator who is drawn to engaging teachers in intellectual activities (including research), I am excited about this additional element to the research, and how it might enhance my own ability to render detailed descriptions of learning to teach.
Data analysis for the study will be on going and iterative. It will begin during the data collection process and continue until the final report is written. An analytic induction method of coding will be used. This method of coding will allow categories and patterns to emerge as the data is collected and analyzed. As patterns continue to emerge, the collected data will be continually revisited to see if there are any inconsistencies or to see if new patterns and codes emerge. Propositions will be developed based on patterns and viewed as initial findings. Researchers will then assess the degree of support for each proposition by testing further the data sources.