Student teachers' experiences of inquiry

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Gerald M. Mager


Student teachers

Subject Categories

Education | Teacher Education and Professional Development


Inquiry-oriented teacher education programs promote a vision of professionalism in which teachers frame problems, engage in inquiry, and respond to data generated in the process. These programs often require pre-service teachers to conduct inquiry during field experiences, both to enhance their learning in the field and to help them develop skills and dispositions they will require to be inquiring teachers throughout their careers. The purpose of this study is to build theory on the experiences of student teachers who conduct field inquiry.

To do this I followed seven student teachers as they completed two inquiry assignments; I used interviews, observation, and examination of artifacts to develop profiles of the participants, their understandings of inquiry and their approaches to the assignments. Participants reviewed these profiles to ensure that their experiences were accurately reflected.

Participants had broad understandings of inquiry and saw it as almost any act of problem solving. This attitude was reflected in the way they conducted inquiry, as they asked general questions that evolved over time and collected and interpreted data casually. Participants tried to make the inquiry process useful; those with passionate creeds pursued evidence to support their beliefs, while those without strong convictions took a more exploratory approach. All students' interpretations of findings were colored by prior beliefs.

There were three distinct patterns of participation in inquiry. Alert novices who were reflective and relaxed about the assignments became engaged whole-heartedly and found value in inquiry tasks. Those alert novices who were more perfectionist about school assignments acknowledged the legitimacy of inquiry but doubted the value of their work in this regard. Commonsense thinkers with a non-reflective orientation never became engaged in the inquiry projects and saw them as yet another university task. Coincidentally, the two commonsense thinkers had negative attitudes about their teacher education program, which contributed to their alienation from the assignments.

My findings suggest that engagement in inquiry can benefit all students, including the least reflective, and suggest ways that teacher educators can design assignments that consistently foster the development of the teacher-inquirer mindset.


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