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Mrs. Miller's evolution in teaching science as inquiry : a case study of a teacher's change in responsiveness


Calls for reform-based science instruction have highlighted inquiry as a critical component in science education (e.g. National Research Council [NRC], 1996, 2000, 2007). To date, there has been little research describing how teachers' classroom practice changes as they implement inquiry-based instruction. This study characterizes how an experienced elementary school teacher changed with respect to her responsiveness to student thinking (i.e. the degree to which she followed up on her students' ideas) as she implemented three iterations of an inquiry-based module on the water cycle. This research was guided by two overarching questions : (1) How can a teacher's responsiveness to student thinking be characterized?; and (2) How does one teacher, Mrs. Miller, change with respect to her responsiveness to her students' thinking over the course of three iterations of an inquiry -based module? In order to answer these questions, two distinct, yet complementary, methods of analysis were used. Method 1: Discourse analysis of classroom dialogue led to the operationalization of the "redirection." Redirections are teacher bids to "redirect" students' attention from one locus to another and reflect differing degrees of responsiveness, according to the degree to which the teacher takes up students' ideas. Initial quantitative analyses of Mrs. Miller's redirections showed that while she did change in her responsiveness to student thinking, the change was not linear. When Mrs. Miller's highly responsive redirections were analyzed, however, she seemed more likely to use highly responsive redirections to perpetuate students' potentially productive ideas during Implementation 2 and especially during Implementation 3. Such results suggested that Mrs. Miller grew in responsiveness over time. Method 2 : Phenomenological analyses of Mrs. Miller's practice provided further support of her increased responsiveness to student thinking. Mrs. Miller seemed more willing to encourage students' consideration and elaboration of "alternative" explanations during Implementations 2 and 3. Additionally, she appeared more likely to allow student ideas to inform future discussions during later implementations. This research provides the educational community with a detailed description of a veteran teacher's change in responsiveness during inquiry instruction and establishes a foundation from which others interested in teacher change and/or promoting reform-based instruction can build

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