Date of Award

Spring 1998

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Rebecca S New


This study describes changes in thinking and practice among 24 early childhood preservice teachers as they move away from a reliance on traditional interpretations of child-centered curricula and developmentally appropriate practices toward one of collaborative inquiry. Participants enrolled in a 15 week undergraduate teaching methods course were assigned to teaching teams to implement collaborative projects with the same group of three to five year-old children.

Traditionally, early childhood teacher education has been influenced by developmental theory which emphasizes processes of children's learning. And yet, teachers typically learn to teach from a transmission orientation with perspectives provided by experts rather than from a position of inquiry. This study describes a reconceptualization of teacher education informed by key tenets of social constructivist theory, reflective practice and teacher research, and the implementation of collaborative projects as popularized by the preprimary schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. This study is the first to integrate these three components to create an environment in which there is congruency between the processes through which teachers construct knowledge and those which characterize children's construction of knowledge.

The study utilized both quantitative and qualitative measures to assess conceptual level, changes in reflectivity, and the use of advanced interpretations of developmentally appropriate practices associated with inquiry-oriented teaching. Results suggest that the emergence of collaborative inquiry among preservice teachers is a dynamic and diverse process not readily assessed by static measures or discreet skills. Findings from the qualitative analyses both challenged and explained some of the findings from the quantitative portions of the study. The metaphor of "portraiture" was utilized to describe team meetings and classroom practices as they constituted an environment for adult learners.

In this study, experiences were shared and meanings socially constructed through the use of discourse and tools within recursive cycles of reflection and teaching, each of which drew upon and contributed to a complex web of relationships. This reconceptualization of preservice teacher education requires an expanded concept of professional competence and what is meant by good teaching to include an emphasis on proximal development within a community that promotes learning among adults as well as children.