AERA Conference: Spanning Research and Practice

By Adrienne Lomangino, Head Teacher

This year the American Educational Research Association took a step toward bridging the divide between those who do research on education and those who educate. The theme for the annual meeting of AERA was “The Power of Education Research for Innovation in Policy and Practice.” The four-day meeting took place April 3-7, 2014 in the expansive Philadelphia Conference Center, with over 14,000 attendees.

Former Bing teacher Colin Johnson and I presented at a poster session for studies on early childhood education. The poster, titled “Examining Self-Regulated Learning in Nursery School Play,” described our investigation of how self-regulated learning—the capacity to plan, guide and monitor one’s learning behavior—develops during everyday activities at Bing. For our study, we used a set of codes developed by David Whitebread, PhD, and his colleagues to categorize children’s activities during play.

Our study demonstrated how intentional and strategic children are while at play, even from a very young age. Monitoring, which involves active efforts to keep track of one’s progress or the effectiveness of one’s approach to a task, was the most common form of self-regulatory behavior. Making self-corrections and noticing errors were two common examples of monitoring. The frequency of self-regulated learning behaviors increased with age. We also examined children’s responses to teacher support. The younger children received more support from teachers than the older children did, however the older children were more responsive to that support.

We finished the study with the implications the analysis raised for our practice and for our perceptions of children’s play. Johnson and I were intrigued by how small changes in the environment, such as the placement of an activity facing the yard or the fence, potentially affect self-regulation. While facing toward the yard, a child repeatedly looked up from her activity to view what was going on before her. We also noted the teacher’s role in both promoting children’s focus on a task and also providing a source of distractions. The analysis process also heightened our attentiveness to the details of children’s everyday play activity.

Before the poster session, I attended a poignant tribute session to Elliot Eisner, PhD, the late Lee Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus, at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and former AERA president. Eisner is renowned for the contributions he made to the examination of curriculum, instruction, assessment and the importance of the arts in education. He received numerous awards during his career.

I took two courses from Eisner as a Stanford undergraduate. The readings and discussion opened my eyes to a different way of seeing the world. After those courses I felt committed to focusing on education and psychology rather than a degree in specifically psychology.

Speakers highlighted the personal and professional qualities that made Eisner an exemplary scholar and educator. Lee Shulman, PhD, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Emeritus, at the school of education, described Eisner’s passion for engaging in lively argument and voicing different perspectives while maintaining warm relationships. Eisner’s most enduring contribution, according to Shulman, is teaching others to use different lenses and foci. He encouraged himself and others to ask, “In what really different ways can we see the world that is familiar to us?” Acknowledging Eisner’s frustration with the educational research community, Shulman noted that Eisner chose to remain part of that world rather than remove himself. He continued to participate in educational scholarship as a critical voice, raising questions about trends in curriculum, assessment and learning.

Nel Noddings, PhD, the Lee Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus, at the school of education, described Eisner as a scholar “ahead of his time” who years ago made criticisms and raised cautions that educators are now finding highly pertinent. Among them, he cautioned against getting so focused on defending one’s position on a problem that one does not move on to solving the problem. Eisner also pointed out in his writings that scholars often respond to challenges to their views as an attack, rather than an opportunity for self-reflection. Being presented with other views, according to Eisner, helps us to improve and refine our own thinking.

Eisner’s emphasis on the importance of valuing multiple approaches to representing experiences and ideas resonates with the opportunities at Bing for children to use a variety of open-ended materials. Through immersing themselves in use of materials, whether paint, blocks, clay, sand, water or other materials, children broaden their imagination and shape their understanding of the world.

Although I cleared my bookshelves of most texts from college long ago, I have held on to a few from his courses. They are a reminder of the need to challenge myself to see the world through more than one lens.