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A Review of Empirical Literature on Inquiry Professional Development: Alignment with Best Practices and a Critique of the Findings

Abstract

This review brings together the literature on inquiry-based teaching and learning and science teacher professional development (PD). We present a targeted critical review of research focused specifically on the nature of PD programs purported to emphasize inquiry. Our review analyzes the features of each program and critiques the reported outcomes of each study. Findings from this review suggest a general alignment with recommended features of effective PD as outlined in the literature with a few notable exceptions, including: supporting teachers in developing inquiry-based lesson plans, providing authentic inquiry experiences, and focusing on science content for teachers. More importantly, our review reveals that no reported study has connected participation in inquiry-based PD with all the desired outcomes of teacher PD: enhanced teacher knowledge, change in beliefs and practice, and enhanced student achievement. Implications for future research on inquiry-based PD programs are discussed.

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Correspondence to Daniel K. Capps.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

See Table 4.

Table 4 Alignment with the critical features of professional development and the reported findings of each of the studies reviewed

Abstracts of Programs Included in This Review

1. Lee et al. (2004) Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST)—This study reported on the first year of a 3-year investigation aimed at enhancing elementary teacher beliefs and practices related to IBS. Specifically, the authors described the reported views and practices of 53, 3rd and 4th grade teachers in a large urban area (with high ELL population) before and after the intervention. The intervention consisted of four full-day teacher workshops and the design of instructional units. The workshops took place during the school year and focused on IBS instruction and incorporating English language and literacy, as well as students’ home languages, into science instruction. Two, long-term (2–3 months of class time), instructional units were designed at each grade level. The authors used a mixed methods approach including pre–post interviews and questionnaires, as well as classroom observations to describe teacher beliefs and practices related to inquiry.

Lee et al. (2005) JRST—This study investigated the impact of an instructional intervention on 1,523 third- and fourth-grade students whose teachers participated in a PD program (see above for details on the PD). Specifically, the paper reported on science and literacy achievement as a result of the intervention. The authors used a pre–post instrument to assess students understanding of science concepts and scientific inquiry.

Lee et al. (2008a) JRST—This study examined the impact of a multiple-year intervention on third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students’ science achievement. The paper reported on 2 years of science achievement data at each grade level. Teachers participated in 2 years of PD (see above for details on year 1). The second year of PD consisted of four full-day teacher workshops. The workshops took place during the school year and had a similar focus as the first year; however, there was an emphasis on sharing experiences from enacting the curriculum. Again, a large focus of the PD was on literacy and supporting English language learners. The authors used a pre–post instrument to assess students understanding of science concepts and scientific inquiry.

2. Lee et al. (2008c) JRST—This study reported on the first year of a 5-year investigation aimed at supporting 3rd–5th grade students in science and literacy achievement. Specifically, the authors examined students’ science achievement at 15 elementary schools in a large urban area (with high ELL population) after their teachers participated in a PD intervention. The intervention included 5 days of workshops during the school year, focusing on the topics teachers would later enact in their classrooms. Additionally, a series of curriculum units and teachers guides were developed for classroom use. The authors used a 10-question pre–post instrument to assess student gains in science content and science inquiry in comparison to a control or comparison group.

Lee et al. (2008b) Science Education (SE)—This study examined the reported knowledge and practice of 38, third-grade teachers as they participated in the first year of a 5-year PD program (see above for details on the PD). The authors used a teacher self-report questionnaire to obtain information on teacher knowledge of science content, practice in scientific understanding, and practice in scientific inquiry; this was administered to teachers during the final workshop. Classroom observations were conducted twice during the teaching of curricular units (using a scaled instrument), once at the beginning of the year and once at the end of the year to measure teacher knowledge of science content, practice in scientific understanding, and practice in scientific inquiry. Post-observations interviews were employed to gain further information about conceptions of science and inquiry.

3. Marx et al. (2004) JRST—This study investigated student learning of science content and process after their teachers participated in a PD program. The program included a summer PD workshop, monthly work sessions, teacher discussion groups, and classroom support. Additionally, a series of curriculum materials were developed to engage students in inquiry-based learning activities. The authors used a pre–post instrument to assess gains in student science content and process as a result of the intervention.

4. McNeill and Krajcik (2008) JRST—This study examined middle school teachers’ instructional practice and student learning after a PD program. The program included a 1-week summer PD and curriculum materials. The summer PD provided teachers with generalizable knowledge for teaching curriculum materials. Teachers attended two-day workshops prior to teaching specific units. Curriculum materials were developed to engage students in long-term (up to 8 weeks) inquiry-based learning activities. The authors used observation to evaluate teacher practice and a pre–post instrument to measure student learning.

5. Young and Lee (2005) Journal of Science Education and Technology—This study compared the performance of 5th grade students whose teachers had PD related to a kit-based inquiry science curriculum to students whose teachers did not. It also reported on teaching practice related to inquiry. The program included 6 h of basic training followed by another 6 h of follow-up training a year or 2 after the initial training. Curriculum materials were provided for teachers as part of kits. The authors used a pre–post instrument to assess gains in student science content including nature of science. Additionally, the authors used questionnaires to describe classroom teaching practice.

6. Taitelbaum et al. (2008) International Journal of Science Education (ISJE)—This study looked at the change in high school chemistry teachers’ classroom practice as a result of a PD experience. The PD was designed to increase teachers’ knowledge and pedagogy, so they could support their students in acquiring inquiry skills. The PD consisted of three parts: the development of a teacher’s guide to support teachers in teaching through inquiry, a summer induction course that supported teachers in using an inquiry approach, and a series of school year workshop where inexperienced teachers shared their inquiry teaching experiences with their peers. The authors used classroom observations, interviews, teacher portfolios, and documentation of the workshop to report on changes in teaching practice as a result of the PD.

7. Luft (2001) IJSE—This study examined the impact of an in-service PD program on 14 secondary science teacher beliefs and practices related to inquiry. The PD was designed to support teachers in enacting extended inquiry cycles. The PD consisted of a day workshop during the school year as well as 5 days over the summer where teachers participated in and developed extended inquiry lessons. Follow-up activities including five, 1-day school-year meetings were held to discuss concerns and share what teachers were doing in their classrooms. The author used classroom observations to report on teaching practice and a series of standardized pre–post interviews to report on teacher beliefs.

8. Lotter et al. (2007) JRST—This study described how secondary teachers’ conceptions of inquiry and beliefs on teaching changed throughout a PD experience and discussed how changing conceptions related to inquiry teaching practice. The PD program included a 2-week summer institute consisting of morning workshops where teachers learned about inquiry-based teaching and afternoon research experience in university laboratories. The summer institute was followed by three additional, 3-h workshops during the academic year where teachers reflected on the implementation of the lessons they designed. The authors used qualitative methods to develop three cases of teacher change. Data included pre–post summer institute interviews, as well as interviews after each academic year workshop to describe teachers’ conceptions of inquiry and classroom observations to describe inquiry-based teaching practice for each of the cases.

Lotter et al. (2006) Journal of Science Teacher Education (JSTE)—This study investigated the conceptions of inquiry developed by teachers during the program (see above for details on the PD). Teachers’ conceptions of inquiry before and after the institute were assessed using pre–post interview data and through the analysis of teacher designed lessons created during the PD.

9. Akerson et al. (2007) JRST—This study examined the impact of a 3-year PD program on elementary teachers conceptions of NOS and inquiry, their classroom practice, and their student conceptions of NOS and inquiry. The PD program included a series of monthly half-day workshops at the participating elementary school, where teachers engaged in scientific inquiry with explicit NOS instruction and adapted and revised their current curriculum to be more inquiry-based and teach about NOS. Teachers also received on site support that was specific to each teacher. The authors used pre–post questionnaires and interviews along with field notes from the workshops to construct three cases of teachers’ conceptions of NOS and inquiry. Additionally, classroom observations were conducted as a further source of teachers’ understandings and teaching practice for each of the cases. Pre–post questionnaires and interviews with students were conducted to determine students’ conceptions of NOS and inquiry.

10. Akerson et al. (2007) JSTE—This study examined the impact of a PD program on 17 elementary teachers’ conceptions of NOS. The PD program consisted of a 2-week summer workshop where teachers learned about science content through inquiry and received support on teaching about content matter like physics and NOS using an inquiry-based instructional approach. The authors used pre–post surveys to assess participants views on NOS and inquiry. Additionally, a subset of teachers was interviewed before and after the summer institute to validate the authors’ interpretations.

11. Johnson et al. (2007) JRST—The first study investigated the relationship between middle school teachers’ participation in whole school PD and student achievement in science. Eleven teachers participated in a 2-week summer institute at a local university followed by monthly half-day workshops for 3 years following the initial summer institute. The summer institute consisted of immersion in standards-based instruction and developing or modifying the school’s current curriculum. Monthly workshops focused on modifying curriculum and providing support for one another. The authors used a pre–post instrument to compare student achievement of students whose teachers attended the workshops to students of control teachers.

Johnson (2007) JSTE—The second study explored the teachers’ implementation of standards-based instruction in the classroom throughout a 2-year period (see above for details on the PD). The author used a combination of interviews and classroom observations to develop six cases of instructional change and change in teacher beliefs.

12. Basista and Mathews (2002) School Science and Mathematics—This study investigated the impact of a science and math PD on upper elementary and secondary teachers’ content understanding and pedagogical knowledge in order to promote standards-based teaching in the classroom. Twenty-two teachers participated in a 4-week summer institute meeting 8 h a day, for 3 days a week. The institute focused on both content and pedagogy and engaged teachers in inquiry-based learning environments. Teachers also received support during the academic year. The authors used a pre–post instrument to assess gains in teacher content knowledge and a Likert-style survey to determine classroom implementation. Informal classroom observations were used and materials collected to check for consistency with the survey results.

13. Jeanpierre et al. (2005) JRST—This study examined the impact of a PD program on teachers’ content knowledge and teaching practice. Forty-four teachers participated in a PD program consisting of a two-part resident institute including a week in the summer and a week in the fall. Teachers participated in inquiry activities, learned science content, and conducted short, inquiry-based research projects. Additionally, teachers participated in an ongoing scientific study and brought this investigation to their schools. The authors used a pre–post instrument to determine gains in content knowledge. Changes in classroom teaching practice were determined using a pre–post survey to assess the current use of inquiry, classroom observations after the two-part institute, teacher interviews, and member checking.

14. Shepardson and Harbor (2004) Environmental Education Research—This study examined the impact of a PD program on teachers’ knowledge of inquiry and classroom practice. The PD program was divided into two groups. The first group of 30 elementary and secondary teachers participated in a 4-week summer institute designed to enhance teachers’ inquiry-based teaching, content knowledge, and inquiry abilities. Teachers participated in investigations and later designed their own research project that they later presented to the group. All along teachers discussed how their work related to inquiry described by the NSES. These teachers later provided PD for the second group of 31 teachers at their individual schools. The authors used observations of classroom practice, pre–post lesson profiles, a pre–post open response survey, and interviews to make claims about knowledge of inquiry and changes in classroom practice as a result of the PD.

15. Radford (1998) JRST—This study examined the impact of a PD program on upper elementary through high school teachers’ science content knowledge, process skills, and attitudes toward teaching science, as well as on their students’ process skills and attitudes toward science. The PD program ran for 3 years; each year 30 teachers participated. It included a 3-week summer course at a university, consisting of lab and field work, where teachers participated in inquiry and talked about inquiry-based teaching; a 4-week independent science investigation; and follow-up workshops during the academic year. The author used pre–post instruments to assess teachers’ gains in science content and process skills and a Likert-style survey to measure teachers’ attitudes toward science. Teachers were also asked to keep portfolios during their teaching of the lessons. A pre–post instrument was given to students and comparison students to report on gains in process skills. A similar Likert-style survey was also given to students to measure their attitudes toward science.

16. Blanchard et al. (2009) SE—This study examined the link between a research experience for teachers PD program, and secondary teachers’ conceptions of inquiry and use of inquiry in the classroom. The PD consisted of a 6-week resident institute at a biological field station designed to support teachers in learning about inquiry as a method for scientific research and a teaching strategy. Twenty-four teachers participated in the program. The program challenged teachers to develop a scientific question, a method to research the question, and conduct the study. Additionally, teachers developed a lesson using the inquiry model the learned during the program. The author used a pre–post questionnaire and interview to measure teachers’ conceptions of inquiry. Inquiry enactment was assessed through pre–post classroom observations and interviews. Through these, the author developed four cases of teacher change.

17. Westerlund et al. (2002) JSTE—This study was carried out in the second year of a 5-year grant. The particular study examined the effects of a PD experience on teachers’ content knowledge and classroom practice. Twenty-three secondary science teachers were placed in an 8-week summer research experience with laboratory scientists at a university. Participants’ experiences varied due to their placement, but most reports suggested that teachers engaged in authentic research. Additionally, teachers kept journal reflections of their work and related it to classroom teaching. The authors used pre–post content knowledge assessments, developed by cooperating scientists to assess gains in knowledge and conducted classroom observations and interviews with four teachers to look for evidence of teachers applying what they learned in their classrooms.

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Capps, D.K., Crawford, B.A. & Constas, M.A. A Review of Empirical Literature on Inquiry Professional Development: Alignment with Best Practices and a Critique of the Findings. J Sci Teacher Educ 23, 291–318 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10972-012-9275-2

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Keywords

  • Review
  • Inquiry-based
  • Professional development