RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT: Perceptions of early childhood teachers’ literacy instruction – differences between observers and the teachers themselves

STUDY AUTHORS:  Dr. Rachel E. Schachter (University of Nebraska), Ann Matthews (University of Nebraska), and Dr. Shayne B. Piasta (Crane Center faculty fellow)


Observations in early childhood classrooms are important to understanding early childhood (EC) educational practices, especially literacy instruction. In many cases, observations are a required part of state regulatory or quality improvement systems. However, teachers and observers do not always perceive classroom instruction alike. The purpose of this study was to understand how teachers’ perspectives of their own literacy instruction practices aligned with the perspectives of observers of that same instruction.

To understand these perspectives, 12 preschool teachers that work in classrooms with children ages 3 to 5 years old were observed and their literacy instruction recorded. After the observations, study teachers then participated in stimulated-recall interviews about the recorded literacy instruction. Separately, two different groups served as observers of teacher instruction. The first group was made up of two master teachers who had multiple years of experience teaching in early childhood. The second group included two researchers who held PhDs in education-related fields. Observers watched the recordings of literacy instruction and answered questions about what they thought the teacher was doing and why. Accounts from the classroom teachers and observers were then compared.


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When observing EC literacy instruction, observers did not necessarily agree as to what instructional/learning goals were targeted.

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Teachers and observers also used different language when referring to emergent literacy skills. Classroom teachers contextualized goals with additional knowledge about their classrooms/students, which was not information necessarily available to outside observers (whether teacher colleagues or researchers).

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These findings highlight potential challenges in understanding teachers’ instructional intentions in research or evaluation; the findings also suggest a need for common language to bridge research/practice divides.


Practitioners, researchers, and teachers could collaborate to agree on shared language for identifying literacy instruction.