Pairing our Research Question with Our Methodology: What are we asking and how is the Q-Sort suited to that?

The primary research question that we are posing is with this project is: What are history teachers learning in historic site-based professional development programs and how does that inform classroom practice? This research question is intentionally broad, because it is reflective of the broad-based, foundational understandings that need to be addressed in the museum education field regarding teacher education at historic sites and museums. An important sub-question that will also be addressed is: How do teachers of different levels of professional expertise approach historic site-based professional development programs and how does that inform classroom practice?

With an intentionally broad research question, a research tool that could capture a wide variety of answers was needed. In Q methodology, the standard tool of assessment is known as a Q-sort. In essence, a Q-sort is a list of statements about a particular topic that covers a wide range of perspectives.  This list of statements is called the concourse. The goal of the concourse is to provide participants with the words to tell their own stories based on their values and beliefs about the topic in question. While it is impossible to capture every perspective that a person could have, the goal is to achieve as many varied perspectives as possible.

In this case, the topic in question is how professional development at historic sites can influence the growth of teachers. To begin the development of the concourse, we gathered peer-reviewed professional and academic standards from national organizations. These standards included the content and skill objectives laid out in the National Council on the Social Studies C3 Framework for Learning, Teaching, and Assessment, and the teacher education professional standards from the NCATE Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Teacher Education Institutions, The INTASC Learning Progressions for Teachers and recommendations from the Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the U.S. and Abroad Technical Report. These documents provided a foundation upon which we could build a concourse that addressed the needs of teachers in terms of content, disciplinary skills, and professional dispositions.

Using these standards, the education staff at Monticello was asked to consider the connections between these standards and their professional development program, the Monticello Teacher Institute. The staff focused their comments around four components: content (including the actual content knowledge participating teachers gain, rather than content they would teach students); historical thinking and analysis (including the ways teachers engage in the analytical processes of history such as interpretation and argumentation); pedagogical content knowledge (including how to teach particular content and teaching methodologies); and professional dispositions (including how the experiences at Monticello support growth in a professional capacity).

From these discussions, we created a list of over 100 statements that were then culled and shaped through two rounds of external peer evaluation and further refinement from the Monticello education staff into the 60-item concourse used in Summer 2016. Given the breadth of these statements, we believe that we will be able to effectively capture the stories of the teachers who participated in the Monticello Teacher Institute and why they choose this type of professional development opportunity and what they gain from it.

Written by Dr. Christine Baron, Teachers College Columbia University, and Dr. Sherri Sklarwitz, Tufts University.

Edited by Lora Cooper.

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