Research and Professional Development Studies

Ladybugs - sarro.png

Dynamic Innovation for Young Children (DIFYC)

Funding & Partnership: San Antonio Independent School District (w/Dr. Pauline Dow, Deputy Superintendent)

Agency and Young Children (AYC) Research Team: Dr. Jennifer Keys Adair (PI; UT Austin), Dr. Katie Payne, (UT Austin), Dr. Soyoung Park (UT Austin), Dr. Kiyomi Sánchez-Suzuki Colegrove (Texas State University), Anna Falkner (UT Austin), Sunmin Lee (UT Austin), Molly Mc Manus (UT Austin), Natacha Jones (UT Austin), Monica Alonzo (UT Austin), Maria Jose Ruiz Gonzalez (UT Austin)

Dynamic Innovation for Young Children(DIFYC) is a model designed to build district-wide instructional and leadership capacity in early childhood education. Built as a cohort model over five years, DIFYC works with groups of principals and teachers at a select number of schools over one academic year. Participants engage in a series of professional development workshops and one-on-one supported observations, both of which are guided by research-based elements of high quality early childhood education. Instead of lecturing participants, DIFYC offers participants the opportunity to developing a shared understanding of high quality learning environments and then engaging with a core set of concepts (through videos, discussion, examples, research data) so that participants reflect, design transformative decision-making plans and create a stronger professional identity as early childhood educators. Participant progress will be documented in pre- and post- interviews, transcript analysis of workshops, learning samples collected throughout the year, observations-in-context and benchmark assessment data. Participants will create action plans based on collective and individual efforts that are meant to increase student and teacher agency.

Dynamic Innovation for Young Children(DIFYC) utilizes videos of best practices filmed in dynamic and successful early childhood classrooms serving Latinx and African American children. The phases of DIFYC have been constructed out of 10 years of research in early childhood classrooms that demonstrates that academic and social progress is more likely in classrooms where children engage in meaningful discussions, create projects, have agency over how and what they learn, gain content knowledge in multiple ways and develop authentic, caring relationships with peers and adults. 

DIFYC Purpose: To design and implement a comprehensive, high quality early childhood professional development model that establishes cohorts of instructional leaders at the school and classroom level who can offer young children equitable, dynamic and high-quality learning experiences that translate to multi-grade academic, social and civic success.  

DIFYC Goal: Build instructional and administrative capacity to offer and sustain equitable, dynamic and high-quality early childhood learning experiences in grades preK-3.

Nose bleed1 - inclusion.png

Civic Action and Learning with Young Children Study

Funding: Spencer Foundation New Civics Initiative 2014-2017

International Team includes: Jennifer Keys Adair (UT Austin), Jenny Ritchie (Victoria University of Wellington) and Louise Phillips (University of Queensland)

USA Team includes: Dr. Katie Payne (UT Austin), Dr. Kiyomi Sánchez-Suzuki Colegrove (Texas State University), Shubhi Sachdeva (UT Austin), Anna Falkner (UT Austin), Sunmin Lee (UT Austin), Molly Mc Manus (UT Austin)

This comparative, systematic ethnographic study focuses on how young children from marginalized communities in New Zealand (Maori), Australia (Aboriginal) and the United States (Latino Immigrant) use their own developmental skills and understanding to fix social problems that are important to them. The purpose of the study is to a) identify the types of civic action understanding(s) that children bring with them to preschool from their homes and communities, b) identify a range of principles that enable young children and teachers to engage in authentic, meaningful, capacity-building activities around civic action and c) explore preschool teachers’ pedagogies that foster children’s capacity for civic participation and engagement.

Children at each preschool site will choose issues and/or problems that seem troubling to them and work to solve them in a series of three projects with adult guidance, rather than instruction or tasks. The first project will be something in their classroom. The second and third projects will be something they want to change in their school and community, respectively. Although we anticipate that the projects will have important outcomes for the children our study will not necessarily seek to engage children in for example, immigrant rights or indigenous rights projects [yet] but in child-selected activities that will give them the skills and attitudes necessary to advocate for immigrant rights or Indigenous rights when they are older.

MK Girls for plant project.jpg

Agency and Young Children Study

Funding: Foundation for Child Development YSP 2012-2015

USA Team includes: Kiyomi Sánchez-Suzuki Colegrove, Molly Mc Manus, Ale Barraza, Nathan Weber

This study is trying to see what happens when teachers increase the amount and types of agency in classroom spaces, in particular classrooms that serve children of Latino immigrants. I am interested in both social and academic development. Agency, as I am using it, is having influence over what and how something is learned so as to expand capabilities. Basically it means being able to make decisions about one's own learning and to have some control over how something is learned. I became interested in this topic during my dissertation work because I visited around twenty preschool classrooms and noticed a strong difference in how children were treated as learners. Children of immigrants had a smaller range of motion and influence in their classrooms. They were given specific tasks rather than problems to solve. They were told precisely how to do those tasks. This meant that they had less opportunity to develop a range of capabilities that could include organization, self-regulation, creative problem-solving, critical thinking, cooperation, collaboration, modeling, creating projects (beginning to end), leading discussion, responding thoughtfully to criticism, sharing and revising ideas, gathering support and making testable inquiries. I am passionate about figuring out how to provide more of these opportunities to young children of immigrants at the beginning of school.

Because I am a cultural anthropologist, I am also concerned with making sure that the kinds (forms) of agency that I will eventually advocate for within early childhood education are culturally relevant. I want to be sensitive to the educational concerns of immigrant families and utilize the expertise of immigrant teachers so after making films of two first-grade classrooms where children have a lot of agency, I will show these films to many immigrant parents, teachers, children and administrators to understand what kinds of agency make sense and what kinds of agency validate important cultural values.


Early Childhood Approaches in Bangalore, India

This work seeks to understand approaches and ideas about early childhood education in India. Using multi-vocal ethnography, this research has included working with orphanages and foundations to prevent infant mortality, preschool and crèche systems in Bangalore and expat schools in South India.