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Disrupting Early Childhood Education Research

reviewed by Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd - August 09, 2016

coverTitle: Disrupting Early Childhood Education Research
Author(s): Will Parnell & Jeanne Marie Iorio
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 1138839116, Pages: 188, Year: 2016
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I often consider what it means for early childhood educators to collect data on their students. Too often during collection, the complexities of caring, speaking, observing, and being observed have not been addressed. With my own students, I want to problematize data collection and the teacher’s position in the classroom as an authority figure, researcher, and educator.

A text like Will Parnell and Jeanne Marie Iorio’s edited volume Disrupting Early Childhood Education Research helps me tell this story better. Part of what must be addressed is acknowledging the uncomfortable nature of being a teacher wanting to know certain aspects of her student’s development. Emmanuelle N. Fincham shares this concern in Chapter Seven,

I am a part of the classroom culture, an “insider,” if you will. However, as an adult, I am still on the outside of the child culture, not having an inside perspective on their experience. This insider-outsider position is an uncomfortable space when I think about my teaching and my research and the ethical dilemmas I struggle with in each. (p. 88)


The research in this book focuses on data that shares “the human story” (p. 2) by disrupting, unmasking, and revealing. Editors Parnell and Iorio gather research that uses data too often discounted in the traditional research paradigms examining early childhood education. Their book points out that much of the human story is missed when the focus is only on numbers, facts, and figures.

The editors organize work from the margins of early childhood research. Driven by unique data points, the researchers use frameworks from action research, phenomenology, and autoethnography to explore what it means to engage young children and their families as teacher educators, family educators, and child educators. Iorio and Parnell see their book as a counternarrative to the current climate of early childhood research. They recognize that the arts and humanities play a significant role in collecting, organizing, and drawing meaning from unique and important data.

Although each chapter tells a singular story of alternative forms of research and data collection, it is the work in its entirety that provides a robust contribution to this field, including Peter Moss’s forward. The book will be particularly helpful for students interested in becoming teacher researchers. They will be educators who collect data for the purposes of engaging change in their classrooms and not simply collecting information for external review or standardization.

The volume’s first section challenges what it means to conduct research and contains some of the more unique and extreme forms of qualitative research. It shares research from various parts of the globe including the Reggio Emilia Arcobaleno infant toddler center, the Scuola Pablo Neruda, and the Te Whãriki curriculum of Aotearoa.

The second section centers on democratizing the research process. This delightful part of the text uncovers the voices and work of children who become central to the narrative of what it means to conduct research in early childhood settings. Children and educators remain the focus of the research framework discussed in the third and final section as the projects critically examine the future of early childhood research.

The most unique framework of research in the collection is described in Chapter Four, particularly for those in teacher education programs. Richard T. Johnson challenges teacher educators to reflect on the colonial messaging of their programs using photographs and images from his program where novice educators find themselves witness to the “systematic, cumulative construction of ‘the child’” (p. 51). His critical reading is meant to disrupt traditional paradigms of discourse concerning development in early childhood teacher education.

One unfortunate critique of the collection is that the power players of alternative paradigms in early childhood education dominate the work, including Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Te Whãriki. Although the third section moves beyond these institutions and examines research in early elementary classrooms, it is more traditional in context. It will be important to continue recognizing what it means to enact the research and narratives found in alternate paradigms, which occur often as myths in early childhood education discourse in its more traditional paradigms. It is only with this move that we imagine significant change and possibility in what it means to research and teach at the early childhood level and impact a wider diversity of students across the globe. Research continuing along this vein could support fellow teacher researchers by providing detailed descriptions of what it means to convince administrators, educator teams, and community members regarding the value of pursuing alternative forms of education research.

This collection may not be suitable for undergraduate courses, although certain chapters would be useful if read through a comparative lens regarding field experiences. The entire work could also be suitable in research courses for upper level graduate students interested in pursuing new paradigms in early childhood research. Its strength is in imagining new possibilities in research holding tight to practice.

As I consider how to use this work with my own students, one way may be to share my own (lack of) introduction to the process of early childhood education data collection. A significant portion of my day as an early childhood educator is spent recording the development of three-year-old students in our multiage Montessori classroom where I view myself in a position of authority as I collect this data. I did not think about this as data collection or research in my early days of teaching. I am not sure if I ever thought about the process at all except when I pulled out notebooks for periodic conferencing with colleagues and parents and would often exclaim, “Oh wow! Look how ____ is growing!”

Reading this book prompts a number of reflective questions. What did I miss as an educator in those early years? How was my identity as an early childhood educator impacted by the way I recorded progress and thought about development? What did the children think about all those hours when they were being observed? How might my teaching practices have changed had I positioned myself differently? What would someone have learned about me as a teacher from the images and data that I recorded?

I think back to what I might have learned or done differently if I had been introduced earlier to some alternative methods of research in my classroom. What if I had engaged the children as I wrote about them? I remember they would often pull my observation notebook down, inspect my cursive scrawl, and nod in happy agreement as if to say that’s right, keep writing about me. Having read this volume, the task is to keep writing, read again what we think it means to research early childhood, and openly discuss these possibilities as real practices with early childhood educators.

The story regarding early childhood lacks images of the present now of children and it also does not pay attention to things such as their surprise, reflection, personal growth, and participation. How might research and practice in early childhood be invigorated if these were the focal points? What might it mean to see that it is early childhood educators who are its most important researchers?

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 09, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21590, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 12:26:53 PM

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About the Author
  • Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd
    Lawrence University
    E-mail Author
    Stephanie A. Burdick-Shepherd, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of education at Lawrence University. Her research looks at childhood, literature, and the profession of teaching. Recent publications include: Rediscovering Morality through the Concept of Childhood and Reading Feminist Hospitality: Possibilities for Education.
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