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Value of an Integrated Learning Capstone Experience

• 1/15/21

The Master of Education in Leadership, Teaching, and Learning capstone experience for candidates seeking a Principal Endorsement prepares them to promote the success of the schools they lead using a problem-solving process known as action research. Action research supports continuous school improvement through staff collaboration, analysis of data, and self-reflection that furthers the well-being of the school community.

To achieve these learning outcomes we’ve implemented three key components within the course:

1. Integrated Learning.

Each candidate selects an action research topic to investigate that is relevant to her/his school or classroom to meet the needs of the students they instruct.  

Often, educational research exists that is general in nature and educators want to know if a particular program or intervention will work with the students they teach. Through their investigations, they may find that a program or intervention needs to be modified or enhanced to work effectively with their population of learners. Contextualization is the power of action research, which empowers educators to explore ideas and their effects in their teaching environments.

2. Projects and Coursework.

During the course candidates will create action research questions that are relevant to current learning theories and trends, the needs of their school, or students, and their personal interests.

Some recent examples of action research questions include:

  • How does the restructuring of classroom time and implementation of evidence-based practices in writing instruction improve students’ writing skills?
  • What effect will the development of common math rubrics at intermediate grades have on the fidelity of teacher judgment on student proficiency?
  • How will the decentralization of whole-school professional development impact teacher engagement?
  • What effect do restorative practices have on behavior management and student relationships in an elementary classroom?
  • What is the effect of daily positive parental communication to improve attendance rates of chronically absent students?
  • How will implementing retrieval practices in reading affect students’ comprehension?

3. School-based Research.

Each candidate will conduct an extensive eight-week investigation that requires her/him to collect evidence to answer an educational question of interest. Prior to implementation of the investigation, the candidate researches her/his topic to examine up-to-date literature and studies that discuss the pros and cons of the intervention or program they have chosen to explore. The candidate describes this information in a written review of the literature.  

Additionally, the candidate designs a plan that includes the type of evidence to be collected during the study’s implementation to answer the action research question. 

This evidence may consist of several of the following data collection tools:  

  • Surveys/questionnaires
  • Assessments
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups 
  • Field notes
  • Journals

Findings are described and summarized along with the review of literature in a capstone report, which is presented to class colleagues and a panel of university instructors.

The action research capstone project is addressed in a series of three courses throughout the program. In between the three action research courses, candidates are participating in classes that will inform their capstone topic selection, understanding, and plan for implementation.  

The capstone experience courses like EDU 524, EDU 622, EDU 624, and EDU 699 address the following:

  • School improvement planning
  • Trends in curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Strategic and instructional leadership

Benefits of this Experience

Through the completion of the capstone experience, students will learn how action research can be utilized by a school to study and investigate programs and interventions to understand their effect.  

For example, a candidate may ask the following questions:

  • Are the programs and interventions promoting the anticipated change?  
    • If not, how might they be modified, or enhanced?
  • Is additional teacher training required to ensure implementation fidelity? 

Another benefit of the capstone experience is that it demonstrates how action research promotes personal and school-wide best practices including:

  • Enhancing decision-making; it is an intelligent way of making decisions
  • Promoting reflection and self-assessment
  • Instilling a commitment to continuous improvement
  • Creating a positive school climate with a teaching and learning focus
  • Impacting directly on practice
  • Empowering those who participate in the practice 

Carla Noerrlinger serves as the Director of Research Division at Omaha Public Schools with 39 years of experience in Education.

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