The Class Acts Study

Research Questions

What is Involved in Teaching?
How can Teacher Education Help?
How Can Professional Development Help?
How Can Policy Help?
How Can Research Help?
How can we Improve Research?

Research Projects

Teacher Qualifications and the Quality of Teaching
Class Acts
Research and Teacher Learning
National Center for Research on Teacher Learning
Teacher Education and Learning to Teach
Local Uses of Evidence
Evaluations of Federal Programs


Michigan State University
College of Education
Graduate Program in Teacher Education
National Center for Research on Teacher Learning



The Class Acts Study is my most recent effort devoted to the question, What is involved in teaching? I wanted to find out more about what is on teachers' minds when they are in the middle of teaching. Are they worried about time? About which kids are on task or off task? About who is confused? The study focuses on specific moments in teaching and asks teachers to talk about how they decided what to do at these moments. We ask not only what motivated them to do what the did, but also what trade-offs they thought about, how their responses have changed over time and what motivated those changes. The study focuses on teachers in grades three through six.

I am grateful that the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed to support this project. Other researchers who have contributed to the project Paula Lane, Brenda Neumann, and Rachel Lander.

A study such as this is only as good as the schools we visit. It makes no sense to study teacher decision making in schools where teachers face so many constraints that it is hard for them to make good decisions. We therefore targeted our study toward schools that provide strong support for their teachers. Our method for doing the study is to videotape a sample lesson (the teacher chooses the lesson) and then give the tape to the teacher to review. Each teacher then views his or her own videotapes and selects moments during the lesson that seemed important. Meantime, we also view the tape and select some moments to ask about, so that when we later interview the teacher, both the teacher and the researcher have selected some moments to talk about.

The moments teachers nominate to discuss are extremely varied. Sometimes they are surprised at something a student says or does, sometimes they are surprised at themselves. Often they point out sins of omission or commission, and sometimes things they are happy that they remembered to do. One thing that makes the study especially interesting is that, even though we are in the classroom with a camera, we don't "see" nearly as much as the teachers' "see." When teachers describe these events for us, they point out far more than we were able to see in them-more details and more nuances.

When interviewing teachers about these classroom events, we ask such things as:

  • what concerned the teachers most when deciding what to do;

  • how did they assess the merits and drawbacks of alternative possible actions;

  • would they have handled these situations differently at some earlier point in their careers; and

  • if so, what experiences prompted them to change their approaches to handling these particular types of classroom events.

We hope through these interviews to learn the tradeoffs that are involved in teaching and the criteria that are most important when teachers make decisions in complex situations. We also hope to learn how their criteria have changed over time, and what influenced those changes.

A typical school visit involves two researchers visiting for a week. Each researcher videotapes and interviews about five teachers. During the 1999-2000 school year, Class Acts Study researchers visited 6-8 schools in Michigan, Vermont, North Carolina and California.

Click here to see the original proposal for this study