Date of Award


Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD


School of Educational Studies

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Lucrecia Santibañez

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kyo Yamashiro

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Emily Rainey

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Christine M Snyder


Diverse classrooms, Emergent bilinguals, Research use

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Education


This study addresses two important gaps. First, a persistent achievement gap between culturally and linguistically diverse students and their typically more-resourced, English-proficient peers threatens students’ success in K-12 and beyond (Dabach & Callahan, 2011). Fortunately, there is a large body of research on teaching in diverse classrooms from which teachers can draw (Faltis & Valdés, 2016; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Lucas & Villegas, 2013; Menken & Antuñez, 2001). But teachers are not confident users of this research, expressing lack of confidence and preparation for teaching emergent bilinguals (EBs) (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Driscoll, 2005). This ties to the second gap—the “research/practice gap” between researchers and practitioners generally (Farley-Ripple, May, Karpyn, Tilley, & McDonough, 2018; Penuel, Allen, Coburn, & Farrell, 2015). One policy solution is to mandate greater use of evidence in decision-making—a feature of the 2016 Every Student Succeeds Act (WestEd, 2020). But the literature on the processes by which practitioners’ use research is thin (Nelson & O’Beirne, 2014); the practice of research use is ill-defined (Farley-Ripple et al., 2018) and transforming research knowledge into pedagogical knowledge is undertheorized (Cain, 2015a) (pp. 504-5). To date, much research on this gap focuses on how district and school leaders use research (Penuel et al., 2015) or on teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, and approaches to reading research (Kennedy, 1997; Zeuli & Tiezzi, 1993). Little research exists on the micro-processes (Little, 2012) and practices (Farley-Ripple et al., 2018) of research use. Without a better understanding of “the complexity of the research-practice link,” leveraging the professional knowledge base to improve practice will remain an elusive goal (van Ingen et al., 2016, p. 187). The purpose of this qualitative case study is to close the first gap by also closing the second. Until we better understand how teachers engage with their professional knowledge base, we have little hope of supporting evidence-based practices for teaching in diverse classrooms. To conceptualize my inquiry, I draw from the sociocultural perspective (Rogoff, 2003; Vygotsky, 1978) of activity theory (Engeström, 1999). This helps me predict that research use is defined by the interaction between teachers (and their working knowledge), tools (including research), and other contextual elements (e.g. school community, etc.). But the practices of research use—the specific practices involved when teachers, tools, and other contextual elements interact—are undefined (Farley-Ripple et al., 2018). To define them, I draw from collective sensemaking theory (Coburn, 2001) and empirical work on planning (McCutcheon & Milner, 2002) and teacher knowledge (Hiebert et al., 2002; M. Kennedy, 1982). These help me predict that the interaction between teachers, tools, and other contextual elements involves teachers’ sensemaking, gatekeeping, and complex planning decisions. From March-October 2019, I collected evidence of how 21 K-adult education teachers used research to plan for diverse classrooms. I collected 13 data sources across five collection events, including a “think aloud” where I observed how teachers made sense of and then used (or did not) research on teaching in diverse classrooms. The data subset analyzed here totaled 1,549 minutes of audio/video recording (yielding 285 pages of transcripts) and 160 pages of teachers’ notes, planning artifacts, and written responses to their readings. Data were coded qualitatively in a multi-stage process drawing from Corbin and Strauss (2015) as well as using a priori codes from activity theory (Engeström, 1999). Through this micro-process analysis (Little, 2012), I find research use when planning for diverse classrooms consists of three co-occurring subprocesses: Sensemaking, Gatekeeping, and Concretizing. I define sub-elements, properties, and dimensions of each. Though the first two processes have been explored in previous work (e.g. Coburn, 2001), my definition of Concretizing is an original contribution that highlights the complexity of research use. Another contribution of my study is, although I observed some patterns in use by years’ teaching experience and institutional contexts (ex: school-based accountability Rules around planning), use also shared similarities across contexts. This is significant because much literature focuses on organizational context as a factor in teachers’ evidence use (e.g. Goertz et al., 2009). My research design does not permit claims about the degree to which context did or did not “matter,” but patterns across individuals and organizations may suggest that individual- or organizational-level variables may not be the only factors influencing use. Patterns across significantly diverse teaching contexts may suggest research use (also) reflects norms, practices, and values shared by much larger communities of practice (Chaiklin & Lave, 1993), for example the broader professional teaching community. Finally, scholars note teachers’ relative lack of engagement in their professional literature (Goldacre, 2013; Hannan et al, 2000; Latham, 1993), and it is true that my participants varied in the quality and degree to which they comprehended and used the research. But contrary to what might be inferred from dire statistics, 19/21 of my participants at least entertained the possibility of using the research for instruction. This suggests lack of practitioner engagement may reflect not lack of teacher interest, but rather inadequate support for this complex work.