Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Teacher Education and Teacher Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Helenrose Fives

Committee Member

Nicole Barnes

Committee Member

Alina Reznitskaya


The purpose of this qualitative study was to gain insight into early childhood teachers’ engagement in epistemic cognition in the context of literacy instruction practices. Early literacy instruction was an important context to examine epistemic cognition because of the complexity of the teaching task. Early literacy instruction involves the simultaneous consideration of knowledge about multiple components of language structure in addition to knowledge of pedagogy, child development, and understandings of immediate socio-cultural context.

Teacher educators need to know how teachers think about knowledge in these multiple areas when they are planning early literacy instruction so they can effectively prepare them for and support them in such a complex task. The problem is that a rich description of the construct as enacted by early childhood teachers in their daily practice, which is needed to provide insight to the field about this phenomenon, does not currently exist, leaving us with little understanding about how early childhood teachers engage in thinking about knowledge and knowing in regards to early literacy instruction. Hence, my goal in conducting this study was to provide a holistic, in-depth description and deep explanatory analysis of this phenomenon.

To do so I explored how aspects of epistemic cognition emerged when early childhood teachers considered materials and planned instruction for literacy learning using a qualitative case study methodology. Participants in my study were two early childhood teachers who each held early childhood teacher certification and taught four-year-olds in a state funded Universal PreKindergarten classroom. Data sources included observations, interviews (i.e., semi-structured, stimulated recall, and think aloud), classroom artifacts, and documents. I engaged in a rigorous and iterative multi-phase analysis of my data.

Four salient findings are highlighted in my data. First, the teachers in my study were able to shift smoothly between epistemic aims for themselves and epistemic aims for their learners suggesting an ability to engage in epistemic cognition over concurrent planes of knowing. Second, the teachers’ epistemic beliefs and their beliefs about children’s learning functioned as their ideals and influenced all aspects of their engagement in epistemic cognition. Third, the teachers employed multiple types of reliable processes to apply their ideals and meet their aims. Fourth, the teachers in my study came to micro-epistemic ends; smaller epistemic ends, across both tasks before reaching their final epistemic ends, thereby providing insight into the inner workings of the process of early childhood teachers’ epistemic cognition during literacy instruction tasks.

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