Strategies: Teachers …
- Believe in their capacity to make a difference in student learning.
- Strengthen skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy through professional learning.
Category: Role and Mastery Expectations
Strategies: Teachers …
- Hold high academic and personal expectations for every child.
- Hold students to established state and district standards.
- Set objectives and provide regular feedback on accomplishment.
- Regularly remind students that they are expected to learn.
- Ensure that students understand their individual roles in content mastery and task completion.
Category: Equitable Access to Resources and Opportunities to Learn
Strategies: Teachers …
- Provide students with equitable access to learning opportunities regardless of academic gaps or needs.
- Provide resources to meet the needs of all children regardless of academic gaps or needs.
Category: Fostering Student Self-Efficacy and Responsibility
Strategies: Teachers …
- Believe in and promote student self-efficacy, individual ability to achieve, and positive self-regard.
- Scaffold and gradually transfer learning responsibility to students, teaching them to self-monitor skills development.
- Provide developmentally appropriate choices and decisions about alternative assignments to reach academic goals.
- Foster students' abilities to persevere on learning tasks.
- Regularly remind students that learning will be challenging and rigorous.
- Provide instruction and extensive modeling on how to strategize in the face of difficulty.
- Reinforce student effort and recognize accomplishments.
Belief in Self-Efficacy
Like other effective and culturally responsive educators, the PTP teachers were driven by a firm belief in their ability to make a difference in their students' learning regardless of their racial or cultural backgrounds, which led them to set and maintain high and clear expectations for themselves and their students. As elementary teacher Diana Granger explained, "You can mouth the words 'All children can learn,' but unless you really believe it and put it into practice, it's not going to happen."
To support their students' belief in their own abilities, PTP educators scaffolded and gradually transferred learning responsibility to them and helped them learn how to support and monitor their own and their peers' progress. The educators made sure that students understood their roles in mastering content, completing tasks, and meeting academic standards. Principal Alicia Baldwin made the following observation about teachers at her school: "There's a commonality with all these teachers. They look at their own data; they
want to do well, and they truly do want their kids to do well."
Expectations, Motivation, and Academic Achievement among Students of Color
Gallego, Cole, and the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition cite a number of empirical studies that confirm the influence of a complex array of factors on student motivation and performance, including school and home conditions, the presence of strategies to negotiate home and school identity, and positive identification with teachers (2001, p. 981). In addition, researchers have shown a clear correlation among teacher traits, behaviors, and expectations; high student motivation; and academic achievement for students of color (Arroyo, Rhoad, & Drew, 1999; Freel, 1998; Irvine & Armento, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 2000; Zeichner, 1996). Elementary school principal Tate Fischer noted how 4th grade teacher Christie Wyatt positioned herself as an advocate in her students' lives, helping to promote their feelings of self-efficacy. "It's not just black kids," she said. "Christie holds high academic and personal expectations for all children. All kids are asking teachers to 'believe in me,' and she works to ensure that they all believe, 'I can do it.'" Middle school teacher Kevin Friedman explained his approach this way: "With my black students, I have a feeling that my attitude—my strong enthusiasm in math class—is why they are successful."
Many researchers attribute low performance to patterns of interpersonal dynamics, linking student self-perception and motivation to teachers' low expectations and negative beliefs. Some believe that institutions such as slavery and separate and unequal school systems fostered persistently low expectations among teachers for their black students (Grant, 1989; Haberman, 1995). Teachers' attitudes can have a devastating effect on students, such as lowering their belief in their achievement capacity and diminishing their self-esteem, motivation, and ultimate academic performance (Freel, 1998; also see Armor, 1997; Wigfield, Galper, & Denton, 1999). PTP educators demonstrate an understanding of these patterns of expectations and achievement outcomes. As middle school teacher Michael Wagner noted, "Many black kids come to see school as a place where they aren't meant to be successful." Middle school principal Darrell Conway was straightforward in his analysis of the impact that race has had on school climate, performance, and achievement for black students:
The key to having the strategies in our vision such as multiple intelligences, cooperative learning, critical thinking, and technology work with black students is addressing issues of race. Many people have written about an unspoken belief in our culture that blacks can't learn. We're dead if we can't get past that. We can have a skilled instructional strategist in the classroom, but if that's their belief, we get disproportionality.
Teacher Mick Denby affirmed that his student-centered philosophy, understanding of his students' backgrounds, and acknowledgement that racism exists drove him to inform students about those aspects of their education that he influences: "I let students know that here, it's different. Once students leave, I can't fix what's out there: broken homes, poverty, or no one to help with homework." He stressed that he balanced his "attitude to not be defeated so easily" with his "belief that students have a chance and a choice." He thought that his core motto, "Don't let failure be because you didn't make a choice," had the effect of pumping up his students and encouraging them to believe in themselves.
Focused Energy and High Levels of Confidence
PTP teachers' achievement expectations reflect a serious effort to meet goals and arrive at positive outcomes. According to elementary school teacher Jeffrey Brooks, the key to being effective in the classroom is to do "the best we can to meet all the kids' needs. I think it's just, 'Roll with the best practices.'" After having taught in a program for gifted students, Brooks declared, "What I did for the gifted kids, I do for the regular kids."
Brooks's principal, Owen Callahan, attributed Brooks's success to his "overall philosophy: He believes he can do it." Callahan emphasized, "He has high expectations for kids and high confidence in himself and his capacity to make a difference. He is doing the work he wants to do and is guided by this intent to do what is right for kids. If a kid comes in three years behind, he says, 'Keep the child with me and he'll get caught up.' Brooks knows his craft. He believes he can do it."
Callahan noted that Brooks's feelings, like those of the other teachers at his school, are "not a syrupy sweet thing. There's a big distinction between those syrupy feelings and caring that motivates changes in teaching and learning practices." He saw providing equitable access to opportunities to learn as a school focus. He concluded, "At our school, caring for kids means giving them the skills to do well."
Sharing Confidence and High Expectations with Parents and Students
PTP teachers were purposeful in articulating their high expectations and confidence in students to the people who mattered most: the students and their parents. Middle school principal Kin Hanh Nguyen found that teacher Jessica Wakefield's belief in her capacity to make a difference in her students' educational careers was clear and transparent to her students. "They know that she wants them to get it," said Nguyen. "She sees their failure as her failure as a teacher. The kids know that she believes in them" and is working to promote their self-efficacy: "They never feel she is giving up on them."
Elementary school teacher Christie Wyatt believed that enlisting parents and students in developing children's sense of efficacy takes courage and daring. "I care about my students' success," she said. "I dare to bring them up to where they should be, and it's fun to watch their gains." When she realized that students and parents were anxious about the results of the 3rd grade ITBS scores, she pointed out to them that she used results of early-year classroom-based assessments to attend to student needs on a daily basis. Wyatt reported that she "dared to tell parents the truth about their kids," telling them and the students "to their faces what students are good at and not so good at" based on their performance in the first six weeks of the school year. In the face of anxiety, she said, "I talk about gifts." The students, she said, "are here to work, and I dare to bring them up to where they should be. I had one student who had had a bad 3rd grade experience in the previous year. I found out that she was poor in math. I got her a tutor, and assigned her home activities to supplement our school activities." Wyatt's commitment and daring helped all her 4th graders except one meet success standards on the state reading and mathematics assessment. "I tell them to just stick with me. I'm confident they will do well."
Hard Work, Commitment, and Enjoyment
PTP educators experienced their jobs as requiring hard work, long hours, and high energy—all of which they actually enjoyed. Middle school teacher Susan Lansing said, "I find that I am spending 60 to 70 hours a week at this because I enjoy it. I like doing what I do. It's a burden, but if kids enjoy it, I'm reacting to what they react positively to."
Middle school principal Alex La Chuisa saw the diligence and effort of teachers like Angela Chaffee rub off on her students; motivated by her efforts and beliefs, they reciprocated with efforts of their own. Diana Granger thought that students achieved because of her personal belief that they could "achieve beyond whatever the standards are." Middle school principal Alicia Baldwin noted that one of the strengths that teachers Gillian Novak and Berkeley McGuire shared was a habit of reflection that helped them understand students' backgrounds, plan activities to meet diverse learners' needs, and establish positive relationships with students. Once the teachers get to know the students, said Baldwin, "whatever they ask kids to do, the kids want to do for them."
Aware of the need to create a social context that is conducive to learning, 3rd grade teacher Ryan Toth noted that his enjoyment of his students and his way of balancing classroom routines with excitement contributed to positive personal relationships and helped motivate students to achieve. "I have fun with them," he said. "We do a lot of fun things: go for walks, have success celebrations. It's a bit like life. I work them hard, but they know that in the long run, it's worth it. They learn, and they see results. And for us this year, I'm happy that the results have been that our 3rd grade classes did very well" on district assessments.
The Effects of Perceptions of Self-Efficacy and Self-Reflection on Individual and Schoolwide Innovation
PTP teachers' belief in their capacity to make a difference was grounded in self-reflection. Lisa Forsythe believed that her "being personally reflective" fostered persistence and openness to trying new strategies in response to student needs. She recalled asking herself a series of questions: "What have I heard from peers that might work with my students? Which strategies from recent professional development might be useful? What is my role in this? How did this work with other classes? What do I know about the individuals in this class that suggests that a particular strategy will work? How is this group of students different? Why is this not working? What can I do to change? What have we heard from our principal that is going to help me be dynamic, be flexible?"
Often, teachers don't choose strategies based on individual reflections, but rather on schoolwide initiatives that are chosen or developed by school leadership teams. The leadership at a K–8 alternative school in the PTP study engaged in collaborative conversations to craft a schoolwide approach to selecting "grade-level initiatives aimed at closing the gap." Principal Naira Peet said, "At our grade-level meetings, we articulated and aligned K–8 math curriculum and set literacy goals at the early grades and study skills training and higher-order thinking skills goals at the intermediate level. Our intermediate students have service learning involvement, which helps build an understanding of who they are among the community."
Principal Darrell Conway and teacher Diana Granger attributed achievement gains among black students at their elementary school to the implementation of "a clear, schoolwide vision for success for all students" called "The Big Four," which focused on the use of cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities, and technology in the school. First, the staff conducted research, read professional development books, and attended discussion retreats related to cooperative learning and multiple intelligences. Granger's observations confirmed what she had seen in her family—that educators "tended to teach in two or three intelligences": the verbal-linguistic, the mathematical-logical, and the intrapersonal. After investigating Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences, Granger said that school staff also agreed to include teaching students critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities. Finally, the staff added technology as a teaching tool because of its pervasiveness in students' lives and its ability to provide students with equitable access to information and resources.
Granger detailed how staff came to embrace the school's vision through self-reflection, professional learning, and collaboration. She noted that as a 30-something white educator entering teaching as a second career after having started a family, she saw great disparities between what students needed to learn and generally accepted educational practices. She observed that her daughter and her "nieces and nephews who were black were likely being left behind in a lot of things." Because of this "questioning of the way education was delivered to the majority of the people," Granger readily embraced the vision that Conway led school staff to develop during restructuring.
According to Granger, once the teachers had become skilled at using The Big Four in their classrooms, they became aware that "for children to become self-directed and empowered in their own education, the strategies needed to be the curriculum." They also found that The Big Four helped students to meet community needs, such as environmental stewardship, with confidence.
Professional Development that Enhances Self-Efficacy and Professional Practices
PTP teachers' self-reflections and their collaboration on self-efficacy development both centered on innovations and sustained practices that would bring about changes in student achievement. Over half of my interviews with PTP educators contained references to the influence of professional learning on their practice. More importantly, to quote principals Alex La Chuisa and Alicia Baldwin, the teachers "actually used what they learned in professional development." As elementary school teacher Michael Wagner noted, "There is, generally, a willingness to dive in and go to trainings." With few exceptions, this assessment is true for all PTP educators.
Elementary school principal Shannon Weller saw teacher Donna Schneider's participation in professional learning as a manifestation of her "consummate professionalism." Diana Granger referred to focused professional development as the "scaffolding teachers need to improve their practice." She attributed sustained student achievement gains at her school to changes her staff made over seven years of professional development to implement The Big Four.
For middle school teacher Chris Spelman, the desire to take advantage of professional learning stemmed from his belief in his capacity to make a difference for his students. He noted that he had altered strategies that he deemed successful during his first couple of years of teaching after attending more training. "I'm as much of a learner as the students," he said. "I try to model for the students where I'm learning." Likewise, middle school principal Kim Hanh Nguyen noted that even though teacher Jessica Wakefield held a master's degree in educational technology, she was "always modeling being a learner, learning and reading about practical applications to include in lessons."
Role and Mastery Expectations
Setting and maintaining clear and high expectations for mastery of content is one of the most commonly cited features of effective and culturally responsive strategies (Arroyo, Rhoad, & Drew, 1999; Delpit, 2000; Freel, 1998; Irvine & Armento, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 2000; Rowan, Chiang, & Miller, 1997; Zeichner, 1996). Researchers have confirmed that high teacher expectations promote motivation and a commitment to achieve and learn content among students (Arroyo, Rhoad, & Drew, 1999; Hollins, 1982). When asked to what they would attribute the success of their black students, PTP educators were unanimous: high expectations for themselves and kids. Third grade teacher Ryan Toth noted that his students were clearly aware of his beliefs and high expectations: "I tend to be a rather emotional person; they know my expectations and they relate to that."
Holding Students to District and State Standards
The PTP educators asserted that they held all students to the same high standards, both academic and personal, regardless of their backgrounds. "Seventy-five percent of our population is lower-income students," said Jessica Wakefield. "Kids say they are responsible for babysitting after school or have no homes. I tell them, 'I look at all students as individuals.' I'm going to help them achieve. I tell them that even if they have no homes, I hold the same high expectations for everyone—'I'm going to help you achieve. I accept no excuses for not being able to participate.'" Following up on that promise, Wakefield sought support such as tutoring to ensure that her students had equal access to learning opportunities.
Principal Darrell Conway explained how teachers at his elementary school came to hold a similar position. "In the past, some of us felt sorry for black students because of the circumstances of their lives," he said. "But we learned that we needed to demand the work from all our kids. We now have the mentality to push all kids hard—to demand that they get in there and get the work done." Again Conway emphasized the need "to admit that race is an issue" when educators hold disparate expectations.
One principal I interviewed, Riley Portman, recalled that some of the classrooms in his school were very safe, orderly, and organized, with "no down time for messing around," but that "work was not up to the level I wanted for them or thought they could do." In Portman's view, failing to hold all students to established standards constituted a disservice to students of color. He disparaged educators' lowering expectations and giving students work on which they could be successful in order "to make them feel good," concluding that such practices amounted to "intentional, subtle, institutionalized racism."
Equitable Access to Resources and Opportunities to Learn
PTP educators met students' needs by providing them with equitable access to resources and opportunities to learn regardless of academic gaps or needs, ensuring that all students had access not only to regular education classrooms, but also to placement in gifted-student programs and to academic intervention programs.
Many schoolwide programs proceeded from schoolwide philosophies. Darrell Conway noted how his school's philosophy drove a focus on equity: "Diana Granger often led staff discussions on the disproportionate amounts of time that students 'at risk of failure,' many of whom live in poverty, got in instruction," he said. Conway's staff concluded "that with our current school funding scheme, those children 'at risk of failure' bring in more money, so they should be getting more instruction time." Conway recalled that these had "been tough conversations," with many parents of many white students insisting on equal time for their kids. In response, according to Conway, "Our teachers asserted their philosophy, 'No, your child will get quality time.'" Conway said that his school's approach addressed disproportionality by holding "high expectations for all kids, and providing equitable, not equal, opportunities for all children."
According to Diana Granger, staff at her school doubled the reading and writing instruction time for students who needed it. In addition, the school provided differentiated instruction featuring fluid movement between projects, guided instructional groups, and skill-building centers to accommodate children's needs. In the centers, "Children apply and really get their hands on those kinds of skills that we're trying to get across," Granger said. "We'll have smaller guided groups to teach about writing skills, such as the use of quotation marks in dialogue, or a guided group to give double time to lower readers, or to have conference time with writers who might be really good at their paragraph transitions but need some instruction on specific literary devices and using figurative language."
Middle school teacher Carla Storey's science classes exemplified her school's philosophy of providing access to regular education classes for students in special education, behavior-disabled inclusion, and English as Second Language programs. Fully 75 percent of her students were in special education, and though it was challenging, she managed to teach them an inquiry-based science curriculum in a laboratory setting.
Elementary school principal Patrice Tam reported that, at her school, addressing equitable access to programs meant diversifying the populations admitted to the school's "Spectrum" program for highly capable students through blending. Tam increased the number of students admitted to the program by employing school-level reading assessments as criteria for selection in addition to district-level assessments. According to Chan, the resulting Spectrum program included 11 out of 28 students who the district had claimed were ineligible.
At his middle school, principal Alex La Chuisa observed that his teachers provided students with equitable access to opportunities for meeting their needs because they saw all students "as capable and motivated regardless of their backgrounds or learning styles." Special education students and English language learners at the school were regularly enrolled in regular education classes with teachers like Angela Chaffee, a highly qualified teacher who also taught honors classes. The school also provided after-school interventions, such as a math study group led by Chaffee, for students who demonstrated the greatest needs.
Teacher Ryan Toth recounted that the staff at his elementary school used the Read Naturally computer program for assisted learning to afford students equitable access to reading instruction. Using the program's trained adult tutors and small groups essentially reduced the teacher-student ratio in classes from 1-to-28 to 1-to-7. Toth believed that the resulting increase in one-on-one time with tutors and teachers was particularly helpful to students, and that students were afforded a greater sense of their individual roles in mastering learning outcomes as they progressed individually through the program's computer-assisted lessons. In addition to using the Read Naturally program, Toth would move his class from his small, movable classroom to the lunchroom for reading aloud—a move that he found helped engage and motivate his students.
Middle school vice principal Claire Beauvais saw teacher Moira Reynolds accommodating for differences in students' abilities as she progressed through group lessons. Reynolds noted that many of her "black students who had closed achievement gaps were hooked into the University of Washington's Early Scholars Opportunity Program [ESOP]." (The ESOP program pairs college-bound, primarily minority students with college-age mentors for tutoring or simply to discuss what college is like, what's needed to get there, and why it's important. In addition to promoting student self-efficacy and academic growth, ESOP makes the dream of a college future an incentive for students.)
One of the first steps Alicia Baldwin saw teacher Berkeley McGuire taking to ensure equitable access to resources and opportunities was to become deeply aware of her students' backgrounds. Once she had done so, Baldwin said that McGuire invested considerable time in "looking at what they individually needed regardless of race or ethnic background, then presenting background knowledge to bring kids up to the same experience as their counterparts—leveling the playing field." McGuire's strategy was especially helpful for some of her "poorest kids—black, Cambodian, and Laotian kids in particular."
Baldwin also noted teacher Marian Katz's implementation of a widely used intervention: skills-based study groups within the context of a block-scheduled classroom. Although Baldwin found this approach unusual at middle school level, she also saw that it was "absolutely beneficial" for Katz's black students because it offered them instruction in the exact skills that they needed to address demonstrated deficits.
Fourth grade teacher Mark Donnelly's efforts to provide equitable responses to his students' needs took him all the way to their homes. "It's easy to blame a student's home life," he said. "However, in my experience with different students, parents care. I went to one student's home in the morning to talk to his parents and found that it was hard for him to study at home. Because I try to ignore a failure mentality and give all my students a chance, we worked out a plan for him to arrive early to study with a student tutor at school."
Middle school teacher Charles Ackerman and 6th grade teacher Danielle Kaplan also found one-on-one time to be a must for students who needed help with basic skills in mathematics, although Kaplan lamented that, too often, in the context of her regular classroom, "there was just enough time to tell kids what they didn't do." To compensate, Kaplan felt compelled to "write back to [the students] in their math journals."
To help build meaningful collaboration with parents, middle school teacher Kevin Friedman personalized planning agendas that he sent home with specific comments and requests for input and narrowly defined homework assignments that increased the likelihood of student success (e.g., "Identify three ways to select a sample for data collection in statistics.").
Fostering Student Self-Efficacy and Responsibility
PTP educators focused on strengthening students' self-efficacy through personal communication and daily interaction, ensuring that students understood their personal roles in content mastery, task completion, and achievement of realistic academic standards.
Relationships: Essential to Motivation and Achievement
PTP educators explained how the social and cultural aspects of the teacher-student relationship were essential to student motivation and achievement. As middle school teacher Lisa Forsythe reflected, the personal relationship between teacher and student reinforces motivation and student effort— when students know that teachers care about them completing learning tasks, they are more likely to do so.
Fourth grade teacher Christie Wyatt also established a close relationship with her students, reminding them of their individual roles in content mastery by writing personalized notes and leaving them on their desks. The notes "pointed out their strengths and weak points" and reminded them that although the work would be challenging, she had confidence in their ability to succeed. That the students often kept the notes showed Wyatt how meaningful they were.
Changing Typical and Expected Social and Academic Interactions
Middle school teacher David Maslin used his understanding of how race changes "the dynamic that typically occurs in school for students who are from groups that have typically been oppressed" to help his students achieve. For example, he rejected the notion that "the teacher [will be] in command and the student is subordinate." Instead, he balanced teacher-centered presentations to the whole class with reciprocal teaching episodes in which his 7th and 8th graders took on the role of teachers. Maslin noted that although the students "can see that I have more life experiences because I'm older," he built trust by "showing that I can learn from them, for example, when we write poetry or read books [focused on multicultural themes]."
According to middle school teacher Angela Chaffee, "You have to go in the classroom and say, 'These kids are going to do well. I don't care what's going on in their lives. They have to.' If they have all this other stuff going against them—potentially at home—the teacher still has to say to them, 'You have to become more powerful as a learner and more responsible for your education. If you can do that, your life has no limits.'" She said that she helped her students to see her as someone charged with providing doors of opportunity for them by "giving them as many skills and concepts as possible." Similarly, 6th grade teacher Danielle Kaplan coached her students to push themselves beyond self-imposed limits by encouraging them to understand that there's always more to achieve, and that perseverance is always necessary.
Curriculum and Development of Student Self-Efficacy
PTP educators strongly believed that the curriculum and structures they employed helped strengthen students' beliefs in self-efficacy and abilities to achieve. Middle school teacher Mick Denby scaffolded students' self-efficacy development by having them repeat the following pledge every morning:
One: Work hard, for hard work makes excellent results.
Two: Study hard, for good study habits build a strong mind.
Three: Respect everyone, for in return you will receive respect.
And four: Do your best in everything you do, for to do otherwise is to do nothing.
Denby had learned the pledge from a special education teacher two years prior. At the beginning of the year, Denby had his students write down and reflect both orally and in writing on the meaning of the pledge. To Denby, the pledge had the effect of "making students feel pumped up [and] believe in themselves."
Elementary school principal Shannon Weller felt that the curriculum and structures at her school's Montessori program helped all her students learn at an early age how to be successful and self-directed in school. For many students, success in school begins with understanding patterns of interaction that may vary significantly from what they experience in their neighborhoods or homes. Weller recalled that Montessori's clear boundaries, support for those boundaries, and focus on self-direction starting at age three both demonstrated and encouraged appropriate engagement among students. "What we've done is create classrooms where there is little opportunity for failure for any of our kids and a win-win situation for kids and for teachers," she said.
Diana Granger believed that becoming reflective was a key element of student self-efficacy development. She and her team members persistently used such sentence frames as, "Why do you think … ?" to provoke reflection. She saw that such questioning drove students to consider possibilities and freed educators from the limits they placed on what "kids can do and how much they can learn." She found self-reflective questions to be especially helpful with her students of color. Because such students are "not shut down at the get-go, because they are able to access whatever they're strong in, [self-reflection] reduces the likelihood that a student will say, 'I guess I'm not as smart as that person over there.'"
Ryan Toth credited the aforementioned Read Naturally program with instilling a sense of independence in students and an understanding of their individual roles in mastering the reading curriculum. The thrice-weekly program, which features a small-group tutoring component conducted with parents and teachers, computer-based instruction, teacher reading, repeated student reading, and progress monitoring, requires students to take part in guided reading instruction to learn vocabulary, increase fluency, and improve comprehension skills. Toth reported that parents, students, and teachers loved the program: In addition to providing an opportunity for students to improve reading skills, it demonstrated a meaningful collaboration with highly trained parents who tutored students in the teacher-directed model, listened to them read aloud, assisted them as they read and wrote responses to onscreen computer prompts, and managed the reports of their progress. Toth commended the program's parent coordinator as a highly efficient manager who provided bimonthly spreadsheets showing the number of stories read and analyses of each student's performance. Toth also lauded students' abilities to become "totally independent by the third week of the program. The kids know it; they run it themselves." He recalled that "three times a year, we'd work out a point system for all [the students'] completed work. It has to do with focusing work, not grades. Everybody sees the points earned and wants to move on. This energizes the other kids."
Shared Responsibility for Teaching and Learning
Third grade teacher Mark Goldberg noted that promoting self-efficacy in elementary school helps students to "become autonomous and take responsibility for their own learning." Goldberg felt that student self-talk such as "'Yes, I did this; not the teacher, not my learning partner'" fostered "a sense of empowerment and responded to students' love of being successful." In other words, assuming responsibility for positive and negative outcomes helped students to build an internal locus of control and intrinsic motivation. According to Goldberg, developing a sense of responsibility has a twofold effect: Students are "able to attribute success to their individual efforts and take compliments much better, saying 'Thank you' rather than 'Oh, I didn't do it,'" and they "learn to make more choices that move them forward without the guidance of the teacher. That goes a long way to building their esteem and their motivation to work on their own."
Allowing students to make developmentally appropriate choices is a strategy that middle school teacher Chris Spelman found particularly effective with his black students. He found that given choices, students "seemed to respond more positively." Third grade teacher Kimberly Lazarides also found that students' interest and motivation were higher, and they ultimately were exposed to a greater variety of modes and genres of writing when she gave students a choice.
Middle school teacher David Lee shared the responsibility for his students' progress with students and their parents or caregivers. He posted daily score charts and weekly progress reports on his wall, using student ID numbers to preserve student anonymity, and conducted biweekly conversations with students to strengthen caring relationships centered on student achievement. Lee continually "stressed each individual student's responsibility to achieve what he or she is capable of attaining related to district standards and their own goals." According to Lee, this focus helped his students to be self-motivated.
A Virtual Walk through David Maslin's 8th Grade Algebra Lesson
As two teams of teachers enter David Maslin's racially diverse classroom, they notice that almost all the students are wearing the school uniform: an oversized white polo shirt and black slacks or blue jeans. There are a total of 16 students, four of whom are female. A district communication standards poster is mounted on the classroom door. At the front of the room is Maslin himself: Twenty-something, a head shorter than most of his students, and smiling cheerfully. He takes a set of 3-by-5-inch index cards from a shirt pocket and tells the students that they will be working on problems in their math journals or on a separate piece of paper in their binders. Mr. Marques, the tall, black teacher's aide, enters the room and quietly walks to the back of the classroom. As he does so, he quietly nods to or places a hand on the shoulder of three students whom he passes.
Students seem interested in the lesson, scurrying to sit at tables in groups of two or three. At a center aisle table, Tuleah, a student of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent, stops talking with Akeela and sits down next to her, while Keith, who is black, tosses the binder he had been using during the class's previous lesson into a box on a side table reserved for literature journals. At the same time, Akil, an immigrant from North Africa who has recently joined mainstream classes, scoots his chair backwards to join Truong and Ennis at their table in the row near the windows. Maslin has put structures in place to support small-group work where students develop their expertise, and students' movements show that they know their roles and responsibilities for completing tasks.
Maslin's classroom is safe and orderly and provides students with access to current materials and technology. A large fern sits beside Maslin's desk. Along the wall to the right of the desk, there is a long table holding the teacher's computer along with a bank of student computers and printers, as well as clipboards holding directions for operating the machines and storing files. A Word Wall featuring 15 important mathematics terms is situated above and to the left of the blackboard on which Maslin is beginning to write an algebraic expression. The Word Wall includes such terms as "grid," "x-axis," "y-axis," "abscissa," "negative," and "sum" written on oblong pieces of colored construction paper. An agenda written in colored chalk on the blackboard publicizes the upcoming AlgebraThon and Summer Math Lab and announces that Monday is Sports Day, Tuesday is Twins Day, Wednesday is Backwards Day, Thursday is Crazy Hair Day, and Friday is Pajama Day— events of great interest to students that add excitement to the routine of school. A bulletin board next to the blackboard displays geometric designs from South America and materials that outline the contributions that different cultures have made to the field of mathematics. The bulletin board also displays samples of student work, which also cover three walls of the classroom, as do posters showing the district mathematics, reading, and writing standards and graphic organizers.
An overhead projector cart in the center of the room faces the blackboard and a TV monitor is affixed to the wall next to the clock to the left of the door, but Maslin will use only his voice and chalk for today's lesson. He erases vocabulary words and ideas about the poems the class discussed prior to the algebra lesson from the chalkboard. "I've got a few problems for us to try," he says. "We're going to do them one at a time, together … and work through some of this new stuff … to be sure we're all on the same page." He breaks up each phrase with a short pause. Rather than having students "cover" a large number of problems, Maslin engages them in achieving a deep understanding of a few selected problems. He has structured the content and activities in this lesson to actively engage students and solidify their learning of mastered material.
Casually scratching his head, Maslin advances toward Malik's table and glances at Malik's journal. Listening quietly, Malik follows Maslin with his eyes as he returns to the board, faces the class, and says, "I want you to try to use the written method as much as you can with these."
Tuleah darts to her seat, bending her six-foot frame as she crosses in front of Maslin, raising her hand apologetically. Maslin has developed positive relationships with his students, which can be seen in the way they treat each other: with civility, gentleness, and support.
To scaffold the transition between his students' prior experience using manipulatives and his new expectations for written solutions, Maslin says, "We want to start phasing out the materials, the blocks, the pieces, whenever possible." He raises his hands to his chest, palms outward as if revealing on them the meaning of his words, and explains: "You won't always have those materials, so if you can start to see doing your work without 'em, do it. If you need 'em, if you get stuck, definitely use 'em. There's nothing wrong with that; they'll help you out. But when you can, sometimes it's faster not to use 'em."
Almost all of Maslin's students listen silently as he talks. He continues: "So think about that, and also—I'll leave it at that. Let's try these one at a time. If you get it, try not to shout out the answer. I'll come around to see how you're doing, and we'll have people show how you did these." He flips through his index cards and says, "While you're doing them, think about how you're doing them in case you have to explain 'em to us." In this way, Maslin ensures that students understand their individual roles in content mastery and task completion.
By this time, Maslin has finished writing the equation on the board:
2 * + 3 = -6 + X
Placing the index cards back in his shirt pocket, he says, "We'll start with some easy ones, and then go on from there." Through this scaffolding and gradual increase in task difficulty, students, regardless of learning gaps or needs, are provided equitable access to opportunities to learn challenging content. At this point, Tuleah asks, "So is it a game?" It becomes clear that the class is accustomed to learning mathematics by approaching problems as games. Maslin responds, "No, it's not exactly a game. We're just gonna work some problems together to be sure we're all on the same page." Another student sighs with disappointment.
The next exchange confirms that routines in Maslin's class are balanced with excitement. Several students, led by Tuleah, negotiate with Maslin to "play a game on Friday, like the buzzer game." Maslin notes that the buzzer game is similar to "the X game," in which students solve equations for the variable X. He informs his students that to develop the X game, he'll have to "stay up late to put it together." He allows his students to share control of the lesson planning, ending with, "You're asking a lot of me."
A student named Germaine shows his interest by volunteering to help Maslin: "I can do it for you," he says. Rashan, who is seated behind Germaine and Tuleah, shows his interest in working on the game for Friday, but reconsiders mid-sentence, making an excuse for not being able to help: "You know, I would do it for you, but …" Rashan's voice trails off as Maslin announces, "I can probably prepare the game for Friday." This exchange demonstrates how Maslin maintains his students' interest in the class by planning engaging activities such as the "X game" while simultaneously keeping them focused on the content and purpose of the lesson.
Immediately after reaching a mutual agreement that they will have the X game on Friday, Maslin directs his students' attention to the collaborative solution of the algebra problem. At this school, the expectation is that students will work with their peers in a reciprocal teaching approach, helping each other with most learning tasks. Maslin has formatted his lesson according to his students' preferences for working in groups. While the students work together, Maslin circulates, providing instruction, offering individual assistance, and probing students' responses. He begins near the door, where he announces, "I'm seeing some good stuff. Take your time." He makes frequent informal assessments of students' progress, which guide his feedback and interventions.
We see examples of the students' interest in their learning: Ennis responds, "You were right" to his partner, and Germaine raises his hand to request help from the teacher aide. The small-group work in which the students are engaged allows them to use their collective knowledge as a basis for inquiry and to develop expertise.
As he discusses the problem with the teacher aide, we hear Ennis exclaim: "Is it minus six? Oh, crap!" Truong reveals his confusion: "I thought it was minus six instead of negative six." Maslin stops to talk to Craig about the operations he is using. Maslin asks each of his students to provide substantive oral and written responses that will advance deeper understanding. When Craig says, "There was a two out front," Maslin makes a quick assessment and replies, "Oh, you had two negatives, I see. That's okay, two stars. That's all right."
As Maslin leaves Craig, Keith calls him over. "I got to talk to you, dawg. I want to talk about my work." Familiar and at ease with his students' expressions. Maslin leans over Keith's desk and looks at his work. We hear Keith say, "Negative six plus six," to which Maslin nods. Keith goes on, "I have to get this X out of there." Pointing at Keith's paper, Maslin agrees. "You have to get this X out of here. Get this two on this side and this X on this side." Moving on to Akeela, Maslin says, "You're just adding three to this side. You've got to add three on that side, too." Demonstrating the civility and support that are typical in this class, Brianna raises her hand, and with an "Excuse me," asks the aide over for assistance.
Maslin returns to the left side of the room and takes a seat on the edge of Malik's desk. Smiling, he quietly prompts Malik: "That's a good idea; what are you gonna do with it?" When Malik responds, Maslin raises his hands palms up, as if to say, "Eureka! There you are," then points at Malik as if to say, "There you go! You've got it!" In exchanges like this one, Maslin demonstrates his knowledge of the communication styles of the cultural groups in his classroom. During Maslin's exchange with Malik, another student can be heard proclaiming to the whole class: "X equals three!"
Maslin moves on to Ennis, Akil, and Truong's table, which has been joined by Rashan. Again revealing his positive relationship with his students, Maslin leans in close, placing both hands on the table. After quickly reviewing the students' work, Maslin provides the feedback they need to proceed with the solution. "Check your check," he says to Ennis.
Elsewhere in the classroom, Tuleah is heard to say, "I'm done." Germaine retorts, "What! You're done before me?!" "I'm done 'cuz I'm smart," says Tuleah. Germaine pushes Tuleah's head aside with his hand. Tuleah responds by enforcing the classroom's expectation of mutual civility, gentleness, and support, pushing Germaine's hand away and saying, "Stop!" "I ain't dumb, you know," she asserts with a smile. "I'm very smart!" Her interest in the algebra problem prompts her to engage the students at a nearby table: "David, Brianna, what did you get? Did you get X equals three?"
Back at Ennis and Truong's table, Maslin discovers that the partners have different solutions, so he provides them with some feedback. He says to Ennis, "That looks good; oh, your star is negative." Then he turns to Truong and says, "Okay, yours is—check your signs. Look back through it. Look at what signs you used; your positive and negative might have gotten switched somewhere." Turning back to Ennis, he says, "Look at your check; you say X is three, then negative six plus three …" Continuing to probe for extended and substantive oral responses and asking leading questions rather than giving students the answer, Maslin says, "Think again, what's negative six plus three?" His aim here is to scaffold and gradually transfer learning responsibilities to students, and to teach them to self-monitor. Truong offers, "Negative six plus three; it's three." Rashan asks, "How does that help us?"
As Maslin starts walking away from the table, Truong asks again, "Negative six plus three, right?" "Yeah," replies Maslin. Akil, his voice full of certainty, says, "Three," while Ennis probes further, "So you make that negative?" Maslin replies, "I don't know. You tell me." Truong's comeback is confident: "Yes!"
Brianna and Antoinette giggle and cover their faces with their hands as Maslin approaches their table in the back of the room. While he looks at their work, Tuleah, Germaine, and Malik can be heard heatedly debating Malik's chances of making the varsity football team. "You are not going to make varsity football," says Tuleah. "I'm gonna start junior varsity!" responds Malik. Germaine's retort is heavy with sarcasm: "Start. Oh, start! Nobody said nothing about start."
Back at Brianna and Antoinette's table, Maslin is oblivious to the football debate. He and Antoinette agree that she will explain the solution to the class. Returning to the blackboard, he directs Antoinette to begin: "Okay, Antoinette, the first step." Antoinette begins, "Um, six and the —," but is distracted by the football discussion, which has gotten louder. Maslin walks over to Tuleah, Germaine, and Malik and makes a "keep it down" gesture with his hand. His explicit coaching on appropriate behavior is delivered using appropriate adult/teacher language that allows students to retain the respect of their peers. Firmly and quietly he says, "I'm going to ask you both to help." When the students stop talking within a few seconds, he responds, "Okay, that's better. All right. Thank you." Then, he returns his attention to Antoinette: "Antoinette, go ahead."
Antoinette's solution demonstrates her understanding of operations as well as her confidence, humor, and innovativeness. The extended, substantive explanation she provides allows her to share an important role in the class's learning. She ends by saying, "Since there's an X over on the right side, I added one on the left side and got 2 * + X + 3." Maslin asks, "Added an X to both sides?" With a note of confidence in her voice, Antoinette replies, "No." She gives Maslin directions until he responds, "Yeah. So you added a star and an X" and writes the following on the board:
3 * + 3 = -6
X + *
"Yes, I know that!" says Antoinette, to which Maslin nods, demonstrating his understanding of modal communication and linguistics styles. Smiling now, Maslin and Antoinette use the additive and multiplicative inverse operations to solve the equation. Maslin makes changes on the board as Antoinette responds, "Yeah, I got 3 * + X + 3 = -6 + X." She then asks Maslin, "Can you just subtract X on both sides?" Answering "I'd be happy to," Maslin crosses out the X on both sides of the equation:
3 * + + 3 = -6 + .
Antoinette continues, "And then you have 3 * + 3 = -6." Maslin agrees: "That leaves us with 3 * + 3." Antoinette finishes his sentence as Maslin subtracts three from each side of the equation. She warns Maslin that he is "one step ahead" of her, and he responds, "No, I'm right with you." Antoinette continues, "I then placed -3 on the left side and did the same thing on the right side." Maslin writes this operation on the board:
3 * + 3 = -6
Antoinette goes on: "And we're left with 3 * = -9." Divide by 3 and you get * = -3, so X = 3."
This episode of reciprocal teaching, in which Antoinette assumes the role of teacher, is designed to help students construct meaning in learning situations. As Antoinette gives Maslin the final directions for solving the equation, he writes down the solution and the two of them read it out loud together: "* = -3, and X = 3." The students' reactions signal their clear interest in the lesson. Tuleah shouts, "Whoa! I got that! We got it right." Rashan and others ask, "What's the check? What's the check?" and Ennis responds, "-3 = -3."
Maslin writes "Check" above the solution and asks Antoinette to "take us through the check." Sounding tired, Antoinette explains: "So it says, two star times three is negative six, So that's negative six. Plus three equals negative three. And then it says negative six plus X." As she talks, Maslin writes -6 and -3 on the board and points with an exaggerated motion to the right side of the equation. Simultaneously with Antoinette, he says, "And it says negative six plus X." Antoinette finishes Maslin's statement: "And X equals three, so I got positive three because I acted like the plus sign wasn't there and I subtracted." The explication is over when Maslin asks rhetorically, "Positive or negative?" and writes "-3 = -3" in a circle under the word "Check" on the board.
Tuleah again announces, "I got it! That. I got that right!" Maslin commends her and the other students' efforts: "Yes, I saw some good work as you were solving this first one." He has used his frequent and continuous assessments of the students' work today to determine skills and knowledge acquisition and to provide feedback and interventions. Continuing to promote Antoinette in the expert role, he asks the class: "Any questions? Any questions for Antoinette?"
"How did she get so smart?" asks Tuleah— a curious question, since Tuleah herself had found the correct solution to the problem. Maslin responds by restating the question: "How did she become so smart?"
"Can we do another one?" asks Ennis. Because of the chatter in the classroom, Maslin doesn't hear him and replies, "Huh?" Ennis repeats the question. This time Maslin acknowledges his contribution to planning the class's activities and replies, "Next one." Joking, Tuleah snorts, "Again?"
After asking if there are any more questions, Maslin erases the board using comically exaggerated gestures that make the students laugh. Chuckling, he takes his index cards from his pocket and shuffles through them looking for a new problem. "Here's one of my popular problems," he announces, as one of his students lets out a whistle.
Grounded in a belief in his students' abilities, Maslin has structured his lesson to ensure that it is attainable and will strengthen students' growing sense of self-efficacy and positive self-regard.
Following the walkthrough, the two teams gather in the hallway outside Maslin's classroom and take a few minutes to make checks next to strategies that they observed on their individual feedback forms and to add to the notes they made. Then, led by the facilitator's prompts, the observers each share the notes that they wrote at the bottom of their forms, in the section titled "What Teachers/Students Say/Do Related to the Focus Area." Here's what the teachers found:
Findings: Teacher 1 found that Maslin demonstrated a belief in his students' abilities and structured his lesson to ensure that it strengthened students' growing sense of self-efficacy in solving equations.
Focus: Teacher-Student Interactions
Findings: Teacher 2 noted that interactions were overwhelmingly positive in Maslin's class. Evidence for this could be seen in Maslin's cheerful smile and jokes, in the way Tuleah politely excused herself when crossing in front of Maslin while he was teaching, in the students' use of respectful language, and in the way the students laughed at Maslin's jokes.
Focus: Classroom Management and Student Discipline
Findings: Teacher 3 noted that when students disrupted Antoinette's demonstration of the solution to the algebra problem, Maslin explicitly coached proper behavior using appropriate language and asked the offending students to accept mutual responsibility for maintaining the classroom environment. Teacher 3 thought it was clear that the students cared about what went on in class, as indicated by how quickly the disruptive students quieted down, and noted that Maslin demonstrated that he valued his students' cooperation by thanking them when they complied with his request for order.
Focus: Cultural Competence
Findings: Teacher 4 noted that Maslin demonstrated his familiarity with the communication styles of the cultural groups in his classroom on many occasions, citing as one example his use of encouraging hand gestures when helping Malik, thus supporting Malik's self-efficacy development and further cementing their positive relationship.
Focus: Cultural Congruence
Findings: Teacher 5 noted that Maslin's familiarity and comfort with his students' use of language allowed him to respond with ease when Keith referred to him as "dawg," and that his cultural competence seemed to help him balance routine class work with activities such as the Friday "X game" and actions such as the exaggerated erasing gestures.
Focus: Cooperative Learning
Findings: Teacher 6 noticed that Maslin had put structures in place to support small-group work where students develop their expertise, that he clearly expected students to assist each other when solving the algebra problem, and that he appeared to have determined the format for his lesson by taking into account his students' preference for group work. Teacher 6 also noted that Maslin expected his students to assume individual roles in content mastery and task completion, as evidenced by his saying, "So let's try these one at a time. If you get it, try not to shout out the answer. I'll come around to see how you're doing, and we'll have people show how you did these." The teacher also noted that Maslin demonstrated a collaborative approach to learning by circulating the room to offer students assistance and probe their responses.
Focus: Procedures for Rehearsal, Processing, and Transfer of New Learning
Findings: Teacher 7 noticed that Maslin called for extended, substantive oral and written student responses that would advance deeper understanding, and that he had structured the lesson content and activities to actively engage students. This teacher found that Maslin sustained students' active learning through questions and explanations, and that he gradually increased the task difficulty to keep students engaged, as evidenced from his comment near the start of the walkthrough: "We'll start with some easy ones, and then go on from there." At the end of class, Ennis showed clear interest in increasing his self-efficacy about what they were learning by asking, "Can we do another one?"
Clearly, Maslin's approach had worked.