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May 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 8

Double Take

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Research Alert

What Will It Take to Change?

A question for you: What form of professional learning has the most abysmal track record for changing teachers' practice and student achievement? Clue: It's the kind that 90 percent of teachers normally engage in at school.
If you answered, "the workshop-style training session," you're right. Despite its ineffectiveness, it still soldiers on.
In light of the Common Core state standards, changing teachers' practice is crucial. Research shows that most classroom instruction is weak in teaching for critical thinking, a skill that the standards emphasize across the board. Cautions the author of a recent study from the Center for Public Education, "Teachers have to learn new ways to teach, ways to teach they likely never experienced themselves and that they rarely see their colleagues engage in. Creating this type of teacher development is one of the biggest challenges school districts face today" (p. 7).
Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability looks at the research and distills five principles of effective professional development:
  • The duration of professional development must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with implementation problems. Teachers may need as many as 50 hours of practice before mastering a new teaching strategy.
  • A teacher must receive support during implementation. When professional development describes a skill to teachers, only 10 percent can transfer it to their practice. However, when teachers are coached through the awkward phase of implementation, 95 percent can transfer the skill.
  • Teachers' initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage teachers through such varied approaches as role-playing, live modeling, and classroom observations so they can actively make sense of the new practice.
  • Modeling is highly effective. Teachers can best understand how and why to implement a new practice when they see an expert demonstrate it.
  • Professional development is best delivered in the context of the teacher's subject area or grade level. Training on generic topics is unhelpful.
Authored by Allison Gulamhussein and published by the Center for Public Education, Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability is available.

World Spin

Learning As They Teach

In Sydney, Australia, at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic primary school, teams of three or four teachers are working together to teach classes three times the average size. The feedback the teachers provide one another, as well as their ongoing collaboration in the classroom, helps them learn as they teach and improve their practice. This approach to embedded professional development means that teachers no longer work alone behind closed doors, every teacher knows every student, and every child in the larger classroom has three teachers rather than one.

Online Only

Fuel Your Learning

Are you trying to set up professional learning opportunities in your school that lead to true teacher growth? Check out Learning Forward's 21 free webinars on topics related to implementing great professional development—including establishing time for it in the school day, assessing your faculty's learning needs, and stretching professional learning dollars. Some webinars—such as one on professional learning through virtual communities—focus on how individual teachers can set their own learning goals and curate a personal network of colleagues and resources to fuel their professional growth.
Website visitors can also access issues of the newsletter, The Leading Teacher. Each issue includes articles on topics like coaching teachers individually, as well as downloadable tools—such as a "polarity map" protocol for facilitating difficult conversations within learning communities. And at the Learning Exchange area, you'll find blogs that offer interaction and ideas for increasing teacher learning.

Relevant Reads

Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green (Norton, forthcoming July 2014)
"The common view of great teachers is that they are born that way," writes Elizabeth Green in Building a Better Teacher. This assumption has informed countless studies that have sought to explain good teachers through personality and character traits: Are great teachers empathetic? Extroverted? Emotionally sensitive? Humorous? Socially well-adjusted? Flexible?
If teaching is, indeed, a natural gift, then it makes sense to try to improve education by sorting out the worst teachers—an approach advocated by many of today's education reformers. But Green's historical study of efforts to define good teaching practice—by educators and reformers like Magdalene Lampert, David Cohen, Nate Gage, Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Judith Lanier, and Doug Lemov—leads her to conclude that great teaching is, instead, the result of specialized knowledge and skill honed through years of experience—and that, therefore, the way to improve education is through teacher professional learning.
"By misunderstanding how teaching works, we misunderstand what it will take to make it better—ensuring that, far too often, teaching doesn't work at all." (p. 9)

Numbers of Note

20 The percentage of students in U.S. teacher preparation programs who use Twitter to enhance their professional knowledge.
45 The percentage of students in U.S. teacher preparation programs who regularly look for podcasts and online videos to help them prepare for teaching.
Source: Project Tomorrow & Blackboard K–12. (2013). Learning in the 21st century: Digital experiences and expectations of tomorrow's teachers. Washington, DC: Author.

PageTurner

"Pause classroom"? Wouldn't that be a wonderful feature to have in a classroom where everything is going wrong?
<ATTRIB> —Lisa Dieker and colleagues </ATTRIB>

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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