Examining What We Do To Improve Our Schools: Eight Steps from Analysis to Action
Environments that are assessment centered provide opportunities for learners to test their understanding by trying out things and receiving feedback.
Develop and Implement a Schoolwide Literacy Action Plan
Such opportunities are important to teacher learning for a number of reasons. In addition to providing evidence of success, feedback provides opportunities to clarify ideas and correct misconceptions.
Especially important are opportunities to receive feedback from colleagues who observe attempts to implement new ideas in classrooms. Without feedback, it is difficult to correct potentially erroneous ideas.
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A report from a group of researchers highlights the importance of classroom-based feedback Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, They attempted to implement ideas for teaching that had been developed by several of their colleagues at different universities. The researchers were very familiar with the material and could easily recite relevant theory and data.
However, once they faced the challenge of helping teachers implement the ideas in local classrooms in their area, they realized the need for. Mazie Jenkins was skeptical when first told that research shows that first-grade children can solve addition and subtraction word problems without being taught the procedures. You have five candy bars in your Halloween bag; the lady in the next house puts some more candy bars in your bag. Now you have eight candy bars. How many candy bars did the lady in the next house give you? Without extended opportunities for more information and feedback, the researchers did not know how to proceed.
After several months, the researchers and their teacher collaborators began to feel comfortable with their attempts at implementation. There were numerous errors of implementation, which could be traced to an inadequate understanding of the new programs. The experience taught all participants a valuable lesson. The colleagues who had developed the programs realized that they had not been as clear as they should have been about their ideas and procedures.
Six Steps for School Leaders to Use Data Effectively
The researchers experienced the difficulty of implementing new programs and realized that their errors would have remained invisible without feedback about what was wrong. Certification programs are being developed that are designed to help teachers reflect on and improve their practice. Suggestions for reflection help teachers focus on aspects of their teaching that they might otherwise have failed to notice. In addition, teachers preparing for certification often ask peers to provide feedback on their teaching and their ideas.
Billie Hicklin, a seventh-grade teacher in North Carolina, was one of the first teachers to participate in the National Board certification process Bunday and Kelly, She found that the structured reflection that was required for certification resulted in her making significant changes in her teaching practices and in the ways that she interacts with colleagues Renyi, Community-centered environments involve norms that encourage collaboration and learning. As part of these communities, teachers share successes and failures with pedagogy and curriculum development.
Some communities of practice are supported by school districts. The externs design their own programs, do research projects, and participate in group seminars. In DATA, the community of practice is supported by providing the extern teachers with sabbaticals, supporting the resident teachers through reduced loads, and by giving the program a home— portable classrooms next to Miami Beach High School Renyi, Again, the central questions involve looking deeply at student work, not trying to provide reasons psychological, social, economic that the student might not be producing strong academic work.
This approach often uses student artwork to help teachers identify student strengths. Other ways to foster collaboration include opportunities to score and discuss student essays or to compare and discuss student portfolios Wiske, Collaborative discussions become most valuable when two teachers are jointly involved in sense-making and understanding of the phenomena of learning e. Every day these two algebra teachers had to discuss and agree on what to do next. Overall, two major themes emerge from studies of teacher collaborations: the importance of shared experiences and discourse around texts and.
These findings are consistent with analyses of situated learning and discourse Greeno et al. Action research represents another approach to enhancing teacher learning by proposing ideas to a community of learners. Action research is an approach to professional development in which, typically, teachers spend 1 or more years working on classroom-based research projects. While action research has multiple forms and purposes, it is an important way for teachers to improve their teaching and their curricula, and there is also an assumption that what teachers learn through this process can be shared with others Noffke, Action research contributes to sustained teacher learning and becomes a way for teachers to teach other teachers Feldman, Ideally, active engagement in research on teaching and learning also helps set the stage for understanding the implications of new theories of how people learn.
Between the meetings they try out pedagogical and curricular ideas from the group. They then report to the group on successes and failures and critically analyze the implementation of the ideas. In addition to generating and sharing of pedagogical content knowledge, the PTARG teachers came to deeper understandings of their subject area Feldman, ; see also Hollingsworth, , on work with urban literacy teachers. Action research can also be tailored to the level of expertise and the needs of the teachers, especially if the teachers set the goals for the research and work collaboratively.
When action research is conducted in a collaborative mode among teachers, it fosters the growth of learning communities. In fact, some of these communities have flourished for as many as 20 years, such as the Philadelphia Teachers Learning Cooperative and the Classroom Action Research Network Feldman, ; Hollingsworth, ; Cochran-Smith and Lytle, Unfortunately, the use of action research as a model of sustained teacher learning is hampered by lack of time and other resources.
Teachers in the United States are generally not provided with paid time for such professional activities as action research. To provide that time would require financial resources that are not available to most school districts. As a result, teachers either engage in action research on their own time, as part of credit-bearing courses, or as part of separately funded projects. While teachers have claimed that they have incorporated action research into their practice in an informal manner, there is little research that has examined what that means.
The sustainability of action research is also hampered by the difference between practitioner research and academic research. If academicians are to encourage teachers to do action research, they need to have models that fit the temporal flow of school teaching Feldman and Atkin, and rely on forms of validity that are appropriate to research in the practical domain Feldman, ; Cochran-Smith and Lytle, Preservice programs that prepare new teachers will play an especially important role during the next few decades Darling-Hammond, :.
First, teacher education can be an undergraduate major or a program that is in addition to an academic major. Second, there can be an expectation that the program can be completed within the traditional 4 years of undergraduate study or that it is a 5-year or masters degree program as advocated by the Holmes Group Third, programs for initial teacher preparation can be university or college based or located primarily in the field.
Finally, programs can differ as to whether they are primarily academic programs or whether their main purpose is certification or licensing. While programs can vary in these ways, they tend to have several components in common: some subject-matter preparation, usually liberal arts or general education for prospective elementary teachers and subject-matter concentration for prospective secondary teachers; a series of foundational courses, such as philosophy, sociology, history, psychology of education;.
Four philosophical traditions of practice have dominated teacher education in the twentieth century Zeichner and Liston, :. Although these traditions can act as useful heuristics for understanding the guiding principles of particular teacher education programs, it is important to realize that most programs do not fit neatly within the categories Zeichner, And even though these traditions underlie teacher education programs, students are often not aware of them explicitly Zeichner and Liston, The actual experiences of many prospective teachers often obscure the philosophical or ideological notions that guide their preparatory years, which color evaluations of the quality of preservice experiences see below.
The components of teacher education programs—collections of courses, field experiences, and student teaching—tend to be disjointed Goodlad, ; they are often taught or overseen by people who have little ongoing communication with each other. Even when the components are efficiently organized, there may be no shared philosophical base among the faculty. Moreover, grading policies in college classes can undercut collaboration, and students rarely have a chance to form teams who stay together for a significant portion of their education unlike the team approach to problembased learning in medical schools see, e.
Political factors have strong effects on teacher education. The regulations often interfere with attempts. The majority of teachers are educated in state colleges and universities, the budgets of which are controlled by state legislators and governors, and they teach in public schools that are affected by local politics through school boards, as well as by the same statewide influences Elmore and Sykes, It is not surprising that these many forces do not lead to the most innovative teacher education programs.
Inadequate time: 4-year undergraduate degrees make it difficult for prospective elementary teachers to learn subject matter and for prospective secondary teachers to learn about the nature of learners and learning. Fragmentation: The traditional program arrangement foundations courses, developmental psychology sequence, methods courses, and field experiences offers disconnected courses that novices are expected to pull together into some meaningful, coherent whole. Uninspired teaching methods: Although teachers are supposed to excite students about learning, teacher preparation methods courses are often lectures and recitation.
Superficial curriculum: The need to fulfill certification requirements and degree requirements leads to programs that provide little depth in subject matter or in educational studies, such as research on teaching and learning. They also complain that methods courses are time consuming and without intellectual substance. When methods courses explore the theory and research bases for instructional methods and curricula, the students complain that they are not oriented enough toward practice.
These problems in preservice education impede lifelong learning in at least two ways. First, a message is sent to prospective teachers that research in education, whether on teaching or learning, has little to do with schooling and, therefore, that they do not need to learn about the findings from research. Even teachers who attend institutions that provide a strong preparation for teaching face major challenges after they graduate. They need to make the transition from a world dominated primarily by college courses, with only some supervised teaching experiences, to a world in which they are the teachers; hence, they face the challenge of transferring what they have learned.
Yet even with strong levels of initial learning, transfer does not happen immediately nor automatically see Chapter 3. People often need help in order to use relevant knowledge that they have acquired, and they usually need feedback and reflection so that they can try out and adapt their previously acquired skills and knowledge in new environments. These environments—the schools—have an extremely important effect on the beliefs, knowledge, and skills that new teachers will draw on.
Many of the schools that teachers enter are organized in ways that are not consistent with new developments in the science of learning. When student teachers enter their first classrooms, the instructional methods, curricula, and resources can be very different from the ones they learned about in teacher education programs. So although prospective teachers are often anxious to begin their student teaching and find it the most satisfying aspect of their teacher preparation Hollins, , the dissonance between this experience and their course work supports the belief that educational theory and research have little to do with classroom practice.
New teachers are often given the most challenging assignments—more students with special educational needs, the greatest number of class preparations some outside of their field of expertise , and many extracurricular duties—and they are usually asked to take on these responsibilities with little or no support from administrators or senior colleagues. It is not surprising that turnover among new teachers is extremely high, particularly in the first 3 years of teaching. Teachers are key to enhancing learning in schools.
In order to teach in a manner consistent with new theories of learning, extensive learning opportunities for teachers are required. We assume that what is known about learning applies to teachers as well as their students. Yet teacher learning is a relatively new topic of research, so there is not a great deal of data about it. Much of what constitutes the typical approaches to formal teacher professional development are antithetical to what research findings indicate as promoting effective learning.
These kinds of activities have been accomplished by creating opportunities for shared experiences and discourse around shared texts and data about student learning, and focus on shared decisionmaking. The learning communities of teachers also allow for differing kinds of background training and for variations in their readiness to learn. Successful programs involve teachers in learning activities that are similar to ones that they will use with their students. Many learning opportunities for teachers fall short when viewed from the perspectives of being learner, knowledge, assessment, and community centered.
But there are examples of successful programs that appear to fit these conditions quite well. Many programs for preservice teachers also fall short of providing the kinds of learning experiences suggested by new developments in the science of learning. They need well-defined goals for learning, beliefs about how people learn that are grounded in theory, and a rigorous academic curriculum that emphasizes depth of understanding. In particular, the dissonance between what is taught in college courses and what happens in classrooms can lead to later rejection of educational research and theory by teachers.
This is due, in part, to the ways in which they have been taught in the disciplines and how their colleagues teach. Although teachers are urged to use student-centered, constructivist, depth-versus-breadth approaches in their education classes, new teachers often see traditional teaching approaches in use at the college level and in the classroom next door. Beginning teachers are especially influenced by the nature of the schools in which they begin their teaching. Successful learning for teachers requires a continuum of coordinated efforts that range from preservice education to early teaching to opportunities for lifelong development as professionals.
Creating such opportunities, built out of the knowledge base from the science of learning, represents a major challenge, but it is not an impossible task. First released in the Spring of , How People Learn has been expanded to show how the theories and insights from the original book can translate into actions and practice, now making a real connection between classroom activities and learning behavior. This edition includes far-reaching suggestions for research that could increase the impact that classroom teaching has on actual learning. Like the original edition, this book offers exciting new research about the mind and the brain that provides answers to a number of compelling questions.
When do infants begin to learn? How do experts learn and how is this different from non-experts? What can teachers and schools do-with curricula, classroom settings, and teaching methods--to help children learn most effectively? New evidence from many branches of science has significantly added to our understanding of what it means to know, from the neural processes that occur during learning to the influence of culture on what people see and absorb. How People Learn examines these findings and their implications for what we teach, how we teach it, and how we assess what our children learn.
The integration of action includes the development and implementation of a plan or strategy to address the focus of the research. The research includes building a knowledge base to understand the effectiveness of the action or plan being considered. Put simple, action research can be viewed as a form of disciplined inquiry utilized by teachers, instructors, and supervisors to better understand student learning and teacher effectiveness.
There are many guides and permutations available for conducting action research in the classroom. I will link to some of these resources in the citations section at the conclusion of this post. The purpose of this post is to get you up and running with four basic steps needed to conduct action research in your own practice. The first step in conducting action research is to identify and define the focus of your investigation. Please note that action research typically will include an examination of the school, programs, students, and instructional practices.
Specifically, will you need to examine student outcomes dispositions, achievement ; curriculum instructional materials, content standards, frameworks ; instruction teaching strategies, use of technology ; school climate student morale, teacher morale, relationships between teachers and supervisors ; parental involvement participation on committees, attendance at events. As you develop your focus and identify a specific frame to guide your thinking, you should also adjust your research questions. Developing and revising the focus and guiding questions for your action research will help you understand what elements you are interested in examining.
You will also need to identify questions you can effectively gather information about and conduct your research. What research questions do you want to answer?
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What research questions do you think you can answer? The second step involved in conducting action research includes collecting data to use in answering your research questions. Data may consist of surveys and interviews. Collected data may also consist of student portfolios, observations, and other sources of information.
The data you collect may also consist of research conducted to identify best practices, or research tested techniques. This is an opportunity to learn from others that may have been trying to unpack the same problems or challenges. In my own work I use a two-step process of Google searches and then Google Scholar to quickly learn more about a topic. After I have identified the focus, keywords, and relevant search terms, I can continue my examination at the library or using online sources. You may also collect student scores on district-wide assessments. Finally, you may collect the previous curriculum, or examine other curricular materials available.
You may not present the data to others, but it helps you in the long run in you keep your work organized as you work. You may also choose to share your data with others to help prove a point or connect your findings with others.
This is always a question that is asked as we begin the research process. There are multiple strategies and techniques that can be used as you analyze your data. In my own work I find it is helpful to lay out all of my data and the identified themes or patterns in an area that is easily visible while working. I also find it helpful to just write and think through the data, themes, and patterns as I make sense of the results.
In qualitative analysis, there is usually a focus on deductive or inductive analysis of the data.
Another way to consider this is that deductive reasoning has you examine your data with an open mind, look for patterns, develop a hypothesis, and then move to theory. Inductive on the other hand has you moving from the theory and using your hypothesis and the data to confirm your findings.
Please also note that it is possible and appropriate to move from one frame to another, or include bits and pieces across the research process. The fourth step includes you making a decision about your research and identifying next possible actions. Let us suppose you have researched the question above about teacher morale and have uncovered the root cause of the problem.
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You now have to take action and this includes several possibilities. First, you may choose to continue the system as it currently operates and make no changes. Second, you may choose to disband the organization to address the problem. This may include shutting down the school and sending all of the students, teachers, and supervisors elsewhere. Third, you may choose to modify or make small tweaks to the school, program, or relationships between all partners to address the culture of the school.