Designing Practice-Based Learning Labs for K-2 Teachers: Initial Lessons Learned

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Objectives: It is well established that professional development (PD) is effective when learning opportunities are 1) closely connected to teachers’ classroom practice, supporting new practices in context, and 2) collaborative, enabling teachers to experiment with and reflect on new practices together (Authors, 2013a; Ball & Cohen, 1999; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Darling-Hammond & Richardson, 2009; Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009). The growing prominence of online and blended forms of PD poses new opportunities and challenges for such collective, practice-based approaches. This study documents our design for practice-based learning in online and blended Learning Labs to support K-2 teacher learning and classroom integration of mathematical or scientific modeling and argumentation. We share insights from early analyses of teachers’ learning and participation within the Labs.

Perspectives: Our Lab design is grounded in theories of practice-based teacher learning. As articulated by Ball & Cohen (1999), learning in and from practice involves focusing on activities and ways of thinking that are fundamental to teaching and learning, and cultivating a stance of inquiry into practice. To support significant learning, teachers need opportunities to investigate representations of practice and to enact and reflect on new forms of practice themselves (Authors, 2013a; Grossman et al., 2009). This literature informed our design principles for the Learning Labs, which we then sought to instantiate online through strategic work with classroom video and artifacts, common classroom activities for teachers to try, and varied analytical and reflective discussion prompts.

Methods: To understand teacher learning and participation in the Labs, we use a variety of approaches. These include reviewing metrics like teacher completion of Lab tasks, as well as considering the substance and nature of teachers’ contributions through deductive and inductive coding (Corbin & Strauss, 2008) and learning analytics techniques (Authors, 2013b).

Data Sources: Data come from our initial Lab pilots, with 48 mathematics and 19 science research participants, and includes teachers’ contributions within the Labs (responses, uploaded artifacts) and pre-post surveys.

Conclusions: Our early analyses provide several insights. First is an important proof of concept – that aspects of practice-based learning can be actualized in online and blended settings. For teachers who completed the Labs, discourse associated with enactment-based work (e.g., consideration of instruction in relation to observations of their students, identification of emergent problems of practice) occurred online. Teachers raised challenges and questions to their online groups, sometimes directly requesting responses (e.g., “What do you think? Should I have maybe asked other questions to prompt them?”). However, collaboration remains an ongoing challenge. Teachers’ responses to each other have been fewer in number, shorter, and less substantive than original posts. We are exploring ways in which prompts and sentence stems support constructive collaboration. Additionally, differential participation among teacher cohorts has emphasized the importance of close attention to instructional context and leveraging familiar social structures such as PLCs as feasible in design and implementation.

Significance: This study illustrates how collective, practice-based teacher learning can be supported in online and blended forms of PD, and the opportunities and challenges in doing so.