Visual Access to Mathematics: A Blended Professional Development Course for Teachers of English Learners

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Significance, Objectives, and Theoretical Framework: The ever-increasing population of English Learner students (ELs) urgently needs opportunities to learn mathematical content in ways that emphasize mathematical communication and reasoning. Unfortunately, teachers are not consistently trained in how to support ELs to meet content standards (Bunch, 2013; Wei, Darling-Hammond, & Adamson, 2010). It is critical to provide teachers with support around how to engage ELs in productive mathematical learning—for example focusing on research-based recommendations such as use of visual representations (VRs) (Stylianou & Silver, 2004; Woodward et al., 2012; Baker et al., 2014).

The Visual Access to Mathematics (VAM) project is addressing this need by developing and studying a 60-hour blended-learning professional development (PD) program focused on VRs in ratio and proportion content for middle-grades teachers of ELs. VAM PD includes a 4-day summer institute, two school-year workshops that are face-to-face, and eight school-year online asynchronous and synchronous sessions. VAM is guided by two questions: (1) What supports allow teachers to develop the mathematical knowledge for teaching and the knowledge about instructional planning to support ELs in mathematical problem-solving? (2) What is the effect of VAM PD on teachers’ knowledge about using VRs to support mathematical problem solving among ELs? The major goal of the project is to develop and study the impact of the VAM PD course on teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching.

Methods and Data Sources: VAM PD was developed through an iterative design and development process that started with a year of design work in consultation with a group of collaborating educators from local districts, and continued with a year-long formative field test of the PD with 20 teacher participants. Formative data sources included observations and teacher work from PD sessions, and teacher surveys, interviews, and focus groups. The impact of this blended PD course is being studied through a cluster randomized control trial with approximately 100 teachers from 50 schools. A two-level random intercepts hierarchical linear model will be used to explore the impact of PD participation on teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching and instructional planning. Impact study data sources include: the Learning Mathematics for Teaching (LMT; 2006) multiple-choice assessment focused on ratio and proportional reasoning (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008); a project-developed assessment with open-ended questions about VRs and instructional strategies; and a classroom video analysis assessment (Kersting et al., 2012).

Conclusions: Findings on teacher impacts will be available after the impact study is completed in 2018. This paper presents findings from the formative research about the blended PD design. Formative data analysis was guided by research questions that focused on: alignment of VAM learning goals and PD activities; feasibility of the course scope and activities; and obstacles and supports for learning. We will share findings about: the variable online-activity technological support needed by different participants; challenges and successes with streamlining online course directions and activities for complex learning goals; the roles and purposes of online discussion boards; and emergent themes related to the role of goals and communication of goals across face-to-face and online activities.