Organizing to Learn Practice: Teacher Learning in Classroom-Focused Professional Development

This project addresses the fundamental challenge of how to support teachers to improve their practice. The approach uses a "live mathematics classroom" as a common text for working on practice, where participants are not only watching and discussing but are engaged in developing and learning practice. The project will generate new knowledge regarding ways in which elementary teachers of mathematics can be supported to learn effective teaching practice.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621104
Funding Period: 
September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2020
Full Description: 

Growing evidence about the powerful effects of skillful teaching on students' learning creates a need to for professional development that impacts teachers' actual practice. Just as other professions (e.g., nursing, social work, law) have centered practitioners' learning in "live" practice with structures that support learning in context, the project will investigate whether and how this can be accomplished in teaching. The approach uses a "live mathematics classroom" as a common text for working on practice, where participants are not only watching and discussing but are engaged in developing and learning practice. The project also explores the following variations in practice-based professional development: (1) on-site and remote participation of teachers; and (2) the addition of supplementary practice-focused professional development. The project will generate new knowledge regarding ways in which elementary teachers of mathematics can be supported to learn effective teaching practice.

This project addresses a fundamental challenge for professional development, that is, how to support teachers to improve their practice. Teachers profit from well-designed opportunities to develop new visions for practice, learn more about students' thinking, or work on specific mathematical topics or tasks. Still, such opportunities are often insufficient to support teachers with the complexity of classroom teaching. These kinds of professional opportunities focus on critical resources for instruction but not on the details of teaching practice itself. This practice-centered professional development is situated within a summer mathematics program for fifth graders. The proposed research will explore the impact on teachers' practice, as well as on their knowledge and dispositions, from participating in these structured ways. Three studies will resolve the following three sets of questions: (1) What do teachers learn from structured participation in the class? Does their participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways? (2) Does the setting of the peripheral participation matter? Does this form of participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways? (3) Does the addition of professional development focused on a particular teaching practice impact teachers' own practice, and if so, in what ways? How does the addition of professional development focused on a specific instructional practice compare across the in-person and online forms of participation in terms of impact on teachers' own practice? The project will collect and analyze several types of data pre- and post-intervention, including measures of mathematical knowledge for teaching, measures of language for talking about the work of teaching and students, and skill with leading a mathematics discussion, and the mathematical quality of instruction. The project will generate new knowledge related to to organizing professional learning around supports that teachers need to learn practice as well as ways to study their learning of teaching practice.

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