Bringing Professional Development Home: From Field Study to Lesson Study

Article excerpt

"Being at a place with such strong historical connections to the founding of our country was humbling and reminded me of my purpose as an educator." TAH Participant

This article provides a window into the design of a Teaching American History (TAH) grant in one California county and the impact it is having on K- 1 6 educators and their students . TAH is a federally program that awards grants to local education agencies to work with professional historians and pedagogy experts to design and implement effective, professional development programs that raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of American history. In 2005, under the direction of educator Roni Jones, Placer County was awarded its first of three TAH grants, and has been actively working on overlapping cycles of grant activities ever since. Placer County includes suburban, rural, and underserved schools that are spread over a varied geographic terrain extending from northeast of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe. Some of the districts within the county are quite small, making professional isolation a real concern. To address the needs of our teachers and their students we have designed programs that combine elements of residential education - to promote intensive learning and community building - with strategic travel choices that maximize the power of experiential learning and allow our teachers access to outstanding educational resources.

The 12-month professional development model described here began with an orientation in the spring of 2009; our Field Study activities in Virginia and Washington, D. C, took place in the summer; in the fall and winter we focused on a facilitated collaboration process known as Lesson Study; and in the spring of 2010 we worked on reflection, assessment, and extensions. During the Field Study, 26 teachers (accompanied by two academic historians, a teacher educator, and a professional development director) traveled to the home of James Madison in Montpelier, Virginia. There we worked with a renowned constitutional scholar, Dr. Will Harris, to examine primary sources that illuminate the intellectual context in which Madison drafted the Constitution. We also considered how the Constitution continues to function today as the architecture of our democracy. Studying these ideas on the site where Madison pored over books in his library, examining democratic forms of governments and crafting a model for America, provided a dramatic setting for deep reflection.

This Field Study experience supplied the core academic content that fueled a year-long Lesson Study process during which participants worked in mixed grade-level groups to plan, teach/ observe, revise and re-teach a lesson that "brought home" what they learned in Virginia. Lesson Study employs elements of action research and reflective practice as well as evidencebased development/refinement of curriculum and instruction (see Figure 1). It has been widely used in Japan and is gaining ground in the United States as a powerful tool for facilitating continuous improvement within professional learning communities (Chokshi & Fernandez, 2004; Lewis, Perry, & Murata, 2006). We used Lesson Study to support teachers as they translated current scholarship about the Constitution into elementary and secondary classroom activities.

Four perspectives on this Field Study and Lesson Study experience are presented below. The first is from an academic historian, Erika Gasser, who helped plan and implement the grant activities . The second perspective is from an 8th grade teacher, Brenda McCollum, who participated in the activities and translated them for use in her own classroom. The third perspective is from an external researcher, Mimi Lee, who analyzed grant evaluation data from the 2009-2010 school year to determine the impact on participating teachers and their students. The final perspective is from one of the coordinators of the program, Mimi Coughlin, who provides concluding remarks about the usefulness of Field Study and the Lesson Study as cornerstones of a professional development program. …