The Importance of Setting Learning Goals to Investigate the Effectiveness of Teacher Professional Development
Cwikla, Julie, Educational Research Quarterly
Professional development activities are learning environments for teachers just as classroom activities are a learning environment for students. Research on effective teaching is guided by the learning goals for students, and how these goals can best be achieved. It follows that research on effective professional development should be guided by the learning goals for teachers, and how these goals can best be achieved. This paper argues that systematic data documenting effective teacher learning environments have not accumulated because what it means to become an effective teacher has not been made sufficiently clear. Obstacles that have discouraged the development of learning goals for teachers are also discussed. Once teachers' learning goals are made explicit, the types of learning environments that encourage the achievement of those goals could be investigated systematically.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has established detailed academic standards to guide K-12 learning goals for students. However, it is unlikely that many K-12 teachers have learned to adjust their teaching with these new learning goals and Standards as the product. Teachers are expected to teach more content in a deep and meaningful manner without sufficient support (Lampert& Ball, 1999). To compound the situation once teachers are in the field, the U.S. education system has no proven mechanism to systematically improve teaching in our classrooms (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). Research in the area of professional development for mathematics teachers must become more rigorous and attend to the specific learning environments that benefit teachers' development. Yet, the research will not become more systematic until the learning goals for teachers and teacher development programs are more clearly defined.
The purpose of this review is to draw lessons from the research on learning environments for students to aid in thinking about learning environments for teachers. The classroom is a learning environment for students just as professional development activities are learning! environments for teachers. Research on effective teaching is guided by the learning goals for students, and how these goals can best be achieved. It follows that research on effective professional development should be guided by the learning goals for teachers, and how these goals can best be achieved.
The thesis of this paper is that research on professional development lags behind research on mathematics classroom teaching because in part the learning goals for teachers have not yet been made explicit. Systematic data documenting effective professional development learning environments have not accumulated because what it means to become an effective teacher has not been made sufficiently clear. It will be argued that, although setting specific learning goals for teachers that are linked with particular student outcomes is now within reach, there are multiple reasons that learning goals for teachers have not yet been fully developed. And it will be asserted further that once there is consensus for mathematics teachers' professional learning goals, researchers will be able to analyze the specific nature of the learning environments that achieve those desired goals or standards.
Students and teachers as learners present different cognitive profiles, but their learning environments are similar in a number of ways. A deep understanding of the mathematical content is a goal for both students and teachers as learners. Ideally, teachers enter the field with a deep mathematical understanding, but for many, this is not the case (Silver & Stein, 1996). Pre-service teacher training programs have not provided teachers the time necessary to understand the mathematical and pedagogical content (Post, Cramer, Harel, Kieren, & Lesh; 1998). As a result, prospective teachers entering the field have a narrow understanding of the content that is centered about procedures (Ball, 1990). …