Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Improving Teaching and Teachers: A "Generative Dance"?

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Improving Teaching and Teachers: A "Generative Dance"?

Article excerpt

At the beginning of their article, "Teaching, Rather Than Teachers, As a Path Toward Improving Classroom Instruction," James Hiebert and Anne Morris make the argument that the most productive option for improving classroom instruction is to work directly on teaching--on the methods used to interact with students around content--rather than on teachers. They recognize that this will not be easy, but they provide several reasons why it may be worth trying. They

do not believe that making progress in improving teachers by building and continuously refining instructional products is easier that training teachers to acquire skills and knowledge to use in the classroom ... [but] that working directly on improving teaching is a more productive approach because as parts of this problem get solved, teaching necessarily improves. (Hiebert & Morris, 2012, p. 99)

I agree that working on teaching as a collective practice-understanding it, specifying it, and improving it--is crucially important and too often ignored. But setting up a choice between improving teaching and improving teachers is problematic for several reasons, which I will outline here. To begin with, it seems that the very methods Hiebert and Morris outline for improving teaching necessarily imply the simultaneous improvement of teachers. Improvement as they describe it suggests a "generative dance" (Cook & Brown, 1999) between the organizational knowledge embedded in artifacts and the individuals who learn how to use and continuously improve those artifacts.

My linking of the improvement of teaching with the improvement of teachers grows out of my own effort to imagine what would happen if the sort of project that Hiebert and Morris propose were actually to get underway. If lesson plans and accompanying assessments were produced, they would have to be used by teachers to become a resource for improving teaching (Cohen, Raudenbush, & Ball, 2003). How would that use come about if teachers did not learn?

Alternative Scenarios for Using Well-Designed Artifacts

It is not hard to imagine one scenario actually embedded in Hiebert and Morris's project, that is, that the teachers who produce the lesson plans and assessments would use them, and in using them, they would not only improve their teaching but also improve the artifacts themselves, adding annotations for reference in the next round of use. This could happen simultaneously in a number of schools whose staffs may or may not communicate across buildings. Teaching would be improved, carefully and deliberately, on a school-by-school basis. In each school, the project would be dependent on a visionary instructional leader and an institutional structure organized to allow teachers the time to do the kind of work Hiebert and Morris describe. Such improvement currently happens in some schools in the form of lesson study (Lewis, Perry, & Murata, 2006), inquiry groups (Gallimore, Ermeling, Saunders, & Goldenberg, 2009), and several other kinds of"teacher research" initiatives (Zeichner, 2003).

But what other scenarios might be imagined? Rollout of the Hiebert and Morris project could follow the current pattern of federal, state, or district "mandates" for the use of particular textbooks or for instructional designs for working with special education students (Cohen & Moffitt, 2009). In this scenario, collections of lessons and assessments would be issued to teachers who would be told to use them, perhaps with a few hours of "staff development" in preparation. If we can learn anything from the multiple materials that have been created by textbook publishers to help teachers independently implement new curricula and instructional models, the lessons and assessments are unlikely to be used appropriately if the teacher-audience continues to operate autonomously behind their individual classroom doors (Coburn & Stein, 2006; Stein & Coburn, 2008). …

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