Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Groups' Conceptions and Uses of Student-Learning Data

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Groups' Conceptions and Uses of Student-Learning Data

Article excerpt

"Looking at student work" has emerged as an important process in teacher professional development (PD). This activity usually occurs during some form of collaborative inquiry, such as a professional learning community or lesson study group. About one decade ago, Little (2003) stated that much of this work occurs in a black box, with little empirical data to inform and support teachers engaged in this collaborative process. There continue to be few frameworks for coding, categorizing, and quantifying teachers' collaborative inquiry processes. This article provides a descriptive framework for identifying phases of a collaborative teacher inquiry process and a conceptual framework for examining teachers' dialogic interactions around student work. Both can be used as a basis for understanding a group's potential for affecting teacher learning and instructional change.


The culture of a school is a significant influence on teachers' dialogic interactions in collaborative inquiry groups. McLaughlin and Talbert (2006) delineate the differences among traditional school communities and learning communities. In the latter, teachers' professional norms are collegial as they construct shared values and beliefs about the active involvement and potential of all students in attaining learning goals. In schools characterized by a learning community, teachers are oriented toward surfacing problems of practice and view these as opportunities for generative conversation about instruction, student thinking, and interpretations of content goals (Gallimore, Ermeling, Saunders, & Goldenberg, 2009; Nickerson, 2008).

Lieberman and Miller (2008) describe this orientation as a learning stance. Others, such as Jaworski (2006), discuss the notion of inquiry stance as a "way of being" that involves, as Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) state, "an open and questioning viewpoint about practice" (p. 121). We claim that a teacher group's stance toward student-learning data can determine the nature of their collaborative work. For example, through multiple studies of teachers' collective examination of student work, Little (2007) found that when teachers share classroom events as "war stories," they shift responsibility for learning to students, parents, and other external factors. There is little potential for these stories to serve as artifacts that "advance both individual understanding and the collective capacity of a school" (p. 221). However, artifacts of student thinking, such as written work and classroom conversations, can expose problems of practice and help focus teachers' conversations. Kazemi and Franke (2004) identify shifts in how teachers interacted dialogically as they examined evidence of student thinking, which included changes in their instructional trajectory. Their study highlights the importance of group facilitation in a teacher group's ability to establish an environment conducive to wondering or asking "tough questions."

Horn and Little (2010) argue that the burgeoning of collaborative teacher inquiry throughout the educational landscape calls for large-scale investigations into the practice of teacher work groups. While we are beginning to better understand the specific processes and outcomes of this work, there is still a need for empirical evidence on the ways in which teachers conceive of collect, and use student-learning data. Horn and Little (2010) state that "focusing on selected group-level conversational routines provides an important and strategic means for conceptualizing and investigating opportunity to learn within workplace settings" (p. 184). We agree, and have found that teacher interactions reveal key beliefs and knowledge that shape, and sometimes determine, teachers' work.

We have come to realize that the most important conversations in which teachers engage revolve around the use of student-learning data. Specifically, we believe that an analysis of conversational routines should attend to the teacher groups' collective stance toward student-learning data, which led us to develop a framework to empirically analyze its nature and consequence. …

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