Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Learning "New" Instructional Strategies: Pedagogical Innovation, Teacher Professional Development, Understanding and Concerns

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Learning "New" Instructional Strategies: Pedagogical Innovation, Teacher Professional Development, Understanding and Concerns

Article excerpt


Teachers and teacher professional development (TPD) are fundamental to any effective educational innovation effort (Darling-Hammond, 2017; Desimone, 2009; Fullan, 2007). Even when school systems are successful, there are constant efforts to improve. We examine the case of one TPD effort undertaken at one school in an educational system which is considered to be highly successful. Although the nation, Singapore, consistently ranks at or near the top in assessments such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Hooper, 2017), the school we worked with found that their students were weak in reading and hoped that innovations in teaching would lead to improvement. The Singaporean educational system is highly centralized with national syllabi for each subject set by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and national examinations at critical educational junctures (e.g., the end of primary school). For English Language (EL) at primary grade levels, there is also a national curriculum known as Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading (STELLAR; Curriculum Planning & Development Division [CPDD], 2008-2016) which is optional in principle but which has been taken up wholly or in part by most primary schools.

Our research team engaged in a collaborative, multiyear, professional development project focused on reading instruction. Based on our initial observations and our knowledge of local education policies, we focused on teacher-led discussion in reading comprehension lessons. In making this choice, we factored in features of the local educational culture such as the importance of teacher control and authority and the prevalence of teacher-led discussion (Curdt-Christiansen & Silver, 2012), as well as teachers' perceptions that their role is to teach the curriculum (rather than, for example, seeing themselves as change agents who shape the curriculum; cf. van der Heijden, Geldens, Beijaard, & Popeijus, 2015).

Deep teacher learning can result when collaboration, an enabling school culture and pedagogical innovation mesh (Hennessy, Mercer, & Warwick, 2011; Kraft & Papay, 2014; Lefstein, 2008), and when TPD is effectively supported and facilitated (e.g., Borko, Elliott, & Uchiyama, 2002; Gonzalez, Deal, & Skultety, 2016). However, it is well-known that teachers might make sense of pedagogical innovations differently than the originators of the innovation intended (e.g., Cohen, 1990; Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002). In addition, changes in classroom practices take time to develop (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001). How could we gauge and engage teachers' evolving "sense-making" of the innovation?

Bakkenes, Vermunt, and Wubbles (2010) point out that "meaning-oriented learning (e.g., trying to extend one's understanding of own practice and of new ideas, trying new practices based on that understanding) is an important aspect of teacher and student learning" (p. 546, emphasis ours). Examining in-class practices would show only the outcome of the innovation without opportunities for engaging with teachers in a more process-oriented way. We felt that tracking teacher understanding (TU) could provide a window into the process of learning. In this article, we discuss our efforts to understand the evolving understandings of participating teachers and how those efforts shed light on the TPD process.

TPD and Teacher Understanding

Teachers' practices and beliefs (e.g., Burke, 2013; de Vries, van de Grift, & Jansen, 2014) as well as the sequence of development in these practices and beliefs (Clark & Hollingsworth, 2002) have been extensively studied. While some models have emphasized stages of development (e.g., Katz, n.d.; Nolder, 1992), Dell'Alba and Sandberg (2006, p. …

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