Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Hands-On Professional Development: Middle School Teachers' Experiences with a Curriculum Intervention Research Project

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Hands-On Professional Development: Middle School Teachers' Experiences with a Curriculum Intervention Research Project

Article excerpt

This study explores the benefits of a university-school partnership that impacted 26 middle school teachers in four urban schools.

A typical professional development (PD) session may look something like this: teachers straggle into the media center for a two-hour session on some aspect of instruction. The speaker describes a variety of strategies, and a few teachers may take notes, with the sincere plan on using these things in the next few days. Some teachers may take out their electronic devices to check e-mail while others have papers on their lap that need correcting. The two hours are up, and everyone shuffles back to their classrooms where they close their doors and plan for the next day or head home to make dinner. No one follows up on how teachers implemented what was learned at the PD session. Some teachers try one or two activities that were suggested, but soon teachers revert back to their pre-PD ways.

The importance of professional development is clearly understood; however, the common scenario described above does not lead to the expansion of teaching capacity, increased discernment, escalating enthusiasm, or more complex wisdom. Coleman and Goldenberg (2011) asserted that "professional development cannot be of the one-shot workshop variety" and "must be embedded in the work lives of teachers and the routines of teaching" (p. 161). In our experience as researchers in middle schools, we have noticed that most teachers confirm what research says about the effectiveness of sustained, contextually embedded PD, stressing the importance of the classroom as the context of the professional development. Nevertheless, little is known about how the most effective PD influences teachers' learning and how teachers perceive PD that goes beyond the typical two-hour session. In this article, we present the response of a group of middle school teachers to a university-led, eight-week curriculum intervention study that served as a form of PD for the teachers. Understanding teachers' perspectives on their own professional development as part of a university-school partnership can further extend knowledge about successful professional development for middle grades teachers.

In the current study, researchers from a university and a non-profit educational research organization conducted a vocabulary intervention study at four middle schools in New England. Part of a federally funded intervention study, this initiative focused on the academic vocabulary learning of Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs). The teachers were first presented the curriculum during a 12-hour training session and were coached for eight weeks throughout the implementation of the curriculum in their classrooms. The original intent of the intervention training and coaching was to promote fidelity of implementation of the curriculum, not to research the effects of the intervention training as professional development for teachers. However, as the intervention progressed, the teachers often expressed to researchers and coaches that they were learning new aspects of vocabulary development and instruction. Therefore, during final interviews conducted following the completion of the intervention, teachers were asked to talk about their perceptions of the intervention as a PD opportunity. The findings reported in this article are based on these final teacher interviews.

The findings presented here suggest that using university-school partnerships through curricular interventions can serve as valuable opportunities to provide effective PD, because these types of interventions allow for both content/instructional learning as well as sustained support.

We begin with a summary of what is known about effective professional development, continues with a description of the intervention, and concludes with a focus on the teachers' experiences in working collaboratively with the researchers as a form of professional development.

The importance of professional development

While some researchers contend that professional development should focus primarily on teaching and student learning (Guskey, 2000), others suggest that PD is also about deepening content knowledge for teachers (Antoniou & Kyriakides, 2011; Barber & Mourshed, 2007). …

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