Academic journal article English Education

Collaborative Design as Mediated Praxis: Professional Development for Socially Just Pedagogies

Academic journal article English Education

Collaborative Design as Mediated Praxis: Professional Development for Socially Just Pedagogies

Article excerpt

The professional lives of teachers-and how they are supported in their professional lives-has a strong influence on the literacy achievements of their students, especially students from traditionally underserved populations (Langer, 2000). Although research has clearly established that the professional development of teachers has a significant impact on student achievement (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007), researchers have called for more attention to the specifics of professional development programs, including the teachers, facilitators, and contexts (Borko, 2004, p. 4). In this article, we share our experiences designing and facilitating a multiyear professional development project for inservice English teachers. The purpose of the project, which was supported by an Improving Teacher Quality State Grant, was to bring together 12 secondary English teachers from a single school district located in the southeastern United States to pursue a jointly constructed goal: incorporating digital tools into writing instruction to meet the individual needs of students while also addressing the Common Core State Standards.

The grant required that university-based educators partner with a "high needs" school as designated by the federal government. We acknowledge the problematic nature of the term high-needs and the ways this term positions teachers and students in deficit language. However, we also recognize that many districts designated as "high needs" in the state were understaffed and underresourced. The school district we partnered with had limited Internet bandwidth, and about half of the student body did not have access to Internet at their homes. Further, at the time of the study, the district did not have enough money to keep their doors open for the full school year. Ten school days were cut and teachers subsequently took a 5 percent reduction in their salary.

Three university researchers proposed the grant in collaboration with lead teacher and third author Dana Buxton: Elizabeth Davis, a professor in the English department at the university with expertise in digital composition and rhetoric; Peter Smagorinsky, a professor of language and literacy in the College of Education; and Lindy Johnson, who was a doctoral student at the time of the study. Nicole Sieben joined the professional development team in the second year of the study, at the start of her first year as an assistant professor. Because the data collected throughout the project served as Lindy's dissertation project, and Peter and Elizabeth served as consultants on the grant, they insisted that Lindy take the lead as first author in the resulting publications. This article is the third in a series that examined this professional development project (Johnson, 2016a; Johnson, 2016b). To challenge what can often be perceived as a hierarchical relationship between researchers and teachers, from this point forward we refer to the individuals who worked at the university as university-based educators and the teachers as school-based educators.

As part of our grant application, we were asked to create and conduct "professional learning experiences with the goal of strengthening and deepening teachers' content knowledge in their academic subjects with emphasis on how deepened content knowledge impacts teaching practices and student learning" (Request for Proposals, 2012). The grant proposal also required that we address the five features of high-quality professional development most frequently associated with changes in teacher knowledge and practice. These features include (1) a focus on discipline-specific subject matter learning and instructional practices (Borko, 2004; Mouza, 2006); (2) acknowledging and incorporating the prior ideas, beliefs, and needs of teachers (Elmore & Burney, 1997); (3) providing hands-on and interactive sessions (Koehler et al., 2011; Mouza, 2006; Zhao, Lei & Frank, 2006); (4) extensive duration, including follow-up sessions (Wells, 2007; Zhao et al. …

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