Study Examines Professional Learning's Potential to Change How Teachers Think about Student Learning

By Killion, Joellen | The Learning Professional, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Study Examines Professional Learning's Potential to Change How Teachers Think about Student Learning


Killion, Joellen, The Learning Professional


*WHAT THE STUDY SAYS

Teacher discourse patterns about students' learning in mathematics reflect teachers' beliefs and expectations about student learning. These beliefs have the capacity to limit or enhance a teacher's instructional agency. This study focused on professional development as a vehicle for changing teacher thinking and examines discourse patterns as a viable indicator of how teachers think about student learning changes over time. How teachers think about students as learners affects teachers' expectations of and their interactions with students. This study demonstrates that professional development has some potential to transform teacher discourse patterns.

STUDY DESCRIPTION

Researchers examined how teachers' discourse patterns as measured by speech acts and storylines changed over a yearlong, 60-hour professional development program. The study demonstrates that some storylines about students as learners of mathematics can be transformed or altered through professional development, while other positions are harder to change and may require more deliberate, direct actions guided by defined norms for how to talk about students as learners.

While some teacher storylines changed over time, the study's findings suggest that teachers add new understanding of how students learn mathematics to what they already understand rather than completely transforming their understanding.

QUESTIONS

Researchers sought to examine changes as a result of professional development in teacher discourse about students as learners. They posed two questions to guide the research study:

1. "Did teachers' public actions about students as mathematics learners change during the yearlong professional development on one learning trajectory?"

2. "If there were changes in teachers' speech actions, in what ways, and to what extent, did these changes also result in changes to existing positioning triads in the public, collective space of the professional development?" (p. 579)

METHODOLOGY

The researchers applied an explanatory sequential mixed methods design to answer the research questions. Using two theoretical frameworks, Vygotsky Space and Positioning Theory, both based on Vygotsky's theory of learning, they applied a method to analyze teacher discourse in professional development that extends beyond attendance and participation.

Their analysis of teacher discourse integrates both the words spoken as well as the meaning behind the words to characterize an individual teacher's storyline, an explanation for how students learn. The analysis yields a measure of change in teacher thinking, and thus a measure of teacher learning.

Researchers engaged 22 elementary teachers from a single suburban school district in the Southeast. The school serves 600 diverse students. Teachers participated in a professional development course that included a 30-hour summer extended learning experience, monthly meetings, and a follow-up summer session in which teachers engaged in analyzing videos of classroom instruction, student clinical interviews, and student work samples on the equipartitioning learning trajectory.

Equipartitioning is the set of cognitive behaviors through which students learn to construct equal-sized parts or groups. Learning trajectories explain the progression in student thinking that occurs as students are learning about fundamental mathematical concepts and principles.

Drawn from the Learning Trajectory Based Instruction project, equipartitioning is one of the fundamental mathematics learning trajectories. During the yearlong program, teachers focused on 12 tasks to examine student learning and to construct their understanding of how students learn equipartitioning.

ANALYSIS

Researchers recorded each professional development session. In Phase 1 of the research, they quantitatively analyzed teachers' speech actions to determine if changes occurred over time. …

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