Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teachers as Continual, Collaborative Learners: A Case-study of Implementing New Practices

I'm presenting another poster at  Division K - Teaching and Teacher Education / Section 8: Teacher Professional Development: Impact on Teacher Practices and Student Learning.  

Several years ago, I was supervising a student teacher at a middle school and the CT was using literature circles.  I was curious how the practice got started in the school because I have often seen individual teachers use literature circles, but I haven't often seen an entire school adopt the practice.  I am a strong supporter of the use of literature circles and have given numerous workshops to introduce and refine the use of peer-led book discussions.  However, I also often hear things like, "I tried literature circles and they didn't work."  In my own experience,  the first time I used literature circles, I also encountered several problems that I had to resolve to make the discussions rich and meaningful.  I wondered how this particular school sustained the practice over time.  So, I decided to talk to some of the teachers currently using literature circles.  Here is an outline of my research and poster:

This exploratory case-study of a small Midwestern middle school seeks to understand how and why one school moved toward implementing student-led literature discussions. Data was collected through interviews with three teachers and analyzed using thematic analysis and constant comparison. Several themes emerged focusing on professional development, which indicate that professional development practices need to: encourage the development of teacher-leaders; support collaboration; recognize that teachers are adult learners; be embedded in daily practice; recognize that to truly embrace a new practice, teachers may initially struggle with the practice.

The research question is:
  • What professional development support structures are needed to give teachers the knowledge base and confidence to implement and refine the use of student-led literature discussions in their classrooms?
Data Sources & Analysis
  • 3 focused teacher interviews of 60-90 mins.
  • Thematic analysis & constant comparison
Analysis (Support structures needed)
  • Teacher-leaders
    • Sally introduced & championed lit. circles
      • Inspired teachers to take risks
    • Current – librarian support
      • Lunch book club & adult book club
      • Supports teachers in acquiring books
  • Collaboration
    • Reflecting with each other
    • Team teaching
    • Articulating ideas
  • Recognition of the needs of adult learners(the teachers)
    • Identified need for differentiation
    • Choose the pedagogy
    • Worked together to build practice
  • Embedded in Practice
    • Daily contact with practice & teachers
    • Constant reflection & refinement during practice
    • Applied to own context
  • Struggle & Refinement
    • Struggled with:
      • Assessment
      • Finding books
      • Preparation for discussion (roles)
    • But, were given time, space & support to refine
    • Identified areas for modifications

In this study, the three teachers spoke extensively about the teacher-leader who introduced them to student-led literature discussions and the support she gave as they were learning. Even after her departure, her legacy continued, as the initial teachers are passing the practice to new teachers. Traditionally schools tend to look to the principal, curriculum director or other specialists to provide the leadership and direction for professional development, however, more teachers are becoming informal teacher-leaders in their schools, especially when the formal processes of leadership have been ineffective. If there is recognition that teachers are adult learners, with unique needs and issues, then the deficit model of professional development can be eliminated. Instead, by focusing on the strengths and expertise already existing in schools and providing time and space for collaborative reflection that is embedded in daily practice, professional development can be relevant, empowering and influential in changing practice.

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