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Discussion: Exploring a Case Study

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posted by: Brian Drayton on June 14, 2000 at 3:46PM
subject: Summary of discussion, "Exploring a case study with Kay Merseth."
This discussion ran from May 15 through June 2, and attracted 15
posts from 18 participants, and two moderators. The discussion was
intended to continue a discussion of Kay Merseth's case study of a
district implementing reforms in curriculum and instruction. This
case, which was also used during the PI meeting in January, directed
readers' attention to several players in the district, at a moment of
crisis in the implementation of the professional development program for
Postings to our discussion focused primarily on issues relating to
teachers' content knowledge and professional development. This summary
will not attempt a chronological account, and we encourage you to go to
the archives on the site to read the full messages, and perhaps carry on
the dialogue through email.

1. Teacher content knowledge and "readiness" for pedagogical change.

Teachers' content knowledge is a very important factor in their ability
to implement the kinds of pedagogy envisioned in the reform. In the
case study, the teacher in the spotlight was frustrated in part by her
inability to work with students' thinking as they worked on mathematical
meanings. The transition from a more algorithm-based approach to
learning was confusing, and raised issues of content that the teacher
had not anticipated -- but the issues hadn't been addressed in the
professional development, either.

"We have really wrestled with the science content issue. In order to
teach in an inquiry manner, even guided inquiry, a teacher must have a
reasonable comfort level with the content presented. The teacher must be
ahead of the students."

In implementing a new curriculum, teachers often need to acquire new
knowledge as they are trying the materials out in the classroom for the
first time. Although there are drawbacks to this approach, participants
in the discussion spoke of the value of learning in the classroom

"I think it is imperative to teach the content along with the

"I believe and I think we have good evidence (at least in
mathematics), that exemplary curricula provide excellent vehicles in
which to embed learning about new content for teachers. There are
several advantages of this, the most important of which is that the
professional development is and feels job-embedded if not temporally at
least in terms of the task itself). Teachers are learning about (and
through) the curriculum material that they will teach. This is
experienced by many teachers, in my experience, as highly legitimate
professional development - as career affirming rather than
professionally demeaning."

"Of course, with reference to the case study itself, the rub is often
how decisions about curricula are made and then about the quality (and
attitude) of the professional developers. But using learning about
exemplary curricula as a vehicle for learning new content seems like a
powerful modus operandi."

2. How to create good, sustained professional development for teachers?
This theme appeared in several aspects. First, who decides "what the
teachers need"? Second, what approaches are most effective for really
helping teachers work their way into a new pedagogy while learning the
new curriculum? Third, how do we change the culture of schools to
incorporate long-term or "chronic" professional development?

"I see more clearly that decision about professional development are
best made in close collaboration between teachers and professional
developers. This may be obvious. However, it appears less obvious how
to balance the unique expertise of professional developers and teachers
in planning a comprehensive approach to professional development. The
studies show that it is not sufficient for professional developers to
come to know teachers in the context of their day-to-day work; they must
also critically confront teachers regarding their improvement efforts.
This suggests hat professional developers need to think about how they
will manage the tension between developing interpersonal trust and
assisting teachers to move to higher levels of accomplishment. And
finally, I was struck by the fact that professional development changed
dramatically during the third year in both middle school sites. (Our
project is in its third year.)"

" many teachers believe they should do professional development while
"on duty". In reality, very few professions provide training "on the
clock" .One main difference is that the professional development [in
other professions] is valued and important to their work, and is seen as
critical to maintaining competency. There is also trust that someone
else in authority has researched the evidence and deemed the training
consistant with what improves practice. Why is this not so with
education? Is it a question of whose burden it really is?"

" we really need to shift to another type of PD which will address the
needs on site in classrooms. but we still need to include ways to orient
new teachers to the kits. A mentoring setting would be ideal, but
Stein's article also points to the problems of expecting the experienced
helping the inexperienced without time for their own growth. We are
encouraging study groups on student work-- we will know more in the next

" the time that teachers have to network with each other over content or
pedagogy is invaluable. However, when the going got a little tough the
realities of the classroom prevailed. Maybe an intense summer institute
followed by in-class support throughout the academic year would have
been the better choice given the high stakes of the implementation and
the newness of the innovation?"

"Long term professional development in itself is new to most schools."

"Are we expecting too much from teachers. In our LSC, we have expected
that with quality workshops that embed mathematical content learning in
a instructional format similar to what we would like to see in their
classrooms, teachers classrooms would be transformed. Not so. Visiting
classrooms tends to be a depressing experience. Many teachers who "talk
the talk", do not seem to really understand that they are not pushing
students to think."

3. Finally, how do we train and help professional developers grow as
part of this reform?

"I am thinking about how we prepare "professional developers " and can
we really expect classroom teachers to take the lions share of this role
without changing what it is we expect them to do as professional

"It seems that resource partners who develop relationships with a
teacher that allows for modeling of teaching and constructive criticism
in the teacher's classroom has the greatest potential for helping
teachers reflect on their teaching"

4. All of these major themes, plus others, were embedded in messages
that often provided thoughtful reflection on the specific challenges
facing particular LSC projects. You are encouraged to go to the site
and read the full messages.

The case study approach was felt to have real potential for the future
on LSC-Net, as well as in other venues.

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