Teacher Learning in Schools and Classrooms
Although most of the research on professional development for science teachers focuses on formally organized programs, teachers of science spend a relatively small number of hours or days in such programs during a typical school year that extends to approximately 180 days (and even accounting for nonteaching time in the summer)—on average, less than 35 hours over a 3-year period (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 50). Rather, most of the time for learning available to teachers occurs when they are in school with their students and colleagues. Some of this learning takes place in the classroom when teachers may least expect it—a student makes an enlightening remark, for example. Some of this learning is more planned, as when members of a grade-level team decide to look closely at samples of their students’ work and in so doing develop a new understanding of what and how the students are learning. This chapter focuses on what is known about the broad array of such teacher learning opportunities that arise in classrooms and schools.
In one recent report, The New Teacher Project (2015) found that in three large urban districts, teachers self-reported spending an average of 17 hours a month on a broad range of development activities run by their school or district (150 hours a year); they reported their mandated professional development time as 39-74 hours per year. For the purposes of that survey, development activities were conceptualized broadly as formal and informal professional development, curriculum planning activities, teacher evaluation programs, and the like.
For at least the last 30 years, repeated calls have been made to capi-
talize on teachers’ opportunities to learn in schools. Calls for professional development schools (Darling-Hammond, 1994; Goodlad, 1990; Holmes Group, 1990; Levine, 1992; Levine and Trachtman, 1997), for school improvement teams (e.g., Harris, 2001; Spillane and Diamond, 2007), for professional learning communities (DuFour et al., 2005; Fullan, 2005; Hord, 1997), and for schools as learning organizations (Senge et al., 2000) all are grounded in the idea of supporting teachers’ learning in their daily lives, not just on “professional development days” (see also Cohen and Hill, 2001; Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin, 1995; Joyce and Showers, 1996; Neufeld and Roper, 2003; Supovitz and Turner, 2000).
Some researchers have conceptualized this learning as “embedded professional development” (Gallucci et al., 2010) or “embedded coaching” (Stein and D’Amico, 2002), highlighting the fact that it is “situated in the context of practice” (Ball and Cohen, 1999; Gallucci et al., 2010). Other researchers have tried to capture a more holistic sense of a school’s “professional environment,” a combination of formal and informal learning opportunities and supports. One important feature of school-based approaches to professional development is that they target both the development of individual teacher expertise and the collective capacity of the school (Bryk et al., 2010; Louis and Kruse, 1995). Another important feature is attention to specific contextual demands—teaching these students, in this school, in the company of these colleagues. These in-school learning opportunities also may be more scalable than the kinds of intensive programs reviewed in Chapter 6.
The available research on the school and classroom as a learning environment for teachers of science is both limited and diffuse, particularly in science. For this reason, the discussion in this chapter draws in some cases on research on teachers of other subjects, particularly mathematics. The chapter begins by reviewing the literature on teacher learning through collaboration and professional community. It then considers the roles of coaches and mentors and of induction programs for beginning teachers. It is important to note that while the research base on learning opportunities embedded in teachers’ everyday work is thin, many innovative approaches currently being developed and implemented may hold promise for enhancing science teachers’ learning and expanding the available research in this area.
COLLABORATION AND PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITY
Research spanning more than 30 years offers testimony to the power of teacher collaboration. Advocates credit systems theorist Peter Senge’s (1990) book The Fifth Discipline with sparking administrators’ and reformers’ interest in professional learning communities as drivers of improve-
ment in schools (see, for example, Hamos et al., 2009; Hord, 1997). Senge conceived of a “learning organization” as one comprising individuals with a shared vision, a team approach to problem solving, and a disposition toward continual learning through reflection and discussion. Within education, former school and district administrators have popularized the term “professional learning community,” or “PLC,” promoting it through workshops and books (see, for example, DuFour et al., 2005).
For purposes of this report, however, we find it useful to trace the origins of the concept of a professional learning community as it has developed specifically in educational research. Within education, the concept first emerged in the context of workplace-based studies conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, referring to teachers whose professional relationships are marked by a consistent orientation toward improvement, a focus on student learning, and practices of collaboration and inquiry. Such relationships represent a departure from the more individualistic norms, practices, and cultures that have typically characterized the school workplace (Lortie, 1975). Little (1982, 1984) conducted a year-long ethnographic study of six elementary, middle, and high schools, finding that the schools with well-established “norms of collegiality and experimentation” were better able to adapt to external change pressures and initiatives and better positioned to take advantage of district-sponsored professional development relative to the schools with more individualistic cultures. Rosenholtz (1989) used a combination of surveys and interviews in a study of 78 elementary schools. She distinguished between “learning enriched” and “learning impoverished” schools, with the former more likely to have established practices of collaboration and a stance of continuous improvement. McLaughlin and Talbert (2001) drew on a multiyear, mixed-methods study of the “contexts of teaching” in 16 high schools to differentiate schools and departments with a “professional learning community” (a relatively small number) from those exhibiting either an individualistic culture or a cohesive culture resistant to questioning—what they term a “traditional professional community.”
Newmann (1996) argues that a professional community of teachers can provide a supportive context in which teacher learning can occur. For example, the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools at the University of Wisconsin conducted a multimethod study of 24 elementary, middle, and high schools undertaking comprehensive restructuring in 22 districts and 16 states, with special attention to the quality of instruction in mathematics and social studies. They found that aspects of school-wide professional community—shared norms and values, a focus on student learning, a habit of reflective dialogue, deprivatization of practice, and collaboration—were associated with more robust instruction and provided supports for teacher learning (Newmann and Associates, 1996;
Louis et al., 1996). In a related analysis of data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), Center researchers found that high schools that had adopted some of the same reform practices as the 24 restructuring schools showed more impressive gains in science, mathematics, reading, and history from grades 8 to 10 and from grades 10 to 12 (Newmann and Wehlage, 1995).
Bryk and colleagues (2010) identify professional community, together with an improvement-oriented work culture and access to professional development, as elements of “professional capacity” that were associated with measured gains in achievement and attendance in Chicago elementary schools over a 6-year period in the 1990s. In a series of papers developed from analysis of the NELS:88 database, Valerie Lee and colleagues argue that more “communally organized” schools produced higher levels of teacher satisfaction, positive student behavior, pedagogy supportive of student problem solving and sense making, and student learning in mathematics and science (Lee and Smith, 1995, 1996; Lee et al., 1997). They write, “our results suggest that when a form of a professional community of teachers predominates—when teachers take responsibility for the success of all their students—more learning occurs” (Lee et al., 1997, p. 142). This conclusion accords with results of survey and case study research reported by Bolam and colleagues (2005), who define professional learning communities as communities “with the capacity to promote and sustain the learning of all professionals in the school community with the collective purpose of enhancing student learning” (p. 145).
Each of these studies points to the generative conditions established for teacher learning when schools foster collective responsibility for student learning and well-being. A recent study by Kraft and Papay (2014) reinforces the point. The researchers used a composite measure of the professional environment constructed from teachers’ responses to the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey, combined with state end-of-grade test results in mathematics and reading in grades 3-8. They found that teachers working in more supportive professional environments, compared with those working in less supportive environments, improved their effectiveness more over time.
Relatively few studies, however, have delved deeply into the question of how teacher interaction supports teacher learning in particular subject domains. Researchers associated with the Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) approach to mathematics professional development (Franke et al., 2001) found that teachers who sustained high levels of CGI-consistent practice several years after the professional development ended and who developed their understanding still further over that time tended to be those who engaged in robust forms of collaboration with school colleagues. Such teachers also were likely to combine school-level collabora-
tion with established ties to external resources (university experts, district mentors). Although the actual dynamics of teacher interaction were not a focus of study for the CGI researchers, the interview-based accounts suggest that collaboration achieved quite variable levels of depth and supplied quite different resources for teacher learning, even within a single school.
In-depth investigations of teacher interaction are relatively scarce, but those that do exist suggest that self-defined collaborative groups may vary substantially in the resources they are able to marshal to support teacher learning. Horn and Little (2010) analyzed audio and video recordings of collaborative groups formed among high school teachers, finding that groups within the same school differed both with regard to their inclination to question their own practice and to delve deeply into questions of student learning and with regard to the resources they brought to such questioning and inquiry. A highly successful group of mathematics teachers (who had achieved demonstrated gains in student learning and advanced course taking) was distinguished from other collaborative groups by a shared framework for talking about teaching and learning in mathematics (derived from collective professional development); the use of collaborative time to delve in detail into problems of practice; leadership roles and expectations that preserved the group’s focus on core values, goals, and principles; and the cultivation of external ties to aid the group’s own learning. Such external ties—active participation in university-based professional development, collaboration in university-led research projects, and membership in mathematics teacher networks—were a key factor in the strong professional community forged by the teachers within the school and in the student outcomes they were able to generate.
Vescio and colleagues (2008) reviewed 11 studies of the impact of professional learning communities on instruction and on student learning. Most of the studies relied on interview and survey self-reports of positive impact. In a smaller set of empirical studies that employed observation, however, it appeared that well-developed professional learning communities can have a positive impact on both teaching practice and student achievement.
The concept of professional community among teachers thus originated in studies centered on the organic development of learning-oriented professional relationships initiated by teachers in the context of day-today work in schools, teams, or departments. These studies of naturally occurring teacher interaction underscore the potential of close collaboration in schools to support teacher learning, while also revealing the difficulty of building and sustaining such collaboration in a workplace that
often is poorly organized to support it and the importance of access to some form of external support.
Educators’ interest in scaling up meaningful collaboration among teachers now manifests itself in the increasingly widespread use of the term “PLC” to refer to almost all groups of teachers convened at the school level, many of which have been mandated by state or local policies. Yet simply applying this label may lead the conveners of such groups to overlook the conditions required to make them fruitful venues for teacher learning. In scaling up, for example, the fundamental assumptions underlying the ideal of a professional learning community—that teachers’ knowledge is situated in their daily practice and that their active engagement in such a community will improve their knowledge and their students’ learning—may be neither understood nor valued. With this caution in mind, the committee sought to understand the prevalence of in-school opportunities for science teachers’ learning.
Science-Focused Collaboration and Teacher Learning
In the National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (Banilower et al., 2013), school representatives (one per school) reported that science-related teacher study groups exist in about one-third of elementary schools (32 percent) and approaching half of middle and high schools (43 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Collective analysis of science assessment results constitutes the most prominent activity (73 percent) of such groups, together with analyzing instructional materials (65 percent) and planning lessons together (67 percent); teachers’ own engagement in science investigations are the least common activity (25 percent). Representatives of schools with study groups also tended to report that participation in the groups is required (79 percent), but these schools may set expectations for participation without supplying resources of time and space (only 62 percent reported having organized specific times for teachers to meet). In addition, only 56 percent of schools with science-related study groups have designated leaders for those groups. Fewer than 5 percent of elementary teachers reported having served as leader of a teacher study group focused on science teaching. The figures are somewhat higher at the secondary level, with 19 percent of middle school and 26 percent of high school science teachers having led such a group. Overall, the picture is one in which teachers of science, especially at the elementary level, may not have opportunities to collaborate with colleagues.
Fulton and colleagues (2010) drew implications for research, policy, and practice from a review of the available research on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related professional learning
communities, as well as consideration of other, nonempirical research sources (i.e., advice generated by professional education organizations and the guidance proposed by an expert panel of researchers and practitioners). Although the authors employ the popular term “PLC” to frame their review, the search terms they used encompass many professional development configurations or school-based learning contexts (for example, lesson study, critical friends groups, study groups, grade-level teams, and the like) that differ in important respects from and would not necessarily have been termed PLCs by the researchers whose studies they reviewed.
The authors derived their research-based claims from 25 “Type 1” studies—empirical studies published since 1995 that report adequately on the research methods used—and another 22 papers that are described as “empirical studies” but for which the published reports lack methodological detail. Altogether, the 47 studies are heavily weighted toward qualitative methods (78 percent) and toward mathematics (twice as many as those focused on science), but encompass all levels of schooling. All of the studies involved activity designed specifically for the purpose of professional development in STEM domains. Most (including 15 of the 25 Type 1 studies) focused primarily on teachers’ experience of the professional development, although nearly half (11 of the 25) also examined subsequent effects on teachers’ instructional practice. Only 3 studies—one of which one was a study of preservice teachers—examined effects on student outcomes.
Much of what these authors report regarding professional learning communities—including the significance of skilled facilitation and the benefit of helping teachers learn to elicit, analyze, and respond to students’ thinking—appears broadly in studies of professional development across subject domains. However, the authors argue that STEM-related professional learning communities have distinguishing features that warrant attention. In particular, they conclude that advancement of STEM teachers’ professional learning would be better ensured by the organization of discipline-specific rather than cross-subject groups, suggesting that the former afford more sustained and in-depth attention to content understanding and to the development of content-related teaching knowledge and practice. For example, Nelson and Slavit (2007) completed case studies of five cross-subject (mathematics and science) and cross-grade (middle and high school) teacher inquiry groups. They found that teachers appreciated the opportunity to familiarize themselves with teaching in other grades or subject domains. However,
These cross-disciplinary, cross-grade-level collaborations also posed some challenges, especially in relation to the focus of their inquiries.
Many struggled to define an inquiry question that would cut across the disciplines. . . .This led, in most cases, to a focus on pedagogy or classroom processes as opposed to specific disciplinary ideas and student understanding. (p. 29)
Fulton and colleagues (2010) also cite findings from other studies whose focus plausibly fits within the professional learning community designation (regardless of whether that term is used in the original study), observing that sustained participation in subject-specific teacher groups “increased teachers’ deliberation about students’ mathematics or science thinking” (p. 8). For example, Kazemi and Franke (2004) worked throughout a school year with a group of teachers in a single elementary school, examining what teachers learned and what instructional changes they made as a result of focusing consistently and collectively on students’ work and students’ reasoning about mathematics in classroom discussions.
Responding to the potential benefits of professional learning communities, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Math and Science Partnership (MSP) projects have increasingly incorporated collaborative teacher groups into their program designs and professional development models. Hamos and colleagues (2009) summarize seven MSP projects in which teacher collaboration figured prominently. These seven projects illustrate the range of contexts in which professional learning community arrangements have been introduced to support science teachers’ learning, including one such community for rural teachers created entirely in an online environment. The projects vary widely in the number of participants, in the specific strategies employed, and in the available research on project processes and outcomes.
Program evaluations and other research conducted in the MSP projects suggest the benefits of collaborative groups in deepening teachers’ science content knowledge and developing inquiry-oriented teaching practices, although the measures used across the studies varied. Six of the seven project summaries generated by Hamos and colleagues (2009) indicate positive results with respect to teacher knowledge and/or practice, and two of them point to measured gains in student learning (see also Ellet and Monsaas, 2007; Hessinger, 2009; Monsaas, 2006).
As in other research on effective professional development, skilled facilitation looms large as a factor. According to organizers of Project Pathways at Arizona State University,
In the absence of a PLC facilitator who holds teachers to high standards for verbalizing the processes involved in knowing, learning, and teaching content, Pathways research has revealed that PLC discussions tend
to be superficial and teachers make little progress in shifting their classroom practices. (Hamos et al., 2009, p. 19)
In addition to the importance of skilled facilitation, three of the seven MSP project sites profiled by Hamos and colleagues (2009) identified administrative support at the school level as a factor in whether teachers benefited from their participation. Researchers associated with Project Pathways cited three specific contributions of a school principal: “(1) willingness to rearrange schedules to accommodate content-focused, school-based PLCs for one hour during the work week, (2) support of inquiry-based and conceptually-oriented teaching, and (3) willingness to work through logistical obstacles to facilitate participation by all teachers’ in the workshop or course and weekly PLC meetings” (Hamos et al., 2009, p. 20).
As part of their broader research and evaluation agendas, MSP researchers have investigated certain aspects of professional community and collaboration, including the extent to which project participants at a site held a shared vision and how they worked together—specifically, their engagement in reflective dialogue. Much of the available research relies on teachers’ self-reports of collaborative practice, but two of the projects profiled by Hamos and colleagues (2009) developed observation protocols.
In a year-long, video-based investigation of a group of secondary mathematics and science teachers involved in the Project Pathways site at Arizona State University, researchers analyzed the teachers’ discourse at three points in time (Clark et al., 2008). They saw a shift from early-stage interactions, in which participants’ explanations “remained computational in nature, often incoherent, and each member remained focused on her or his own ways of thinking” (p. 308), to later interactions, in which explanations were more conceptually anchored and in which participants attended closely to and built on one another’s reasoning. Clark and colleagues attribute the emergence of mathematically rich discourse within this professional learning community to the active role taken by the designated facilitator in modeling such discourse himself and in prompting and guiding it among the other teachers. In addition, the researchers report that such skilled facilitation required specific training and coaching of the facilitator, who became demonstrably more focused and strategic in his facilitation over the course of the year.
Overall, the research conducted by the profiled MSP sites varied widely with respect to the rigor of the research design, with many studies lacking control or comparison groups and (with a few exceptions, such as the study described above) a heavy reliance on outcomes self-reported via survey or interview. The research results also appear less commonly
in peer-reviewed journals than in conference proceedings or technical reports. That said, the available research points consistently to the likely benefits of well-organized and facilitated professional development-related collaboration among science teachers.
A small number of studies published after the Hamos and colleagues (2009) MSP project profiles and the Fulton and colleagues (2010) review further advance understanding of the kinds of interactions likely to be associated with teacher learning in the context of content-focused collaborative groups. Unlike studies that relied heavily on self-reports, these studies employed audio and/or video recordings of group interaction to trace changes in teachers’ demonstrated conceptual understanding, depth of interaction, attention to student thinking, and classroom practice.
In one example, Richmond and Manokore (2011) report on a qualitative study of two science-focused, professional-learning community groups formed by elementary school teachers from multiple schools in a single urban district. The researchers define a professional learning community as “a group of teachers who meet regularly with a common set of teaching and learning goals, shared responsibilities for work to be undertaken, and collaborative development of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) as a result of the gatherings” (p. 545). The two grade-level groups, one comprising 1st-grade teachers and the other 4th-grade teachers, participated in a multiyear program of inquiry-oriented activity. Each yearly cycle began with a 7- to 10-day summer institute, followed by 2-hour biweekly collaborative group meetings during the school year. Activity was centered on the development, teaching, and post-teaching assessment of a focal science unit (identifying relevant key concepts, linking concepts to assessment benchmarks, exploring curricula, developing instructional tasks and activities, videotaping and discussing classroom instruction, analyzing samples of student work, and proposing refinements to the unit). Meetings were facilitated by a university faculty member (1st grade) or a district science specialist (4th grade).
Researchers used audiotaped records of the group meetings, supplemented by observational field notes and interviews, to explore the extent to which the groups functioned in a manner that was consistent with the definition of a professional learning community and was likely to strengthen teachers’ science knowledge and instructional practice. Analysis of teachers’ transcribed talk revealed some evidence of participants’ increased confidence in science teaching, together with comfort in asking for help or receiving feedback. However, the analysis also underscored the marginal place of science instruction in elementary schools and the pressure experienced by teachers to focus primarily on literacy and mathematics. Participants in the two professional learning communities tended to be the only individuals from their schools to be involved, leaving them
with limited support for implementing new practices or having a broader influence on science teaching and learning. Interviews with participating teachers raised additional issues regarding the sustainability of such groups in the absence of a designated facilitator and other supports. As in other studies, skilled facilitation emerged as a key factor in the teachers’ ability to make productive use of the time spent in these groups.
Collaborative teacher groups formed one component of a 3-year program of science professional development for elementary and middle school teachers investigated by Lakshmanan and colleagues (2011). The program (also funded by an MSP grant) combined three content courses, taught over three summers by university faculty, with participation in monthly professional learning community groups during the school year that were supported by local coaches. Researchers investigated the impact of participation on 5th- to 8th-grade mathematics and science teachers’ reported self-efficacy in teaching, their outcome expectations, and their observed use of inquiry-based practices in the classroom. The researchers report gains in teacher knowledge, self-efficacy, and instructional practices resulting from their participation in professional learning communities (“Educator Inquiry Groups”), but do not describe the nature of the groups’ activities.
In a contribution to the emerging research on online professional development (discussed in Chapter 6), McConnell and colleagues (2013) conducted a qualitative study of the effectiveness of videoconferencing in supporting collaborative teacher groups involved in the Problem-Based Learning Project for Teachers, a professional development program for K-12 teachers in Michigan that focused on inquiry-based science lessons. The online group meetings complemented a 7-day training conference and a 3-day “Focus on Practice” meeting in which all teachers met face to face. In the following months, 10 of the 54 participating teachers met via videoconferencing (5 in each of two virtual professional learning community groups), while the remaining teachers were organized in nine face-to-face professional learning communities. This program design afforded the possibility of studying teachers’ experience of the virtual community as well as the opportunity to compare virtual with face-to-face groups.
The published paper cited here relies primarily on focus group interviews with participants and written reflections from participants and facilitators, although the project data include recorded videoconference sessions. The core activities and discussion topics were found to be comparable in the virtual and face-to-face settings, as were the benefits cited by teachers in interviews and reflections. Participants agreed that benefits of participation included sharing information, gaining new perspectives, hearing practical solutions, being accountable to the group, keeping discourse professional, and developing friendships. The authors indicate
The promise of teacher study groups focused on analysis of teaching and learning in science can be seen in lesson study in Japan. Lesson study has served as a model for the organization of teacher study groups in some schools in the United States.
Lesson study, a widespread practice in Japanese schools, involves “collaborative inquiry cycles that revolve around planning, observation, and analysis of live instruction” (Lewis, 2011). It is built around “research lessons,” which are meant to embody teachers’ ideas about “optimal teaching of a particular subject matter to a particular group of students” (Lewis, 2013). The goal usually is not refinement of a single lesson but the use of instructional examples as catalysts to provoke study of the presenters’ hypotheses related to teaching and learning.
Lesson study occurs at multiple levels in the Japanese education system, including individual schools, districts, national schools, and subject matter-oriented associations. Nearly all schools in Japan participate in some form of lesson study. According to a recent survey, research lessons occur in 99 percent of Japanese elementary schools, 98 percent of junior high schools, and 95 percent of public high schools (National Education Policy Research Institute, 2011).
At the elementary level, teachers of a given grade often plan collaboratively and conduct three to four research lessons per year focused on a school-wide theme and examined by all educators and administrators in the school (Fernandez and Yoshida, 2004). Themes are chosen collaboratively by the entire faculty, with emphasis on joint thinking about the impact of daily instruction on agreed-upon long-term goals for students. As in many U.S. schools, elementary teachers in
that fostering community during the initial training conferences, before the groups were implemented, was important. Although teachers in the virtual professional learning communities expressed a preference for meeting face-to-face, they judged videoconferences to be a good practical alternative that addressed problems of geographic distance and enabled groupings by grade level and science domain.
As with the research reviewed in Chapter 6, this research is limited to small programs and is heavily reliant on teacher self-reports. There remains relatively little research on the effects of professional learning communities on science teachers’ or students’ learning. However, the available research is suggestive, illuminating the potential of well-run and -organized teacher study groups to lead to change among participating teachers (see Box 7-1 for discussion of lesson study as an approach to teacher study groups). Among the characteristics that may matter in
Japan are generalists who teach all subjects to their charges. Lesson study programs at the district level offer an opportunity for teachers to cultivate expertise in a specific subject of special interest. Reflection on research lessons at the district level takes place during salaried time after school.
A culture of experimentation has arisen around the lesson study model, a culture that allows both rapid adoption of new curricula and continual refinement of existing content and teaching methods (Hart et al., 2011; Lewis and Tsuchida, 1997; Lewis et al., 2002, 2006; Watanabe and Wang-Iverson, 2005). This culture is enabled both by substantial teacher buy-in and by institutional considerations that give priority to teachers’ contributions to their continued development. The Japanese school day includes dedicated time for collaborative planning of instruction and management of noninstructional tasks. Additionally, education is seen as a communal task, and a high premium is placed on cross-pollination of ideas among educators. Those whose contributions are viewed as especially insightful are sought after as commentators on research lessons across Japan. Teachers are recognized as producers of sophisticated, valuable knowledge on teaching and learning and are highly involved in all aspects of their continued professional learning.
Although lesson study is based in another educational system, its potential to serve as a structure around which to design teacher learning opportunities in U.S. schools has enjoyed considerable uptake in the field of mathematics education (e.g., Perry and Lewis, 2011). In a review of effective mathematics professional development conducted by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) (Gersten et al., 2011), a study of lesson study (Perry and Lewis, 2011)—one of two studies on mathematics professional development that met the criteria for inclusion in a WWC review—found positive effects on students’ mathematics learning.
achieving these effects are those highlighted by Newman (1996) and confirmed in a large-scale, multisite study of workplace-based professional communities in England (Bolam et al., 2005):
- shared values and vision about pupil learning and leadership (Newman, 1996);
- collective responsibility for pupil learning (Newman et al., 1996);
- collaboration focused on learning (Newman, 1996);
- professional learning—individual and collective (Newman, 1996);
- reflective professional enquiry (Newman, 1996);
- openness, networks, and partnerships (Bolam et al., 2005);
- inclusive membership (Bolam et al., 2005); and
- mutual trust, respect, and support (Bolam et al., 2005).
In research on teacher groups organized specifically for professional development purposes, skilled facilitation remains a prominent factor in the groups’ reported effectiveness.
Opportunities for collaboration and for building professional community can extend beyond an individual school. A network of teachers that spans multiple schools or districts, working together to understand and implement changes in their instruction, can be a powerful means of supporting teacher learning (Coburn et al., 2010, 2012; Penuel and Riel, 2007). Such networks provide a mechanism for teachers to share ideas about teaching, learning, and assessment; stories about students’ successes and difficulties; strategies for managing learning groups; and tips for using technology (Penuel and Riel, 2007).
There is an expansive literature here, especially in the field of literacy teacher development. For example, in a randomized controlled trial of the National Writing Project’s partnership program, researchers documented that interactions with colleagues who changed their own practice as a consequence of their participation in professional development augmented the effects of professional development on their own teaching practice (Penuel et al., 2012; Sun et al., 2013). This same finding of “spillover” effects of interactions with colleagues has been found in observational studies as well (e.g., Jackson and Bruegmann, 2009; Sun et al., 2014). This research builds on a whole tradition of research on teacher networks and instructional change conducted in the early 2000s (e.g., Bidwell and Yasumoto, 1997; Frank and Zhao, 2005; Frank et al., 2004; Yasumoto et al., 2001).
Efforts to build similar networks among science educators are growing. The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (2015), for example, is building a national network of science teacher leaders who are committed classroom teachers involved in a range of leadership roles intended to improve the quality of the national science teaching workforce. The San Francisco Exploratorium’s Teacher Institute is another example. Since 1984, it has been offering summer professional development for practicing middle and high school science teachers. In the Teacher Institute, teachers learn to integrate the hands-on, inquiry-based experiences of the Exploratorium into their classrooms. A Beginning Teacher Program was developed to support new teachers in the first 2 years of their development, while a Teacher Leadership Program trains the most experienced science teachers to serve as mentors and coaches for novice teachers. In addition to summer programs, the museum offers ongoing weekend workshops, digital resources, and online support. Thousands of alumni
are connected through an online community, and teachers exchange ideas, offer just-in-time help for colleagues, and comment on new developments in science education.
Other networks have been created through professional organizations and state-wide networks of science and STEM partnerships and teachers. Examples are found in California (Penuel and Riel, 2007), Texas (http://www.thetrc.org [November 2015]), Oklahoma, and Nebraska. The Robert Noyce Teaching Fellowship Program (http://nsfnoyce.org [November 2015]), offered through NSF, provides scholarships, stipends, and programmatic support to recruit and prepare STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 teachers and master teachers to support them.
The proliferation of networks and network initiatives has outpaced the research. Although there are many networks, few research studies document their effects. In addition, existing studies have done more to map the structure of network ties than to delve into the nature, depth, and quality of network interaction (for an exception, see Coburn et al., 2012). This may change as interest in research on teacher networks increases (e.g., Coburn et al., 2012; Daly, 2010; Frank et al., 2004; Penuel et al., 2012) and research methodologies evolve (Avila de Lima, 2010). Nonetheless, some key features of networks have been shown to be more effective than others in supporting sustained change in instruction. Effective networks include strong ties (frequent interaction and social closeness), access to expertise, and deep interactions (focused on underlying pedagogical principles, the nature of the discipline, or how students learn) (Coburn et al., 2012). District policy can shape how teachers engage in networks and whether their participation supports changes in their instruction (Coburn et al., 2013). Policies can support more frequent and deeper interactions and help teachers identify local experts, but they also can disrupt ties, interrupt the flow of resources, and eliminate supports that encourage interaction (Coburn et al., 2013; see Chapter 6 for a more detailed discussion of this study).
A study of 21 California schools engaged in school-wide reforms suggests several additional characteristics of effective teacher networks (Penuel and Riel, 2007). First, receiving help from outside of one’s immediate circle (characterized by Granovetter  as “weak ties”) is valuable for obtaining new information and expertise. Second, making it clear who has the expertise to assist with a specific challenge is helpful. To this end, it is important to provide venues where teachers can talk about their teaching, as well as to recognize success and achievement publicly in ways that encourage teachers to seek out their colleagues for help and resources. Third, meeting and committee structures in which teachers can participate in multiple meetings that cut across different functions in the
school allow teachers to gain different perspectives on the instructional changes they are striving to make.
These insights suggest that networks may be more valuable to teachers when information flows in multiple directions, tapping into the distributed experiences of the members. It also appears that networks are more helpful when participating experts are given time to help others. Such experts may already be in formal roles that allow them to share their expertise, but they also may be informal leaders who have little time outside of their teaching responsibilities to serve as resources to their peers. Recognizing these informal leaders and giving them time to work with peers can be helpful in building effective teacher networks.
COACHING AND MENTORING RESOURCES IN SCHOOLS
Schools and districts have increasingly embraced instructional coaching as a form of workplace-embedded professional development support. The idea of instructional coaching has been around for at least the last 30 years, first stimulated by Bruce and Showers (1981) argument for creating venues for classroom-based assistance for teachers implementing new practices. Recruited from the ranks of experienced teachers, coaches provide a range of professional development activities in schools (Gallucci et al., 2010; Taylor, 2008; Woulfin, 2014). Like teacher study groups and professional learning communities, coaching can take qualitatively different forms, ranging from one-on-one encounters to coaches working with groups or teams of teachers. One-on-one classroom-based coaching remains relatively rare for science teachers—reported by just 17 percent of elementary and middle schools and 22 percent of high schools (Banilower et al., 2013). Coaching resources are less likely in science than in literacy and mathematics and are especially uncommon in rural schools (Banilower et al., 2013).
In addition to variation in coach-to-teacher ratios, coaching can focus on different issues and have varied ends—peer coaching, cognitive coaching, and instructional coaching being three examples. Coaching relationships also can be established through mentoring, which is used as a support strategy for prospective teachers, for teachers in the early stages of their careers, and for teachers who face specific challenges for which they need tailored support. Instructional coaching can be either content based or generic; it can be intended to support all teachers in meeting the demands of new school or district reform mandates, or it can be focused on early-career support or on teachers who are struggling with evaluations (Mangin and Stoelinga, 2008). Knight (2005) defines the instructional coach as an “on-site professional developer who teaches educators how to use proven teaching methods . . . and collaborates with teachers, identifies
practices that will effectively address teachers’ needs, and helps teachers implement those practices” (p. 17). Among the activities in which coaches engage are (1) assisting teachers in implementing new curricula or assessments; (2) consulting with and mentoring teachers; (3) supporting teachers who are working to apply knowledge and develop new skills or to deepen their understanding; (4) planning for, proposing, and conducting research and evaluation; (5) providing resources; and (6) leading study, inquiry, or book groups (Deussen et al., 2007).
Coaching has been adopted by states, large urban districts, and federally funded reforms (e.g., Deussen et al., 2007), and has been considered a core feature of comprehensive school reform (Sykes and Wilson, 2015) and the scaling up of reforms in mathematics education (Coburn and Russell, 2008). Coaching and mentoring also is seen as a significant means of sharing leadership within schools (Taylor, 2008), and coaches often are viewed as teacher leaders. Given the variations in its settings and in the ways it is conceptualized and implemented, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the potential effects of this form of teacher learning. Compounding the issue is the fact that there is very little research on this practice beyond descriptive case studies (Cornett and Knight, 2008) and a few small-scale studies that cannot easily be generalized (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Deussen et al., 2007).
Typical of the existing research is a study by Nam and colleagues (2013), who studied the effects of a 1-year collaborative mentoring program in South Korea consisting of five one-on-one mentoring meetings, weekly science education seminars, weekly mentoring group discussions, and self-evaluation activities. The researchers conducted a field study of three beginning science teachers and their three mentors, and found that the program encouraged the beginning teachers to reflect on their own perceptions and teaching practice in terms of inquiry-based science teaching, which the authors argue led to changes in their teaching practice.
In general, the committee was unable to locate sufficient research on different models of coaching and mentoring, their implementation, and their effects on teacher knowledge and practice and student learning, especially with regard to science teachers (recall that not one of the professional development evaluations included in the Scher and O’Reilly  meta-analysis included the use of coaches for science teachers). In light of the growing interest in professional development that includes coaching as a component, it will be important to examine the potential effects of coaching/mentoring rigorously, especially given the current use of education evaluation systems, some of which include coaching as part of their model.
In the last 20 years, it has become clear that retaining new teachers early in their careers is crucial to building a strong workforce. Induction programs for beginning teachers vary considerably in their content and character, and they often involve the use of teacher learning opportunities, such as mentoring, coaching, and networking. Like professional learning communities and coaching, “induction” can have very different meanings in different contexts. Some induction programs are quite thin, involving orientation meetings focused on how to work within the district or school bureaucracy. Others involve working with mentors or coaches; in some programs, these more experienced teachers are trained in how to support new teachers, while in others they are not. Some programs entail structured opportunities with mentors who are matched with new teachers on grade level and/or subject matter expertise. In still other programs, strapped for human and material resources, mentoring is more catch-as-catch-can.
Induction programs also vary in duration. Goldrick and colleagues (2012) report that 13 states require induction programs for 1 year, while 11 require induction programs for 2 or more years. Some school districts have provided formal induction programs (e.g., Flowing Wells Unified School District, School District of Philadelphia), which often involve an overview of school district policies and general guidance on management. Support for new teachers also is offered by organizations that transcend school boundaries (e.g., Exploratorium, The New Teacher Center). These programs can be focused on teaching science or on teaching in general. Other programs consist of small groups of teachers who collaborate (e.g., Forbes, 2004), are university based (e.g., Luft and Patterson, 2002), exist online (e.g., Simonsen et al., 2009), or involve study of one’s own instruction (e.g., Mitchener and Jackson, 2012).
Within the support offered to newly hired teachers of science, the terrain is different for secondary and elementary teachers. As noted earlier, beginning secondary teachers typically have stronger content knowledge than elementary teachers and are focused on science as their main teaching assignment. Elementary teachers often have weak science knowledge, and support for them in science competes with that in the other subject areas. Induction programs will need to be organized differently at the elementary and secondary levels to be responsive to teachers’ needs.
Most teachers have little opportunity to engage in authentic scientific experiences during their preservice training but instead are offered courses defined by didactic lectures and “cookbook-style” labs (Gess-Newsome and Lederman, 1993). Even those few teachers fortunate enough to experience student-centered instruction in their preservice courses tend to
revert to traditional practices once in the classroom (Simmons et al., 1999). Induction programs ideally serve as bridges from the student-centered theory characteristic of many teacher education programs to the realities of the classroom.
Teachers’ preservice experiences influence how they respond to induction programs. Roehrig and Luft (2006) found this to be the case within a cohort of secondary science teachers. They tracked the induction-elicited change in teaching beliefs and attitudes of 24 teachers with a range of preservice experiences who participated in an induction program known as ASIST (Alternative Support for the Induction of Science Teachers). This program incorporated ongoing support to participants through classroom visits, trips to teacher conferences, technology-mediated dialogue, and monthly meetings. Changes in the teachers’ beliefs were measured through semistructured interviews. Additionally, classroom observations allowed researchers to note changes in the teachers’ instructional practice. Finally, program evaluations were completed by each participant at the conclusion of the induction program.
The various facets of ASIST were found to aid the development of productive knowledge, skills, and dispositions differentially, depending on teachers’ preservice background. For example, those individuals from alternative or elementary certification pathways derived great benefit from workshops that immersed them in inquiry-based teaching methods. More traditionally certified secondary science teachers were already familiar with the themes of these induction workshops and so found them less beneficial. Researchers further noted the potential of open discussion on teaching philosophy, structured to build participants’ awareness of best practices in inquiry-based instruction, to effect changes in teachers’ beliefs and subsequent adjustments to classroom practice. Results from Roehrig and Luft’s (2006) work indicate that designers of induction programs need to be mindful of the heterogeneous backgrounds of educators when developing these programs and, to the extent possible, build in activities intended to address different levels of expertise.
Regardless of program design, one of the primary goals of many induction programs is reducing teacher turnover. Ingersoll and Strong (2011) reviewed 15 empirical studies of the effects of induction programs on beginning teachers. Most of the studies revealed that the programs led to higher teacher retention and that students of teachers who participated in the programs showed higher gains on achievement tests. The researchers also found that induction programs generally had positive effects on teachers’ classroom practices.
Smith and Ingersoll (2004) analyzed data from the nationally representative 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey to identify the most effective aspects of induction programs. The 1999-2000 sample included
52,000 educators, 3,235 of whom were in their first year of teaching. Approximately 80 percent of the first-year teachers in public school settings had participated in some kind of induction program, compared with 60 percent of private school teachers. Common forms of induction included mentorship (66 percent of surveyed beginning teachers), collaborative planning time (68 percent), and “supportive communication” (81 percent). Reduced workload was a far less common aid provided to first-year teachers (11 percent). As measures to reduce the rate of teacher turnover, the most successful induction programs included mentorship by a teacher in one’s field (a reduction of approximately 30 percent in the risk of departure) and common planning time with other educators in one’s field (around a 43 percent reduction).
Induction supports for new teachers often were deployed in combination, so it may be difficult to isolate the effect of individual features. To gain some sense of the synergistic effects of multiple induction supports, Ingersoll and Kralik (2004) calculated the additive effect of three support “packages” incorporating progressively more components. More comprehensive support packages were associated with decreased turnover.
Among the different program configurations, certain components appear to be important to the success of newly hired science teachers: support, knowledge, and examination of classroom practice. Newly hired teachers need someone who can provide support during their initial years, whether it be a designated mentor, an influential teacher, or a group of teachers. When support is provided to newly hired science teachers, it can be instructional and/or psychological. Specifically, these teachers need help in all three of the domains on which the committee focused: tailoring of instruction for all students, disciplinary knowledge and scientific practices, and pedagogical content knowledge and instructional practices. Here, too, however, we found the research to be of uneven quality. Moreover, little of the existing research focuses specifically on science teachers, and thus it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about the power of induction programs to support the development of early-career science teachers.
Teachers spend the majority of their professional time in classrooms and schools, and it is imperative that those settings support their professional learning, both individually and collectively. For students to have opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge, and practices envisioned in A Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards, teachers will need to have similarly rich learning experiences that are ongoing and embedded in their daily work, involve the prac-
tices of science, and account for the specific demands of their context (e.g., students’ prior learning and experience, the availability of materials, teacher colleagues). A growing body of research documents the generative conditions established for teacher learning when schools foster collective responsibility for student learning and well-being. However, the evidence base related to learning opportunities for teachers that are embedded in schools and classrooms is weak, especially with regard to science. Despite the relative lack of research, innovative approaches to individual and collective teacher growth and development are appearing regularly in the education marketplace. It is important to understand these innovations better so their potential to support teachers as they work to improve their science instruction can be harnessed.
Conclusion 7: Science teachers’ professional learning occurs in a range of settings both within and outside of schools through a variety of structures (professional development programs, professional learning communities, coaching, and the like). There is limited evidence about the relative effectiveness of this broad array of learning opportunities and how they are best designed to support teacher learning.
Conclusion 8: Schools need to be structured to encourage and support ongoing learning for science teachers, especially given the number of new teachers entering the profession.
Two themes arise from the varied body of research on embedded opportunities for teacher learning that accord with findings from research on professional development programs reviewed in Chapter 6. First is the importance of opportunities for teachers to analyze student thinking and student work, as well as examples of the target instructional practices, and to reflect on and attempt to change their own classroom instruction. Second, the involvement of individuals with expertise in science content and pedagogy who can act as facilitators is critical as context that supports and promotes continuous instructional improvement.
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