Crowdsourcing Research

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Dear Teaching Diablogue Community,

I’m here today not to offer my opinion on a topic, but to ask for yours.  As Talia Carroll’s most recent blog rightly points out, the pre-service experience is as much about developing a personal philosophy of teaching and education as it is about learning the ropes of your content, instruction, and classroom management. In fact, our assumptions about the students we teach, the communities we work in, and the systems we’re a part of, have profound implications for our day-to-day practice. The implications range from how we treat individual students to how we reproduce (or disrupt) societal  inequities.

With this in mind, I am in the process of designing a research project around the question “To what extent do pre-service teachers’ beliefs about  education change over the course of their training?” Through this study, I hope to learn more about pre-service teacher perspectives while offering participants an opportunity to engage in reflection around the development of their professional identities as teachers.

The crux of the research would involve interviewing a group of teachers at the beginning of their pre-service experience – before they’ve started classes, classroom observations, and research projects. I would then circle back with those folks at the end of their first year (of a two year program) and ask them to essentially have a conversation with their bright-eyed self of 9 months earlier. To what extent do they agree with their statements, how have their views changed, is there anything they would add or retract? I would then probe for the why behind these opinions.

So here’s my question for you: what type of prompts and questions should I ask in that initial interview?  I’d like to find questions that will get at the deeper, perhaps implicit assumptions about the purposes of schooling and motivations for teaching. Some ideas I’ve come up with so far include:

-What do you think is the most important issue in education right now?

– How do you define academic achievement?

-Who are your future students?

-What does it mean to be a “successful” teacher?

-What do you need to learn in order to become a successful teacher?

I would love to draw on the collective wisdom and experience of Diablogue readers and writers for more ideas. If you work with teachers, what do you think changes the most over the course of their preparation, and what questions would anticipate those shifts? If you’re a teacher, what questions would you have answered differently before and after you attended your teacher education program?  Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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The Interactive Nature of Read Alouds: Ideas to Consider

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Here’s a post from Courtney Kinney, a 12-year elementary school teacher and staff developer at Growing Educators, filled with practical tips to grow young readers’ literacy skills.

The power to capture your students’ imagination during an adventure to the time of dinosaurs, to transform your students’ world into an alternate time period, and enable them to envision being a dragonfly chased by a buzzing hornet.  You’re asking yourself, “What daily classroom practice has this power for my readers?”  The answer could be: Interactive Read Aloud.  That’s right, those 20 minutes a day of protected, dedicated time for engaging your readers with text by implicitly modeling reading skills and behaviors.

Understanding Interactive Read Aloud.  Interactive Read Aloud is a daily 20 minutes of implicit teaching when teachers gather their readers close together in their meeting area and model reading skills and behaviors they want all readers to develop.

  • Interactive Read Aloud is a time to build community while exposing readers to a variety of texts, genres, text complexities, and text structures.
  • It is a time for revealing our metacognition as readers and making it explicit by modeling our own reading behaviors by thinking aloud, stopping and sketching or jotting our ideas, or acting out scenes from the text.
  • It is a time to model thoughtful, reflective conversations and hone in on partnership conversations that lead to whole class grand conversations, which are eventually student lead, student monitored, and student driven.
  •  It is a time to model reading behaviors such as stamina, initiation, and rereading for meaning and fluency as well as a time to model reading skills such as envisioning, synthesizing, critiquing, or author’s perspective.
  • It is a time to focus on listening and speaking Common Core State Standards.

Here are some of our tips for creating a thoughtful Interactive Read Aloud in your classroom.

Interactive Nature.  Implicit in the name of Interactive Read Aloud is that it is an interactive time when readers engage with the text as well as with one another.  The interactive nature can take on many forms, including interacting with the text through stop and sketches or stop and jots on post-its, acting out particular scenes from text,  turn and talks with partners, or whole class grand conversations where readers engage in conversations with one another by responding to each other’s ideas with sentence stems that promote engaged conversation, such as: “I agree with you because…” “I disagree with you because…” “That’s an interesting point…” “Adding on to what ___ said, I think…”  By giving our readers the language to help support their conversations, we are implicitly teaching readers that an important part of engaging with text is formulating ideas and expressing those to others.  In this video clip of Jessica Martin, our Co-Founder and Director of Growing Educators, notice how she supports her readers by finding points in the text that support interaction in the form of acting out scenes to deepen the understanding of characters and promoting the engagement of all her primary readers.

Supporting Content Area Text.  Interactive Read Aloud is an ideal time to build your reader’s content area knowledge, to prepare them for an upcoming science or social studies unit of study, to engage them with nonfiction text prior to an expository writing unit of study, or simply to implicitly model how readers plan for reading informational text differently than other genres.  Weaving content area text into your writing or reading workshop can be bridged by supporting the thinking work during your Interactive Read Aloud.   This can be 20 minutes daily of dedicated time to study a particular genre or subject such as biographies, insects and animals, or the American Revolution, while exposing your readers to complex text and supporting them with strategies that enable them to access the content while navigating the text complexity.  In this video clip, notice how Jessica Martin navigates through content area knowledge while supporting her primary readers’ access to the structure of nonfiction text.

Strategic Planning.  In order to understand how to utilize text in a more effective and engaging way, teachers need to thoroughly read through the text prior to using it during an Interactive Read Aloud.  Knowing what reading skill and behavior you want to implicitly teach your readers, what reading plan you want to highlight for the text, when to stop in the text to model thinking and reactions, or when to have partnerships turn and talk to one another takes a very planful teacher.  Using post-its to mark the spots in the text you want to engage with is a helpful way to feel prepared during an Interactive Read Aloud.  In this video clip of Erin Donelson, one of our Growing Educators Staff Developers, notice how she sets up her upper grade readers to make a reading plan to follow along with her in this text.  Notice how strategic her planning is, due to her thoughtful contemplation and thorough reading of the text prior to her Interactive Read Aloud.

Navigating Through Text.  Interactive Read Aloud is an ideal time to implicitly model how readers, of any proficiency level, navigate through text.  Modeling reading habits can include such topics as re-reading, using a bookmark, text directionality, navigating a table of contents, book introductions or picture walks in fiction text.  With nonfiction text, such topics for modeling may include: highlighting text features, organizing note-taking for finding main idea, questioning strategies with sentence stems “I’m getting a hunch that…” and noticing writing craft moves.  Notice in this video clip how Jodi Manby, one of our Growing Educators Staff Developers, sets up a book introduction for her primary readers during Interactive Read Aloud with a text that will eventually be used to launch a persuasive writing unit of study.

Notice how in this video clip, Jodi enables her readers to navigate the text and engage in the interactive nature through turn and talks with their reading partners.


Enjoy this transformative time with your readers and inspire them through your own passion for the written word.

Growing Educators is an educational consulting firm specialized in providing professional development opportunities for public schools in reading and writing workshop, balanced literacy, and the Common Core State Standards.  Find more details:

Website:  www.growingeducators.com/professional-development
Twitter: @groweducators
Facebook: Growing Educators
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/groweducators

Pulling the Ivory Tower Down to Earth

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The point of this blog is to get a conversation going directly between researchers and teachers, to bridge the gap between “white-coat, ivory-tower academic research” and “what actual, on-the-ground-practitioners need to know.”  So we asked a few teacher friends what they think we should be working on up in the tower.

What questions do teachers think researchers ought to be trying to answer?

Here are a few responses.  The responses are from a special education coordinator, a district professional development provider, a founder of a professional development company, and an elementary teacher.  Between them, they’ve got at least three score years of teaching experience, maybe four, and I think you’ll see that they’ve got plenty of thought-provoking things to say.  This is their turn (and, yes, it’s Finals Week!) so I’m going to let them at it without any extended commentary of my own, but please weigh in with your own thoughts.

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I want researchers to observe teachers that are in the trenches so they have a better understanding of the needs of teachers and students. I want researchers to stop setting unrealistic goals and expectations for schools who start with limited resources. I want researchers to think about students with disabilities on all levels(1-5) and develop systems, rubrics, and other documents that make special educators a part of the greater good that lies in the educational system.

I want questions answered about standardized testing as it relates to students with disabilities and I want to have questions answered about alignment between curriculum and tested skills. Researches have A LOT to think about but as far as problems they should attempt to solve…

  1. Solve the issue of culturally responsive teaching within urban schools
  2. Power of Our Words(not just the book) but how to address kids with student friendly language
  3. Realistic goal setting for all learners.
  4. Data driven vs. Data consumed (you can’t ask us to differentiate and then test differently)

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The ELL question is big. The bilingual is better [theory] has been up and down but the education structure in this company classifies bilingual education with religion and Santa Claus. You believe or you don’t (little bitter).

I read something recently that there will likely never be a standard way to best teach ELLs however…I think we should do something more than “the Student gets the Program people at a school believe in.”

  • Do students in schools with majority Eos do better than in schools where the majority is ELLS?
  • Is using the ELA textbook designed for English speakers an effective way to both teach a new language and literacy?
  • What is the best way to approach students in communities where there are both standard English learners and a significant ELL population?
  • What is the grade level of immigrant entry where the students begin to fail at higher rates? (kinder is probably good 6th grade not so good, but what are we seeing?

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As an organization we are concerned with the current conversations around teacher effectiveness. Many of the districts we work with are having discussions around Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching.

As it pertains to the work we do with educators, we would be interested in the research that sheds light on:

  • the types of professional development structures that are most effective
  • qualities of pd that engages and empowers teachers to shift or reform thinking and practice
  • frequency of feedback given by administrators to teachers

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-Technology integration.  How can classroom teachers best integrate technology into their classroom practice? Specifically, use of technology during instruction AND integrating technology into how students learn. Teaching the kind of technological cultural capital our children need in order to be successful in our digital age.

-Professional development. Teachers need lab experiences and long term relationships with staff developers. Longitudinal study of this type of PD vs other less effective models.

-Myth of basal reading series. Why are they still in use? None are aligned with the CCSS and more importantly, none are appropriate to use in the classroom to drive instruction.

-Process writing. It’s authentic writing. Investigate why writing workshop and process writing isn’t in every school, every classroom, TK-12.

-Words Their Way. Why is this approach not more widely used?

-Balanced literacy. A must. Why are so many school and classrooms missing so many components of balanced literacy? Lack of knowledge or oversight? How can we ensure this is happening?

-Cognitively Guided Instruction CGI. Why isn’t it in every school, every classroom? MIND Institute spatial temporal math reasoning.  Again, why not in every school, every classroom?

-Parent Collaborative Workshops.  True long term collaboration with parents. This model should be in every school.

Pretty Much Anyone? Part IV: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

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The million-dollar question is: can (as we’ve seen with MTP and ITP-P) pretty much anyone be trained, in a general way, in ITP-C?  I believe the answer is no.  ITP-C is where the rubber meets the road.  To put it bluntly this is where you’ve actually got to know what you’re talking about.  Given a particular grade, content area, and type of student, there is a non-general, non-universal, specific set of best practices, theories, techniques, tricks of the trade, common misconceptions, and potential trainwrecks that form the guts if ITP-C.

Which participant structures are most appropriate for a collaborative learning model in a 12th grade science classroom?  What’s the best way to build those structures into the classroom culture?  How do those structures change when there are a large number of English Learners in the classroom?

Is critical peer-editing of creative writing even possible in kindergarten?  What does it look like?  How do you teach kids to do it? How can you ensure that it is a constructive process for all students, even those whose emerging literacy development tends to the edges of the bell curve?

The above two paragraphs illustrate (hopefully) that you can’t just make this stuff up.  That is, there is a real, non-trivial, nuanced, unobvious set of knowledge and skills associated with a specific grade level, content area, and type of student.  My own teaching experience in early elementary grades has prepared me to engage confidently with the questions in the second paragraph.  But if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t touch the first paragraph with a ten foot pole.  I mean, sure, I could make up some nice-sounding sentence about “the importance of establishing classroom norms” or “conscientious decisions about grouping strategies,” but I would never foist all that generic stuff on a struggling, first-year high school biology teacher.  What such a teacher needs, in order to improve her practice, are detailed and precise techniques, strategies, and insights that speak to the specifics of her teaching situation.  That is, she needs ITP-C from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Pretty Much Anyone? Part III: Pretty Much Anyone Can Talk About SMART Goals

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Another distinction is in order, this one between two parts of ITP.  This distinction is best made by referencing a classic, but now-outdated (Shulman, 1986), dichotomy in the philosophy of teaching: pedagogy and content.  Insofar as ITP is a teaching endeavor (the teaching of teaching teachers, that is), we can consider the pedagogy of ITP (ITP-P) and the content of ITP (ITP-C).  I think we need a diagram.

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Trust me, all the acronyms are worth it… we’re about to get to the juicy stuff.

ITP-P involves such concepts as “how adult learners learn,” “how to engage and motivate adult learners,” “how to foster productive dialogue with colleagues or subordinates,” “how to deliver constructive feedback in a productive way,” etc.  Note that these skills can be taken as somewhat universal.  That is, they’re not tied to teaching teachers of a particular grade level, content area, or type of student.  And the implication, again, is that pretty much anyone can be trained in these skills.  For example, think of an instructional coach who encourages the teachers under her guidance to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals.  This improvement strategy is universally suitable (or not, as the case may be) to all types of teachers.

Pretty Much Anyone? Part II: Pretty Much Anyone Can Use a Rubric

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Many teacher evaluation systems are predicated on the belief that MTP can be carried out by pretty much anyone who is sufficiently trained in the use of an observation protocol, scoring rubric, or other measurement instrument.  Observers or raters are trained in the use of the instrument, they practice until a threshold of reliability is achieved, and then they are sent forth to use the instrument.  Questions like, “how can someone who has never taught my grade, content area, or type of student measure the quality of my instruction?” are answered with reference to the fact that, after sufficient training, raters with teaching experience and those without experience produce similar ratings.  For the moment, let’s accept this answer and move on to address ITP.

Pretty Much Anyone? Part I: An Introduction

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Teacher evaluation systems whose primary purpose is the development and support of teachers necessarily employ two processes: measuring teacher practice (MTP) and improving teacher practice (ITP).  ITP often goes by the name Professional Development.

In an ideal world, every developing teacher would be supported by a master teacher-mentor-coach, proficient in the particular content area, grade level, and student demographic that the developing teacher taught.  In reality, however, budgets and logistics demand systems that offer support that is not nearly so individualized.  In many schools a vice principal or instructional coach is responsible to observe and coach all (or a large cluster of) teachers.  Certification courses exist, which aim to “help you build your collaboration, facilitation, coaching, and mentoring skills so you can create effective professional development for teachers” (http://www.waldenu.edu/certificates/professional-development).

The purpose of this series of posts is to distinguish between MTP and ITP and pose the question, “what training or qualifications are required of those who are to carry out these processes?”

Let’s start by differentiating between MTP and ITP.  To oversimplify, the first process asks the question, “What is going on?” and the second process says, “Here’s how to improve what’s going on.”  Any system designed to support the development of teachers needs both processes, arranged in something of a feedback loop.  To oversimplify again, that feedback loop runs something like,

MTP: “I see that your execution of teaching skill X needs improvement.”

ITP: “Here’s how to improve teaching skill X.”

MTP: “I see that your execution of teaching skill X still needs improvement,” or “Your execution of teaching skill X has improved.  I now see that teaching skill Y needs improvement

ITP: “Here’s a different strategy to improve teaching skill X,” or “Here’s how to improve teaching skill Y.

You get the picture.  MTP gathers the information and ITP acts on the information; both processes are necessary in the endeavor to support teachers in their development.