19 July 2007

A Few More Thoughts on Ed Research

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts in response to an Education Week article about how education research could probably improve schools, but won't. There were lots of great comments generated and I have been thinking about some of them.

Ivy mentioned "that the best researchers are the teachers themselves. By truly getting to know the children that they work with, they can assess what they need. It should not take third, fourth and fifth parties to get involved with that relationship between student and teacher. I think the system has made a complex mess out of something that used to be a natural and instinctive process." I do believe that in some ways, she's right. Who best knows what a particular group of students needs within the classroom walls? Who works with them each day, hopefully refining his/her practice along the way, in order to help student achievement? The teacher. I think good teachers...caring teachers...are researchers after a fashion. I applaud that.

But there is a bit of a breakdown beyond that. Some of the reasons are pointed out by Gary: not all research is good research. There are problems with the methodology, data collection, sampling technique, or other aspects. That "right mix" of factors that might be stumbled upon for a group of students isn't going to necessarily be generalizable. The next class or next year, you have to start again. Rarely do we pass the collective wisdom of teachers to the next grade level receiving students (maybe each kid should have a "user's manual"), let alone think about how developmental changes are going to impact things. Meanwhile, for those researchers who have gone and combed through previous work and conducted analyses---yes, I'm talking about Marzano, Guskey, and others---we're still not making the rubber hit the road in most places. Where the roadblocks of finding and distilling quality information for us has been done, we're reading/learning...and not doing.

It is likely that Vivek and the Repaiman are on to the stickiest point in all of this: support from leadership. This is where I see something like a strong coaching model making a significant difference in the classroom. Beverly Showers and Bruce Joyce of the National Staff Development Council have been conducting longitudinal research on how well new learning about best practices is incorporated by classroom teachers. In 1996, they published the findings summarized in the graphic below.

What you're looking at here is their 1996 data. The yellow bars represent the kinds of mastery demonstrated during the training...the green is what is demonstrated in the classroom. You might think of the first set of bars as "sit and get." Someone is just presenting information. Not a great bang for your buck, eh? The second set includes demos by the presenter while the third adds in some practice by the the participants. While the presentation style does increase teacher mastery during the presentation, you'll see that none of these makes a long lasting difference in the classroom. This seems to support some of the observations made by commenters on my original post. Showers and Joyce recently amended their data. Here is the most recent version (keep in mind that the "feedback and reflection" associated with coaching/mentoring required nearly 20 cycles in order to reach the reported level of effectiveness):

Maybe it isn't the educational research that's out there on "best practices" that's the problem in all of this. Perhaps it's our plan to support the implementation. Are leaders within the public school system ready, willing, and able to provide coaching and mentoring for teachers in order to make change happen? I'm sure the answer varies among districts. All of this is a good reminder for me as I take on the mantle of "instructional coach" next year that I really can help make some change. I just need to get into classrooms and support teachers in what they do best: reaching students.


Dr Pezz said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog article. I would love to see instructional coaches used effectively in my high school.

However, we are only provided a .6 position (for over 100 teachers and 2100 students) who is pulled from coaching duties to complete reports for the administration. This year we lost our coach because of budget cuts and redistributions of staff.

During your typical coaching day, what do you usually get to do?

The Science Goddess said...

Good question---and I don't have an answer for you yet, as I won't start the job until September. :)

Our junior high schools had literacy coaches for 3 years, and then 3 years ago, they were cut. The schools have been very insistent that they want their coaches back, so we have finally juggled things around enough to do so.

At this time, the coaching model is very "open," meaning it will take whatever form a building needs in order to support teachers and the SIP. This means that it could be individual peer-coaching, collaborative groups (subject or grade level), modeling lessons, and so on. It's very exciting for us!

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Talk about the convergence of research…Joyce and Showers have been on track for a long time, except that they focus on teacher learning instead of student learning. But we’re talking about the same phenomenon that strengthens learning in both students and teachers -- the same principle, in fact, that makes it possible for a ship to cross the Atlantic or any great body of water that offers current, tide, and wind: cybernetics with the presence of consciousness -- action (propulsion), feedback (compass heading), correction/reflection (compass heading plus chart), action…and on and on…

The following meta-study (with which you may already be familiar), along with defining the term “grade” and mutually agreeing on the purposes grades serve, is the starting point for a discussion about grading for learning:

Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

By Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

Summary: Firm evidence shows that formative assessment is an essential component of classroom work and that its development can raise standards of achievement, Mr. Black and Mr. Wiliam point out. Indeed, they know of no other way of raising standards for which such a strong prima facie case can be made.

Black, P., and Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-148.

http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kbla9810.htm (paste into your browser to access the paper)

What this study tells me is that the power of formative assessment is unlocked when teachers learn to leave quantified evaluations of formative assessments out of report card grades. In this way formative assessment becomes assessment for learning, rather than assessment of learning, and greater student achievement becomes a natural outcome rather than an uphill battle. (Stiggins, O'Connor, et al)

It’s pretty much the same for teachers, classified personnel, administrators, and all other learners. Black & Wiliam speak the same language as Joyce and Showers.

The big question with regard to all of this is the issue of sustainability. We've moved beyond the "solution du jour," the fad merry-go-round, but regardless of funding issues, we need to keep the pressure on to apply what we have learned in the last 35 years.

That's where leadership enters. Excellent (and smart) leadership will set professional development, the way we know it should be done, as a priority and find the money, period.

Excellent leadership will not sit back during recessions and say, "We're out of luck. Funding dried up so the kids are SOL."

Great topic! I’m tickled that you’re going to be a coach, SG. You will be fabulous.

The Science Goddess said...

I really hope to do an awesome job and be very successful.

I just read the Black and Wiliam article in the past few weeks. Their follow-up one is also well worth your time to have a gander at.

danw said...

I'm with you on this 100%. My primary goal in 07-08 is to spend time coaching teachers. Every year I haver come to realize that this is the most effective way to spend the majority of my time. I look forward to hearing your success stories and learnings (otherwise known as failures by those pessimist types) and I'll be glad to share mine. Go forth and prosper!

The Science Goddess said...

Best wishes to you, too!

And thank you for charging me to "go forth and prosper" as opposed to "be fruitful and multiply." :)

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is raining on the parade but ...

Perhaps one reason that those green bars are so low is that teachers are actively resisting adopting "best practices."

And perhaps one reason for this is that they do not trust people from the ed. schools to know what "best practices" really are.

And perhaps they are right.

Most every teacher had to take education courses. Most every teacher then finds a large degree of disconnect between what the professors said and what the teacher actually experiences in his or her classroom.

Perhaps today's "best practices" really are that, unlike the last decade's, or the decade's before that, or the decade's before that. But anyone who says, "research shows ..." has a real credibility problem.

One can try to overcome that credibility problem by force. "Leadership" will force teachers to adopt this decade's best practices.

But it makes me uneasy.