Thursday, September 30, 2010

Borko (2004) - PD and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain

Borko, H. (2004) Professional Development and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain Educational Researcher, Vol. 33, No. 8, pp. 3–15

This article discusses:
1. What do we know about professional development programs and their impact on teacher learning?
2. What are important directions and strategies for extending our knowledge?

1. Changes in classroom practices demanded by the reform visions ultimately rely on teachers.
2. Changes of this magnitude will require a great deal of learning on the part of teachers and will be difficult to make without support and guidance.
3. Teacher professional development is essential to efforts to improve our schools.

1. Professional development currently available to teachers is woefully inadequate for the most part
2. Each year, schools, districts, and the federal government spend millions, if not billions, of dollars on in-service seminars and other forms of professional development that are fragmented, intellectually superficial, and do not take into account what we know about how teachers learn
3. Sykes (1996) characterized the inadequacy of conventional professional development as "the most serious unsolved problem for policy and practice in American education today" (p. 465).
4. The premise of this article is that it is a “serious unsolved problem” for educational research as well.
5. We are only beginning to learn, however, about exactly what and how teachers learn from professional development, or about the impact of teacher change on student outcomes

A Situative Perspective on Teacher Learning and Professional Development
+ Borko uses a situative perspective to interpret existing research on teacher learning and identify issues for future investigation
+ Situative theorists conceptualize learning as changes in participation in socially organized activities, and individuals’ use of knowledge as an aspect of their participation in social practices (e.g., Greeno, 2003; Lave & Wenger, 1991).
+ Several scholars have argued that learning has both individual and sociocultural features, and have characterized the learning process as one of enculturation and construction (e.g., Cobb, 1994; Driver et al., 1994).
+ From a situative perspective, teacher learning “is usefully understood as a process of increasing participation in the practice of teaching, and through this participation, a process of becoming knowledgeable in and about teaching” (Adler, 2000, p. 37).
+ To understand teacher learning, we must study it within these multiple contexts, taking into account both the individual teacher-learners and the social systems in which they are participants.

Key elements that make up any professional development system
• The professional development program;
• The teachers, who are the learners in the system;
• The facilitator, who guides teachers as they construct new knowledge and practices; and
• The context in which the professional development occurs.

Type of Research on PD
Phase 1 research activities focus on an individual professional development program at a single site. Researchers typically study the professional development program, teachers as learners, and the relationships between these two elements of the system. The facilitator and context remain unstudied.

In Phase 2, researchers study a single professional development program enacted by more than one facilitator at more than one site, exploring the relationships among facilitators, the professional development program, and teachers as learners.

Phase 1 research provides evidence that high-quality professional development programs can help teachers deepen their knowledge and transform their teaching.

Three characteristics commonly studied are:
+ subject matter knowledge for teaching
+ understanding of student thinking
+ instructional practices

To foster students’ conceptual understanding, teachers must have rich and flexible knowledge of the subjects they teach.

To guide student thinking, teachers must also understand how children’s ideas about a subject develop, and the connections between their ideas and important ideas in the discipline (Schifter & Fosnot, 1993).

A key reason for deepening teachers’ knowledge of subject matter and student thinking is to improve classroom teaching.

Research using the individual teacher as the unit of analysis also indicates that meaningful learning is a slow and uncertain process for teachers, just as it is for students. For example, it appears to be easier for teachers to incorporate strategies for eliciting students’ thinking into their teaching than to use what they hear from students to make instructional decisions (Franke et al., 2001; Franke & Kazemi, 2001).

  • Community of Teacher Learners - English and history teachers
  • QUASAR (Quantitative Understanding: Amplifying Student Achievement and Reasoning) - math

Grossman and colleagues’ (2001) insights about teacher community suggest a conceptual explanation for these findings. They argued that we cannot expect teachers to create a community of learners among students if they do not have a parallel community to nourish their own growth. The logic of this claim makes sense, but as a research community we have yet to build an empirical base to support the claim or to shed light on the mechanisms by which this relationship works. [POSSIBLE RESEARCH TOPIC]


A central tenet of situative perspectives is that the contexts and activities in which people learn become a fundamental part of what they learn (Greeno, Collins, & Resnick, 1996). This tenet suggests that teachers’ own classrooms are powerful contexts for their learning (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Putnam & Borko, 2000). A number of programs have successfully used artifacts such as instructional plans and assignments, videotapes of lessons, and samples of student work to bring teachers’ classrooms into the professional development setting. Such records of practice enable teachers to examine one another’s instructional strategies and student learning, and to discuss ideas for improvement (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Little, Gearhart, Curry, & Kafka, 2003).

It is difficult enough to create a professional development curriculum for one’s own use. As LeFevre warns, “It is challenging by another magnitude to design a curriculum for use by others” (p. 252).

Next Steps for Professional Development Design and Research 
Researchers might investigate whether professional development programs with demonstrated effectiveness for elementary mathematics teachers can be adapted to different subject areas and grade levels.

Phase 2 studies must investigate the balances and tradeoffs between fidelity and adaptation, and consider which elements of a program must be preserved to ensure the integrity of its underlying goals and principles.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two modes of thought: logico-scientific & narrative

Bruner, J.S. (1986) Two modes of thought. In Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

According to Bruner, humans have two modes of thought:
  • One mode, the paradigmatic or logico-scientific one, attempts to fulfill the ideal of a formal, mathematical system of description and explanation
  • The other is the narrative mode which leads to good stories, gripping drama, believable (though not necessarily "true") historical accounts.

Key ideas:
  • human mental activity depends for its full expression upon being linked to a cultural tool kit - a set of prosthetic devices, so to speak
  • narrative deals with the vicissitudes of human intentions.
  • Kenneth Burke argues that "'story stuff" involves characters in action with intentions or goals in settings using particular means, that drama is generated when there is an imbalance in the ratio of these constituents
  • Propp's argument is that in the folktale, character is a function of a highly constrained plot, the chief role of a character being to play out a plot role as hero, false hero, helper, villain, and so on.
  • Narrative speech acts must depend upon forms of discourse that recruit the reader's imagination-that enlist him in the "performance of meaning under the guidance of the text."
  • To be in the subjunctive mode is, then, to be trafficking in human possibilities rather than in settled certainties.
  • Todorov proposes that there are six simple transformations that transform the action of the verb from being a fait accompli to being psychologically in process, and as such contingent or subjunctive in our sense.
  • These transformations, simple or complex, " permits discourse to acquire a meaning without this meaning becoming pure information."
  • Iser remarks in The Art of Reading that readers have both a strategy and a repertoire that they bring to bear on a text.
  • As our readers read, as they begin to construct a virtual text of their own, it is as if they were embarking on a journey without maps -- and yet, they possess a srock of maps that might give hints, and besides, they know a lot about journeys and about mapmaking.
  • Bruner says that the great writer's gift to a reader is to make him a better writer

Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning: from speculation to science

Bransford, J., Brown, A., Cocking, R. (2000). Learning: from speculation to science, Chapter 1 in How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Summary & Key Ideas
  • One of the hallmarks of the new science of learning is its emphasis on learning with understanding.
  • Humans are viewed as goal-directed agents who actively seek information.
  • New knowledge must be constructed from existing knowledge -- THEREFORE teachers need to pay attention to the incomplete understandings, the false beliefs, and the naive renditions of concepts that learners bring with them to a given subject
  • A common misconception regarding “constructivist” theories of knowing (that existing knowledge is used to build new knowledge) is that teachers should never tell students anything directly but, instead, should always allow them to construct knowledge for themselves. After people have first grappled with issues on their own, “teaching by telling” can work extremely well.
  • It is important to help people take control of their own learning. Since understanding is viewed as important, people must learn to recognize when they understand and when they need more information. What strategies might they use to assess whether they understand someone else’s meaning? What kinds of evidence do they need in order to believe particular claims? How can they build their own theories of phenomena and test them effectively? [metacognition]
Key Findings from Research on Learning and Learners
  • Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.
  • To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
  • A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.
Implications for Teaching
  • Teachers must draw out and work with the preexisting understandings that their students bring with them.
  • Teachers must teach some subject matter in depth, providing many examples in which the same concept is at work and providing a firm foundation of factual knowledge
  • The teaching of metacognitive skills should be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of subject areas.
Other interesting ideas
  • Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place. A community-centered approach requires the development of norms for the classroom and school, as well as connections to the outside world, that support core learning values
Critique of PD programs for teachers. Professional development programs for teachers, for example, frequently:
  • Are not learner centered. Rather than ask teachers where they need help, they are simply expected to attend prearranged workshops.
  • Are not knowledge centered. Teachers may simply be introduced to a new technique (like cooperative learning) without being given the opportunity to understand why, when, where, and how it might be valuable to them. Especially important is the need to integrate the structure of activities with the content of the curriculum that is taught.
  • Are not assessment centered. In order for teachers to change their practices, they need opportunities to try things out in their classrooms and then receive feedback. Most professional development opportunities do not provide such feedback. Moreover, they tend to focus on change in teaching practice as the goal, but they neglect to develop in teachers the capacity to judge successful transfer of the technique to the classroom or its effects on student achievement.
  • Are not community centered. Many professional development opportunities are conducted in isolation. Opportunities for continued contact and support as teachers incorporate new ideas into their teaching are limited, yet the rapid spread of Internet access provides a ready means of maintaining such contact if appropriately designed tools and services are available.

Science as progressive discourse

Bereiter, C. (1994) Implications of postmodernism for science, or, Science as progressive discourse. Educational Psychologist, 29(1), 3-12.

+ Postmodemism's rejecting of the possibility of an objective stance has led some educators to begin treating scientific knowledge as merely a matter of elite consensus (Most scientists believe that ...).
+ Bereiter argues that objectivity is not an essential claim of science, but progress is.
+ Everything scientists do takes place within a framework that presupposes the advancement of knowledge as a historical fact and an attainable goal.
+ Progress is the foundation of all our scientific beliefs.
+ Scientific theories cannot be verified [to attain absolute certainty]; they can at most be falsified. Progress therefore arises from continual criticism and efforts to overcome criticisms by modifying or replacing theories.
+ Sometimes people with opposing views can engage in discourse that leads to a new understanding that everyone involved agrees is superior to their own previous understanding. This is the process of dialectic, in which thesis and antithesis give rise to a synthesis, which transcends the original contradictions.

What does it takes to make a discourse progressive?
1. A commitment to work toward common understanding satisfactory to all.
2. A commitment to frame questions and propositions in ways that allow evidence to be brought to bear on them.
3. A commitment to expand the body of collectively valid propositions.
4. A commitment to allow any belief to be subjected to criticism if it will advance the discourse.

Other Key Ideas:
If we regard the scientific method not as a set of rules of procedure or standards of judgment, but as a form of discourse involving certain strong commitments on the part of those who participate, then the issue of leaching the scientific method takes on quite a different aspect.

The question is not should students be taught to think in a scientific way but should they be expected to participate in a scientific kind of discourse?

We may think of science as a continuing discourse that went on before our time and that will continue after it.

Classroom discussions may be thought of as part of the larger ongoing discourse, not as preparation for it or as after-the-fact examination of the results of the larger discourse.

The role of textbooks and other authoritative expressions becomes less problematic if we accept the view of science as one gigantic discourse, which at any moment is represented by thousands of little discourses going on here and there, including those taking place in classrooms.

Bereiter supports a view of science education in which students are actually part of the scientific enterprise rather than onlookers or postulants.

Science is an unusually progressive kind of discourse and and science education is about finding ways to bring students into that discourse.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cognition and learning

Greeno, J. G., Collins, A. M. & Resnick, L. B (1996). Cognition and learning. In D.C. Berliner & R. C. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 15-46). New York: MacMillan.

This chapter by Greeno et al. gives a good overview of behaviorist, cognitive, socio-cultural perspectives on knowing, learning and transfer, and the nature of motivation and engagement.

It compares and contrasts the views and assertions of three main theoretical frameworks (behaviorist, cognitive, socio-cultural) on key thematic issues and questions about cognition and learning.

The chapter also discusses how these three theoretical perspectives play out in

  • the design of learning environments
  • formulating curricula
  • constructing assessments

What is the relationship between these three perspectives? One possibility is that each theory accounts for different types of learning and knowing. Another is that these theories are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes they can support and interact with one another.

It is the view Greeno et al. that the role of theories of cognition and learning is not to prescribe a set of practices that should be followed, but rather to assist in clarifying alternative practices.

In the conclusion, they say, "Reforming practices requires the transformation of people's understanding of principles that are assumed - perhaps implicitly - in the practices, and that theoretically oriented research can assist in identifying these principles and suggest ways of accomplishing the transformations."

This reading led me to reflect about my own experience of learning how to play tennis. Initially, it was a lot of trial and error until I figured out how to hit the ball, serve, hot backhands, lob volley, etc. This seemed like behaviorist learning. When I started taking classes and getting private lessons, my tennis improved dramatically. In addition to playing more, it was helpful to be aware of some of the theories and concepts around things like top spring, transfer of momentum, strategy, etc. This more cognitive approach helped my game tremendously. But it still took a lot of drill and practice, development of "muscle memory." My tennis game also improved as I played with different people and joined a local tennis club. The socio-cultural aspect of tennis also supported my learning, and provided motivation to improve.

To me, the question is not which theory of cognition and learning is "correct" or "most true" but rather when do they apply and how. In addition, these theories may have great explanatory value - i.e., help us understand why educational practice worked (or did not work) with a particular set of learners in a certain context.

Modern Metaphors of the Developing Child

Nelson, Katherine (2007). Young minds in social worlds, Chapter 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Competing Metaphors and Conceptions of the Developing Child
1. Piaget - "epistemic child":the child seeking knowl edge of how the world is structured and, in the process, constructing the structure of his own mind.
2. Vygotsky - "cultural historical child": this child, unlike the epistemic child, is thoroughly social, situated in a specific historical context and within a culture that might or might not nurture the mind through facilitative processes of interpersonal scaffolding.
3. The very young are "little scientists" or "child as theorists": children are said to be born with theories that guide their knowledge gathering but that the theories are subject to revision in light of new data

Problems with these models:
1. they do not account for biology or culture
2. doesn't acknowledge outside influences
3. children are not machines nor do they think like adults

Learning is viewed as ways in which the child comes to be conscious of more and more sources of meaning and to discriminate among them. Eventually, children accept things as meaningful that they would not have at an earlier point in development.

Memory is the conservation, organization and transformation of meaning. Children learn how conserve, organize and transform experiences that have meaning and significant in increasingly complex ways.

We are driven by two major motivations: to make sense and to make relationships. Gathering meaning from experience helps us with these two goals.

What we find as meaningful is affected by many things including our surroundings, culture, past experiences.

Nelson proposes a hybrid mind framework of different levels of consciousness. It differs from Piaget's stage theory in that all levels, once achieved, coexist. In stage theory, one doesn't revert to earlier levels once later levels are achieved.

One nice thing about Nelson's hybrid mind theory is that it easily incorporates other theories as mechanisms or process to explain what is going on at any given level.

The cultural basis of human cognition

Tomasello, M. (1999) The cultural basis of human cognition (chapter 1). Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Humans have mastered several modes of cultural transmission of knowledge, practices, ideas, etc., which enables cumulative cultural evolution.
It supports creative invention and progress by allowing humans to build upon the work of others, and faithful social transmission so that useful, helpful, or beautiful ideas are preserved.

There are 3 types of social learning:
1. imitative
2. instructed
3. collaborative

Key Points or Ideas:
  1. Social learning enables faithful social transmission. It also enables multiple individuals ro create something together that no one individual could have created alone.
  2. Tomasello believes the human ability to understand (or imagine) what other humans beings are thinking, feeling, seeing, etc., enables social learning.
  3. Tomasello see the creation of material, symbolic and institutional artifacts with accumulated histories as unique features of human cognition.
  4. Tomasello asserts that the evidence that human beings have species-unique modes of cultural transmission is overwhelming
  5. Human beings are able to pool their cognitive resources in ways that other animal species are not
  6. Cumulative cultural evolution is the best explanation for many of human beings' most impressive cognitive achievements
  7. Tomasello's central argument in this chapter and the book is that it is these processes of cultural transmission, not any specialized biological adaptations directly, that have done the actual work in creating many, if not all, of the most distinctive and important cognitive products and processes of the species Homo sapiens.

What’s all the fuss about metacognition?

Schoenfeld, A. (1987). What’s all the fuss about metacognition? In A. Schoenfeld (Ed.), Cognitive Science and Mathematics Education, pages 189-215. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

It's about how teaching metacognitive skills can increase students'
understanding and help them become better problem solvers. I liked that this
article discusses strategies and examples of how to teach metacognitive skills.

What is it?

1. How accurate are you at describing your own thinking?
2. Control or self-regulation
3. Beliefs and intuitions

Why is it important?
1. Students need good study skills, using what you know efficiently, managing time
2. Students with metacognitive skills will learn more, have greater & deeper conceptual understanding, are generally better problem solvers, and will likely enjoy learning more.

What to do about? How do you teach metacognitive skills?
1. Use video tapes
2. Teacher as role model for metacognitive behavior
3. Whole class discussions of problems with teacher serving as "control"
4. Problem solving in small groups

Questions that he used to prompt student thinking and metacognition:
What exactly are you doing?
Why are you doing it?
How does it help you?
Is this likely to be productive?