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.

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