Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures

Desimone, L. M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38(3):181–199.

Overarching research question: How can we best measure professional development, and its effects on teachers and students, toward the end of improving professional development programs and policies to foster better instruction and student achievement?

Three relevant subquestions:
1. What counts as professional development?
2. What purposes could a core conceptual framework serve, and what such framework is supported by the research?
3. What are the implications for modes of inquiry in causal studies of teacher learning?

Desimone's argument: we have a research consensus on at least five core features professional development and they are: (a) content focus, (b) active learning, (c) coherence, (d) duration, and (e) collective participation

Thesis: although we use different language and examine teacher learning from different perspectives and depths, there is a foundational conception present in most studies, whether they are conceptual, empirical, or both, which points to the common framework that I am proposing.

Teacher surveys that ask behavioral and descriptive, not evaluative, questions about the teachers’ professional development experiences and teaching have been shown to have good validity and reliability (Mayer, 1999; Porter et al., 1993; Yoon, Jacobson, Garet, Birman, & Ludwig, 2004).

The critical features of professional development (e.g., content focus, active learning) can be well measured with surveys.

In terms of instruction, teacher surveys can provide valid and reliable data on the amount of time that teachers spend on specific practices occurring during a set time frame—up to about a year (Koziol & Moss, 1983; Mayer, 1999; Newfield, 1980).

Surveys can also obtain valid and reliable data about the topic and cognitive demand coverage of a particular lesson or set of lessons (Porter, 2002).

Research shows that teachers overreport their implementation of professional development and other reforms (Cohen, 1990; Frykholm, 1996; Ross et al., 2003).

Observation provides a guard against overreporting if a sufficient number of observations are implemented and the rater is well trained (Hintze & Matthews, 2004).

Using video observation to assess both classroom instruction and teacher learning experiences has the potential to offer rich data that capture the complexity of interactions (Stigler, Gallimore, & Hiebert, 2000), but there are many challenges to address.

An area for future study is professional development using nonvolunteers. There is evidence that the most qualified teachers are the ones who seek out professional development with effective features such as content focus.

We need more work that links professional development and changes in teaching practice to student achievement.

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