Friday, January 29, 2010

Professional Development Opportunity: Teacher Beliefs

We had an excellent professional development opportunity today at Heartland, stemming around research conducted by Vicki Snider, a professor from UW-Eau Claire, working in conjunction with the Janesville Community School District. The research article, entitled Teachers' Beliefs About Pedagogy and Related Issues, uses a constructed instrument with phrases posed as diametrical opposites, and asked educators to rank their beliefs. I've placed a few of the paired statements below.

A couple of quick points. First, undoubtedly you will look at some of the paired statements and conclude they aren't true opposites. Also, as a few consultants mentioned this morning, there is some use of some charged words in the survey ("How can you be against authentic learning"). I can admit those up front with the understanding that it is difficult to create a well-worded pair, and those two quick points don't necessarily invalidate the discussion that takes place afterwards. Overall, Snider's instrument is well worth a district's time.

We conducted the activity using classroom response system clickers so we could analyze the data immediately, and I'd recommend a district or a building to do the same. After a quick introduction of the study (and how clickers work, if necessary), explain the scale that is used (a modified Likert-type scale). Then post the questions and have each teacher respond via the clicker.

Once you have worked through the questions, have teachers discuss the results that they found. If you would like, you can provide the dataset from Janesville for comparison sake.

The paired statements, by themselves, can generate very quality conversation, but there are a couple of other takeaways from the process of this discussion that I find interesting. I'll touch on those in another post.

Here are some of the paired statements:
The concept of learning style has little relevance for deciding how and what to teach vs. Individual learning styles should be an important factor in deciding how and what to teach

The best way to ensure success for all students is to provide authentic learning experiences vs. The best way to ensure success for all students is to teach critical skills and concepts directly and systematically.

Small class size in the early grades is the primary factor leading to higher academic achievement vs. Small class size in the early grades is not the primary factor leading to higher academic achievement

Accuracy and fluency in basic skills and factual knowledge form the foundation for conceptual understanding and critical thinking vs. Conceptual understanding and critical thinking should be emphasized even when students lack proficiency in basic skills or factual knowledge.

A great teacher cares about students and makes learning fun and interesting vs. A great teacher cares about students and produces high student achievement outcomes.

Ability grouping is inequitable and destructive to motivation vs. Ability grouping is necessary to foster success and motivation.

There is a best way to teach that will be effective with most students vs. There is no best way to teach all students; an eclectic or balanced approach to instruction is best.

Teachers should facilitate learning, rather than teach directly vs. Teachers should teach directly, rather than just facilitate.

Factors (e.g., home life, dyslexia) can prevent children from becoming functionally literate and mathematically competent, regardless of the school’s best efforts vs. All children (excluding those with severe disabilities) can become functionally literate and mathematically competent.

Instruction should start with teacher modeling and guided practice followed by practice and review vs. Instruction should be organized around meaningful activities and projects.

Experience is more important than education and training for becoming an effective teacher vs. Education and training is more important than experience for becoming an effective teacher.

Following a prescriptive curriculum stifles teacher creativity and reduces student motivation vs. Following a prescriptive, but well-designed, curriculum provides the best opportunity for effective instruction.

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