Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Improving Teacher Quality: The U.S. Teaching Force in Global Context

Akiba, M., & LeTendre, G. (2009). Improving teacher quality: the u.s. teaching force in global context. New York City, NY: Teachers College Press.

Summary/ Analysis:
In this book, Akiba and LeTendre compare and contrast the efforts made to improve teacher quality between the United States, Japan, Australia, and 12 other countries. In chapter 5, Teacher Induction and Professional Development, the authors explore how the various countries provide ongoing and continuous support for teachers within the profession to grow and improve. Their research found that teacher learning is most positively affected when it is (a) sustained and continuous, (b) coherent with teachers' learning goals as well as the school missions and reform goals, (c) focused on teaching practices and student learning in the context of actual classrooms and (d) provides opportunities for teacher collaboration. The researchers collected data on how frequently teachers engaged in observations and conversations of their colleagues to help them improve their own teaching. They looked at the the frequency with which teachers discuss teaching methods, the frequency with which teachers prepare materials together, the frequency with which teachers observe one another, and the frequency with which teachers are observed by their peers. In the U.S., fewer than 25% of teachers engaged in professional development where they reviewed student work, developed materials or conducted demonstration lessons with their colleagues. In Japan, by contrast, teachers are doing all of these things consistently in the context of their actual classrooms. In the U.S., teachers were about twice as likely to have their lessons observed as they were to observe others. The frequency of this happening in the U.S. was lower than in the other countries and happened on average 1.3 times a month and 0.7 times a month, respectively.

At the end of the chapter, the authors provide recommendations for U.S. policymakers, state and local education agencies. They base their recommendations on their research into mentoring and professional development and how to best impact teacher growth. Their first recommendation is for states or schools to develop a professional development map of activities along a professional continuum. The second recommendation is to require induction and mentoring of new teachers, a required amount of professional development and to financially support these programs. The third recommendation is for schools to require a reduced workload for new teachers and to embed professional development into the regular school day. The authors argue that this time is critical to helping teachers improve and would allow them more time to observe veteran teachers and collaborate with colleagues around instruction, materials and curriculum. It seems that this argument could be taken a step further and should not just apply to new teachers. Veteran teachers would also benefit from embedded professional development, time to observe their colleagues and time to discuss, collaborate and plan together.

Relevant Quotes/ Concepts:
"Among the four types of teacher collaboration, observing lessons taught by other teachers and having lessons observed provide learning opportunities in the context of actual classrooms. By observing teaching approaches and student responses and work, teachers learn what promotes student learning. When their lessons are observed by other teachers, they can receive objective feedback on their instructional approach, teaching materials, and how their approach enhances student learning. These learning opportunities through lesson observation can also promote shared understanding of their instructional goals and effective methods, and a sense of community focused on professional learning. To maximize their professional learning, it is important for U.S. teachers to be provided with more opportunities to observe lessons taught by other teachers." p. 117

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