Learning to teach from a teacher

Medical school graduates work as residents to learn how to be competent doctors. The Boston Teacher Residency is training Renee Alves, 22, in an experienced teacher’s classroom, reports Christopher Booker for PBS NewsHour. She “will spend 10 months watching, emulating, and learning as much as she can” from Kayla Morse, who teaches third grade at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury.

Jesse Solomon, who taught math in Boston public schools for 10 years, co-founded the program in 2003.

One thing I saw a lot when I was teaching was– a number of brand new teachers coming into the profession. Smart, committed, hard-working, kind of willing to do whatever it takes– but not really knowing how to teach that first year.

My concern was always that they were learning on the backs on the kids that had them that year, right? So if you’re a first-year teacher in Algebra 1 class, you get another shot next year. For those kids taking Algebra 1, that was their shot at algebra 1. So had in my head that there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Three of four residency graduates in the past 12 years are teaching in Boston — including Morse, who completed her residency four years ago.

The program “has shown success not only retaining more teachers but hiring more science and math specialists, and placing more Black, Latino, and Asian-Americans in the classroom,” reports Booker.

The program was redesigned when a 2011 Harvard study found that first-year residents’ students earned lower math scores than students of first-year teachers  from traditional programs.

Now, residents are concentrated in fewer schools, says Solomon.

So if you have, you know, seven math residents and seven math mentors and a math clinic teacher educator, you have 15 people all in the same school talking together on a daily basis about what, like, does good math teaching look like– for– for the kids in this school.

Residents assist a mentor teacher four days a week and spend the fifth day taking graduate classes to earn a master’s in education.

Ed schools try to reform themselves

It’s time to remake teacher education, declares Deans for Impact, two dozen deans of education schools. The group released The Science of Learning, a report by Dan Willingham and Paul Bruno on how to apply cognitive science research to classroom practice.

The deans have “committed themselves to a common set of principles, including data-driven improvement, common outcome measures, empirical validation of teacher preparation methods, and accountability for student learning,” writes Robert Pondisco.

Too often, teacher ed programs “fetishize theory, teachers’ dispositions toward learners, or soft pedagogical skills at the expense of subject matter depth,” he writes.

Schools of education have largely received a pass in our accountability-mad era. Attempts at even modest reform typically bring howls of protest. That reality prompted Robert Pianta, the head of UVA’s education school and one of the Deans for Impact, to write recently that he was “embarrassed that professionals responsible for the preparation of teachers seem to oppose so adamantly efforts to evaluate the competence of the workforce they produce.”

Of course, ed schools have pledged to reform before.

NCTQ rates ‘best value’ ed schools

Western Governors University, which is all online, City University of New York-Hunter College and City University of New York-Brooklyn College are the nation’s top three “best value” colleges of education, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality

The ratings consider quality, affordability, how much teachers can earn in the state and “how well the school prepares future teachers for the realities of the classroom.”

A total of 416 programs in 35 states received a grade of A or B. The list is here.

NCTQ also launched Path to Teach, a free search tool with information about the quality of more than 1,100 schools of education.

The education of Jose Garcia

Five years after he earned his diploma, Jose Garcia returned to Rauner College Prep as a teacher. Noble Street Network of Charter Schools, which runs 16 schools in Chicago, is hiring and training its graduates, reports Becky Vevea, WBEZ education reporter, in The Education of Jose Garcia.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014. Photo: Becky Vevea, WBEZ

Garcia tutored Spanish-speaking second graders when he attended Denison, but he didn’t major in education and doesn’t have teaching license. “He got just two weeks of training over the summer and he doesn’t have a teaching license,” writes Vevea.

But he’ll spend a year assisting experienced teachers before getting his own classroom.

Like Noble’s other new teachers, Garcia is enrolled in the Relay Graduate School of Education. In late-afternoon classes, master educators teach strategies such as the “self-interrupt.”

There’s no campus, no lectures, no discussions of John Dewey or Rudolph Steiner. Mostly, it’s a lot of practice on how to manage a classroom.

He will earn a master’s degree – -but not a teaching license. “To be licensed through an alternative route, like Relay, Jose must have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA,” writes Vevea. With very low grades in his first year at Denison, he finished with a 2.8.

Mid-way through the year, already “exhausted and overwhelmed” by his co-teaching responsibilities, Garcia takes over two sophomore English classes, replacing a teacher on medical leave.

In a survey at year’s end, he’s surprised by how many students wrote, “Mr. Garcia didn’t give up on me.”

This year, Garcia is a counseling seniors on college options and teaching two sections of a new class called Identity and Justice Studies.

Online program aims to train 10,000 teachers

TEACH-NOW, an online training and credentialing program, plans to turn out 10,000 new teachers in the next five years, reports Jackie Mader in Washington Monthly’s College Guide.

Four years ago, Emily Feistritzer, an education researcher and former president of the National Center for Education Information, began the nine-month training course to help new teachers learn to use technology in the classroom. There are now 700 graduates.

Emily Fxxxxxxx

Emily Feistritzer

“The majority of [schools of education] are pretty stale and boring and don’t really prepare teachers to work in 21st century schools,” said Philip Schmidt, former dean of Western Governors University’s teacher preparation program, who’ll help with the expansion.

In TEACH-NOW’s model,  “students take online classes with 15 or fewer students and work through a sequence of individual online modules, instead of taking several different classes at the same time,” writes Mader. “Classroom observations, projects and school-based experiences, like tutoring, are integrated throughout the curriculum, and all aspiring teachers must complete a 12-week module of student teaching at the end of the certification program.”

Tom Vander Ark has more on online teacher prep and the TEACH-NOW model.

Teachers aren’t dumb, but training is

National Council on Teacher Quality, 2006

“Dumb teacher training” — not dumb teachers — is the problem with U.S. education, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in a New York Times op-ed. “Teachers are smart enough,” but they’re not trained to know their subject well and “know how to help children learn it,” he writes.

In 2000, a national panel of experts concluded that reading teachers need explicit knowledge of language features that most people know only implicitly: syntax, morphology (how the roots of words can combine with one another or with prefixes or suffixes) and phonological awareness (the ability to hear parts of spoken language like syllables and individual speech sounds). Yet many undergraduates preparing to teach, fresh from their coursework in reading instruction, don’t know these concepts. In one study, 42 percent could not correctly define “phonological awareness.”

Another study found many professors of reading instruction had trouble identifying phonemes and morphemes.

An international study of new middle school teachers showed that Americans scored worse on a math test than teachers in countries where kids excelled, like Singapore and Poland. William Schmidt of Michigan State University identified the common-sense explanation: American teachers take fewer math classes. Instead, they take more courses in general pedagogy — coursework, that is, on theories of instruction, theories of child development and the like.

Willingham calls for assessing teacher training by testing whether graduates have learned what they need — rather than by evaluating their students’ test scores.

Research shows what teachers need to know, he writes. “Students learn to read better from teachers who understand the structure of language and learn math better from teachers who know specific techniques for drawing analogies to explain mathematical ideas.”

Willingham inspired a number of comments from people who want teachers to inspire, morphemes be damned. Inspiring and ignorant doesn’t inspire me.

More student teaching isn’t better

Requiring a full year of student teaching is a popular — and bad — idea, writes Kate Walsh in Teacher Quality Bulletin.  

Student teachers learn in the classrooms of high-quality teachers who are skilled mentors and willing to take on the responsibility, she writes. There aren’t enough qualified, willing teachers now to cover a semester’s worth of student teaching.  As a result, “many student teachers don’t get the high quality experience they need.  Double the length and the quality deficit is irremediable.”

Student teachers should learn and practice good instructional strategies before they’re placed in front of children, argues Walsh. “Some teacher prep programs, both traditional and non-traditional, are ramping up just such practice opportunities using video, virtual classrooms, role playing or simulations.”

Training mirage: Most teachers don’t improve

Despite heavy spending on professional development, most district teachers don’t improve their skills after the first few years, according to The Mirage. The TNTP study analyzed three large public school districts and a mid-sized charter school network.

The three districts spend an average of $18,000 per teacher each year on development efforts, which take take nearly 10 percent of the school year. Yet “only three out of 10 teachers in the districts we studied improved substantially over several years, even though many have not yet mastered critical instructional skills.” Five stayed the same and two declined in effectiveness.

Teachers improved in 95 percent of schools studied, but no approach to training or amount of training appeared to more effective.

The vast majority of district teachers “received high marks on their evaluations” and less than half of teachers surveyed thought their teaching skills needed improvement.

“Even the few teachers who did earn low ratings seemed to reject them,” the report found. “More than 60 percent of low-rated teachers still gave themselves high performance ratings.” Among teachers whose observation scores declined “substantially” over the previous two years, 80 percent said their teaching had improved.

By contrast, 70 percent of the charter network’s teachers improved significantly, showing more growth than district teachers at every experience level. Their students also improved more than students in neighboring schools.

Charter teachers were much more critical of their own skills: Only 4 percent gave their teaching a 5 on a 1-5 scale, compared to 30 percent of district teachers. Eighty-one percent of charter teachers said their teaching skills had weaknesses; only 47 percent of district teachers acknowledged room for improvement.

The charter network spent $33,000 per teacher for “a tight loop of observation, feedback, and implementation,” notes Alyssa Schwenk on Gadfly.

Two factors — “openness to feedback” and “ratings alignment” — were linked to improved teaching, writes Catherine Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress in U.S. News.

In other words, teachers who were open to hearing ways to get better got better. “Ratings alignment,” which means teachers rated themselves the same as their evaluators, embodies a similar concept: These teachers were clear-eyed about the deficiencies and bright spots in their own practice.

. . . By establishing early on that teachers are going to get a lot of feedback and having master teachers with dedicated time in their schedules to helping other teachers improve, the high-performing charter network in The Mirage was able to create a culture where it’s OK to say you have room for improvement.

Some charters screen for openness to feedback when interviewing new teachers, Brown writes. Candidates teach a lesson, receive feedback and then teach again to show whether they can use the feedback to improve. (I believe New Teachers for New Schools, now known as New Leaders, developed this model. It’s used in two high-performing San Jose charters I visited in the spring.)

The Madison Metropolitan School District also selects candidates based on their ability to “reflect on strengths and growth areas regularly, and seek support, feedback, and mentors to improve,” writes Brown.

She suggests spending more on recruiting and selecting feedback-friendly achievers would make later training more effective.

Videos improve teacher observation

Classroom observations can be stressful to teachers and burdensome to supervisors. Teachers often think they’ve been caught in their worst teaching moments, not their best.

The Best Foot Forward project at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research analyzed the use of digital video to let teachers record lessons and choose their best to submit for their classroom observations

Observers provided time-stamped feedback aligned to specific moments in the videos.  That facilitated discussions with the teacher on his or her teaching.

Compared to a control group, the digital videos “boosted teachers’ perception of fairness of classroom observations, reduced teacher defensiveness during post-observation conferences, led to greater self- perception of the need for behavior change and allowed administrators to time-shift observation duties to quieter times of the day or week.”

Videotaping and teacher evaluation don’t mix, writes Anthony Cody. Teachers don’t trust promises they’ll control who sees the tapes.

MOOCs, which work best for educated people, could help teachers learn new skills, writes Derek Newton in The Atlantic.

A MOOC approach to professional development—having teachers watch and learn from other successful educators who are actually teaching—could help move these offerings past the status quo.

. . . “Being able to actually see teaching practices modeled—as opposed to just being lectured to on the concepts—is a game changer in professional development,” said Alvin Crawford, the CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems(KDS), which provides interactive professional-development programming for teachers.

It should be much easier to watch good teachers teaching — perhaps to watch three good teachers try different approaches to the same subject.

Teaching can be taught

Teaching can be taught, argues Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion. It’s not an innate gift. It’s a craft.

In a training session for inner-city London teachers, Lemov showed a video several times to analyze the strategies used by Ashley Hinton, a Newark elementary teacher, writes Ian Leslie in The Guardian.

. . .  (Lemov) sees Hinton placing herself at the vantage points from which she can best scan the faces of her pupils (“hotspots”). He sees that after she first asks a question, hands that spring up immediately go back down again, in response to an almost imperceptible gesture from Hinton, to give the other children more time to think (“wait time”). He sees her repeat the question so that this pause in the conversation doesn’t slow its rhythm.

He sees Hinton constantly changing the angle of her gaze to check that every pupil is paying attention to whoever in the room is speaking, and silencing anyone who is not doing so with a subtle wave of her hand.

He sees her use similar gestures to gently but effectively recall errant students into line without interrupting her own flow or that of the student speaking at the time (“non-verbal corrections”).

He sees Hinton venture away from the hotspots to move down the sides of the class, letting her students know, with her movement, that there is always a chance she will be beside their desk in the next few seconds.

He sees that in one particular instance she moves toward a particular student while making it look to the rest of the class as if she is simply changing her perspective, so that she can correct his behaviour without embarrassing him – and he sees that she does so with the grace of an elite tennis player delivering a disguised drop shot.

Hinton smiles warmly and varies “the volume of her voice to convey enthusiasm for her topic,” Lemov points out. Her students “are utterly captivated, eager to pitch in with their own thoughts, avid for learning.”

She’s not leaping on desks like Robin Williams in Great Poets Society. Good teachers practice their craft, says Lemov.

“The myth of the magical teacher subtly undermines the status of teaching, by obscuring the extraordinary skill required to perform the job to a high level,” concludes Leslie. “It also implies that great teaching cannot be taught.”

Lemov links to more teaching videos on his Teach Like a Champion blog.