Teach: Student-Centered Practices

There is a new paradigm for how we think about teaching and learning. While the idea of student-centered learning has been around for at least twenty years, serious research is now being funded and beginning findings are being reported of the potential outcomes for this type of reform. One of the reasons why I think this could be important is that student-centered teaching and learning is not locked in as an all or nothing type of reform.

In fact early findings in this research report that a variety of different teaching styles may employ a variety of different methods, i.e., student-centered learning strategies could be employed in traditional and innovative schools and in traditional and not so traditional classrooms.

Professional Development

In June of 2015, the United States Senate passed their version of the re-authroization of the “No Child Left Behind” Law (See my story on that: ECAA; Every Child Achieves Act of 2015). Although this version and the House version will have to be reconciled for its differences, a new part of the ECAA in the Senate version is worth noting on professional development.

This new part is the extent to which teachers are to be trained, supported, and sustained as they do their work. Although the field has long recognized this need, the definitions in the new bill are exciting to see proposed into the law. I quote from that Senate version below:

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT—The term ‘professional development’ may include activities that— ‘‘(A) improve and increase teachers’ knowledge of the academic subjects the teachers teach; ‘‘(B) are an integral part of broad school-wide and district-wide educational improvement plans; ‘‘(C) give teachers, principals, other school leaders, and administrators the knowledge and skills to provide students with the opportunity to meet challenging State academic standards ‘‘(D) improve classroom management skills; ‘‘(E) (i) are high quality, sustained, intensive, and classroom-focused in order to have a positive and lasting impact on classroom instruction and the teacher’s performance in the classroom; and (ii) are not 1-day or short-term work-shops or conferences;

Continuum of Professional Development Learning

Classrooms are complicated environments. This new paradigm will help teachers who will have to examine their practice not just from how they were trained or what worked last year, or even how they were taught, but much more from the point of view of what works in the best classrooms based on world-wide research.
The reconciliation of a teacher’s current teaching practice with what works in all classrooms may be a new paradigm for improving teaching. Most importantly, this improvement cannot be separated from students, so the new paradigm should always include improving teaching and learning.

Teach Accountability and Policy

There should be a way for teachers to teach in the wider arena of policy, and their most instructive moments could be about accountability. How do teachers hold themselves and others accountable for high quality work? How do teachers balance equity with quality? Ask them and they will tell you. Policy around teaching has to be accountable in both directions, up and down, so that students at risk are not left behind:

1. Congress should continue to expect states to ensure that districts make annual determinations of student learning and growth based on valid and reliable measures and to report assessment data by student groups. Congress should support reasonable experimentation with new approaches to measuring student learning and progress, evaluating schools, and remedying low performance. It should allow the Secretary of Education to approve statewide accountability systems based on systems of assessments that combine general and deeper measures of learning to assess a wider range of content and skills, and provide more detailed diagnostic information about individual children’s learning. These agreements should be possible where the proposed combination of assessments are validated by state test results and meet high standards of reliability, validity, comparability, and quality. The implementation and outcomes of these agreements should be rigorously studied and the Secretary should have the authority to revoke agreements that do not lead to effective action on behalf of children at risk. (From Accountability and the Federal Role: A Third Way on ESEA, Darling Hammond and Paul Hill, March 2015 from Stanford University, SCOPE website)