Quality teaching

Day 2 with James Stronge & Leslie Grant

Signpost, Courtesy of IStockPhoto

James Stronge and Leslie Grant, both professors at William and Mary, co-authored a book, Planning, Instruction, and Assessment: Effective Teaching Practices.  They are using the protocols from the book as the 101 Tools and Techniques Necessary for Quality Teaching, the title of the workshop.   Dr. Stronge has produced a series of books that are part of a research-to-practice series that are available at Eye On Education.

They initiated a question and answer session about how to professionalize the teaching profession.  We touched on hiring, retention, compensation, and the quality of the work environment.  Stronge made the point that we are no longer attracting the highest quality college graduates to the profession, especially women.   There are so many better paying professions young people can get involved with besides teaching.  Unlike some high performing countries like Finland, teacher candidates in the US do not leave their programs well-trained.  (See CFT blog on interview with Finnish Education Minister).  In addition, our society projects a rather unattractive view of our profession.  What do we do to promote the negative image of being a teacher in the US?  What can we do to more effectively promote our profession so that the work is valued?

There is an interesting blog article in Teacher Magazine that raises the question, Should the US be more proud of its teachers?  The author writes:

She contrasts this with “the growing de-professionalization of teaching in America.”

I thought this blog article addresses some of the same issues that the workshop Stronge and Grant have organized.  We need to move from a culture in which policymakers and politicians talk about valuing the teaching profession, but demonstrate through their actions something very different.

Bringing a few ideas together, Stronge points out that the quality of caring exemplified by good teachers means that they “never give up on their students.”  This is still part of the personal dimension of good teaching.

Stronge is discussing the fact that most teachers are fearful of teacher evaluations, but points out that most teachers are skeptical of their administrator’s ability to give meaningful feedback on their teaching.  Teachers generally don’t see their principals as strong instructional leaders capable of giving good feedback.  We have seen a number of tools that Stronge and Grant use to give feedback to teachers on their instructional practices.  The tools they have shared are interesting, but the tools do not address the question of how to establish the trust needed to diminish the fears teachers have.  At Westminster, we are developing a Faculty Assessment and Annual Review process that builds in self-evaluation.  If the feedback we give teachers is formative, as well as summative, we have a greater chance of building trust.   See other CFT blog post on teacher evaluation and supervision (Meaningful Teacher Evaluation).

Another interesting reference that relates to the challenge of being a good teacher can be found in Teacher Magazine, Teaching Secrets: Getting in Touch with your Inner Student.  The author, Heather Wolport-Gawron, writes:

In Mary Poppins, the children outgrow the ability to speak the language of the birds. In Peter Pan, the children outgrow the ability to fly to Neverland. And when many teachers reach adulthood, they tend to forget what really preoccupies a child’s brain. But just think, if you could have access to a child’s thoughts, wouldn’t it give you some greater ability to teach that child better? Well, you do. By accessing your own memories you can reintroduce yourself to a student’s priorities, thoughts, and reactions. Because while times, they have a’changed, and students today might sometimes feel like they’re from an alien planet, the fact is that kids are a very recognizable species from generation to generation.

I find this “image” to be extremely powerful.  Good teachers are able to empathize and identify with what their students are thinking, feeling, and experiencing because they remember what it was like to be a student.  Their own experiences as a student were memorable enough that they draw on those feelings as a tool to understand and connect with their students.

In addition to Wolpport-Gawron’s article, look at this piece in Teacher Magazine, Is There a Recipe for Good Teaching.   In the article, the author references another article written in the Harvard Business Review entitled, From Good Teachers to Good Teaching.  What strikes me as important the HBR article by Anustup Nayak is their three critical ingredients for good teaching:

  1. We need a ‘micro-process’ for good learning — one that is sufficiently detailed and works in the classroom.
  2. Good teaching requires the practical skill of engaging every child in the classroom.
  3. Good teaching becomes visible only with regular measurement of learning and actionable feedback.

They assume that if you package all the strategies embodied in the three ingredients into one toolbox, we could train teachers to be effective by helping them use the toolbox.  I wonder if giving novice teachers a “complete toolbox” is sufficient.  What about the importance of personal traits that Stronge and Grant spoke so clearly about?  These qualities cannot be put into a toolbox because they are directly related  to a teacher’s personality.

Stronge shifts our focus in the workshop to instructional strategies and classroom management.  Stronge points out that good teachers manage and organize their classroom effectively through:

  • proactive discipline
  • maintaining momentum
  • monitoring and responding to students’ needs
  • teaching students desirable behaviors
  • engaging students in meaningful work
  • being positive, respectful, and supportive.

He points out that the work of Robert Marzano and Madeline Hunter as being very good in the area of instructional strategies.  While any one of these approaches to explain good teaching from the perspective of effective instructional strategies is useful, Stronge does not recommend using only one approach.  In the workshop, Stronge showed videos of classroom instruction and had us use their tools to analyze a teacher’s questioning strategies, classroom management techniques, and organization for instruction.  Their tools can be found in the book, Planning, Instruction, and Assessment: Effective Teaching Practice.

Our time after lunch was spent looking at questioning strategies as part of effective teaching.  Stronge had us watch a teaching video of a history teacher leading a Socratic discussion and use a tool for observing and recording her.  This was a highly effective instructional strategy to observe and give effective feedback to a teacher.  Stronge and Grant encourage teachers to record all instructional questions and code the questions according to Bloom’s taxonomy.  In writing effective questions, teachers need to use student-friendly language.  There should be a variety of questions that cover different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and then should be carefully scaffolded.  Finally, teachers should make it easy for students to ask questions, make time for questioning in class, wait for students to answer, and encourage dialogue that promotes students talking to other students.

In reflecting on this workshop, I learned we need to be intentional about our design and implementation of instructional strategies to improve the quality of teaching.  In addition, administrators need to be learn how to give effective and timely feedback to teachers as they implement their instructional strategies.

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