Distinguishing Models of Professional Development: The Case of an Adaptive Model’s Impact on Teachers’ Knowledge, Instruction, and Student Achievement

Feb. 15, 2015

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 66(1), January/February 2015, p. 51-67
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors examine specific learning outcomes—notably, increases in teachers’ knowledge, changes in their practice, and the impact on student achievement—as a result of teachers’ participation in a situative-based, adaptive professional development (PD) program.

The participants included mathematics middle schools teachers, who serve as teacher leaders (TLs) and learn to implement the Problem-Solving Cycle (PSC) in their own schools, and two teachers from each school of the 11 middle schools in the district, who serve as “case study teachers” in the iPSC project. The TLs and case study teachers agreed to have their PSC lessons and two “typical lessons” videotaped each school year.
In the iPSC project, the authors used parallel forms of the mathematical knowledge for teaching (MKT)–Middle School (MKT-MS) instrument, designed specifically for middle school mathematics teachers and targeting their knowledge of number concepts and operations. The authors conducted pre- and post-program administrations of the MKT-MS to document changes in teachers’ MKT over the course of their participation in the study. In addition, the authors used an observation protocol called the Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) instrument, which measures five dimensions of instruction.


The findings suggest that participation in the PSC model of PD can support at least modest improvements in teachers’ knowledge and classroom instruction within a relatively short time frame. The teachers exhibited the most dramatic improvements in their MKT. Arguably, the most interesting and important results of this study come from the analyses of the teachers’ videotaped lessons, which suggest a moderate and interpretable effect of the PD on the participants’ classroom behavior.
The participating teachers—including both TLs and case study teachers—experienced notable increases in the instructional quality of their PSC and typical lessons on at least some dimensions measured by the MQI instrument. Furthermore, their overall MQI and MKT lesson ratings generally increased over time. Furthermore, instructional improvements were more often captured in teachers’ PSC lessons as compared with their typical lessons. This finding suggests that the participants were capable of providing increasingly high-quality instruction even if they did not do so on an everyday basis.
In addition, the PSC provides teachers an occasional opportunity to collaboratively do mathematics, plan lessons, and collectively reflect on aspects of their instructional practices with the goal of using high-quality instructional practices on a daily basis. Furthermore, the PSC workshops were intended to support teachers’ knowledge and application of many of the instructional constructs measured by the MQI.

Also in line with the authors' expectations, the iPSC project appeared to have a larger impact on the TLs’ MKT when compared with the case study teachers.
Although the videotaped lessons of both the TLs and the case study teachers changed in a variety of ways over time, it is the improvement of the case study teachers on numerous facets of the MQI that is perhaps most striking. In fact, on a number of items, the case study teachers’ improvement was more dramatic than the TLs.

Finally, of particular interest are the consistent increases documented within the dimension “working with students” for both the TLs and case study teachers. The findings offer evidence that teachers can become increasingly skillful in supporting their students’ conceptual development of the central mathematical content when teaching PSC lessons and that these improvements translate to their everyday practice.


This study of the PSC highlights one way to examine the effectiveness of adaptive PD using longitudinal data and quantitative analyses. Based on those analyses, the PSC does appear to have the potential to substantially affect teachers’ knowledge and instruction and, perhaps, their students’ achievement. Thus, the PSC exemplifies an adaptive approach to PD that holds promise to promote the types of changes mathematics educators would like to see.
Adaptive models of PD typically provide ongoing, long-term opportunities for teacher learning that may enable incremental gains. The PSC is one example of a model that appears to support teachers to make small yet critical improvements in their knowledge and practice in ways that align with their local goals and expectations.
Especially compelling is the finding that the participating teachers improved their ability to listen to students’ ideas and make sound instructional decisions based on those ideas. This kind of instructional practice was strongly emphasized in the iPSC, particularly during the discussions of video from teachers’ classrooms in PD workshops.

The authors argue that argue that utilizing a wider variety of methodologies to study adaptive models is increasingly needed as these models gain in popularity and usage. They suggest that the developers and evaluators of adaptive models, in particular, must strive to construct and utilize measurement tools that enable them to obtain evidence related to the effectiveness of this category of PD, so that adaptive models have the potential to stand with equally strong footing as specified models.

Updated: Apr. 17, 2016