Learning “New” Instructional Strategies: Pedagogical Innovation, Teacher Professional Development, Understanding and Concerns

November 1, 2019

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 70 issue: 5, page(s): 552-566

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors discuss their efforts to understand the evolving understandings of teachers in Singapore, participating in a professional development project, focused on reading instruction and how those efforts shed light on the teacher professional development (TPD) process.
They focus on teacher understanding (TU) as a central part of the TPD process and offer one possible way to examine evolving TU as part of the innovation process, using a two-dimensional, neo-Bloomian taxonomy developed by Anderson et al. (2001).

Research Questions
With this background in mind, the authors were interested in tracking TU and concerns in an ongoing manner.
Guiding research questions were the following:

1: What are the teacher understandings evidenced during participation in the instructional innovation, and in what ways does teacher understanding of the new instructional strategies change throughout the year?
2: What are the concerns expressed by teachers with regard to the innovation and in what ways do these concerns change throughout the year?

Data were taken from the first year of a multiyear TPD project in one mixed-gender, Singaporean primary school which drew students primarily from nearby housing estates.
All English language (EL) teachers in the school were invited to participate in the TPD project.
Six teachers volunteered and committed to work the full year with a university-based research team (RT) to change the way reading comprehension discussions were led in their classes.
Throughout the year, the RT and teachers met regularly, forming an “innovation team.”
Early in the year, meetings focused on learning about the new instructional strategies through reading, discussion, and watching videos of lessons in which the strategies were used.
The authors refer to this as the Direct Instruction (DI) stage.
Later in the year, innovation team meetings focused on co-planning of lessons, role plays to prepare the teachers for teaching the lessons, and discussion of lesson videos after the teachers had tried the strategies with their own students. The authors refer to this as the Practice Stage (PS).

Data Analysis
Analysis was based on 15 transcripts of innovation team meetings, 24 post observation conversations (POC) transcripts, and 18 teacher written reflections (three per teacher).
Data were analyzed qualitatively for evidence of and changes in TU and concerns (TC) during each stage (DI and PS).
The framework for analysis of TU was drawn from Anderson et al. (2001), a neo-Bloomian taxonomy comprised a Cognitive Process Dimension with six categories along the horizontal axis and a Knowledge Dimension with four categories along the vertical axis.
Crucially, the taxonomy allowed the authors to consider developing understanding on intersecting continua of Cognitive Processes and Knowledge rather than categorizing understanding as stable or binary (yes/no).
In addition, the revised taxonomy includes a category for metacognitive knowledge which helped them consider the teachers’ awareness of their own understanding.

TU Analysis revealed that TU of the strategies and concepts introduced emerged along both continua throughout the year.
Teachers not only gained knowledge about new facts, concepts, and procedures but also became more analytical and evaluative about the strategies and their own practices.

TU during the DI stage
During the DI stage, innovation team meetings gave the teachers an opportunity to grasp new ideas and ask questions as well as raise doubts or clear misunderstandings.
These were reflected in teacher comments about their own emerging understandings.

Teacher understanding during the PS
During the PS, Procedural knowledge (discussions of how to plan and carry out the procedures for the new instructional strategies) at most cognitive levels and especially at the level of Apply (2,919 comments) was prominent.
There were also numerous comments evidencing teacher Metacognitive knowledge (563 across different cognitive processes) indicating increasing understanding, awareness, and analysis of their teaching practices and techniques.
During the PS, the teachers also became more aware of how they conducted their lessons with reference to QtA principles and techniques as can be seen in the increase in Metacognitive:Apply.

Changes across the year (DI—PS)
The authors found that TU developed from remembering factual information about the new instructional strategies to greater understanding and awareness of their own teaching practices, their student responses, how they could implement the strategies, and the potential for improving reading comprehension through discussion.
The authors also found increasing evidence of Procedural and Metacognitive knowledge across almost all cognitive processes.
Comments reflecting Procedural knowledge carried across the Cognitive Process Dimension as the teachers not only remembered and understood how to do QtA/NfM, but considered how best to apply the strategies, with increasingly analytical and evaluative understanding.
The teachers also demonstrated more awareness, as compared with the DI stage, of what they knew and what they were able to do on their own, how they were benefiting from the innovation and how the new instructional strategies might influence student progress (Metacognitive knowledge).

These developments were in alignment with the types of activities used during the two stages of the innovation. At the DI stage, teachers were offered information about the new instructional strategies; their main task was to try to remember and understand.
During the PS, the teachers were tasked with not only remembering and understanding the procedures but also applying the strategies, thinking about possible adaptations for a specific group of students, and reflecting on their own implementation, showing evidence of the Cognitive Processes of Apply, Analyze, and Evaluate.
Finally, despite greater evidence of understanding across the year in almost all categories of the taxonomy, there was no evidence for TU in the area of Create.
This was understandable in the DI stage when the teachers were following lessons plans provided to them.
However, even in the PS, when the teachers created their own lessons, their comments suggested attempts to follow what they had been taught, rather than thinking of themselves as potential “creators.”

Despite increasing understanding as seen in both the Knowledge and Cognitive Process Dimensions, the teachers also saw the implementation of the new instructional strategies as challenging and expressed concerns regarding various aspects of the innovation.
These concerns fell mainly into two broad areas: concerns about students and concerns about themselves as teachers.
At the DI stage, when the teachers were introduced to QtA/NfM but were not yet applying the strategies in their lessons and didn’t know how the students would respond, they were more concerned about possible issues for students, in particular, the possible impact of QtA on student-readers and the possible impact of students’ academic abilities on discussion.

Their comments reflected underlying concerns about the appropriateness of the instructional strategies for the local context in which students were expected to be able to answer designated questions “correctly” and students were regularly “streamed” into ability groupings.
However, these concerns about students tended to diminish later in the year.
During the PS, concerns centered more on how they, as teachers, could effectively implement the strategies in terms of classroom management and interaction, student comprehension and learning, and technical expertise.

Overall, concerns about students decreased from DI to PS as the teachers found that selecting materials, student academic ability, and the ability to ask questions were not serious impediments to carrying out neither the instructional strategies nor to classroom management.
Most notable was the change in teachers’ initial concerns that students would not be willing or able to answer questions in whole class discussions.
Although concerns about student ability and possible negative impact on students decreased during the PS, TCs about how to check student comprehension, help students understand the text, use questioning techniques effectively, and increase classroom interaction grew.
Teachers were concerned about their own ability to check student understanding (i.e., student reading comprehension). This went hand-in-hand with recognizing the importance of their own questioning techniques as they explored student understanding.

In sum, even though the teachers expressed a number of concerns, overall, they became less skeptical and more favorable toward use of the new strategies in the local context.
They were also more confident that the new strategies could be applied in their classrooms, regardless of student ability.
Prior to using the new strategies, most of the teachers believed that this type of discussion was only suitable for “high ability” students as those students were generally more responsive and more able to contribute to classroom discussions.
After teaching the lessons, the teachers found that their students at different ability levels could cope.

The two-dimensional matrix adapted for this study gave the authors a window into what the teachers in their case study were understanding while they were still in the process of mastering the new strategies.
While they do not propose this framework as the only way to examine TU, they do suggest that tracking TU is a powerful way to consider not only what teachers understand, but how they are understanding at different points in an innovation.
Examining TCs can provide another window into TU—as teachers express their concerns they also reflect on what they do/do not understand and how they understand different aspects of the innovation.
The dual analysis (TU and TC) also provides some information about issues of cultural appropriateness for instructional strategies imported from different educational contexts. In their study, as teachers developed deeper understanding of the strategies and as they adapted the strategies in their own practice through collaborative lesson planning, they became more confident with fewer concerns about cultural appropriateness.
Their data show that TU and teachers’ confidence in their ability to incorporate new models of practice work in tandem, opening up the opportunities for innovation.
Thus, the authors see the changes in TU and TCs as being more than a simple reflection of the features of each stage of the innovation program.
They suggest that examining TU provides a window into the teacher learning process, which allows those involved in TPD to consider the development of the innovation rather than waiting for anticipated outcomes.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., . . . Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York, NY: Longman. 

Updated: Jun. 25, 2020