By Victoria Bill
IFL Mathematics fellow
When teachers are working to acquire new instructional practices, particularly ambitious reforms, teachers tend to gravitate toward approaches that are congruent with their prior practices, or they focus on discrete activities, materials, or classroom organization (Spillane, 2009). Teachers’ collegial interpersonal relations such as those that occur in professional communities are a crucial site for learning (Franke & Kazemi, 2001; Gallucci, 2003; Little, 1982; Little, 2003; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001; Smylie & Hart; 1999; Stein, Silver, & Smith, 1998; Stein & Brown, 1997) and research evidence says that teachers’ organizational context and patterns of interactions shape how they learn (Coburn, 2001; Hill, 2001: McLaughline & Talbert, 2001: Spillane, 1999). PLC times, however, have not been historically focused times of deep discussions of content and pedagogy. Knowing how important PLC time is and the potential influence on teaching and learning, the IFL suggests that districts focus learning in PLCs on high-leverage practices, and they work to provide teachers with the necessary resources to have focused discussions.
High-leverage practices are those practices used in the classroom intended to support student learning through productive intellectual work with the goal of developing both content understanding and skills (Windschitle et al., 2012). When the study of high-leverage practices is the focus of PLCs, educators have the opportunity to engage in meaningful work around goal setting, pedagogy and content, and evidence of student learning. The high-leverage practices identified for study during a PLC should be instructional practices that occur with high frequency. Ideally these practices are those used by teachers in different content areas so that students have multiple opportunities to use the same practices. The practice should also be one that provides teachers with insights into teaching and student learning and are therefore likely to provide a teacher feedback on their practice as teachers reflect and examine their practice (Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009). The IFL recognizes the importance of specifying highleverage practices that have been proven, based on research, to be of worth. The IFL also recognizes that teachers have limited time to identify resources that could be accessed for study during the PLC. To address these issues, the IFL has created four mathematics PLC modules of study for teacher use. Each module focuses on a highleverage practice.
1. Facilitating Accountable Talk® Mathematics Discussions
2. Providing Opportunities to Write About Mathematical Reasoning
3. Using and Connecting Mathematical Representations
4. Promoting Intellectual Authority
The theory of learning in the PLC modules is that individual members of the PLC learn about the high-leverage practice together, design and try small changes of practice individually in classrooms, and come back together to share and study artifacts from their classroom. The IFL has worked to incorporate the use of improvement science into the PLC models. As members of the PLC engage in cycles of learning related to the high-leverage practices, they share examples from their practice. These serve to illustrate ways in which teachers are making connections between the practices and their day-to-day classroom work.
This routine has the potential to provide PLC members insights into teaching and learning in their own classroom environments. Following the study of a PLC module, teachers will identify something small that they might try out in their classrooms and artifacts that they will collect to determine the impact that their work is having in the classroom. The PLC modules provide the teachers with methods for analyzing the artifacts that they bring back to the next PLC. Based on the findings, teachers decide what to try next in their classrooms. It is via this process that teachers can determine what is truly having an impact in their classroom and why. The coding tools and process provide an objective lens through which to view their work. This allows the PLC members to collectively step back and view the result of their efforts through quantitative data. As the PLC continues to quantify their work from one PLC to another, patterns of change will emerge, allowing the PLC to make more informed decisions about their practice.
PLC members repeat the cycle. They identify another small change idea, try it out in their classroom, collect, and then analyze artifacts to determine the impact on teaching and learning. This occurs for several weeks. The excitement of making small changes in the classroom and determining the impact on student learning has created synergy among teachers and keeps the discussions focused on content, pedagogy, and student learning. We look forward in future newsletters reporting the PLC work that three IFL districts will be engaging in this school year; Schenectady City School District, New Brunswick Public Schools, and Propel Schools Pitcairn will be using the IFL PLCs this year.