Thursday, December 6, 2012

A classroom for teachers a hands on way to learn their craft

     If there is one thing I am trying to do with the Master Educator blog is to show how best practices through research and data and effectively brought into the classroom is the cornerstone on how to help students learn. To take it one step further, using video to demonstrate these practices and tell the story and show how students benefit from the practice will drive the profession one step forward. The following story below comes from the Detroit News and is a well written one at that.

A classroom for teachers

Teaching lab offers educators a hands-on way to hone their craft- By Jennifer Chambers-  The Detroit News

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, works with students from Ypsilanti Public Schools during the Elementary Mathematics Laboratory program. Ball said the lab makes teaching more open so people can see the work 3 million people are doing in the United States. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)
Great teachers are not born — they're taught. That philosophy is the impetus behind a two-week teaching lab held annually at the University of Michigan's School of Education, where the teacher and her methods are under study by educators, policymakers and others who hope to learn more about what makes a great educator.
Every day for two weeks, a special mathematics class for underperforming upper elementary students from Ypsilanti Public Schools is taught by Deborah Loewenberg Ball, an experienced elementary school teacher who is also dean of the U-M School of Education.
The 2 1/2-hour class is conducted in a format similar to a surgical theater, where Ball performs a live teaching lesson with about two dozen students who have been asked to solve math problems individually and as a group.
Cameras tape the experience and microphones record student answers and Ball's techniques. A short distance away, adults watch, take notes and study Ball as she engages children in math.
Head of a Michigan council tasked with developing a new statewide teacher evaluation tool, Ball is known nationally for her work on teacher development practices. She said there are few opportunities for teachers to analyze the moves they make to help students learn.
The lab, Ball said, serves as a rich and unique setting for professional development for classroom teachers because it offers the opportunity to see teaching "live," watch the growth of students from one day to the next and discuss the work of teaching in public and in detail.
"Teaching is done behind closed doors. They (teachers) can describe it but they hardly ever get to watch the work of getting kids to pay attention and explain particular content," Ball said.
"This is putting teaching in the centerpieces and allowing educators with different kinds of expertise to talk about how would you get a student to pay attention. Everyone can benefit from having this by taking it back to their own practice."
In a classroom down the hall from the teaching lab on U-M's Ann Arbor campus, Ball meets with observers before the session with the children begins.
"We know math. How would we talk it? How should you say it to the children?" Ball poses to the group.
"Children don't have a concept of net worth or being in debt, so what are we trying to accomplish? Many students have not been taught mathematics as they should have been. They need a gateway — a framework in their mind."
Math — rather than English or reading — was chosen for the lab course because it is particularly difficult to teach, Ball said, and researchers know many students are having difficulty learning it.
"One of the reasons teaching math is so difficult is because most Americans haven't learned math very well," Ball said.
"It turns out when you are talking to students and trying to make it make sense, the fact you know the answer doesn't get you very much when you are trying to explain it. It's not obvious how you explain adding a negative number, and when you do it … you often say things that are confusing and wrong."
That's why the teaching lab works — it's where mistakes are made and then discussed with suggestions for future teaching methods, observers say.
Inside the School of Education at U-M, the lab is underway with 27 students seated at a U-shaped table all facing Ball, who stands in the middle.
One part of the lesson focuses on constructing and explaining fractions of fractions.
"I'd like you to draw one-third of one-third," Ball says. Students get busy writing their answers out; some whisper and fidget.
Through the day and its multiple lessons, Ball makes a point to connect with each student, get each student to speak in class and build routines for the class.

Accountable for learning

Nearly 200 people attended Ball's workshop this summer from across the United States, including lawmakers, parents and graduate students. Among them was Colleen Kuusinen, an education doctoral student at U-M.
Kuusinen said she has been watching how Ball leads a classroom discussion and how she positions it so students are learning from each other and not just her.
"She talks about the purposes behind discussions. For me as a teacher, I was never expressly taught about how to lead a discussion or the purpose of leading a discussion. It's very illuminating to hear her talk about what she does and the decisions she makes."
Beth Christensen, a fifth-grade math teacher at Pittsburgh's King School, said Ball establishes a culture where not only kids are held accountable for learning, but teachers are too.
"It's refreshing. It's a shame we don't have that in our school. Teachers are collaborators and learners. We see ourselves as education researchers," Christensen said. "There are so many decisions you make in a day. It's hard not to be paralyzed by fear."
State Board of Education member Eileen Weiser, who spent an afternoon observing Ball in the lab, said every teacher she knows truly wants to reach children and make a difference.
"It's very clear if we approach this very differently and make sure every child understands and knows basic concepts and how to use them, you can change a kid's life," Weiser said. "We can watch kids coming up and not learning math. If a teacher doesn't have these tools in their toolbox, it won't work."

Teaching made more visible

Michigan, which produces about 7,000 teachers a year, has 34 teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions. A recent ranking by the Michigan Department of Education listed four programs as "low-performing," three as considered "at-risk," nine as satisfactory and the rest as exemplary.
This fall, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan shut parts of teaching programs at Lake Superior State University and Olivet College after both were tagged as low-performing for several years.
The rankings are based on state exam pass rates, program completion and teacher exit surveys.
"I hope it's gotten the attention of all the deans. I think we do have the best teacher prep institutions in the country, but it's not ready for my granddaughter, who is using an iPad at age 2. What we want is quality," Flanagan said.
Armen Hratchian, vice president for education systems at Excellent Schools Detroit, said that considering the growing focus on accountability and teacher performance in Michigan, the state lacks opportunities for teachers to reflect on what works and to work on their craft.
Teachers can improve over time if given the right tools, said Hratchian, who observed Ball in the lab this summer.
"Teaching our kids is the most important profession there is. We should have a definition of what a prepared teacher looks like. We don't. I think that's huge challenge," he said. "We should be doing more on the front end and not hope that teachers learn how to teach while teaching."
Ball said the lab makes teaching more open so people can see the work 3 million people are doing in the United States. "It's actually pretty hard … this makes it more visible that teaching is complex work you can learn to do better. It doesn't take being some special person, but you need to learn how to do it and that is the central message. And we need to provide better opportunities for teachers to learn," she said.
jchambers@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2269