Joseph Dimino, Mary Jo Taylor, and Russell Gersten explain how team meetings can be a forum for effective vocabulary professional development
GRADE-LEVEL TEAM MEETINGS can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they provide teachers with a chance to communicate with colleagues, share common problems and dilemmas, and share reactions to new curricula, standards, or interventions. On the other hand, discussions can meander; the focus can be more on sharing common gripes. It is a rarity for teachers to consider these meetings a source of serious new learning, or a means of translating research into practice.
In this article, we describe a new approach to professional development (PD) for teaching vocabulary, where grade-level team meetings are used as a forum for new learning and enhancing existing curricula to conform to evidence-based principles. This approach can lead to enhanced outcomes in vocabulary, and significant change in teaching practice.
Teacher Study Groups (TSGs) are an alternative to traditional modes of PD, which are often ineffective. They provide a model whose content and processes are grounded in, and validated by, research. In developing this framework, we relied on several sources. The first was our own research on PD. One of our consistent findings was the need to link the content of PD to curricula that teachers are actually using. Another was “the reality principle,” the need for suggestions for improving practice to be feasible to implement within the constraints of day-to-day teaching.
TSGs are intended to foster a deeper understanding of how scientifically based research in vocabulary instruction is applied to classroom practice. The program covers major research concepts in vocabulary, and teachers begin to think about and ultimately use research-based instructional strategies in their classrooms by integrating them into their existing curriculum.
Ten TSG sessions take place, twice a month for five months. The sessions address:
|What we know|
A five-phase process is repeated during each session. This is: (1) debrief of classroom application of the research, (2) discussion of the focus research concept, (3) compare research with practice, (4) plan collaboratively, and (5) assignment.
Participants begin by debriefing the lesson they collaboratively planned in the previous session. During these debriefs, the facilitator asks questions to prompt participants to describe the lesson they taught, discuss how students responded, and explain any changes or adjustments they made while teaching the lesson.
2. Discuss the focus research concept
A new research concept is presented during this portion of the session. Participants review, reflect on, and discuss the research concept before proceeding to the next portion of the session.
3. Compare research with practice
During this segment, the participants choose a selection in the core reading program that they will be teaching before the next TSG meeting. Their task is to determine how the lesson did or did not align with the research they discussed in the previous segment of the session. As a group they discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson and how it could be modified to reflect the research.
4. Plan collaboratively
Next, the participants work collaboratively to plan a lesson that incorporates the facets of the research that they determined were missing as they compared research with practice.
Group members are asked to teach the lesson they developed during the session.
When teachers engage in TSGs with others including peers, coaches, facilitators, or administrators, they tend to change their vocabulary teaching practices and succeed in increasing their students’ vocabulary knowledge. Results of a rigorous randomized field trial found significant improvements in observed teaching practice and moderate effect sizes in measures of vocabulary. Our TSG model includes many of the tenets of high-quality professional development and addresses many of the shortcomings of most popular and widely used professional development formats.
Joseph A. Dimino is a Senior Research Associate at the Instructional Research Group in Los Alamitos, California. His research interests include reading comprehension, early literacy, content area instruction, and translating research into classroom practice.
Mary Jo Taylor is a Senior Research Associate at the Instructional Research Group in Los Alamitos, California. She is currently working with research teams on several national impact and evaluation studies involving early and adolescent reading, mathematics, literacy leadership, and Response to Intervention.
Russell Gersten is Executive Director of the Instructional Research Group and a Professor Emeritus in the College of Education at the University of Oregon. He has conducted dozens of research studies on reading and mathematics instruction and PD, and has
published more than 150 articles in major journals.
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