Ermeling, B.A. & Gallimore, R. (2014/2015). Close-to-practice learning. Educational Leadership. 72(4), 55-60. Open access at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec14/vol72/num04/Close-to-Practice_Learning.aspx
The Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards face many challenges, but none greater than this: Teachers must make the biggest instructional changes ever asked of them.
For the standards to succeed, teaching must be more than telling, and learning more than listening. Teaching must elicit, prod, and develop students' thinking and improve students' abilities to understand challenging texts, talk and write about complex ideas, and apply what they learn to solve novel problems (Ball & Forzani, 2013; Shanahan, 2013).
Changes of this magnitude require much teacher time and effort—and this work is largely invisible to everyone except teachers. For example, when working with a new math curriculum, a high school algebra teacher must plan, try out, and refine new lessons, learning through repeated trial and error what's effective for students who vary in ability and achievement levels. This is how teachers master new resources, modify instruction, and accumulate usable, classroom-ready knowledge and skills.
It will take even more time and practice for teachers to master the high-leverage teaching practices that the new standards call for. Traditional modes of professional development are too short-lived and too distant from practice to achieve significant improvements.
To produce changes in classroom instruction, the key is closer-to-practice opportunities for teachers to focus on incremental improvements in classroom instruction. Close-to-practice improvement depends on four crucial conditions:
1. Teachers are familiar with the curriculum, so they knows the concepts and skills it required them to teach.
2. Learn inquiry teaching by planning lessons for immediate use in their own classrooms. Focusing improvement activity on highly relevant, day-to-day work and pressing instructional issues bridges the gap between talk and practice and produce classroom-ready, usable knowledge.
3. Engage in deliberate study of the relationship between teaching and learning.
4. Engage in improvement work over time.
Providing teacher learning opportunities that meet these four criteria is challenging for many schools. Schools often discover that there's little guidance for how to organize and institute an effective teaching improvement process
Key to the success of new standards and assessments is the indispensable work of teachers who engage in sustained professional learning opportunities that focus on teaching and learning. The new standards have a better chance of success if we commit to steady, incremental change, what surgeon and author Atul Gawande (2007) called the "infant science of improving performance" (p. 242).
Gallimore, R., Hiebert, J., & Ermeling, B. (2014). Rich Classroom Discussion: One Way, Not The Way to Get Rich Learning. Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 17, 2014
“Rich classroom discourse” has long been valorized by education reformers who object to teacher domination of classroom discussions. Is it greater use of RCD that is key to intellectually inspiring and challenging classrooms? Perhaps instead of focusing on increased use it’s time to ask what specific role for RCD might be realistic and yield learning outcomes educators value? The best chance for progress is to link this question to another one: how to create rich learning opportunities for achieving more advanced competencies. Strategic deployment of RCD for well-defined instructional purposes seems a more realistic vision than advocating greater use without respect for why, when, and for whom. Finding RCD’s proper role requires at least three conditions. Sustained collaboration between teachers and researchers. An ongoing study of curriculum and practice to identify pivotal rich learning opportunities (RLOs) in each unit or project and which might benefit from RCD. Supporting teacher development of the professional judgment to skillfully manage complex decisions with each population and generation of students they teach, so they deploy the best instructional choices.