Ronald GallimoreEveryone's a teacher to someone (John Wooden)

Focus more on processes to achieve valued outcomes

Brad Ermeling alerted me to this blog posting by Daniel Markovitz in the Harvard Business Review.

Markovitz points out several potential dangers of so called “stretch goals” including sapping motivation, fostering unethical behavior, and encouraging excessive risk-taking.
Better, he argues, to set reasonable goals and focus on process improvement. Process improvement refers to what is required to achieve goals, sometimes referred to as opening the “black box” to see how something works in order to make it work better.

He closed the blog with two sentences written for a business and industrial audience that could also be addressed to education, medicine, and behavioral interventions among others.

“The heavy lifting has to be done at the outset — a deep understanding of the current condition is a prerequisite for true improvement. This approach also requires a subtle — but critical — shift in focus from improving outcome metrics to improving the process by which those outcomes are achieved.”

Education reformers and policymakers are now engaged in a great debate about the value of standards and assessment. Once in a while someone alludes to Markovitz’s point that settings standards and developing outcome metrics accomplish little unless the mediating process is examined and improved. In education that mediating process is what transpires in classrooms. Teaching that provides effective learning opportunities for students.

Promising method for assessing teaching effectiveness

An Arizona and California research team (Kersting, Givvin, Thompson, Santagata, & Stigler, 2012) reported a novel and promising new approach to assessing teaching effectiveness. Teachers were asked to analyze thirteen 3 to 5 minute classroom video clips from fraction lessons, and write detailed comments for each. The researchers rated the written comments for how attentive teachers were to mathematical content and student thinking portrayed on the video and the degree to which teachers made suggestions for instructional improvement. They also rated the depth of teachers' analyses, e.g. was the written response purely descriptive or evaluative versus connecting analytic points to form a cause-effect argument. The team defined these 4 dimensions as reflections of a teacher’s usable knowledge for teaching fractions. The fraction clips covered such topics as part-whole relationships, equivalency, operations with fractions, etc.

But does a teacher’s “usable knowledge for teaching” transfer into the classroom? The research team addressed that question as well. Teachers who completed the video analysis were videotaped in their own classrooms teaching a fractions lesson, which was scored for instructional quality. Based on an extensive review of the mathematics teaching research, teaching quality was defined as developing concepts, appropriate use of representations to explain algorithms, and connecting concepts and topics. And the answer? Yes, a teacher’s usable knowledge for teaching is correlated with the quality of instruction they deliver in a classroom lesson.

But do these assessments of teaching knowledge and quality lead to more student learning? Yes. Students of the 36 teachers who participated in the study completed pre and post fractions quizzes. Teachers who did better on the video analysis task had higher scores on classroom teaching quality and their students had larger gains on the post-test fractions quiz. Usable knowledge predicted better classroom teaching and together these two assessments of teaching quality predicted greater student learning. Few studies have attempted to connect these three dots of knowledge, practice, and achievement, and even fewer reported positive correlations.

The approach used by Kersting, et al. (2012) is a promising alternative to the questionable approaches currently pursued at the national level. In the last several years, several major policy efforts have focused on assessing teaching quality as part of the standards and accountability reform. This latest wave of reform acknowledges that improved teaching is critical to improved student achievement. To help teachers, reformers have been developing teaching assessments based on live-observation of classroom instruction. Armed with powerful psychometric development strategies, researchers have been struggling to find a cost-effective way that educators can assess teachers based on a few or even a single classroom observation. This approach is questionable on several accounts. To get a reliable or accurate assessment of an individual teacher’s classroom practices probably requires multiple observations over at least a unit of instruction. The cost is prohibitive, and hardly appealing schools already strapped for resources.

A second limitation of live observation methods is the complexity of behavior to be captured. “Live observations are limited to whatever an observer can record. Checklists can be useful, but it is possible for a live observer to make only a limited number of reliable judgments at the speed required for classroom research. There simply is too much going on. Video, on the other hand, can be paused, rewound, and watched again. Two observers can watch the same video, independently, and go back to re-play and discuss those parts that they saw differently. Videos can be coded multiple times, in passes that require only limited judgments by an observer on any single pass. This makes it easier to train observers and enables reliable coding of complex events.
The most important advantages of video derive from its concrete, vivid, and “raw, un-analyzed” nature (i.e., the categories can be derived from the data rather than vice versa, leaving the data open to a vast array of analyses)
(Stigler, Gallimore, & Hiebert, 2000, p. 90).

It’s premature to argue that video clip analysis is a workable, scalable alternative to live observations. Although this newly published study replicates earlier work by Kersting and colleagues, so far only mathematics instruction has been investigated, and only with secondary school samples. But given the stakes, I hope that national policymakers will not become so wedded to live observations that the nation spends massive resources on a single approach when such a promising alternative is available. It is possible to imagine that rather than an army of classroom observers, knowledge useful for teaching could be assessed using modern technologies at a fraction of the cost of live observations
(Gallimore & Stigler, 2003).

The Kersting, et al. study was published in the June, 2012 issue of the
American Education Research Journal.

Kersting, N.B., Givvin, K. B., Thompson, B.J., Santagata, R., & Stigler, J. W. (2012). Measuring usable knowledge: teachers’ analyses of mathematics classroom videos predict teaching quality and student learning.
American Education Research Journal, 49, 3, 568-589.

Ermeling tells how PLCs can connect the dots

Connect the Dots is the title of a new article by Brad Emeling, published by Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council), in the Journal of Staff Development (April, 2012, volume 33, No.2). Connect the Dots summarizes what it takes to turn schools or districts into communities of educators learning together how to sustain improvements in student achievement. Connect the Dots provides concrete guidelines to educators who want to convert PLC aspirations into functioning reality. The key, as Brad explains, is not only establishing settings for teacher teams and leaders, but strengthening the connections between settings so that each role group is focused on assisting learning of the next immediate group they directly lead or support. He means district personnel assist principals who assist school leadership teams that assist teacher teams. Each role–group takes ownership for planning for and providing assistance to the learning and productive work of the next immediate group–one month at a time. The result is a coherent system of settings functioning to improve teaching and learning.

Not only has Brad spent a decade+ building learning teams and PLCs in America, he participated in lesson study for 7 years as a teacher and administrator in Japan. As a fluent Japanese speaker he is one of the few America educators with such extensive experience with lesson study. In 2003, Brad joined a research team at UCLA and Stanford that had been researching teacher collaboration and learning teams for more than three decades.
Connect the Dots is based on Brad’s years of experience helping highly challenged schools set up learning teams that get results. The learning teams program he helps direct is based on ideas and concrete guidelines that are direct applications of 40+ years of research by Claude Goldenberg, Bill Saunders, and myself.
Personal point of privilege: The privilege was serving as Brad’s doctoral committee advisor, and as a member of the UCLA/Stanford research team on which
Connect the Dots is based. Brad’s dissertation extended the team’s work for the first time to secondary settings. After finishing his UCLA doctoral program, Dr. Ermeling helped scale the research to districts and schools across the nation.

For a PDF of Brad’s
Connect the Dots, click here.


John Wooden Taught Concepts Too

Many stories about Coach John Wooden emphasize his use of repetition as a key teaching approach. It’s true that practicing until certain actions were automatic was part of his approach. But it is not true that this was the foundation of his approach. He focused on development of players’ conceptual understanding that in combination with lots of practice led to a level of performance seldom equal in athletics.

A key goal of Wooden was the development of players who were creative, confident problem-solvers. As games progress, teams change tactics, presenting new problems by to force the opponent to play in a way it might not want to. In response to changing tactics by opponents, Wooden wanted …to be as surprised as our opponent at what my team came up with when confronted with an unexpected challenge (Nater & Gallimore, 2010, pps. 89-90).

Wooden’s goal was to teach the underlying concepts of basketball, so that when opponents surprised his players with new and different challenges they in turn surprised their coach and the other team with creative and effective solution methods.

To develop his players' capacities to “surprise” him with their solution methods during games, Wooden used a systematic pedagogical approach that he describes as the “whole-part” method.

I tried to teach according to the whole-part method. I would show them the whole thing to begin with. Then I’m going to break it down into the parts and work on the individual parts and then eventually bring them together.

(Wooden, personal communication, February 12, 2002).

There’s an interesting parallel between Coach Wooden’s pedagogy and contemporary views on teaching mathematics. It is not a perfect analogy because the subject matters are different in fundamental ways. Consider Coach Wooden’s hope “ …to be as surprised as our opponent at what my team came up with when confronted with an unexpected challenge.” The desire to be “surprised” by his players is surprisingly analogous to contemporary ideas on teaching mathematics. If students are only taught to memorize solution methods, any deviation in problem structure or form may stymie them. If they were taught to understand conceptually the underlying mathematics, they are typically better prepared to devise solution methods as the need arises.

Learning the “basics” is important; however, students who memorize facts or procedures without understanding often are not sure when or how to use what they know. In contrast, conceptual understanding enables students to deal with novel problems and settings. They can solve problems that they have not encountered before.

(National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2005) ).

Coach Wooden emphasized repetition of fundamentals so that his players would be resourceful, imaginative, and creative, not because he wanted them to be robots mindlessly relying on rote memory. For him, repetition is a means to an end; he firmly believed that when students understand what they are doing and can connect the ideas they are taught, they are better prepared to solve new problems as they arise in the future. He teaches that understanding and conceptual knowledge, supported by automatic mastery of fundamentals, prepares students to tackle problems of all kinds, like those they had encountered before, and novel ones, too.

For more how Coach Wooden taught concepts and used repetition to build automaticity, see Nater and Gallimore (2010), Chapter 6.


Studying Coach Wooden's Teaching

During the 1974-1975 basketball season, Roland Tharp and I spent many afternoons observing Coach John Wooden as he conducted practice on the UCLA campus. Using an observational coding scheme tailored to Coach’s teaching practices, we analyzed and published the results of our observations in Psychology Today (Tharp & Gallimore, 1976).

In 2004, The Sports Psychologist published a followup to the original study including new materials and interpretation of 1970s investigation (Gallimore & Tharp, 2004). PDF

Swen Nater and I summarized the results of 30 years of investigating Coach Wooden’s teaching principles and practices in You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned (Nater & Gallimore, 2005). Some of his key approaches are summarized on this page. Read More.
swen, coach, & ron cropped 7.03

John Wooden's Timeless Lessons

Pasted Graphic

In 2003, Hank Bias called me asking about films of Coach Wooden teaching on the practice court. Hank was and still is head basketball coach. He coaches the Fairmont High’s Fairmont Firebirds of Kettering, Ohio. When he called, the team had lost 17 games, winning only 3, and Hank was thinking of leaving coaching. He called because he’d read an article Roland Tharp and I wrote about John Wooden’s teaching practices. Hank wanted films so he could learn to be a better teacher of basketball. I had made digital copies of old films Coach Wooden gave me, but I told Hank he’d have to call Coach Wooden to get permission to get copies. After some hesitation, Hank phoned Wooden who invited him out to California to talk about teaching. That began a story that some describe as “too Hollywood” to be true. But it is true, and what happened in the following years is quite a story. For ten years, beginning in 2003, I tracked Hank’s progress, visiting him twice, interviewing him in person and on the phone, and keeping up an email correspondence. Our research team recently published the first of several articles on Hank’s story. This first article describes how Hank learned to apply Wooden’s approach to steadily, continually improving his teaching, and the effects it had on him and his team. Read more about Hank and Coach Wooden: click here.

Coach John Wooden talks about teaching

John Robert Wooden (1910 – 2010) was Head Basketball Coach at UCLA from 1948 until his retirement in 1975. Wooden’s UCLA teams earned 10 NCAA titles in 12 years, reeled off an 88-game win streak, and won 38 consecutive tournament games.
NCAA coach of the year 6 times, in 2000 he was named Men’s College Coach of the 20th Century by the Naismith Hall of Fame and ESPN. In 2003 Coach was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

When he spoke to groups, Coach Wooden often began remarks this way: “When I was teaching at UCLA…..” He believed that coaching is teaching, and that the foundation of his success as a coach was the years he spent as a high school English teacher. The Academy of Achievement site includes a video of Coach Wooden in which he describes himself as a teacher.
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