10 SES 13 A, Research on Programmes and Pedagogical Approaches in Teacher Education
This study explores the teachers’ self-reported learning experiences and knowledge building from a teacher development programme in Armenia, which was implemented in the framework of a pilot reform project. The programme was designed to conceptually challenge teachers and develop their understanding of knowledge development and teaching for deeper learning and in changing fundamentally teachers’ thinking about their role. Studying this programme aims to contribute to the knowledge base of teacher professional development by exploring teachers’ learning experiences and core components of the programme that fostered their learning. Thus, to achieve this aim this study sets out to answer the following research questions:
- What are the teachers’ self-reported experiences on their learning and knowledge building while going through the TPD programme?
- What components of the TPD programme do teachers report influencing the most on their learning and overall professional development? 2.2 How do the key components of the TPD mentioned by the teachers relate to those identified in the literature?
Teachers’ learning is believed to be central in educational policy and practice which requires focus on understanding of what makes a difference in teachers’ professional learning. Birman et al. (2000) state that it will be possible to transform students' learning only if teachers' classroom practices are oriented towards students’ learning which itself impacts on the need to rethink the forms and structures of teachers’ learning. Pachler (2007) continues stating that professional teacher learning, in combination with other factors (e.g. school structures, approaches to leadership, political considerations) is of central importance to educational change. Increasing recognition of the relationship between teacher quality and student learning has led to research identifying features of PD that foster teachers’ learning and consequently the development of diverse models for teacher growth and learning (Labone and Long, 2016). McLaughlin (2015) believes that PD is a key to reforms in teaching and learning, which makes it essential to use best practice to measure its effects. Comprehensive studies (Kennedy, 1998; Birman et al, 2000, Desimone, 2009, Guskey, 2009, Opfer & Pedder, 2011) of schools, classrooms and teachers reflect a relative consensus about at least five characteristics of PD practices that appear to be effective.
Based on five feature model, Desimone (2009) proposes core conceptual framework for studying the effects of professional development on teachers and student achievement, representing it as a linear process where PD leads firstly to the increased teacher knowledge and skills, after changes in attitude and beliefs, then changes in instruction and finally to improved student learning. On the contrary, the results from a research by Opfer, Pedder and Lavicza (2011) show that as teacher learning is a dynamic process it is impossible to understand learning by separating features of activities from individual teachers’ orientations to learning. Nevertheless, for this study purposes none of the presented models were used because they focus mainly on measuring teachers’ change and students’ outcomes which were out of scope of this study. However, the components of PD that these authors propose make up the literature base for this study, inform the theoretical orientation and are used in the discussion of the results.
The significance of this research is both on a national and international level by adding to a body of knowledge and improving the understanding of the notion of teacher professional development. Particularly, the findings of this research add great significance to the existing knowledge by reviewing empirical studies on teachers’ learning and TPD as well as providing new insights for consideration in designing TPD activities and programmes not only for Armenia but also for all those countries and researchers that are involved in teacher education and CPD reforms.
This study employed a qualitative methodology which choice is linked to the desired outcomes and influenced by research questions (Crotty, 1998). As a research strategy it was broadly interpretivist (Bryman, 2012). In order to fully explore the research questions the data was generated from the participants experiences and opinions and what they choose to share which means the methodological approach took the form of an exploratory study drawn from the narratives of those involved. As the study looked at self-reported experiences, it was appropriate to employ qualitative survey (Fink, 2003) and semi-structured interviews (Kvale, 2007) as research methods involving 43 and 6 participants respectively. 102 teachers participated in the TPD, thus the survey was sent to all asking to anonymously complete it if they agree to take part. 43 agreed, out of which six expressed willingness to be interviewed. Despite the debates around the self-reports the available literature shows that when teacher report on concrete professional development activities survey, interviews and observations can reveal mostly similar information (Desimone, 2009). Moreover, to ensure the reliability of teachers’ self-reports the survey and interview questions were designed in a way to allow teachers’ descriptions to be linked to specific practices and activities (Opfer & Pedder, 2011). The interview dialogues were reflective in nature, in that participants were encouraged and supported to reflect on their learning experiences. Before the data collection, a piloting stage was incorporated to get feedback and to refine the survey and interview questions (Robson, 2011). Data analysis was completed using thematic analysis (Boyatzis, 1998, Braun & Clarke, 2006, Charmaz, 2006) and the resulted data was presented in detail showing relative importance of each generated theme so that the teachers’ learning experiences were fully understood. Thematic analysis offered a theoretically flexible approach to analysing qualitative data which provided a rich and detailed account of data. The use of thematic analysis gives opportunity for wide interpretation because it becomes possible to link the various concepts and opinions of participants and compare them with the data that has been gathered in different situation at different times from other or the same participants during the project.
The research findings highlight teachers’ learning experiences that are categorised as development of new modes of learning, changes in instructional practices and attitudinal changes. Putman and Borko (2000) state that the learning of teachers is intertwined with their ongoing practice, and the finding of this research supports that, as teachers should try out things, they learned to improve their teaching practice. The thematic analysis of the data also reveal the effective components of teacher professional development by confirming some features identified in the literature (Desimone, 2009, Darling-Hammond, 2017): subject focus, active learning, duration, collective participation and expanding them by offering new ones; engagement with and in research, mentoring. One of the features that exists in wide range of literature is coherence which is not identified in this research. These components are found to be critical in developing strong professional learning. Though the names of the components (e.g. features, principals) may differ but the practices they compile are coherent in a broader sense. This study explored the notion of teacher professional development and argues that there is a need for “new paradigm” for teacher professional learning and development. In order for teachers to develop their understanding of the conceptualizations of knowledge, teaching and learning short term interventions should be replaced with more consistent long-term approach that ensures powerful teachers learning which is the one that challenges, conseptualises, resonates and improves teachers’ practice (Pickering, 2007), the characteristics that the studied reform programme has had. The findings of this research study suggest also that despite the workload put on teachers, they are willing to participate in meaningful PD rather than waste their time on easily achievable but less usable practices. To conclude, it is important to design a research-based PD programmes that challenge teachers’ thinking, promote deep learning, reflective practice and teacher professionalism.
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