by Denise Walston
May / June 2001
In the decade of mathematics reform precipitated by the collective NCTM Standards, the role of the teacher in improving students' achievement has become even more apparent. Studies suggest that teacher quality is a more powerful factor in students' learning than socioeconomic factors and that superior teaching can overcome the serious social disadvantages faced by some students (Darling-Hammond 2000; Reeves 2000).
What characteristics of effective professional development programs can improve the teaching of mathematics? The professional development program must be rooted in best practices, in relation to how students learn and to the teaching process. If we expect teachers to create powerful mathematics environments by being challenging, authentic, and collaborative, then the professional development in which teachers engage must have similar characteristics. Teachers must be supported with teacher-centered, curriculum-specific, collaborative, and long-term professional development. The focus must remain on the teaching process rather than on the teacher. During the past ten years, the Teachers Teaching with Technology (T^3) Institutes have demonstrated each of these characteristics while serving as a model for improving students' performance by changing teachers' beliefs and knowledge.
In 1992, I attended my first T^3 Institute, which was facilitated by master teachers from Norfolk Public Schools. I had previously used a graphing calculator, but after spending a week in this institute, I realized just how limited my understanding of the power of the technology was. Although I understood keystrokes, I did not yet understand that using the calculator compelled me to come to grips with the mathematics that I taught and how I taught it. The institute also forced me to rethink how I assessed my students' understanding of mathematics. In the institute, I learned to create and modify lessons that could be critiqued and used by my peers. In addition, the institute emphasized the process through which I could improve the delivery of mathematics by using technology. By focusing on the teaching process, the institute forced me to increase my knowledge of mathematics.
The institute not only addressed national standards but was customized to address specific state standards. Thus, it was specific to the instructional needs of the participants. In general, a major feature of T^3 is its collaborative nature. Groups of teachers work together to create lesson plans and presentations that use technology as a tool. The collaboration does not end at the conclusion of the institute. Teachers know that they have partners throughout the nation; these partners can be reached by telephone or e-mail to share successful practices and to supply clarification when a lesson is not effective.
Throughout all these institutes, master teachers (the T^3 instructors) share their expertise, practical ideas, and specific strategies that can be and have been implemented in the classroom. Learning from active classroom teachers who have implemented, molded, and refined the effective teaching practices in their classrooms empowers the participants to modify the scripts used during instruction. Thus, the emphasis is on developing effective tools for teaching mathematics. Participants in the T^3 Institutes learn mathematics in a manner that is consistent with the way that mathematics should be taught and that is unlike the way that most participants learned mathematics in their teacher-preparation programs.
As teachers, we need to remember our own experiences and frustrations as learners, as well as link prior knowledge with newly constructed knowledge. Professional knowledge constructed by teachers, knowledge that is nurtured and supported by peers, offers the best opportunity for qualitative changes in mathematics teaching. During the T^3 Institutes, teachers must reflect on their own practice as they discuss specific content and the process by which the content will be addressed. Through these experiences, teachers are afforded the opportunities to translate their knowledge of mathematics into viable teaching strategies.
Daniels, Harvey, Marilyn Bizar, and Steven Zemelman. Rethinking High School. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2001.
Darling-Hammond, Linda. "Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Review of State Policy Evidence." Education Policy Analysis Archives 8 (January 2000). Available at epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v8n1. World Wide Web.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics, Reston, Va.: NCTM, 1991.
———. Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, Va.: NCTM, 2000.
Reeves, Douglas B. Accountability in Action: A Blueprint for Learning Organizations. Denver, Colo.: Advanced Learning Press, 2000.
|Denise Walston is the senior coordinator for mathematics, grades K–12, in Norfolk Public Schools, Norfolk, Virginia. She is interested in teaching for understanding and in helping teachers empower students to understand and appreciate mathematics. For the last few years, she has worked on designing rubrics and on performance assessment.