"We Still Need Help! Providing Modest, Blended Professional Development to Improve Elementary Science Instruction"
AERA 2018 Annual Meeting: “The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education”
April 13-17, 2018
Title: We Still Need Help! Providing Modest, Blended Professional Development to Improve Elementary Science Instruction
Authors: Cathy Ringstaff, Judith H. Sandholtz, Laura Gluck
Given resources invested in high-quality professional development, it makes sense to try to extend positive outcomes over time. Similar to regular tune-ups for automobiles, investments needed for sustainability may be minor compared to initial costs, but pay important dividends in long-term function. This project tests the proposition that modest but targeted forms of blended follow-up support may provide enough reinforcement to sustain teacher professional development outcomes related to: a) instructional time in science; b) teachers’ self-efficacy in science; and c) teachers’ use of inquiry-based instructional strategies. The focus of the blended support is to help teachers continue using what they learned in PD and to adapt to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) framework.
Desimone (2009) proposes an operational theory of how professional development leads to changes in teachers’ instructional practices. The core theory of action includes four steps: a) teachers participate in effective professional development; b) their participation increases their knowledge and skills and/or changes attitudes and beliefs; c) teachers change their instructional practices; d) changes in instructional practices promote student learning. In this model, context functions as a key mediating influence. Researchers report that participation in effective PD improves teachers’ science content knowledge, self-efficacy, and pedagogical practices, but few studies examine the persistence of changes over time.
This mixed-methods research involves 51 K-6 teachers who completed one of four PD programs designed to improve science instruction. These programs ended between 2010-2014 and have four key similarities: a) situated in small, rural school districts with high-need populations; b) included characteristics of effective professional development; c) prepared teachers to implement inquiry-based science strategies; d) used the same instruments to collect end-of-program data. Although NGSS had not been implemented during the programs, preparing teachers to use scientific inquiry is closely aligned with the NGSS framework. In the first year of follow-up support, teachers participated in a two-day, face-to-face refresher session and short after-school meetings and received electronic support via social media, email, asynchronous and synchronous webinars, and project newsletters. The primary data sources for the research include interviews, surveys, document analysis, and observations of PD experiences.
Initial findings indicate that teachers: a) accrued positive benefits from participating in the original PD programs; b) faced challenges and constraints in maintaining science instruction over time, particularly given the emphasis on mathematics and language arts; c) received widely varying levels of support for science instruction across schools and districts; and d) decreased their use of inquiry-based strategies or made significant adaptations to lessons to save instructional time. Preliminary results following the first “refresher” PD suggest that teachers: a) value face-to-face sessions; b) need more help to implement NGSS, c) want additional time to collaborate to develop lessons, and d) vary in their technological ability to use platforms that allow online collaboration.
This longitudinal research addresses a gap in the research literature and professional development practices. Increased understanding about the supports teachers need once PD ends will contribute to program design and enhance the longevity of outcomes.