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filename: T. Ed design memo #2

date: 11/30/00


Toward a Training Model to Improve Teaching Performance


M. D. Gall

University of Oregon


The purpose of the proposed model is to prepare teachers to exhibit complex teaching performances. In other words, the goal is to help teachers acquire procedural knowledge ("how to teach"), not declarative knowledge ("information about teaching").

The model focuses on specific performance capabilities. The capability might involve a relatively limited domain (e.g., giving effective directions to students) or relatively large (e.g., using cooperative learning in an instructional unit).

It is important to analyze the characteristics of teaching performance capabilities, as the characteristics influence the design of the training model.

One of these characteristics is that a performance exists in a particular situation; the nature of the performance will vary from situation to situation. For example, the performance of giving directions to Ms. Jones' fourth-grade class on the first day of a new unit near the beginning of a new unit will be different from the performance of giving directions to Mr. Smith's ninth-grade class near the end of a unit late in the school year.

The most important characteristic of a performance situation is that, in essence, it involves a problem to be solved. This view is consistent with Schon's analysis of professional practice: "The situations of practice are…problematic situations characterized by uncertainty, disorder, and indeterminacy" (pp. 15-16) and by "conflicts of values, goals, purposes, and interests" (p. 17).

If we accept the view of teaching as a set of problems to be solved, the essential task of teacher education is to develop teachers' problem-solving skills. Research and theory on problem-solving, then, is highly relevant to the development of a training model for teaching-performance capabilities. I will not review this literature here, but will highlight a few findings that help us sketch a first draft of the training model.

In their discussion of problem solving, Gagné, Briggs, and Wager (Principles of Instructional Design, 3rd ed.) state that the development of problem-solving skills is facilitated when "[T]he learner is confronted with an actual or a represented problem situation not previously encountered. Cues in the form of verbal communication are at a minimum or may be absent entirely. In general, learners engage in discovery learnings; they invent solutions that embody a higher order rule." (p. 67). The authors further note that, "In solving a problem, the learner must retrieve relevant subordinate rules and relevant information. It is assumed that these capabilities have been previously learned" (p. 67).

This analysis of problem solving by Gagné and his colleagues suggest that the training model should have these features:

o Teachers need to be presented with many different performance situations (i.e., problems to be solved), not just the limited set of performance situations to which they are exposed in their field experiences. Whenever possible, the performance situations should be authentic (e.g., in real time in real classrooms) rather than simulations or textbook cases).

o Teachers should have the opportunity to develop their own solutions to the problems (what Gagné et al refer to as "discovery learnings"). Discovery learning can be thought of as the "do" part of the "do-learn-do" training model derived from situated learning theory.

o As teachers solve the problems posed by different performance situations, they should be learning relevant declarative knowledge (what Gagné et al call "subordinate rules and relevant information"). For example, teachers might learn about information processing theory and then experiment to see whether that theoretical knowledge is useful in solving the problems posed by particular performance situations.

o Teachers need to receive feedback on their solutions from experts and also observe how experts themselves would go about solving the problems posed by a particular performance situation.

A training model for teaching performance capabilities will need to take into account the fact that a problem and its solution involves several stepss:

o A recognition that a performance situation is problematic. For example, if a teacher does not recognize that giving directions to children can have negative consequences if done poorly, the teacher will not view the situation as problematic.

o Planning of a solution to the problem. Planning a solution is a cognitive act, and a teacher might consider several possible solutions before deciding on one to implement. Some problems allow more time for solution-planning than others. For example, teachers typically have more time to plan an instructional unit than to plan how to handle a student who starts misbehaving in class.

o Implementing a solution to the problem. A teacher might do a thought experiment to consider how a solution might play out in practice. However, the authentic performance situations we have in mind are those that require the teacher to take action.

o Assessing the effectiveness of the solution once it has been put into action. The teacher needs to assess whether the solution worked and whether a different, better solution needs to be planned and put into action.

This analysis of steps in problem-solving provides a different perspective on teaching and teacher education than is found in other models. For example, the notion of reflective practice, as explicated by Schon and others, is rather vague and not tied to any particular body of theory and research. Other prominent models, such as Madeline Hunter's model of the teacher as decision-maker and Joyce-Showers' coaching model of teacher education, do not acknowledge the problematic nature of teaching. Some models of clinical supervision acknowledge the problematic nature of teaching, but they rely more on the quality of the supervisory relationship to improve teacher performance than on an explicit problem-solving process.

The preceding analysis suggests the following training model. I will use "giving clear directions" as the performance capability to be developed. The model has two phases: learning vicariously by solving another teacher's problem-situation; and learning directly by solving one's own problem-situation. There are six steps in each phase; the steps need not always occur sequentially.


First Phase

1. Expose teachers to a performance situation (e.g., a videotape of an actual teacher with an actual class) that requires the giving of directions to students for a task, such as seatwork. An expert discusses with the teachers the problematic nature of the situation (e.g., if clear and complete directions are not given, students might get off task and experience reduced academic engaged time or start misbehaving).

2. The expert has teachers develop a solution to the task (i.e., how they would give directions for the task). Listen to the videotaped teacher as he explains how he approaches the problem of giving directions.

3. The teachers observe how the videotaped teacher puts his plan into action and how students react to the directions.

4. The expert debriefs with the teachers the effectiveness of the videotaped teachers' solution and their own solutions (developed in step 2 above).

5. The teachers study research, theory, and best practice relating to direction-giving, and reflect on the implications of this literature for their own practice and the performance situations they are confronting in their field experiences.

6. Repeat steps 1-5 until teachers develop an understanding of the range of problem-situations requiring direction-giving that a teacher might encounter, can generate one or more effective solutions, and can collect and assess data on the effectiveness of their solutions.


Second Phase

This phase is similar in all respects to the first phase, except that teachers do them in their own classrooms.

This training model is impractical in terms of the resource allocations and delivery systems (university coursework and field experience) currently found in teacher education programs. However, it might serve as a useful heuristic as an ideal that teacher educators might approach through successive approximations as resources become available for program redesign.

I have been observing experienced teachers in classrooms for several weeks. In this section, I describe some of my observations in relation to the training model described above.

o I observed a science lesson that had unclear objectives, too many concepts to be taught, unclear seatwork directions, and student confusion during seatwork. If we think of lesson design as a problem to be solved, the teacher did not develop or implement good solutions. If the training model were in place, an expert would review with the teacher the planning process that she used, the actual lesson (captured on videotape or by script-taping), and the effectiveness of the lesson in terms of student learning. With the guidance of an expert, the teacher ideally would replan and reteach the same lesson; or, more realistically the teacher would plan and teach a lesson that had similar objectives.

o I talked with a faculty member who was disturbed about the quality of lesson plans created by preservice teachers in a course subsequent to the course that the faculty member had taught. If the training model were in place, this faculty member would have gone through the steps of phase 1 until the preservice teachers had achieved the criterion level of mastery of the performance capabilities specified by the faculty member. When the preservice teachers moved into a field experience, their supervisors would be cognizant of the performance and would provide expert guidance in helping the preservice teachers practice the performance capabilities in their own classroom (phase 2 of the training model).

o Experienced teachers appear trapped by a curriculum that is broad rather than deep, focused on facts rather than on concepts, activity-driven rather than outcome-driven, resource-poor (primarily textbooks, overheads, and worksheets) rather than resource-rich (e.g., primary source materials, videos, and computer technology). Furthermore, assessment tends to be focused on superficial, vague summative evaluation rather than on rich, detailed formative evaluation. In other words, classroom curriculum and assessment constitute a huge problem space for teachers. They are provided virtually no resources (experts, time, money, training) for generating, implementing, and assessing solutions that address this problem space in a meaningful way. Needless to say, current College courses and licensure/degree requirements are, for the most part, irrelevant to this problem space. The training model described above might be our best chance for getting inside this problem space and helping teachers deal with it.

o I had several opportunities to work with another faculty member to help individual teachers incorporate concept-based curriculum into instructional units that they planned to teach. The faculty member, teacher, and I shared the same problem space and thus were able to generate meaningful, feasible solutions. This process reflects, to an extent, the first two steps of the training model described above. The effectiveness of this process needs to be empirically tested, but it seems to me more promising than traditional university courses for teachers.