A successful professional development program in history: What matters?
Abstract: This study focuses on a successful Professional Development Program for improving students’ understanding of historical time, consisting of a training and the implementation of Timewise, a teaching approach in which timelines were used consistently. The PDP was carried out with 16 elementary school teachers in grades 2 (ages 7-8) and 5 (ages 10-11). Results indicate that the highest student learning gains were reached by teachers who successfully implemented the instructional behavior aimed at, while using educative curriculum materials. The clear structure of Timewise and the user-friendly materials, which included room for autonomy, supported teachers in their learning and teaching.
Summary (5 min read)
- In the past decades multiple reviews discussed professional development programs (PDPs) of teachers, although PDPs in the field of social studies are rare.
- In the PDP in this study teachers adopted a teaching approach, named Timewise, in which they consistently made connections between historical events and the timeline, while using stories, pictures and videos to develop their students' understanding of time.
- Linear mixed model analyses showed that students in grade 2 as well as grade 5 scored significantly higher on the post-test compared to the pre-test and compared to the control condition.
2. Theoretical background
- Many studies identify characteristics for PDPs that could be effective in improving teaching practices.
- Secondly, the “theory of instruction” relates to the relationship between the content of the intervention and student learning.
- The theory of improvement is represented in Desimone's (2009) much cited framework for the design, implementation and evaluation of PDP's, inwhich relations are shown between design features of the PDP, increased knowledge and skills, changes of teachers' attitudes, beliefs, and instruction, and improved student learning (Fig. 1).
- The arrows in Fig. 1 show that there are interactive, non-recursive relations between the different components (Desimone, 2009).
- The authors will finish this section with a description of the PDP in the present study (Fig. 1).
2.1. Design features of professional development programs
- In studies on PDPs various design features are mentioned that could be effective for teacher learning.
- In their selfdetermination theory Ryan and Deci (2000) and Deci and Ryan (2008) also stress the need for autonomy, next to competence and relatedness, to enhance motivation and effective performance.
- In addition, some review studies put forward that some of the more effective programs appeared to be directly carried out by authors or their affiliated researchers, who were familiar with the work of teachers (Kennedy, 2016; Yoon, Duncan, Wen-Yu-Lee, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007; Guskey & Yoon, 2009).
- PDPs need to facilitate teachers in learning how to use curriculum materials with regard to content, aims, approaches and underlying ideas, whereasmaterials should be carefully framed with regard to the representations of content and pedagogy (Remillard, 2005).
2.2. Teachers' knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs, about the understanding of historical time
- The importance of content knowledge for teachers' classroom practice is confirmed in multiple reviews and often referred to as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).
- Therefore, teachers will need to gain insights into students' development in learning about understanding of historical time.
- The use of the vocabulary of historical time develops from the use of relative time phrases such as “long ago” to the use of dates and names of historical periods.
- The next paragraph will elaborate on the change in teachers' instructional behavior.
2.3. Change in instruction - the instructional behavior for the teaching of historical time aimed at
- The intention of a PDP is that teachers use their new knowledge, skills and beliefs to improve their instructional practices.
- This should result in improved student learning.
- A small body of empirical studies confirms the assertion that timelines are effective (Hodkinson, 2003; Masterman & Rogers, 2002).
- Some studies have shown that teaching with pictures and stories is helpful to stimulate students' use of the vocabulary of time and their reasoning about chronological sequence and characteristic features of historical eras (De Groot-Reuvekamp et al., 2014; Barton & Levstik, 1996; Harnett, 1993; Hoge & Foster, 2002; Hoodless, 2002; Levstik & Pappas, 1987).
- For most teachers in the lower grades the teaching about historical time means that they have to develop the instructional behavior aimed at, since history in these grades usually does not feature in the curriculum.
2.4. The PDP in the present study
- The PDP in the present study consisted of two 4-h training sessions, followed by a curriculum intervention with Timewise.
- All materials were practical and user-friendly, and needed little time for preparation.
- The aim of the introductory lessons was to introduce and clarify the names and characteristics of the eras on the timeline, for which PowerPoint presentations for instruction were included.
- Teachers could select appropriate teaching methods and learning activities linked to the objectives.
4. Design and method
- The present study further explores the findings from an earlier effect study, which showed a medium effect of the Timewise approach of .44 for grade 2, and .54 for grade 5 on students' scores in the post-test, compared to the pre-test on the understanding of historical time (De Groot-Reuvekamp, Ros, & Van Boxtel, 2017).
- This study offered no insights into how or why learning gains differed between teachers, nor how the PDP contributed to the success of Timewise.
- A mixed-method design was applied in which qualitative methods are complementary to quantitative methods.
- Fig. 2 presents an overview of the instruments used, during different phases of the PDP.
- After the training they answered questionnaire 2 on the support of educative curriculum materials.
- Between February and July 2015 eight teachers from grade 2 (ages 7e8) and eight teachers from grade 5 (ages 10e11) participated in this study.
- The teachers had between 2 and 40 years of experience (M¼ 17.13, SD¼ 14.44); fourteen were female and two male (Table 1), which corresponds to the situation in the Netherlands where the majority of the teachers is female.
- Five teachers (Jill, Olivia, Mary, Alice and Mabel) wanted to learn specifically how they could teach history in their grade-2 classes, and two grade-5 teachers (Vanessa and Rachel) participated because they were not satisfied with their current program for history.
- The grade-2 teachers added the Timewise approach to their curriculum, since they did not teach history in their regular curriculum.
- Vanessa did not use her textbook anymore, because it had become outdated.
- Questionnaire 1 contained three positive statements and one negative statement on beliefs on the teaching of historical timewith a four-point scale, also known as Questionnaires.
- In questionnaire 3 teachers could give their opinion on how the materials of the PDP were supportive in the implementation of Timewise.
- The authors observed all teachers for 30e45min for their instructional behavior during one of the Timewise lessons.
- The interviews were audiotaped with the teachers' consent and there were member checks on the transcriptions.
- The authors measured students' learning gains through a pre-/post-test design (sub-question 4).
4.3. Data analysis
- Because of the small number of participating teachers, it was not possible to investigate whether differences between teachers were statistically significant.
- The authors coded the interviews in Atlas-ti, with codes for the educative curriculum materials and the four supportive methods (Kennedy, 2016).
- With respect to the observations the first researcher rated sixteen observations, and subsequently a teacher trainer from another faculty for teacher training rated four videos, using the same protocol.
- For each objective the percentages of teachers who repeatedly focused on the objectivewas calculated, as well as the percentages of teachers who actively engaged their students.
- To answer sub-question 4 (learning gains in grade 2 and 5) the authors made an overview per teacher of the mean student learning gains, resulting from the pre- and the post-test.
5.1. How did teachers perceive the support of educative curriculum materials provided by the PDP?
- Immediately after completing the training, all teachers answered to closed questions in questionnaire 2 that they had received sufficient support to implement Timewise in their classrooms, and that they had gained sufficient insights into the Timewise approach.
- Teachers of both grade 2 and 5 were very satisfied with the lesson formats in the instructionmanual and on the website, as well as with the theoretical background knowledge and the materials to stimulate students' learning.
- Afterwards she thought that this could have been confusing for the students.
- Bought the story book or borrowed it from the library to read the stories at home.
5.2. Which changes in their beliefs and attitudes, and gains in knowledge and skills did teachers perceive?
- At the start of and one year after the PDP the teachers responded on four statements about beliefs about students' development in and the teaching of the understanding of historical time.
- The first statement was based on older theories and therefore negative.
- Grade-5 teachers mentioned similar experiences, as George explained: “I became convinced that it works well to start with the classroom timeline”, and Rose remarked: “The students reacted very positively, they now have a better understanding of the eras and of dates and centuries”.
- Table 4 shows that before the PDP teachers felt not to a little competent in their knowledge of and skills for the teaching of historical time, whereas since the PDP all teachers felt competent.
- This had never been explained to me very inspiringly.
5.3. To what extent did teachers implement the instructional behavior aimed at?
- The observations showed that, although the authors offered the teachers the opportunity to select teaching methods and learning activities, they used the educative curriculum materials according to the suggestions in the training.
- Most teachers started a lesson with a short review of the previous lesson.
- Furthermore, all teachers used the classroom timeline: often at the start, like Claire, who started and ended her lesson about castles in the Middle Ages with referring to the timeline and having the students attach a picture of a castle to the classroom timeline.
- The observations were confirmed in the logs and the scores on teachers paying attention to the objectives and actively engaging students during the observed lessons.
- Only Claire and Mary reported lower percentages in their logs.
5.4. Which student learning gains were realized by the teachers?
- Table 7 shows the mean student learning gains per teacher, as calculated from the differences between the pre- and post-test on the understanding of historical time.
- Claire and Olivia also reported in their logs (Table 6) that they had paid less attention to the objectives, whereas Jill reported having paid 100% attention to the objectives.
- The two teachers with the highest student learning gains in grade 5 (Chantal and Maureen) showed the highest results on their instructional behavior in the observation (Table 6).
- In grade 2, teachers did not give extra history lessons in addition to Timewise lessons.
- Two grade-5 teachers (George and Emmy) spent more time on history lessons (85min in total) than most other teachers, but their learning gains were below average.
- The present study examined which components of a PDP on improving elementary school students' understanding of historical time were relevant for the success of the PDP, which resulted in a significant improvement of learning outcomes of students in grade 2 and 5.
- It seems that teachers' motivation to work with the curriculum materials played an important role in the success of this PDP.
- With regard to the positive effects of Timewise, it could be argued that learning gains might have improved because of the extra time teachers spent on history, since six grade-5 teachers gave extra history lessons, which were part of their regular textbook program (Table 7), in addition to the Timewise lessons.
- In their review studies Yoon et al. (2007) and Kennedy (2016) found this as a positive effect for successful PDPs.
- A drawback of the small sample was that it was difficult to apply statistical analyses to investigate whether differences between teachers' behavior and students' learning outcomes were statistically significant.
- Whereas most studies on PDPs focus on changes in teachers' behavior, the present study included all components of Desimone's (2009) framework for PDPs, and it confirmed that the interplay between design features, changes of teachers' attitudes and beliefs, increased knowledge and skills and change in instruction leads to improved student learning outcomes.
- This structure, next to the possibility of always being able to consult the materials for background information, may have supported teachers' feeling of competence.
- Finally, the implementation of Timewise offered teachers experiences that appeared to have changed their beliefs and attitudes about students being able to learn about historical time.
- Summarizing, recommendations from the PDP in the present study would be that it is important to provide teachers with attractive and user-friendly educative curriculum materials and clear prescriptions and strategies, within a structure that supports their feelings of competence and gives room for autonomy.
- This research was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, grant number 023.001.084.
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Cites background from "A successful professional developme..."
...De Groot-Reuvekamp et al. (2018) targeted exploring an effective PD program that improved students’ grasp of historical time....
"A successful professional developme..." refers background in this paper
...Although definitions of PCK diverge, they generally include knowledge of subject matter, knowledge of how to teach the subject, and knowledge of student learning processes regarding a specific subject (Shulman,1986; Van Driel, Verloop,& De Vos, 1998; Van Veen et al., 2012)....
"A successful professional developme..." refers background in this paper
...…paragraph we mentioned that increasing teachers' knowledge and skills and changing their attitudes and beliefs are important factors in PDPs (Borko, 2004; Cherrington & Thornton, 2013; Desimone, 2009; Knapp, 2003; Opfer & Pedder, 2011; Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2007; Van Veen et…...
...In the previous paragraph we mentioned that increasing teachers' knowledge and skills and changing their attitudes and beliefs are important factors in PDPs (Borko, 2004; Cherrington & Thornton, 2013; Desimone, 2009; Knapp, 2003; Opfer & Pedder, 2011; Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2007; Van Veen et al., 2012)....
..., 2012), several authors emphasize the extent to which teachers have opportunities to integrate a new methodology into their daily work, and the need for extensive practice, with possibilities for feedback to identify success and failure (Blank et al., 2008; Borko, 2004; Knapp, 2003; Opfer & Pedder, 2011; Osborne, Simon, Christodoulou, Howell-Richardson, & Richardson, 2013; Thurlings, Evers, & Vermeulen, 2015; Van Veen et al., 2012)....
...…into their daily work, and the need for extensive practice, with possibilities for feedback to identify success and failure (Blank et al., 2008; Borko, 2004; Knapp, 2003; Opfer & Pedder, 2011; Osborne, Simon, Christodoulou, Howell-Richardson, & Richardson, 2013; Thurlings, Evers, & Vermeulen,…...
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