Teachers' Participation in Study Groups
In the third year of the Talk Science research (2011–2012), our sample of eleven teachers from Grade 5 met in study groups conducted in their respective school settings. The Talk Science program included a set of six study group meetings, starting at step 2 of the professional development pathway and ending at step 7 of the pathway. The study group meetings were designed to present teachers with opportunities to plan for their classroom teaching, and to reflect on and analyze their classroom practice and science discussions with respect to the web–based professional development resources provided to them.
Study group meetings were held in urban, suburban, and rural school settings. The suburban and rural study groups each included teachers from two schools. Further, the urban and suburban study groups had their schools’ science supervisors as designated moderators to facilitate their meetings. We provided all study groups with a study guide for each meeting, which suggested specific topics for discussion during the meeting, and an individual web–study of Talk Science professional development resources prior to the meeting. The study guide recommended generally that teachers share their observations of the resource content, and generate plans for incorporating what they learnt from the resources into their own classroom teaching.
We audio recorded teachers’ study group meetings, and transcribed the recordings subsequently. We collected audio recordings from the three study groups for the following steps of the Talk Science pathway:
- Urban Study Group: Study Group Meetings for Pathway Steps 5 and 6
- Rural Study Group: Study Group Meetings for Pathway Steps 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7
- Suburban Study Group: Study Group Meetings for Pathway steps 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7
Analysis of Teachers' Study Group Discussions
We developed a coding scheme to analyze teachers’ study group meetings to understand how teachers utilized the meetings to develop their professional practice. Specifically, we were interested in exploring what Talk Science web–based professional development resources teachers discussed during the meetings, and how they engaged with the resources. The coding scheme identified nine Talk Science professional development resources, and consisted of five categories to capture teachers’ engagement with the resources.
The nine professional development resources were:
- (i) Scientist Cases;
- (ii) Classroom Cases;
- (iii) Talking Points and Strategy cases;
- (iv) Scientist’s Essays;
- (v) Essays on Children’s Ideas;
- (vi) Reflection Tool;
- (vii) Primer;
- (viii) In Your Classroom Sheet;
- (ix) Inquiry Project curriculum.
The five categories described various ways in which teachers engaged with the web-based resources:
- (i) whether teachers talked about their observations and what they liked about a resource;
- (ii) whether teachers made connections to their own classroom experiences and events, and talked about how these were similar to or different from what was presented in the resource;
- (iii) whether teachers made plans for incorporating into their own teaching what they had learnt from a resource;
- (iv) whether teachers explicitly reported transfer of learning in terms of having utilized a resource in their own teaching;
- (v) and whether teachers showed an analytic stance by reflecting upon, raising questions, or identifying challenges and issues with their own teaching.
Our analysis shows that teachers across the three schools utilized the meetings for various purposes, and their discussions were fairly consistent with the objective of these meetings and the accompanying study guide. Teachers utilized study group time to formulate plans and generate ideas for what they would like to do in their classrooms in relation to the professional development resources, and shared their observations of and reactions to what they had noted during individual web–study of the professional development resources. Teachers’ discussions reflected their intention to transfer their learning to their classroom practice, and their careful engagement with the content presented in the resources. Teachers also made several connections to their own classroom context and present practice, debriefing events and experiences from their classroom as they talked about the resources. Teachers’ talk about their own classroom with respect to the various resources reflects their motivation in participating in the Talk Science program.
In the following sections, we present details on the findings from our analysis of teachers’ study group meetings.
Study Group Findings
Talk Science Professional Development Resources Discussed in Study Group Meetings
The study groups frequently discussed content pertaining to classroom cases and Talking Points/Strategy cases. Specifically, the rural and urban study groups focused most on classroom video cases and their classroom discussions. Across the five rural study group meetings, 47.41% of the teachers’ talk pertained to the classroom video cases and their own classroom science discussions. Similarly, across the two urban study group meetings, 57.01% of the teachers’ talk involved references to this resource. On the other hand, the suburban study group focused most on content related to the Talking Points/Strategies, and discussed productive talk, norms, talk goals and talk moves in connection with the resource. Across the five suburban study group meetings, 53.07% of teachers’ talk pertained to this resource.
A consistent finding across the three study groups was that teachers devoted less time to talking about the scientist cases, accounting for 21.7% of the talk across all meetings in the rural study group; 7.48% of the talk across all meetings in the urban study group; and 4.47% of the talk across all meetings in the suburban study group.
|Study Group||Most Frequently Discussed Professional Development Resource & Content||Percentage of Talk of the Most Frequently Discussed Professional Development Resource & Content||Percentage of Talk pertaining to Scientist Cases|
|Rural (5 meetings)||Classroom Cases and Discussions||47.41%||21.7%|
|Urban (2 meetings)||Classroom Cases and Discussions||57.01%||7.48%|
|Suburban (5 meetings)||Talking Points/Strategies, Productive Talk norms, goals, moves||53.07%||4.47%|
Teachers’ Engagement with Talk Science Professional Development Resources
Teachers commonly utilized study group time to make connections to and debrief their own classroom situation; describe their observations of and reactions to the professional development resources; and to make plans for the teaching in their classrooms.
Specifically, teachers in the suburban and urban study groups engaged most with the professional development resources by making connections to their own classroom experiences and events, debriefing how things were going in their classroom, and talking about their own present practice and their students’ participation and understanding. This type of talk accounted for 50.56% of the discussions across five suburban study group meetings, and for 67.29% of the discussions across two urban study group meetings. In comparison, teachers in these two study groups spent less time generating ideas for practice and formulating plans for action in their classrooms, accounting for 18.72% of the talk in the suburban study group meetings, and for 7.48% of the talk in the urban study group meetings.
These findings may be understood better in light of the fact that the study groups had designated moderators who prompted teachers to debrief their classroom events, talk about what was working well or not well for them, and make connections to their own classroom practice and context. Although the moderators followed the study guide to an extent by enabling teachers to share their observations of and reactions to the professional development resources and to generate plans for their classroom, they adopted a flexible approach in facilitating the meetings by keeping the discussions open and allowing teachers to report their existing classroom situation and experiences in relation to the resources.
At the rural study group meetings, however, teachers mainly described their observations of and reactions towards the professional development resources, accounting for 36.79% of the talk across five meetings; and generated ideas for what they may want to incorporate in their classrooms, accounting for 36.08% of the talk across the meetings. Compared to the time devoted to both describing and planning, the teachers spent less time talking about and debriefing their present classroom experiences and situation, accounting for 29.48% of the talk across the meetings.
These findings from the rural study group meetings may be understood better in light of the fact that the rural study group did not have a designated moderator, and the teachers largely followed the study guide to regulate their meetings. The study guide generally emphasized sharing observations of the Talk Science professional development resource recommended for discussion during the study group meeting, and making plans for incorporating the resources into classroom practice.
|Study Group||Most Frequent Nature of Engagement||Percentage of Talk with the Most Frequent Nature of Engagement||Percentage of Talk reflecting PLAN|
|Suburban (5 meetings)||Making connections between own classroom and content of professional development resources||50.56%||18.72%|
|Urban (2 meetings)||Making connections between own classroom and content of professional development resources||67.29%||7.48%|
|Rural (5 meetings)||Sharing observations of and reactions to the content of professional development resources||36.79%||36.08%|
Transfer of Learning and Analytic Stance
The findings suggest that teachers made attempts to transfer their learning to the classroom, and identified changes taking place in their classroom culture. Across the three study groups, teachers devoted some time to report their experiences with using specific professional development resources to inform their classroom practice. This type of talk accounted for 9.2% of the talk at the rural study group meetings, less than 1% of the talk at the urban study group meetings, and 10.89% of the talk at the suburban study group meetings.
There were also few instances of teachers adopting an analytic stance and generating issues and questions about their teaching. Similar to reporting transfer to the classroom, this type of talk was less common and accounted for 2.12% of the talk at the rural study group meetings, 1.87% of the talk at the urban study group meetings, and 4.47% of the talk at the suburban study group meetings. These findings indicate that teachers devoted less time during study group meetings to reflect critically on their own practice as they attempted to incorporate new ideas and strategies into their classroom teaching.
These findings may be understood in light of the structure of the study guide. The guide generally recommended that teachers describe their observations of the content in the professional development resource, and formulate plans for incorporating the resource content into their classroom teaching. The study guide seldom prompted teachers explicitly to reflect on their experiences with using specific PD resources, and to discuss with colleagues the challenges and issues they experienced in their teaching. In following the study guide, the study groups may have thus utilized the meetings less to engage with the resources in this manner.
|Study Group||Percentage of Talk reflecting
|Percentage of Talk reflecting
|Rural (5 meetings)||9.2%||2.12%|
|Urban (2 meetings)||< 1%||1.87%|
|Suburban (5 meetings)||10.89%||4.47%|
The urban and suburban study groups had designated moderators to facilitate their study group meetings. Our analysis suggests that the specifics of which Talk Science professional development resources were discussed, and how teachers talked about the resources during study group meetings may be understood better in light of the moderators’ facilitation of the meetings. Indeed, the moderators’ facilitation may be an important factor shaping teachers’ discussions during study group meetings.
The moderators followed the study group guide to an extent in structuring the discussions by prompting teachers to share their observations of and reactions to the resource content, and to generate plans for their classrooms. But the moderators also adopted a flexible approach to allow teachers to make considerable connections to and debrief their present classroom context and practice in relation to the resources. The urban and suburban study group meetings are consistent with these patterns in the moderators’ facilitation. Across two meetings, the urban study group devoted 67.29% of the talk to discussing their classroom context; 7.48% of the talk to making plans and generating ideas for the classroom; and 26.17% of the talk to sharing observations of and reactions to the resource content. Across five meetings, the suburban study group devoted 50.56% of the talk to making connections to classroom context; and 18.72% of the talk each for describing observations and reactions towards the resources, and planning for their teaching in the classroom.
There were also key differences between the facilitation patterns of the two moderators. Specifically, in the suburban study group meetings, besides eliciting teachers’ connections to their present practice and classroom events, the moderator encouraged teachers to describe their observations of and reactions to the content in the resources, and prompted them to formulate plans of action for their classroom practice. The moderator also encouraged teachers to focus on the issue of productive talk in their classrooms, prompting them to reflect on their experiences with using productive talk moves, and making plans for fostering productive talk in their classrooms.
On the other hand, the urban study group moderator encouraged teachers to talk about mainly their present classroom situation and debrief how things were going for them, but did not focus teachers’ discussions specifically on their experiences with productive talk in their classrooms, nor on how they had been utilizing particular Talk Science web resources like scientist cases, classroom cases, and Talking Point/Strategy cases. The moderator did not prompt teachers to reflect specifically on how productive talk goals and strategies were going for them, nor to formulate plans for fostering productive talk with their students.
These differences in the moderators’ facilitation may shed light on the findings from the urban and suburban study groups. Across the two meetings in the urban study group, there was a predominance of teachers’ connections to and debriefing of their own classroom events and practice (67.29%); no mention of the Talking Point/Strategy resource; less focus overall on planning and generating ideas for classroom practice (7.48%); and on reporting experiences with incorporating specific PD resources into classroom practice (< 1%).
In contrast, in the suburban study group, teachers devoted 18.72% of the talk to formulating plans and generating ideas for incorporating the resource content into their classroom practice to support students; and 10.89% of the talk to describing their experiences with using specific resources and their attempts at supporting their students. Furthermore, talk pertaining to Talking Point/Strategy cases accounted for the majority of the references to PD resources in the suburban study group (53.07%).
Alignment of Study Guide Recommendations with Teachers’ Classroom Needs
Our analysis points to an important factor that may shape the nature of teachers’ study group discussions: the extent to which the topics recommended for discussion on the study guide during the various steps in the Talk Science professional development pathway are aligned with the teachers’ implementation of the Inquiry Project curriculum and their specific classroom needs. The study group meetings revealed variations in teachers’ pace of implementing the curriculum. When teachers meet in their study groups, they are often at different points in doing the curriculum lessons in their classrooms. As a result, the topics recommended for discussion for a particular study group meeting are not always synchronized with the teachers’ implementation of the curriculum. Therefore, although the steps in the professional development pathway present resources to the teachers in a particular order aligned with the curriculum, teachers are likely to make implicit choices regarding the topics and foci of their meetings on the basis of their actual implementation of the lessons, and on the basis of what is relevant to the teaching and learning in their classrooms at particular points in time. As a result, teachers may not always discuss some resources or discuss them in a manner recommended by the study guide for a particular meeting if the content of the resources is not relevant to what they do at the time.
The study group meetings suggest that the alignment of the recommended topics on the study guide with the teachers’ classroom context and curriculum implementation may be important for the specifics of the resources that are discussed in study group meetings during particular steps of the pathway. For example, in Step 5 of the pathway, some of the topics recommended for discussion in the study group meeting included identifying the talk moves in the Talking Point/Strategy case on Listening Carefully, and formulating plans for using talk moves to promote active listening in their own classrooms; and reviewing the scientist case and lesson content pertaining to Section 2 of the curriculum to identify the main science ideas to be emphasized during classroom discussions. In the rural study group meeting for Step 5, two of the three teachers in this group had already completed lessons from curriculum section 2. During the meeting, the teachers made no reference to the curriculum, nor did they talk about the main science ideas they gathered from the lessons and the scientist case corresponding to the curriculum section. The lack of reference to the main science ideas from the curriculum and scientist case may have been due to the fact that two of teachers had already completed the curriculum section and therefore, reviewing the science ideas may have been less relevant to their classroom needs at the time. Furthermore, although the strategy case on Listening Carefully was recommended for discussion, the teachers acknowledged that their students struggled with using evidence during science discussions. Therefore, consistent with their students’ needs, the teachers identified deepening students’ reasoning and asking them for evidence as the goal of productive talk they wanted to emphasize in their classrooms.
Similarly, across the urban and suburban study groups, a few teachers had already finished doing at least part of this curriculum section, whereas others had not yet started the section when the study group meetings for Step 5 took place. During the meetings in these two study groups, the teachers did not discuss the main science ideas from the scientist case or from the curriculum content to be supported during classroom discussions.