Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quality teaching

Quality teaching is one of my "scholarly" interests. My dissertation focused on quality teaching practices and I spent a fair amount of time defining “quality”

As a parent, I have had numerous conversations about finding the “best school” for my son when he starts kindergarten next fall - public v. private, transfer v. neighborhood, traditional v. Montessori, etc. Everyone wants their child to be in a high quality school.

I recently came across an interesting piece of research concerning classroom quality. I was interested in how they had defined quality, but I was also hoping to find some helpful information about identifying a good school for my son.

This research, conducted by Stuhlam & Pianta (2009) for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (NICHD ECCRN) observed and analyzed data from over 800 1st grade classrooms at over 700 different schools. The classrooms involved were varied demographically (socio-economic, ethnicity, public schools and private schools) and so were the teachers (years of experience, education, certification).

When assessing quality, each classroom was rated on both the affective nature (how supportive and positive the teacher was to a student's emotional needs) and the academic nature (the type of academic challenges and the type of feedback a teacher provided for her students). Sadly, only about 31% rated positively on both scales. 17% were rated with “overall low quality”. The rest of the classrooms were either ranked as being positive emotional climate with low academic quality or “mediocre”.

After the classrooms were rated the researchers compared the demographic data and made some interesting discoveries.

1) Students of color and those with lower family incomes were more likely to be in the lowest overall quality classrooms. Good news if you are white and middle class - not so much for everyone else.

2) Students with lower achievement scores in Pre-school were more likely to be in the lowest overall quality classrooms.

3) A teacher's education and her years of experience does not necessarily translate into a quality classroom environment.

4) Private schools do not necessarily provide higher quality classroom environments.

5) Teachers in the lowest quality classrooms were more likely to report feeling stressed, and facing significant challenges and barriers to success.

All of these findings have implications for parents and other stakeholders. But to me, the most interesting finding was that the main difference between the "high quality classrooms" and "positive emotional climate, lower academic demand classrooms" was the nature of the feedback that teachers gave to students.

6) Teachers in the high quality classrooms “frequently engaged students in conversations about their ideas, their work and their process of learning” (p. 332), while those in the other classrooms “rarely engaged students in discussions about the process of learning”.

No category existed for classrooms where the teacher engaged students academically but didn’t provide a positive emotional climate. Interesting?

In other words, you want your kid in a classroom where the teacher asks him questions and then listens to his answers and asks him more questions

It is strange to think that your socio-economic status and your ethnicity make your child more or less likely to have a quality classroom environment.

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