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Topic: TIMSS - Changes in Instruction and Prof. Dev't
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
TIMSS - Changes in Instruction and Prof. Dev't
Posted: Jan 24, 1999 2:56 AM
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[From Policy Brief - What the Third International Mathematics and Science
Study (TIMSS) Means for Systemic School Improvement, The National Institute
on Educational Governmance, Finance, Policymaking, and Management and the
Consortium for Policy Research in Education, U.S. Department of Education,
Washington, D.C., November, 1998, pp. 18-20. For sale by the U.S.
Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop SSOP,
Washington, D.C. 20402-9328 -- the cost is $5.00. ISBM 0-16-049826-0.]

Using TIMSS to Inform Changes in Instruction and Professional Development

New approaches to instruction will require new ways of supporting,
preparing, and strengthening teachers. Holding teachers accountable to
curriculum and performance standards is not enough; we must also change the
processes that lead to classroom learning. The TIMSS research offers some
innovative ways of thinking about teaching and professional development.

The TIMSS reports can themselves be valuable tools for professional
development. Positive things can happen when groups of teachers review the
TIMSS results, test items, and videotapes, and discuss the implications for
their own practice. When teachers review test items, they gain a better
appreciation of the difference between surface-level knowledge and
high-level knowledge. When teachers see videos of students in other
classrooms solving complex problems or doing things they cannot get their
own students to do, they may think critically about their own core beliefs
and their own teaching practice. When teachers watch good teachers at work,
they pick up nuances that are hard to capture in other ways.

Collective analysis is perhaps the most valuable part of this process. When
teachers analyze the TIMSS videos as a group, they not only see vivid
examples of good instruction, but they also are inspired to discuss new
strategies, share their knowledge, and open their minds to new
perspectives. The TIMSS experience can also stimulate teachers to do their
own videotaping and critiquing. Watching oneself teach on video can be a
daunting but rewarding experience if done sensitively with a peer group.

The Japanese-style lesson study group provides some interesting ideas for
redesigning professional development in American schools. Bringing together
teachers to develop higher quality lessons could be a logical building
block for improving instructional focus and coherence in the United States
and exposing more students to advanced math and science content. As with
curriculum, the TIMSS researchers do not advocate importing the Japanese or
any other system wholesale into U.S. culture. Instead they suggest we
develop our own approaches for studying and continuously improving the
teaching process.

The First in the World Consortium, for example, has established "teacher
learner networks"-long-term structures to provide teacher support and
school improvement. These networks, which consist of teachers from across
the 20 school districts, are studying specific instructional issues,
discussing lessons, and analyzing and revising curriculum. Network members
will then share their knowledge throughout their own districts.

One key issue is use of time in the school day. TIMSS data indicate that
U.S. eighth-grade teachers teach 26 periods per week, compared with 24 in
Germany and 16 in Japan. U.S. teachers spend most of their time in the
classroom, with few extended periods to meet with colleagues to refine
lessons or study pedagogy or content. In Germany, school is finished by
early afternoon, and teachers use the rest of the day much as college
faculty do, preparing for future lessons. In Japan, time for group planning
is built into the school schedule. But Japanese classrooms have much higher
student-teacher ratios than American schools. In fact, if one multiplies
the number of periods times the number of students per period, Japanese and
American teachers actually teach about the same number of students during
the year. So there is a tradeoff, which raises the issue of whether
American teachers would accept larger class sizes in exchange for more
planning time.

To create blocks of time for planning and study, some of the First in the
World Consortium districts are considering such options as employing
permanent substitutes who would oversee classrooms while the regular
teachers engage in professional interaction; this approach would be less
expensive than hiring more teachers. Increasing professional interaction
among teachers will require administrators, as well as teachers, to think
in new ways. Administrators may have to make some unpopular policy

Other changes in professional development, teacher preparation,
certification, and induction may be needed to move instruction in the
directions suggested by TIMSS. Many teachers at all grades need more
content knowledge in math and science. And in secondary school, many more
teachers must be prepared to teach advanced math and science subjects. Some
Forum participants suggested alternative certification as a means of
bringing people with math and science expertise into the classroom, while
others cautioned that alternate pathways should be designed carefully to
provide content experts with structured opportunities to develop and
practice teaching skills.

Other policy options include setting more meaningful standards for what
teachers should know and be able to do at both the preparation and
certification stages; providing longer periods of learning and mentoring
for new teachers; and raising teacher salaries to attract the best
candidates. TIMSS researchers note that our lack of serious attention to
teacher development is closely linked to the issue of teacher
professionalism (Stigler and Hiebert, 1997b). In many other countries,
teachers enjoy higher professional status and see themselves as having
expertise they can contribute to improving their profession.

The TIMSS Forum participants agreed that implementing changes in
instruction on a larger scale will require compatible changes in content
standards, school organization, and professionalism of teachers, as well as
significant funding investments.

Stigler, J.W. and Hiebert, J. (1997b). "Understanding and Improving
Classroom Mathematics Instruction: An Overview of the TIMSS Video Study."
Phi Delta Kappan, September 1997, Volume 79, Number 1, pp. 14-21.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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