[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 decisions.
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) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org