The CoolCat Teacher Blog turned up a research article entitled Teacher Professional Engagement and Constructivist-Compatible Computer Use by Henry Jay Becker and Margaret M. Riel. The goal of the research was to determine whether teachers who regularly participate in professional growth activities and interactions with their colleagues apart from the classroom have different teaching styles from those teachers who do the opposite, meaning they have much less interaction with their colleagues and take part in only required professional development events. More pointedly, the study analyzes whether certain teaching philosophies inspire certain teaching styles and if that has anything to do with levels of commitment that teachers pledge to their profession. Another major component of the investigation was the frequency and type of computer use applied to courses taught by the differing groups of teachers. Additionally, the study seeks to demonstrate how professionally engaged teachers are split up by subject, school and community features such as socioeconomic status and ethnicity and in their teaching and educational backgrounds.
The groups were broken down into two basic categories, private and professional practice and were subdivided into four groups labeled teacher leaders, teacher professionals, interactive teachers, and private practice teachers. Teachers were placed in categories according to three levels of professional engagement which are (1) how often they had informal, but serious interaction with other teachers at their school, (2) how often they had important professional interaction with teachers at other schools, and (3) how comprehensive were their interactions with their peers in leadership activities such as mentoring, workshop and conference presentations and teaching courses as well as writing articles for educator’s journals.
Characteristics of the four subgroups of teachers include:
- v Teacher leaders: meet the highest standard of professional engagement in all three categories
- v Teacher professionals : meet the three standards just slightly less than the previous group, but usually meet the highest standards in one or two of the other categories
- v Interactive teachers: do not meet the highest standard in all three categories, but do spend some time interacting with or leading peers in or apart from their school
- v Private practice teachers: have limited interaction with their colleagues at any school, theirs or others
Statistics for the groups are broken down as follows: Teacher Leaders (2%), Teacher Professionals (10%), Interactive Teachers (29%), and Private Practice Teachers (58%). Here is an area where I wonder if we might, upon further inspection, of the data find an unstated assumption because it is missing 1%. Granted, I am not a statistician, but I did read the 34-page report with a fair amount of thoroughness and could not find the reason for the missing percentage. Maybe, someone could enlighten me.
Data was collected through a national survey using a questionnaire. Part of the description of the data source includes the next statement, “The teachers were selected in a way that disproportionately over-sampled those who made substantial use of computers, who had students do project work, and who emphasized higher-order thinking in their teaching. However, all analyses use weights that compensate for differential sampling rates of different types of teachers so that the results can be seen as coming from a representative sample of teachers at the schools surveyed.” I wonder if this aspect of the study could be inspected for unstated assumptions.
The so-called “private practice” teachers are described as those teachers who don’t have a great deal of interaction with their colleagues and minimally participate in professional development activities. “Professional practice” teachers engage in a great deal more outside class activities. As might be expected, the study found that teachers practicing in the two different modes teach in very different ways. Reportedly, teachers in private practice use teaching methods that involve fixed curricula such as the textbook and associated materials with students primarily participating in individual activities. These students are taught to find the “right” answer rather than stimulated to ask questions that have no “right” or “wrong” answers. Those teachers who fall under the heading of professional practice create more student-centered and collaborative work activities for their students, which coincide with the constructivist model of teaching.
On the issue of computer use, the study found that its use among the most professionally engaged teachers was employed in a constructivist manner. In addition to teaching basic computer skills (the type of training provided by private practice teachers), the Teacher Leader helps students learn how to exchange information and participate in written discourse, along with creative thinking skills that ultimately lead to a productive document. These students are taken beyond the borders of their classroom with the computer because the teacher knows the value of internet technology, collaboration, and how to transmit that to the student.