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Focus On Basics

Volume 2, Issue C ::: September 1998

NCSALL'S Focus on Research: Staff Development

by Barbara Garner
"Anyone who makes decisions about staff development for teachers in adult literacy should be interested in the outcomes of this study," says Cristine Smith, principal investigator on the NCSALL staff development study. "People who want to get the most from staff development dollars, such as state literacy resource center staff, program and state ABE directors, are the primary audience. It will provide information about the contexts necessary for change and growth, and about how different models of staff development, if done well, work."

This four-year study examines how teachers change in their roles as learners, teachers, and members of the field of adult basic education (ABE) as a result of participation in one of three different models of staff development. The three roles represent widening spheres of influence. Good staff development should influence growth in all three areas.

Three Models

The three staff development approaches being examined are training/workshop, practitioner research, and mentor teacher groups. Training workshops are the most commonly used staff development method in ABE. (See page 9 for more on this model.) Practitioner research, a method growing in popularity, is when teachers choose questions to research in their classrooms. They conduct research, exploring the questions more fully or testing solutions to problems. The mentor teacher group model most closely resembles a marriage of the study circle and peer coaching. In a study circle, a group reads about and discusses a topic of interest; in peer coaching, colleagues observe each other's teaching and provide each other with structured feedback. "Each one of these three models, while different, involves acquiring knowledge, being critically reflective, and taking action," explains Smith. "The idea is to see how effective each model is, if done well, taking into account differences in teachers' backgrounds and the contexts in which they work."

The models have been designed to be accessible to teachers and affordable to states. "We may find that each model is appropriate for adult basic education," she says. "We don't know that now. We might see differences from state to state based on the way the adult basic education system and related staff development systems are administered. In Connecticut, for example, not many teachers were familiar with practitioner research, while in Massachusetts, it's widely known." The study is being conducted in Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts.

The research design involves running the three staff development models and collecting quantitative and qualitative data about the processes and results. One challenge lies in determining, if impact arises, the extent to which it is a result of the staff development process rather than some other factor. Influential factors might include characteristics of the teacher, such as years of experience or previous training, or characteristics of the program or system, such as full-time employment, paid time for staff development, etc. "By gathering quantitative demographic data from teachers and information about the contexts in which they work, we hope to be able to understand what is important for impact to occur," Smith explains.

Looking at Actions

They are looking at the actions the study participants - 120 teachers - take after participating in staff development, gathering data via questionnaires and interviews. Learners and program staff who are identified by participants as having been affected by the actions the study participants took as a result of their staff development experience may also be interviewed. "We won't be able to say too much about how staff development affects student learning," says Smith. "We will be able to say something about what it is going to take to get a staff development system going that enables staff to grow and change. We'll have models that are affordable and work within the ABE system."

For more information on this study, contact Dr. Cristine Smith at World Education in the Amherst office:
World Education
48 No. Pleasant Street, Suite 303
Amherst, MA 01002
Telephone: (413) 253-0603

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL