The project addresses two key aspects of school based interventions in this field. Firstly, classroom interaction, that is the interaction between teachers and students, and between students, which are key in effective classroom management. Secondly, the project focuses on school organizational factors that can promote or hinder implementation of teacher student interaction. A short presentation of both aspects is provided below.
Key dimensions of classroom interaction
The way in which teachers organize classroom activities and their relationship with their students are among the most important factors in providing a supportive learning environment (Schleicher, 2011; Wubbels, 2011). Three key dimensions of classroom interaction have been consistently tied to students' growth in academic and social outcomes (e.g., Allen et al. 2013; Evertson & Weinstein, 2006; Pianta et al., 2012):
- Classroom organization (e.g., how time is organized and how problem behaviors are addressed) (Allen et al. 2013; Evertson & Weinstein, 2006; Pianta et al. 2012) has two distinct aspects – to establish and sustain an orderly environment so that students can engage in meaningful academic leaning and to enhance students' social and moral growth.
- Teachers’ emotional support, expressed through the positive facilitation of teacher-student and student-student interactions, is another key element of effective teaching practices (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Hamre & Pianta, 2005). Throughout schooling, students who are more motivated and connected to teachers and peers demonstrate positive trajectories of development in both social and academic domains (e.g. Roorda, Koomen, Spilt, & Oort, 2011).
- Students’ learning and development are contingent on the opportunities adults provide through instructional support to express existing skills and scaffold more complex skills (Davis & Miyake, 2004; Vygotsky, 1991). The development of metacognitive skills, or the awareness and understanding of one's thinking process, is critical to children's academic development (Veenman, Kok, & Blote, 2005). This literature highlights the distinction between simply learning and gaining “usable knowledge,” which is built upon learning how facts are interconnected, organized and conditioned upon one another. Teachers who use strategies that focus students on higher-order thinking skills; give consistent, timely and process-oriented feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007) and work to extend students' language skills tend to have students who make greater achievement gains (Hamre & Pianta, 2005).
The CIESL-study focuses on general instructional support because these are the interactions that can be assessed most consistently across large numbers of classrooms. Numerous studies link these types of instructional interactions to students’ academic learning (Allen et al. 2013).
Although much knowledge exists about these key dimensions of the learning environment, little is known about how teachers’ ability to provide high-quality classroom organization, emotional support and instructional support are associated with their perception of how organizational factors promote or inhibit the implementation of research-based knowledge in real-life settings. Moreover, knowledge about how the quality of these implementation processes is related to different student outcomes is scares.
Factors related to the implementation of research-based knowledge in practice ()
Implementing knowledge in practice is not a mechanical issue. This process requires an understanding of what is expected, a reflection on how new knowledge adds to or challenges one’s present ways of working and the ability to practice these new ways of working (Fullan, 2007).
Knowledge cannot be simply “transmitted” to teachers and thus improve their actions. Thus, implementation is the “bridging process” between research-based knowledge and its impact on student outcomes (Domitrovich et al. 2008). Moreover, schools are dynamic, multilevel systems with numerous factors that can influence teachers’ implementation of new knowledge (Dooris & Barry, 2013). Effective teaching is not an activity that can be performed by single teachers in isolation. Teaching also includes professional activities at the school level, such as collaboration or building professional learning communities. These activities shape the learning environment at the school level (e.g., school climate, collective culture and leadership) and thus, directly and indirectly via classroom processes, affect student learning. To improve the learning environment in schools, the implementation process should involve both the individual teacher and the organization (Stoll, 2009). The joint effort among staff that is needed requires leadership of the process of implementation and collaboration. However, the effects of leadership on student outcomes are indirect, arising through organizational processes, rather than direct (Muijs, 2011).
The need for organizational capacity
Teachers in schools lacking an organizational capacity to change are expected to experience difficulties implementing knowledge of all types (Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 2007). Ultimately, research knowledge is unlikely to have much practical utility or to gain widespread impact on teaching unless it is effectively implemented in real-life settings (Greenberg, Domitrovich, Graczyk, & Zins, 2005). Dunst and Trivette (2012) underscore the importance of teachers being actively involved in training and supported by coaches to achieve the best learning outcomes. Accordingly, one may expect that interventions including active training in mastering new teaching skills will result in the best teacher learning outcomes.
Addressing both classroom and school organization
A growing body of research in the field of school improvement indicates that collective efforts have the greatest impact on improving how schools and teachers implement change, that is, implement knowledge in practice (e.g. Bakkenes, Vermunt & Wubbels, 2010; Blossing & Ertesvåg, 2011; Stoll, 2009). Thus, in the CIESL-project, we consider both organizational and classroom aspects to obtain insight into which factors are important for teachers’ successful implementation of knowledge on classroom interaction.
There is increasing recognition that the effective implementation of interventions influences student outcome (Durlak, et al., 2011) and that problems encountered during implementation can limit the benefits that participants might derive from change processes. Vermunt (2011; 2014) argue that student learning and teacher learning are partly parallel phenomena and are linked. Furthermore, school and leadership factors have been shown to influence changes in students’ academic outcomes via their effects on teachers and teaching quality and on promoting a favorable school climate and a culture that emphasizes high expectations and academic outcomes as well as promoting affective and behavioral outcomes (Sammons, Gu, Day, & Ko, 2011).
Text: professor Sigrun K. Ertesvåg
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