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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
We assume that what is known about learning applies to teachers as well as their students. Yet teacher learning is a relatively new topic of research, so there is not a great deal of data about it. Nevertheless, there are a number of rich case studies that investigate teachers’ learning over extended time periods and these cases, plus other information, provide data on learning opportunities available to teachers from the perspective of what is known about how people learn.
Much of what constitutes the typical approaches to formal teacher professional development are antithetical to what research findings indicate as promoting effective learning. The typical workshops tend to occur once, deal with decontextualized information, and often do not resonate with teachers’ perceived needs. By contrast, research evidence indicates that the most successful teacher professional development activities are those that are extended over time and encourage the development of teachers’ learning communities. These kinds of activities have been accomplished by creating opportunities for shared experiences and discourse around shared texts and data about student learning, and focus on shared decisionmaking. The learning communities of teachers also allow for differing kinds of background training and for variations in their readiness to learn. Successful programs involve teachers in learning activities that are similar to ones that they will use with their students.
Many learning opportunities for teachers fall short when viewed from the perspectives of being learner, knowledge, assessment, and community centered. But there are examples of successful programs that appear to fit these conditions quite well. Many programs for preservice teachers also fall short of providing the kinds of learning experiences suggested by new developments in the science of learning. They need well-defined goals for learning, beliefs about how people learn that are grounded in theory, and a rigorous academic curriculum that emphasizes depth of understanding.
While the flaws of preservice and inservice programs have serious consequences for how well teachers are prepared to begin teaching, they may also significantly affect teachers’ lifelong learning and development as professionals. In particular, the dissonance between what is taught in college courses and what happens in classrooms can lead to later rejection of educational research and theory by teachers. This is due, in part, to the ways in which they have been taught in the disciplines and how their colleagues teach. Although teachers are urged to use student-centered, constructivist, depth-versus-breadth approaches in their education classes, new teachers often see traditional teaching approaches in use at the college level and in the classroom next door. Beginning teachers are especially influenced by the nature of the schools in which they begin their teaching.