What is classroom impact of teacher study groups?

teachersTeacher Study Groups (TSGs) are intellectually stimulating for teachers, but how much do they actually change teacher practice and knowledge? Do they produce any results in the classroom or affect teachers’ views of professional development?

A study of 1st grade teachers in Reading First Schools in 3 urban districts found significant effects on teacher knowledge and practice from participation in teachers study groups on instruction of reading and vocabulary, reports the Instructional Research Group (IRG) in Los Alamitos, CA. Participating in the study were 81 1st-grade teachers, 468 students and 19 Reading First schools in California, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The impact was most significant in the area of vocabulary instruction. Teachers who participated in the TSG on the instruction of comprehension and vocabulary showed significant improvement based on classroom observation scales. They also scored significantly higher in the Content Knowledge for Teaching Reading (CKTR) assessment compared to controls for vocabulary. What was there greater impact on vocabulary instruction compared to comprehension instruction?

“One reason for this may be that teachers could be somewhat better at teaching vocabulary in an interactive fashion than comprehension,” the researchers write. Participants scored better in comprehension but it did not reach the level of significance. In the assessment, teachers were presented with classroom scenarios or instructional examples and asked questions relating to instructional decisions based on research-supported practices.

Children with teachers who participated in the TSGs performed better on oral vocabulary. They showed improvement in reading vocabulary, word identification and oral reading fluency, but these were not statistically significant. The limited reading proficiency of students may explain why they performed better in oral vocabulary but not reading vocabulary.

“The goal of the TSG was to help teachers begin to think about and ultimately to use research-based instructional strategies in their classrooms by integrating the TSG content into their existing curriculum,” the researchers write. “Therefore, the purpose of the TSG was not to change a district’s core curriculum, but to enhance implementation of that curriculum by using research based strategies that may not be included in the teacher’s guide to the reading series.”

The TSGs met twice a month from October to mid-June for a total of 16 sessions. The first 8 sessions focused on vocabulary instruction and the remainder of the sessions focused on reading comprehension. Each session lasted approximately 75 minutes and was conducted either before or after school. During each session, facilitators followed a 4-step process:

  1. Debrief previous application of the research. Teachers reported on their implementation of the lesson they’d planned collaboratively at the previous session.
  2. Walk through the research. The group discussed critical instructional concepts from reading material assigned at the end of the previous session.
  3. Walk through the lesson. Participants reviewed a lesson from the core reading program’s teacher guide that they would be teaching soon and determined how the lesson did or did not reflect the research.
  4. Collaborative planning. Teachers worked together to plan a lesson that incorporated the targeted research principle.

“In summary, this study demonstrates a good deal of promise for professional develoment models that (a) are focused on findings from scientific research, (2) are applied to the existing curriculum in a given school, and (3) facilitate collegial interactions with members of grade level teams, such as the TSG,” the researchers write.

An Investigation of the Impact of the Teacher Study Group as a Means to Enhance the Quality of Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary Instruction for First Graders in Reading First Schools: Technical Report by Russell Gersten et al., Instructional Research Group, 2009.


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