Collaborative Analysis of Student Work: Improving Teaching and Learning
reviewed by Susan Pasquarelli - 2004
Title: Collaborative Analysis of Student Work: Improving Teaching and Learning
Author(s): G.M. Langer, A.B. Colton & L.S. Goff
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 0871207842, Pages: 212, Year: 2003
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What do teacher self-evaluation, student performance assessment, standards-based teaching and learning, action research, and student achievement have in common? Langer, Colton, and Goff ‘s new book, Collaborative Analysis of Student Work: Improving Teaching and Learning, combines years of research and practice in these important academic areas to produce a systematic professional development program that provides teachers with a valuable constructivist process to improve teaching and learning.
Collaborative Analysis of Student Learning (CASL) is a system developed for teachers to participate in collaborative inquiry study groups to understand the connections between their standards-based instructional goals and their students' learning and achievement. As a result of each teacher's focus on two students, the authors maintain that teachers make discoveries about their own teaching as well as about students' knowledge, skills, and dispositions in a target instructional area.
The CASL book is a step-by-step guide that "teaches" the system in a clear, concise manner. A staff developer, teacher educator, administrator, or group of teachers would find this book to be a complete manual for implementing the CASL study group process. Following is a summary of how the system works.
First teachers are gathered to establish a culture for "collaborative inquiry" in their established study-groups. In this phase, teachers negotiate ground rules for active participation as well as establish a timeline for their inquiry. Next, teachers determine the target learning areas in which they will focus. During this phase, teachers examine standards and curriculum, describe specific student assessment criteria, and assess performance of students in the target learning area by aggregating whole class student performance assessment data.
As each teacher works through the process, he/she finds patterns of learning problems and chooses two focus students who represent different instructional challenges. Armed with performance work samples from the chosen focus students, teachers continue their study group inquiry through maintaining a teaching portfolio that includes written analyses of the focal students' work samples. With their reflections in hand, during study group time, teachers discuss instructional strategies to improve student learning and assessment in the target learning area. Between study group meetings, teachers troubleshoot new strategies suggested by the group and investigate current resources to help them understand their students, the content they are teaching, and/or new pedagogy. As the teachers learn more about their own teaching through this cycle of instruction, assessment, discussion, written analysis, and further study, they are implementing revised or new instructional approaches with their entire class.
Finally, study group members assess their whole class performance on the target learning area and reflect on overall student performance and learning outcomes. The authors contend: "… the combination of the "group think" in the safety of the study groups and the written analysis of student work are responsible for their success" (p. 127). Throughout the entire process, teachers keep a teaching portfolio in which they document their reflections and written analyses of student assessments in addition to other pertinent information derived from the process.
In the first few chapters of the book, the authors provide both teacher testimony and research findings to illustrate the benefits of the program which include: (a) improved student learning; (b) improved teacher commitment and confidence as well as an expansion of professional knowledge; (c) improved curricular alignment among standards, instructional goals, and student assessment; and, (d) improved student and teacher clarity about intended outcomes. When describing the benefits, one teacher remarked upon her changed thinking in regard to student learning. In this quotation, one becomes fully aware that the teacher now "reconsiders" her own instruction in order to intervene with student learning:
Before CASL, I felt helpless. I would think, "The students aren't doing well… are they studying?" I didn't have the training to analyze their work. I would justify the lack of learning by thinking "Well, they just don't have the background" or "They missed something in an earlier class." Now I ask myself, "Is there something I could do or say or some type of instruction that would get the lightbulb to come on?" (p. 20)
Perhaps one of the fundamental reasons for the success of the CASL program is the built-in teacher self-evaluation component. Ultimately, the study groups are forums for teachers to evaluate their instructional goals by providing a safe haven for talking about and sharing their written reflections about their own teaching. Historically, there is evidence that the acts of talking and writing about one's own ability are thought to enhance thinking. In 1983, when Schon published The Reflective Practitioner, Dewey's (1933) writings on self-evaluation were revisited by theorists and researchers. Schon's (1983) reflective practice involves teachers' systematic reflection of their thoughts and actions with the objective of improving instruction. Bruner (1962) suggested that knowledge comes as a result of learners representing information through symbolizing it in oral and written language. Vygotsky (1978) postulated that written language permits the development of higher and more complex thought. More recently, educational researchers have recognized self-evaluation as one of the most effective processes for making judgments about one's competence in a given task or area (Paris & Byrnes, 1989; Schunk, 1989.
The CASL authors have grounded their system in historic and prevailing research on teacher self-evaluation as well as theories regarding the social construction of knowledge, performance assessment, action research, and standards-based teaching and learning. With a process designed from the best of educational research and practice, it is no surprise the authors attest to several positive benefits derived from their Collaborative Analysis of Student Work. Langer,
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