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Instructional Improvement and Teachers’ Collaborative Conversations: The Role of Focus and Facilitation


by Christine Andrews-Larson, Jonee Wilson & Adrian Larbi-Cherif — 2017

Background/Context: School districts are increasingly expected to support students in meeting ambitious mathematical learning goals. Many schools and districts are investing significant resources in the provision of time for teacher collaboration in the hope that this will help teachers improve their instruction in ways that support students in meeting ambitious learning goals. While existing research points to the potential of this collaboration time to support teacher learning, findings from previous work suggest that use of this time varies in ways that are likely to be consequential for teachers’ learning.

Research Question: In this analysis, we investigate the question: In what ways do focus and facilitation shape teachers’ opportunities to learn during collaborative conversations?

Research Design: The data for this analysis comes from a 4-year study of 4 large urban school districts that examines what it takes to improve the quality of middle school math instruction at scale. Our analysis draws on the broader data set by first using teacher-level data (observed instructional quality) from 30 schools to identify schools that exhibited the most growth in instructional quality. We then analyze audio recordings of teacher collaborative meetings at those schools to better understand how the conversations that take place in these meetings might function to support teachers’ professional learning. In particular, we examine differences in facilitator questioning and subsequent facilitator press on teachers to elaborate their pedagogical reasoning.

Findings/Results: We observed two foci in identified sessions: writing learning targets and lesson co-planning. As enacted, the lesson co-planning sessions held greater potential for supporting teachers’ professional learning. Use of an activity-structuring tool was related to higher quality facilitator questions in these sessions but was not related to improved facilitator press on teachers to elaborate on their responses to these questions. These facilitator moves are marked by (1) solicitation of detailed representations of teachers’ classrooms and practice, (2) orientation toward students as sense-makers, and (3) press for teachers to articulate rationales for instructional decisions that are tied to goals for student learning. We provide examples of facilitator questioning and press that are generative for teacher learning.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This work contributes to the research on the ways collaborative time can support teacher learning. It identifies specific practices that facilitators can draw on to support teachers’ professional learning—which has the potential to inform both teacher learning and the training of facilitators. This work can additionally inform the design and use of tools (protocols) that can help productively structure teacher collaborative time and also reveal the limitations of such tools. Importantly, we offer a coding scheme for analyzing the quality of facilitation through questioning and press that can subsequently be challenged, problematized, and built upon in the field.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 2, 2017, p. 1-37
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21670, Date Accessed: 12/16/2017 3:33:50 PM

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About the Author
  • Christine Andrews-Larson
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINE ANDREWS-LARSON is an assistant professor in the Florida State University College of Education. Andrews-Larson’s research focuses on instructional improvement in secondary and postsecondary mathematics. She is interested how students reason mathematically and the ways in which teachers learn to identify and leverage student reasoning to support the mathematical learning of all students. Andrews-Larson has recently published work on the teaching and learning of undergraduate mathematics in For the Learning of Mathematics and PRIMUS, and her work on supports for teacher learning has appeared in Teachers College Record. She can be reached by email at larson.christy@gmail.com, by phone at 812-320-3808, or by mail at 1114 West Call Street, Tallahassee, FL 32306.
  • Jonee Wilson
    North Carolina State University
    E-mail Author
    JONEE WILSON is an assistant professor in the Teacher Education and Learning Sciences department at North Carolina State University. Her research interests focus on specifying forms of practice that support historically marginalized and underserved students' participation in rigorous mathematics, as well as designs for professional development that support teachers in developing practices that are ambitious and equitable. Her work has been published in ZDM, JRME, and Urban Education. She can be reached by email at jwilson9@ncsu.edu, by phone at 919-515-7868, or by mail at 2310 Stinson Drive; 317 Poe Hall, Campus Box 7801. Raleigh, NC 27695.




  • Adrian Larbi-Cherif
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    ADRIAN LARBI-CHERIF is a doctoral candidate in Mathematics Education at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College. His research focuses on understanding how instructional leadership can influence mathematics teachers' development of ambitious instructional practices. Recent publications focus on the intersection of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards of Mathematics and principal instructional leadership. He can be reached by email at Adrian.m.larbi-cherif@vanderbilt.edu, by phone at 512-299-3026, or by mail at 2137 Fairfax Ave., Apt. 9, Nashville TN 37212.
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