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Changing Students, Changing Teaching

by Susan S. Stodolsky & Pamela L. Grossman - 2000

Educators are searching for effective ways to meet the challenges posed by increased cultural diversity among students. We explore this issue at the high school level where concerns about subject matter and student diversity intersect sharply. A case study approach, augmented by a large sample survey is used to understand the dynamics of adaptation to a changing student population. We document adaptations in curriculum, instruction, and assessment made by math and English teachers. We examine the goals, conceptions of subject matter, instructional practices and views of learning of teachers who contrast in whether they did or did not reconceptualize and change their practice when faced with new students. We also examine ways in which their high school departments facilitated, supported or inhibited change in teaching. The analysis focuses on 4 teachers in the same school district: an English and math teacher who adapted to new students and 2 respected colleagues who did not. Different patterns of goals, beliefs, and conceptions of subject matter and students are characteristic of teachers who adapt and those who do not, and patterns are surprisingly similar in both English and math. Survey data from a sample of public school teachers confirm the relationships suggested in the case studies.

Educators are searching for effective ways to meet the challenges posed by increased cultural diversity among students. We explore this issue at the high school level where concerns about subject matter and student diversity intersect sharply. A case study approach, augmented by a large sample survey, is used to understand the dynamics of adaptation to a changing student population. We document adaptations in curriculum, instruction, and assessment made by math and English teachers. We examine the goals, conceptions of subject matter, instructional practices, and views of learning of teachers who contrast in whether they did or did not reconceptualize and change their practice when faced with new students. We also examine ways in which their high school departments facilitated, supported, or inhibited change in teaching. The analysis focuses on 4 teachers in the same school district: an English and math teacher who adapted to new students and 2 respected colleagues who did not. Different patterns of goals, beliefs, and conceptions of subject matter and students are characteristic of teachers who adapt and those who do not, and patterns are surprisingly similar in both English and math. Survey data from a sample of public school teachers confirm the relationships suggested in the case studies.

As I saw the student population change, and I saw that what I was doing was less effective, I felt I needed to change in order to do things with the kids that were meaningful and kept them involved. As a result of that I started deviating from use of the anthology and started creating my own curriculum based upon what I felt had relevance. (Yori Caro, English teacher, Rancho High School)

I think the changes in my teaching have been the changes in my students. The general level has declined. . . . I would say I have to explain more. . . and the pace has slowed up somewhat. There are times when I have to cut out the more in-depth things because we don't have time to cover it. I try to cover the minimum, the basic minimum that I list for myself every year. . . . There's a general decline every year of the level the students are functioning in math. (Carolyn Hanamori, Math teacher, Rancho High School)

Both of these teachers work at the same school, in a district that has undergone court-ordered desegregation. In the course of a year, these teachers witnessed the transformation of their student population from predominantly White, middle-class, college-bound students to a much more heterogeneous student body, in terms of race, ethnicity, class, and school achievement. Both Mr. Caro and Ms. Hanamori are well regarded, committed, and hard-working teachers who have taught for many years. They want their students to succeed, both in and out of school. What accounts for Mr. Caro's willingness to change his classroom practice and experiment with new approaches to meet the needs of this rapidly changing student body? Why does Ms. Hanamori feel frustrated and ineffective in the face of similar changes? What factors contribute to teachers' willingness and ability to adapt their classroom practice? As more and more teachers face increasingly diverse students in their classrooms, the answers to these questions become increasingly important to practitioners and policy makers alike.

As the students of the United States become more diverse in race, ethnicity, religion, and language spoken in the home, teachers face new challenges and opportunities in their classrooms (Banks & McGee Banks, 1995; Pallas, Natriello, & McDill, 1995). Arguing that teachers should be more thoughtfully and thoroughly prepared to deal with issues of diversity, proponents of multicultural education propose different ways of preparing teachers to meet this challenge.

One response to student diversity has been to enhance teachers' knowledge and appreciation of cultural differences in order to include multicultural materials and to use cultural forms familiar to students in school (Pewewardy, 1994; Banks & McGee Banks, 1995; King, 1994; Lee, 1993). In order to bridge the distance between the cultures of the home and the school, teachers will need to know more about students' cultural backgrounds. To develop curricula that reflect the heritage and histories of a multicultural society, teachers may also need to know more about the contributions of nonmainstream groups and non-Western cultures.

In preparing primarily White, mainstream teachers to teach diverse students, beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions may matter as much as knowledge. In order to tap the riches of diversity, teachers must first believe that difference does not equal deficit. Accordingly, another approach to teacher development has been to focus more on the development of respect and appreciation for diversity (Nieto, 1996). Teachers need genuinely to respect students from different backgrounds and to be receptive to the funds of knowledge (Moll & Gonzales, 1994) children bring to school. Winfield (1986) and Page (1991) have identified teacher motivation and expectations for students as crucial factors in success with more diverse students. Teachers who hold high standards for students and assume personal and professional responsibility for student success and motivation are more likely to have students who succeed. In contrast, teachers who believe some students are not capable of adequate performance or that students are responsible for their own proper motivation toward school often have students who are less successful (McLaughlin & Talbert 1993; Knapp, 1995)

In her research on elementary teachers who work well with African American children, Ladson-Billings (1994a, 1994b) provides a framework for culturally relevant pedagogy that highlights the knowledge, beliefs, and practices of these teachers. Many of the practices Ladson-Billings describes are similar to those sought in recent reforms calling for constructivist, student-centered classrooms. For example, students working collaboratively in a community of learners is a hallmark of culturally relevant pedagogy. In addition, however, culturally relevant classrooms include special attention to equity, a belief in success for all, and the inclusion of materials and activities that promote connections between students' backgrounds and ethnicity, their community, and school. Thus, knowledge and use of culturally appropriate materials and high expectations for students are key ingredients of culturally relevant pedagogy. Ladson-Billings also describes teachers' relations with students as personal and equitable and extending beyond the classroom. Kleinfeld (1975) has described similar qualities in the warm demanders in her study of effective teachers of Native Alaskan children.

While a number of critical elements of effective teaching with culturally diverse students have been identified, we know much less about why some teachers come to adopt culturally relevant pedagogy while others may not. In addition, relatively little research has explored this matter at the high school level, where issues of student diversity intersect with concerns about subject matter. Our study explores a broader framework for explaining differences in high school English and math teachers' willingness and ability to adapt their practice for a changing student population. Before we explain this framework, however, we first address the issue of what we mean by adaptation.


Teachers can make a variety of efforts to respond to a changing student population. We find it useful to think of a continuum of changes ranging from very minimal alterations, to adjustments of pace or curriculum coverage, to qualitative reconceptualization and alteration of practice. For purposes of this paper, we think of one end of the adaptation continuum as incorporating qualitative reconceptualization of practice aimed at improving student learning. Teachers report adaptations in the area of curriculum (content, texts, materials); instructional techniques; assessment and grading; and relationships with students. Teachers may also make some adjustments in their teaching that do not require a reconceptualization of their work. In these instances their basic instructional strategies and curricular materials are unchanged, but they may provide more time for practice, reduce the amount of content or in other ways manipulate time and content covered in the hope of providing students with more success.2 An individual teacher might exhibit both adaptations and adjustments in efforts to help students succeed.


In our observations, we saw examples of teachers making a wide range of adaptations. One of the most common forms of adaptation had to do with curricular changes. One teacher adapted her curriculum by choosing texts and story content relevant to the new students in her classes. She introduced stories by Gary Soto and other Hispanic authors with content that specifically related to her students' lives in an effort to maximize engagement in the English program. Another English teacher at the same school assigned personal essays as a way to engage students in writing. An example of curricular adaptation in mathematics is provided by Math A, a curriculum developed by the state of California for pre-algebra students. The Math A curriculum covered a broad range of math topics thought helpful in preparing students for algebra and in increasing their interest and positive attitudes toward math. The content of Math A was chosen partly to address some students' need to learn mathematics in an applied context.

Teachers can also make changes in how they organize and instruct their classes. One of the math teachers, for example, adapted instruction by using the computer lab to enhance student interest in the drill and practice she believed they needed. The teacher of Math A made continuous use of small groups for problem solving and distributed a class list containing every student's phone number. She also made extensive use of manipulatives, journal writing, and calculators in all her classes. English teachers' reported using small groups, dramatic skits, and art to engage students in literature. An English teacher who was teaching limited-English students carefully scaffolded her instruction in writing an expository essay for her ESL students.

In addition to changes in curriculum and instruction, teachers reported alterations in grading and assessment practices. One English teacher changed assessments by providing alternative ways for students to demonstrate their understanding of literature through posters, graphic maps, skits, and other alternatives to the more typical written evaluation. In addition to exams, a math teacher made use of portfolio techniques in math classes. Other teachers reported lowering performance standards for passing grades or placing more value on participation.

Teachers also differed in the quality of personal relationships with students. For some, personal relationships with students changed as a function of the new student body, while for others there was continuity. One math teacher participated in many extracurricular events at which he took photographs displayed in his classroom. One of his colleagues in the math department was available to students before and after school and her home phone number was known. In contrast, a math teacher at another school felt strongly that teacher-student relations should be limited to academic matters.

While we observed a wide range of adaptations, we also noted striking differences among teachers in their willingness and ability to adapt to a more diverse student body. We argue that at least three constellations of factors, in addition to an understanding of cultural and linguistic diversity, play an important role in influencing how teachers respond to these changes.


Our conceptual framework contains three levels of factors, including the general subject matter context, the local high school department context, and the individual teacher. While our prior work has stressed commonalities within a subject matter, in this article we try to focus on the individual while keeping the subject matter and departmental contexts in view. This article focuses more on the variations of individuals within and across subject matter contexts. We are particularly interested in how individuals think about adapting their curriculum and instruction for a changing student population, and how individual teachers' goals and beliefs, the subject matter contexts in which they work, and the departmental dynamics shape their thinking.

Subject Matter Contexts

In research at the Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, of which this investigation is a part, the subject matter context in which teachers work plays a central role. For example, we (Stodolsky & Grossman, 1995) have shown that math and English as subject contexts provide different opportunities and constraints for teachers, partly as a function of the differences in how English and math teachers think about the features of their school subject.

Math and English teachers differ in their conceptions of their subject matter. For example, math teachers generally consider their subject to be sequential, requiring topic coverage in a set order; math is also perceived as relatively static with knowledge viewed as cut and dry and subject to little change. These perceptions of math have been associated with teachers' concern for curriculum topic coverage and a lack of autonomy in selecting what to teach in their courses. Generally speaking, math teachers focus primarily on student mastery of specific content. Math teachers are also more likely to coordinate teaching with colleagues so that the curriculum sequence can be preserved. In contrast, English teachers in general see their subject as less sequential and as more subject to change. English teachers place a high value on autonomy in choosing what to teach students and experience a lot of freedom in shaping the curriculum. English teachers may also have a broader range of texts and topics with which to build a curriculum than math teachers do.

In addition to different perceptions of subject matter, English and math teachers also differ with regard to their goals. As a group, English teachers endorse rather strongly the multiple goals of human relations, personal growth, and subject matter mastery for students—they want their students to grow socially, in terms of working well in a group; personally, through the development of self-esteem; and academically. Math teachers do not reject multiple goals, but their endorsement is less strong, particularly of personal growth, and they place most emphasis on content mastery.

These differences in goals and conceptions of the subject matter among math and English teachers may have consequences for their willingness and ability to adapt to diverse learners. Our previous work suggests that math teachers would find it more difficult to adapt the curriculum of their courses, as they feel more bound by sequential links among courses and their need for content coverage. English teachers, in contrast, may find it easier to adapt the curriculum, given the autonomy they already experience in selecting the content to be taught.

Individual Factors

The central concern in this article is understanding why individual teachers do or do not alter their instructional practice in response to a changing student population. While our analysis of subject matter context suggests that English teachers may be more likely to adapt to new students than will math teachers, there is considerable variation among individual teachers of English and math with respect to their willingness to adapt.

Goals for students, individual views of subject matter, instructional repertoire, knowledge and skill, and beliefs about students are posited as key factors affecting individual teachers' willingness and ability to alter instruction when faced with a changing student population. Teachers' willingness to try new approaches may be framed by their general goals for teaching; teachers who hold a broader set of goals may be more willing to experiment with approaches that can be justified in terms of both academic and social outcomes (Prawat, 1985). Teachers' pedagogical content knowledge will also frame their curricular and instructional responses to students (Grossman, 1990; Wilson & Wineburg, 1993). Beliefs about the purposes for teaching subject matter, knowledge of curricular materials, and instructional repertoire all shape teachers' pedagogical thinking. In addition, teachers' expectations for students and their knowledge and beliefs about how students learn will influence their adaptations.

We also believe that teachers' conceptions of the subject matters they teach may frame their responses to adapting their curriculums or instruction. Teachers who hold a more open, flexible view of their subject may be more likely to adapt their curriculum and instruction than those who see their subject area as fixed. Teachers who believe strongly in a sequential view of their subject, for example, may strongly resist curricula that attempt to skirt the sequence.

In order to try new instructional strategies or alter one's curriculum, a teacher must have the opportunity to learn about the new strategies and the willingness and skill to carry them out. Teachers who are open to new instructional approaches and feel confident about their pedagogical skill may be more likely to adapt than those who are strongly committed to the practices they currently use or who doubt their ability to be successful with new approaches. Teachers also are likely to need access to new knowledge and support as they begin to experiment with new practices. This last concern leads to a consideration of the role of the high school department in facilitating teacher change.

Departmental Context

In order for teachers to reconceptualize their work and incorporate new instructional approaches, they must have settings and activities in which they can learn new strategies and skills. One pivotal site for such professional growth may be the high school department.

Other researchers (Gutierrez, 1996; Little, 1993; McLaughlin, 1993; McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993, in press; Siskin, 1994; Talbert & McLaughlin, 1993, 1994) have shown that specific high school departments do influence teachers' instructional practices and goals for students. Departments with strong collegial interaction and collective commitment in support of student learning help teachers develop needed instructional approaches and explore new teaching methods, often in connection with professional organizations or teacher networks. In contrast, departments in which teachers are isolated and do not interact around issues of teaching and learning make it difficult for individual teachers to gain access to new resources that would help them make needed changes. Such departments may have teachers who burn out or are discouraged. McLaughlin and Talbert (in press), for example, describe departments who share a pessimistic view regarding their students' potential achievement and in some instances may sanction a punitive stance toward students.

This research suggests that high school departments can contribute in important ways to teachers' willingness and capacity to adapt to new students and make instructional changes. Some departments provide positive expectations, support and resources for teachers while others are fragmented or work against change. Shared norms and beliefs as well as the actual conditions teachers confront in their daily work, such as the number of students they teach and available resources, all may influence the likelihood of successful adaptation. Specific departmental policies on tracking or teacher assignments can also have an impact.

In this study, we explore how all of these factors contribute to teachers' responses to a changing student population.


In this research, we used case studies of eight math and English teachers, augmented by trends in a large sample survey, to understand the dynamics of adaptation to a changing student population among these individuals. We believe the case study approach can add nuance and depth to understanding how teachers deal with students who differ from those they have taught in the past.

Our specific research questions include: Faced with a more culturally diverse student body, what, if any, adaptations do math and English teachers make to promote student learning? How do teachers' perceptions of their subject matter enable or constrain adaptations in curriculum and instruction? Do teachers who try to adapt to new students hold different goals, beliefs, and instructional repertoire than those who do not? In what ways do department contexts facilitate or hinder changes in teaching practices?


This exploration of adaptation is part of a study of teachers in 13 public and 3 private high schools in California and Michigan conducted by the Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching (CRC; Grossman & Stodolsky, 1995; McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993). As part of this larger work, we conducted case studies of math and English teachers and contributed items to surveys that were administered to all faculty at the 16 high schools (approximately 700 teachers).

Serendipity played a role in the present analysis. Two high schools in which we were conducting case studies were in a district placed under court-ordered desegregation about two years before the study began. While our central concern was on subject matter as a context for high school teaching, we talked with teachers about the changing student population and their reactions to new students in the course of interviews that spanned two to three years.

We studied four English and four math teachers in two schools in the same urban California district (Mostaza).3 The faculty at both schools had been quite stable and the case study teachers each had at least 19 years in teaching, much of it at their current schools. The court desegregation mandate led to major demographic shifts in the composition of both schools, which had previously served predominantly White, college-bound students. In both settings, teachers very rapidly encountered large numbers of students from minority backgrounds, many of whom were English-language learners. The new student bodies included many more Hispanics, Vietnamese, Cambodians, African Americans and other ethnic groups, a sharp decrease in Whites, and more students of lower socioeconomic status.

Two English and two math teachers at each of the two high schools participated. As part of the CRC project (McLaughlin &Talbert, 1993), principals were asked to name one teacher in each subject whom they judged to be "teaching for understanding." Principals were free to define "teaching for understanding" by their own criteria. Four of the 8 teachers were selected in this way. The other 4 were well-respected colleagues in the same subject area and school. Given this selection procedure, it is important to note that all the teachers in this study have reputations as competent teachers. Thus we are studying how teachers who are held in positive regard based on their teaching in previously middle-class settings respond to a new student population.

The teachers were interviewed regarding their subject matter, their views about teaching and learning, their instructional practices, their students, their department, and their school. Interviews with one of the authors took place on at least two occasions at about one-year intervals, and two courses the teacher taught were observed on the same day. In addition, some teachers had been interviewed by CRC staff for special studies or in their roles as chair or department member.

As part of the CRC study, teachers were also asked to complete surveys in each of three years (1989-1991), although not each of the case study teachers did so. The surveys included measures of goals, conceptions of subject matter, instructional practices, perceptions of students, sense of efficacy, willingness to adapt, professional activities, and a variety of other information. In this study, survey responses are used in conjunction with interview and observational data for individual teachers. Scales from the surveys are also used in a correlational analysis of responses from all the high school teachers. Specific scales are described as they enter the analysis and in the Appendix.

We approached case materials with a general focus on what each teacher said about their perceptions of and instructional responses to the changing student body. We systematically examined each teacher's interviews, survey responses, and fieldnotes from two waves of classroom observations. The first task, reported above in the section on the continuum of adaptation, was to describe the nature of reported adaptations. All 8 case study teachers were used to develop an understanding of the range and type of efforts teachers made to teach students.

The case study teachers exhibited a variety of responses to their new students. To document the range of ideas and practices encountered and explore possible dynamics shaping them, we discuss two math and two English teachers who represent strong contrasts with respect to the adaptation continuum. After discussing the individual teachers, we turn to the survey data to see if it is possible to confirm trends evident in the case studies in the larger CRC sample of public schoolteachers. We begin by discussing the two English teachers.



As a former music teacher, with a minor in English, Yori Caro began his career as an English teacher with a traditional literature and writing curriculum, relying heavily on the textbook. He emphasized the teaching of canonical texts and the writing of analytical essays about literature. In part, his reliance on the textbook reflected his own lack of confidence in teaching the subject. However, as the student population changed and he began to feel more confident of the territory of English, Mr. Caro began to question the appropriateness of his curriculum for non-college-bound students. With the support of some departmental colleagues, he started to' transform how he taught both writing and literature. His story emphasizes the roles that conceptions of subject matter, collegial support, and educational goals play in teachers' willingness and ability to adapt to diverse learners.

Yori Caro had taught at Rancho High School for 14 years at the time of our study. Intent on becoming a music teacher, Yori had majored in performing arts and minored in English and earned certification in both English and music, as well as a master's degree in music. He was recruited to Rancho to build a "top-notch" performing arts program and came because he believed the student base for a strong music program already existed. Mr. Caro's career, however, was forever altered by the passage of Proposition 13 in California, which drastically cut spending for public schools and resulted in dramatic cuts in music and art programs across the state. He attributed Proposition 13 with killing off the music program at Rancho and driving him to a more secure position teaching language arts. While Mr. Caro had to confront the prospect of teaching a new subject, he also felt he was able to transfer a number of the skills and dispositions he had already developed as a music teacher to the teaching of English. Although he missed the close relationships he developed with students through travelling to music festivals, he felt he was able to "read a class" better as a result of his experiences as a conductor.

At the time of our study, Mr. Caro had been teaching English for 9 years, focusing primarily on the 10th and 11th grades. When we observed him, he was teaching three sections of junior English and two periods of honors 10th grade English. Mr. Caro had also served as a soccer coach and as a member of the district's mentor committee, and had also been honored by a local college after being identified by students as the high school teacher who most helped them learn to write.

Perhaps as a result of his background teaching music, Mr. Caro's goals for teaching were broad and multifaceted, extending well beyond subject matter. He believed strongly in the need to engage students in thinking about their own values, and ranked imparting "moral and religious values" as the most important goal on a survey question, followed by human relations skills, good work habits, and mastery of the subject matter. Mr. Caro adamantly believed in the need for teachers to support students both academically and personally. He also argued that school has a responsibility to prepare students for their futures in the workplace. For example, he contended that groupwork would help prepare students to work and get along with others: "That's what the business world is like. You have to work with people despite their shortcomings, their tempers, whatever." His emphasis on the importance of teaching for human relations and personal growth made him exceptional among the larger sample of English teachers.

Mr. Caro's goals for teaching literature mirrored his more general goals in his desire to have students respond personally to literature and to develop strong values. He commented, "I like to be able to ask, in discussion, for example, is what Iago did to Othello fair, is it right? . . . and I'm really talking about the kids and their personal lives." Helping kids grapple with moral issues is part of the fabric of teaching English, from Yori's perspective. He also wanted students to be able to write clearly, to think logically, and to read widely. Mr. Caro was particularly anxious for students to engage in the full process of writing and to understand how prewriting and revision contribute to the quality of a final paper. He commented, "Kids for some reason come into this class thinking that the rough draft is what they're supposed to turn in . . . so I force them to go through the process and I have specific deadlines for each part." Although Mr. Caro assigned both creative and expository writing in his classes, he had begun to de-emphasize expository writing in his non-college-bound class, focusing instead on personal narratives.

Seeing English as a patchwork quilt of sorts, Mr. Caro viewed English as a conglomerate of the different topics that comprise the school subject. He did not have a unified conception of the language arts that brought together its separate components.

We have vocabulary, we study vocabulary; something of the language, so grammar to some extent; composition; reading, literature; and then one that I've always neglected but I'm feeling more and more the need to include is oral. Those are the five categories that I think English breaks down into and unfortunately, someone long ago decided English was a subject, whereas these five things should have been subjects because each is so important and should be studied. But right now, we're trying to juggle all five and keep everything going and that's difficult.

When asked what made English difficult to teach, Mr. Caro again argued that the subject is simply too comprehensive: "That's easy! There is just too much to cover. Writing should be a course. Literature should be a course. Although I don't know if I would fully go along with it, I think language should be a course, the grammar and usage part." This same characteristic of English also makes the subject difficult for students to learn, from Mr. Caro's perspective: "I think the fact that there are so many parts is probably the most difficult problem [for students]." These comments all suggest that Mr. Caro conceived of the school subject very much as a forced marriage of distinctly different subject matters. At the same time he saw the subject as very diffuse, he also viewed the subject as somewhat sequential and defined. He strongly rejected the notion of English as unchanging or static, however.

Mr. Caro felt strongly that English as a school subject offered teachers both significant autonomy over the curriculum and opportunities to get closer to kids. Mentioning that "some people would view the amount of autonomy that the teacher has as a problem," he agreed with the comment that English offered more autonomy than other subjects because "we do have a lot of freedom because we get to choose which books we want to teach for the most part." Mr. Caro also felt that English offered an opportunity to get to know students better, something that he valued from his days as a performing arts teacher. "I think we have the opportunity to get pretty close to the kids." Again, he connected this opportunity with teachers' opportunities to select literature for their classes. Teachers' ability to select the literature they teach was clearly important to Mr. Caro in meeting his own goals.

Changing Students, Changing Practice

Drawing on his earlier experiences as a music teacher, Mr. Caro strongly believed in the importance of establishing personal ties with students, getting to know families, and being accessible. His experiences travelling with kids and interacting with them outside of the classroom convinced him of the need to get to know students on a more personal level. Reflecting the importance he places on personal relationships, he received the maximum score possible on the survey's Personalization scale.

Mr. Caro mentioned several times, in both interviews and surveys, that the student population at Rancho had changed. On the 1989 survey, he responded that changed in community and student demographics and student composition at the school had hindered his success as a teacher, and in 1991 he agreed with the statement that his expectations for students were lower than they used to be. He wrote on his survey: "The student population at Rancho has changed over the past few years. The students now do not learn the way students in the past had. As a school we have not addressed this problem."

Mr. Caro saw his own evolution as a teacher as intimately connected to the changes in his students. In our interviews, he talked directly about the changes he has made in his teaching to respond to change in student population.

As I saw the student population change and I saw that what I was doing was less effective, I felt I needed to change in order to do things with the kids that were meaningful and kept them involved. As a result of that I started deviating from use of the anthology and started creating my own curriculum based upon what I felt had relevance.

Mr. Caro described himself as a fairly traditional English teacher when he began teaching English, claiming that he had changed both his approach to teaching writing and to teaching literature. In teaching writing, he had begun to emphasize personal response forms of writing over expository writing, particularly for the "regular" English classes. He directly attributed this change to the change in student population.

[1986 and desegregation order] is when we shifted from a primarily upper-middle class school to a very diverse school as far as student population goes. [AND DID THAT AFFECT YOUR TEACHING?] Uh huh. As a matter of fact, that's when I had to drop the expository essay. At about that time. I found myself shifting away from it at that point. I could tell I was searching. I didn't know what I was looking for but I knew that I was looking for some other way to have the kids write because that wasn't possible any longer.

Mr. Caro argued that personal response writing is a more "realistic expectation" for non-college-bound students: "The kids who are going to end up going to work out of high school, which I guess quite a few of our kids do, don't need [the expository essay]. . . . They become frustrated by it because of the amount of effort if takes to do that." In his non-college-bound class, Mr. Caro brought students to the computer lab to help them brainstorm on the computer. He demonstrated an approach to brainstorming and then had them develop their own ideas for an essay on freedom, connected to their reading of Huckleberry Finn. However, students did not need to refer to the novel in their papers, but instead were to write about their own experiences.

Mr. Caro also reported changing his approach to teaching literature, moving away from the chronological, text-driven approach he reported using in the past to a more thematically organized curriculum. He also tried to select literature that is personally meaningful to students: "We can try to find literature that appeals to [kids,] that addresses concerns they would have as adolescents, and to steer them in ways that we believe are sound as far as values." He believed that the choice of texts is critical in making English accessible to students: "What we choose for the kids to read is extremely important, and if you try to impose upon them . . . works which are too far removed from their personal world—which is very isolated, I'm afraid—they just can't comprehend or relate, so you find you're fighting a losing battle." This change in approach was more apparent in his regular junior English class than in his honors level sophomore English class. While in the regular class, students discussed their own code of honor in relationship to the literature they had read, Mr. Caro conducted a more traditional literary discussion of Othello in his honors English class.

Mr. Caro's desire to help kids make connections between their lives and literature was evident in many of his classroom practices. To introduce Julius Caesar, he asked students to write about a master manipulator they had known in their own lives. Mr. Caro also explained that he needed to find "attention-getters" to get students interested in the books. Prior to handing out Huckleberry Finn, he showed an episode of Family Ties that talked about banned books. Later in the unit on Huckleberry Finn, he passed out an article on a lynching that happened in the town where the high school is located.

In the final interview for this study, Mr. Caro was considering changing his grading system in response to the English department's effort to "detrack" the curriculum. He believed that he should rethink the issue of "grading integrity" in his classes, and had begun to believe that it might be possible to pass a student if he or she came to class but did not turn in much work.

If a kid comes to class every day and participates but doesn't really turn in much work, should that student pass? That's a mayor issue and based on the detracking I think it's possible to pass that kid, give him a D—. As far as grading integrity is concerned, colleges aren't going to accept anything below a C anyway . . . so does it hurt to give a D to that kid that's coming every day and is benefitting from what you're offering? The majority of teachers here I think would say not, but I'm starting to believe that maybe that's O.K.

While Mr. Caro believed that it was his responsibility to adapt both content and teaching methods for students, he also seemed to believe in the differentiation of the curriculum as a way to meet the needs of different students. On the 1991 survey, he agreed with the statements "curriculum materials for a given course should be different for classes with different achievement levels" and agreed more strongly that "instruction in my subject is most beneficial when students are grouped by prior academic achievement." Mr. Caro's support for a differentiated curriculum also came through in his different goals for college-bound and non-college-bound students. Mr. Caro also admitted that his expectations for students are slightly lower than they used to be.

Despite his sense of the challenges posed by the changing student population, Mr. Caro felt positively about the changes he had made in response. He scored 5 out of 6 on the Efficacy scale, indicating he believed he could influence his students performance; his score was well above the mean for his department and for English teachers in the sample as a whole (see Table 1). Most of his adaptations were curricular, selecting literature and topics he felt were most relevant to his students.

Mr. Caro saw English as giving him the freedom to make some of these adaptations, saying that the subject matter gave him the freedom to select literature that is appropriate for students. He attributed both his ability to adapt the curriculum and to personalize his relationships with students to the nature of the subject matter itself. Mr. Caro did not hold a strong conception of English as a discipline or subject matter that would prevent these kinds of adaptations. As mentioned earlier, he saw English primarily as a school subject, rather than as a discipline, and felt that different aspects of the subject might be more or less appropriate to different kinds of students. This enabled him to put more emphasis on personal response forms of writing for his regular classes. He suggested that when he first started teaching English, he did not feel very confident of the subject matter and as a result, he stayed close to the assigned texts and to traditional ways of teaching English. As he grew more confident, he began to adapt his curriculum. The group of teachers with whom he talked most frequently also supported the idea of adapting curriculum and instruction for students, so his immediate departmental context supported his own predilections.


Department Context

Mr. Caro reported getting many of the ideas for the changes in his instructional practice from other members of his department. While he did not see himself as actively involved in professional organizations, other members of his department were extremely active, and he interacted regularly with these colleagues. His beliefs about emphasizing personal response forms of writing were shaped by the departmental colleagues with whom he ate lunch regularly, while the idea for organizing his curriculum thematically came from another department colleague. While Mr. Caro's close colleagues in the department supported his professional growth, the department as a whole was somewhat fragmented, split between those who were actively trying to adapt to the changing student population and those who resisted change.


Everyone agrees that there should be some Shakespeare in one's senior year. . . . On the other hand, when you are teaching students whose second language is English, you encounter quite a few problems. You encounter almost as many problems when you teach kids who are barely literate in their own first language because they haven't read very much. . . . So the task is becoming a little more difficult. I try to simplify it . . . telling them that if they reduce one scene, be it 10 or 30 lines to a sentence or two. . . . I say never mind the references to mythology, never mind the footnotes about this or that, just let me know what's happening, sort of a Cliff's Notes thing. . . .

Ian Lawson had been teaching at Esperanza High School for all of his 22 years in the profession at the time of this study. His tenure at the school and involvement with students and their families made him feel a bit like the parish priest. A dedicated teacher, who kept in touch with many of his former students, Mr. Lawson also believed strongly in the importance of teaching the canon and in upholding standards of academic excellence. As he watched the student population change with desegregation, he became frustrated with his inability to connect with students on either a personal or academic level. Relying primarily on presentation as his mode of instruction, he felt less successful in exciting students about the great works of literature. At the time of the study, he was struggling with how to continue teaching.

For most of his years at Esperanza, Mr. Lawson had taught senior English, both the regular and Advanced Placement sections. To supplement his income, he also taught remedial English classes one night a week at a local community college. Mr. Lawson had served as department head in the past, had supervised student teachers, and had fulfilled other leadership roles in the school. At the time of the study, he was teaching upwards of 170 students a day and feeling the weight of his student load. Mr. Lawson spoke frequently of his student load and admitted that it created severe constraints on his teaching: "So the whole thing is a bit of a charade, and until those classes get reduced, I don't think one can reasonably expect qui):e the same [kind of teaching]."

Mr. Lawson saw his role as teaching basic literacy and academic content to students. While he took a personal interest in students, Mr. Lawson did not believe it was his role to bolster students' self-esteem or to keep them from dropping out of school. In fact, Mr. Lawson scored the lowest possible score on the Personal Growth scale on the survey, considerably lower than the means for his departmental colleagues and for English teachers in general (see Table 1 and Appendix). He did, however, believe that it was part of his job to teach students civility and manners, and found himself frustrated by the general lack of manners among his students: "My job is to give [students] an academic preparation, but on the other hand this is my workplace, this is my home to an extent, and I resent the lack of manners and the lack of consideration that most of these kids carry around."

Mr. Lawson's goals for teaching English included helping students become acquainted with world literature and become more competent thinkers and writers. He described his role in his Advanced Placement English class as a "salesman to the literature of the world," and delighted in the occasions when he heard from former students who shared his love for great literature. Mr. Lawson's goals were heavily framed by his teaching assignment. At the time of the study, he taught exclusively Senior English, both regular and Advanced Placement sections. As a result, his goals for AP were framed in terms of preparing students to pass the AP exam, while his goal for Senior English was to help students avoid "Bonehead English" when they began college. His goals reflected the reality that for many years the majority of the students he taught went on to college.

Perhaps related to his almost exclusive teaching assignment in Senior English, Mr. Lawson aligned himself much more with the discipline of English than with the school subject. Mr. Lawson viewed English as a body of knowledge that students need in order to be culturally literate: "But there is something about being culturally literate, to go back to E. D. Hirsch's phrase, that I happen to believe in. I mean he was panned by a lot of people, but I think he has the right idea, that there should be a common body of knowledge." Mr. Lawson believed that it was his responsibility to transmit this body of knowledge to students. He wanted his students "to be acquainted with the world of literature, and then, I hope, not remain a Stranger to good writing." In teaching literature, Mr. Lawson believed strongly in the centrality of the traditional canon of Western Civilization. He commented:

There are those at Stanford who will say "Humanities? Oh yes, women's studies, Asian studies, that's what humanities is. . . ." The other school says "Well wait a minute. Humanities, that is the Greek civilization and the Roman, so forth." . . . And although there's nothing wrong with the women's studies and the Asian studies and so forth, it isn't the course called humanities; it's a different course.

One of his goals was to help students understand the allusions to the canon in their reading of literature: "I'm trying to make them generally literate and they have to understand those allusions, or they usually miss a dimension of poetry, particularly, but sometimes other works, like Billy Budd."

In part because of his commitment to the canon, Mr. Lawson felt that teaching English had become increasingly difficult since desegregation.

I think it's tougher to teach Shakespeare because of greater apathy and greater numbers of bilingual or . . . limited English proficiency and non-English proficiency. And when those kids, if they come in as non-English proficient and then become a limited English proficient person and then quiz out of that and come into the class, they still have many problems because Mom at home has never once said, "Cowards die many times before their death" or "The quality of mercy is not strained."

He felt that the students he was currently teaching were not as well prepared as those he had taught earlier in his career and that there were fewer students who were genuinely interested in learning. These sentiments were reflected in his very high score on the Student Decline scale of the survey, well above the mean of both his department and of all English teachers in the sample (see Table 1 and Appendix). However, he did recognize exceptions. He spoke at length of one of his students who demonstrated the intellectual curiosity Mr. Lawson valued:

He's first generation Hispanic and he has a girlfriend whom he calls his fiancée in Mexico somewhere. . . . He has studied Catholicism and doesn't think much of it and . . . doesn't want a church wedding. . . . And this of course is heresy with the various [relatives] on the girl's side, this is very much like Romeo and Juliet or something. . . . So he stayed and talked with me a whole lunch period, asking me . . . "I don't really understand about Protestant and Catholic. First of all, why are they killing each other in Ireland if they're both Christians?" And I said, "Well, if you could answer that question, or if I could answer that question, my services would be needed elsewhere." So we had quite an interesting theological discussion and I gave him a book about the Protestant Reformation . . . so here he is pulling a C+ with a 79 on one test, and another one he bombed out with a 50 . . . but he is introspective and he's trying to do something with his life, he's asking questions about life's meaning and so forth and he's a pleasure to have around.

Mr. Lawson valued these conversations and his connections to his students. Prior to desegregation, Mr. Lawson related to whole families.

I think a teacher is a little bit like, at least in my teaching experience, has been a little bit like the parish priest. . . . But that's all gone with desegregation, you see because you just get these bus loads of people who, you're new to them and the school's new to them, and they don't particularly need you or particularly want you. . . . There's no common ground, you see, and . . . I don't go to any store on any errand without running into a former student. And to me that was a more positive than a negative way of life . . . there's an on-going communication and it's going back to the parish priest idea. You've been a part of that family's history and they've been a part of your history. And I see the death of that right now.

While Mr. Lawson valued these ongoing connections with families, he also believed that his relationships with students should focus on academic content.

Teaching in Tough Times

Mr. Lawson relied primarily on presentation in his teaching, commenting that he has improved his presentation skills over time:

I think I still give a credible presentation. . . . I suppose you can master a curriculum after a while, or certainly do a better job with it than you could when it's your first year through. So you can more efficiently present more ideas and stimulate more thinking.

While Mr. Lawson was aware of different teaching strategies, he distrusted them both politically (e.g., peer feedback on papers as a way to cover up for unacceptably large class sizes), in terms of management issues, and in terms of discipline. For example, Mr. Lawson did not believe that students would learn more by working together, arguing that students, particularly in the regular track, did not remain on task during small group work and failed to have productive or informed conversations about the literature. While he did include some group activities in his AP classes, he had little confidence that learners in non-AP courses could handle such tasks. Even in his AP classes, little class time was provided for group work. Instead, students were divided into groups by rows, and each student was responsible for presenting a more or less independent piece of a group presentation on a piece of literature.

Even as Mr. Lawson keenly felt the changes in the Esperanza student population, he was not convinced that it was his role to adapt either curriculum or instruction for the new students, scoring 3 out of 6 on the Adaptation scale (see Table 1 and Appendix). However, Mr. Lawson felt strongly that the new student population, particularly students for whom English was not a first language, limited the complexity with which he could teach English. With these students, he resorted to simplifying his approach to canonical texts.

While Mr. Lawson used roughly the same curriculum for both his AP and non-AP classes, he expected less of the regular class. Classroom talk focused on covering the assigned literature and discussing the literary elements of plot, theme, figurative language, and allusions. In AP classes, he asked students to make their own interpretations of biblical allusions in literature. Mr. Lawson was discouraged with the overall performance of students in his classes, claiming that he had never given so many D's and F's in his career. He had not adapted his assessment practices and tended to grade absolute achievement, giving less consideration to effort and participation than many other English teachers.

At the time of the study, Mr. Lawson was struggling mightily with burnout. He reflected, "Somewhere along the line you conclude that your best years of teaching are over, they're in the past. . . and that hurts, if you have what I would call a healthy self-concept or a healthy ego." He felt keenly the demands posed by the changing student population, yet demonstrated very few forms of adaptation. His strong commitment to the existing curriculum and to the literary canon prevented him from considering curricular adaptations, while both his limited instructional repertoire and beliefs about alternative strategies restricted his ability to adapt his instructional practices. The only response he reported was lowering his expectations for students. Mr. Lawson concluded our interviews by wondering how much longer he could hold on: "I think a lot of teachers feel that they have lost the battle here. And the lucky ones are the ones who are about to retire, and the unlucky ones are people like me who are faced with the decision of how many more years can I go on. . . ."

Department Context

According to Mr. Lawson, teachers within the English department at Esperanza did not spend much time coordinating content for their courses, nor did department members spend much time talking about issues related to teaching and learning. Unlike Mr. Caro, who had a collegial network within his department, Mr. Lawson was fairly isolated in his department. There were teachers who were much more connected professionally within his department, including a well-regarded teacher who had served as a district-wide mentor for new teachers. However, the department members seldom interacted with each other, and the nature of teaching assignments—in which teachers taught the same courses for many years—did not encourage interactions. At the time of this study, the department had decided to rotate department meetings so they would meet in each teacher's room, hoping this would encourage more discussion of each other's curriculum. However, even this change was at the instigation of an administrator: "Our curriculum VP said that it was the department chair's responsibility to make sure that every teacher knew what every other teacher was doing . . . so she said . . . we'll have a meeting in a different teacher's room each time and that teacher can take a few minutes to summarize his or her curriculum. Which sounded sensible to me."

Mr. Lawson sought out professional development opportunities within the discipline of English, and spoke highly of some ideas he received from another English teacher at a National Endowment for the Humanities summer workshop on British literature. However, he did not seem to share these ideas with colleagues in his department. Mr. Lawson also felt that teachers at his school had an adversarial relationship with the district, which, from his perspective, had broken too many promises to teachers.



A key would be providing success. Anyone likes to do things better when they are successful at it. . . . Because providing success is what's going to change their attitude because they've never been successful before. You can have all the manipulatives—ideas and techniques you want as a teacher, but if the kid's not going to be successful, he's still turned off. So you've got to provide success. You've got to build it in.

An energetic, vibrant math teacher, Yvonne Albright pursued a wide range of interests and activities in and out of school. Perhaps reflecting the many arenas in which she was active, she was most concerned that her students "want to continue learning. And whatever . . . their interest is, they feel inspired enough to want to delve into it more, and of course one would hope that would extend to math." Ms. Albright was unusual for a math teacher in holding a view of math as dynamic and not very sequential while strongly endorsing multiple goals for her students. In fact, while she was committed to students learning mathematics and held high standards for their achievement, she put equal weight on their "becoming as good citizens as possible."

At the time of our study Yvonne had taught math for 25 years, 15 at junior high and 10 years at Esperanza. Ms. Albright held bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics and was an undergraduate English minor. Her knowledge of mathematics was deep. She was certified to teach math through junior college level, and high school English. During the study Ms. Albright taught a varied schedule, ranging at times from Calculus to Math A—a pilot curriculum meant to serve students prior to taking algebra that grew out of the California math frameworks.

The most professionally active member of the Esperanza math department, Ms. Albright seemed to have boundless energy. She participated in the California Math Council and had been consistently involved in both district and state committees dealing with math curriculum and textbook adoptions. Her participation in developing curriculum in line with the California frameworks and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards placed her among those math educators committed to a constructivist approach to mathematics teaching and learning. Ms. Albright had also taken a number of workshops related to mathematics teaching and reported spending an average of 35 hours a week outside class in activities related to teaching. Ms. Albright had been a mentor teacher and had received a number of prestigious awards including Teacher of the Year. With respect to these honors she commented, "I don't want to get off on that [honors] being important, because it's not. What's really important is what goes on in the classroom with kids." Ms. Albright was appointed chair of the Esperanza math department near the end of our research at the school.

Ms. Albright held a well-articulated set of goals for students and a highly developed philosophy that underlies her teaching. Ms. Albright highly valued social, personal, and academic development and believed she differed from some colleagues in that her goals went well beyond student math achievement. Ms. Albright's concern for developing human relations skills in students grew out of a conviction that success in the workplace demands "being able to work well with other people." A summer fellowship in industry reinforced her belief in the need for cooperative work skills. On scale scores derived from surveys, Ms. Albright exhibited a pattern unusual for math teachers in fully endorsing Human Relations, highly endorsing Personal Growth, while her score on Basic Skills/Content was quite low (see Table 1).

Ms. Albright tried to accomplish the same goals in mathematics with the different levels of students she taught. She placed heavy emphasis on understanding the logical structure of mathematics, knowing mathematical principles and algorithms, and problem solving for all of her classes. She said, "What I like to do is teach for analytical or critical thinking and having my students worrying more about how they got the answer than that they got the answer." She placed little emphasis on memorizing facts or performing computation. She supported the Math A curriculum in that kids who "aren't ready for algebra, they need a good exposure to a lot of different things—to some probability, to some algebraic explorations. But they have to have some skills."

She loved mathematics and wanted students "to learn as much math as possible" but stressed that she wanted her students to develop a love of learning as opposed to just learning material. She had encountered many students who have had negative experiences with math in the past so she worked to keep her students "open-minded"—instead of saying, "I can't do this," she wanted her students to say, "Well, I don't know if I can do it, but I'm willing to try." She added, "It's really an approach to life, but it's one that applies to math as well." She also said:

. . . math is a way of life. It is inherent in almost everything we do. And there are . . . non-mathematical ways to live your life. . . . You can live your life using THINGS that are taught in math—ideas, concepts, methods of attack—without actually being mathematical . . . things you use, for example, in a geometric proof, the development of logical reasoning, actually work out there in the real world.

Ms. Albright stood out from the majority of math teachers in viewing math as only slightly sequential. In her view, the content and skills of math could be approached by students with different backgrounds, even those with a prior lack of success. As an example, Ms. Albright provided calculators for students who were having difficulty with decimals or had not mastered the times tables. She explained, "It's not that they shouldn't have these skills, but just because you haven't learned your multiplication tables doesn't mean you cannot do fractions." Ms. Albright believed in taking students where they are and she actually "prefers not to know how a student did in a previous class [because] I expect him to make it on his own for me. . . . [I]f they need help I'm there."

Ms. Albright viewed mathematics as more open and less structured than most math teachers, including her Esperanza colleagues. Ms. Albright saw important connections between different math topics and courses. For example, in discussing math analysis she stressed the importance of both algebraic and geometric presentations of functions in the text. Ms. Albright also believed the school curriculum is too compartmentalized and would like to see many more connections made among the various school subjects. She said,

The problem I see is very much one of being compartmentalized. So during history now we do history we don't do math. We can't use our calculators in our history class and we can't talk about science in our math class—can't talk about the history of anything like the locomotive cause that's science. So I see that as a problem—you could call it transfer of learning or a carryover in other disciplines. I think a lot of times we lose it is that we don't include a lot of those opportunities for kids to think in real world situations and let's face it when you get off the elevator in Macy's you're in the real world, you're not in math.

Changing Students, Changing Practice

Ms. Albright liked the students at Esperanza. Comparing Esperanza to another district school, Ms. Albright said the students "are not as moneyed . . . they don't have as much free time . . . as many cars . . . and I enjoy the school climate here." On the other hand, Ms. Albright expressed some concern that the school might be moving to "an inner city situation" after an incident involving violence occurred. Ms. Albright recognized weaknesses in Esperanza students, including less preparation, less motivation, and less home support than previous students, but she did not believe the weaknesses seriously interfered with students' ability to learn. Ms. Albright reported that her current students need to be convinced that: "a [math] problem can be easy. . . . If I can convince them that it is easy enough then they'll go along with me and do it. Before [desegregation] it didn't matter how easy or hard it was they were willing to go along."

She expressed frustration with the bussing program that brought about half of the Vietnamese and Hispanic students to Esperanza because transportation schedules made it very difficult for students to make contact with teachers and to get together and work together—practices she believed were highly beneficial.

Ms. Albright strongly believed she was responsible for promoting student learning and motivation, a view shared by her math department colleagues. She used a variety of means to motivate students. Among them, she consistently set high expectations and assumed students' continuing achievement in the subject. For example, she assumed all students in Math A or Introduction to Algebra courses will take Algebra in the future. Similarly, she assumed students would attend college and talked explicitly about their futures in those terms. For example, during one of our visits, banners with the names of colleges students said they wanted to attend and the number of students interested in each college were posted on the walls of her room after an activity that generated them.

The key to Ms. Albright's instructional approach was that she provided as many alternative pathways to [successful] learning as possible. Believing that "if you can get a child with you, you can go anywhere," she concentrated on engaging her students and providing success. Ms. Albright believed, "a key would be providing success. . . . If you can start from a position that has some meat to it, but you can still provide success, then you can build on that."

Ms. Albright's teaching illustrates almost all the types of adaptations we have identified. For example, she adapted curriculum and content through Math A in which pre-algebra students were introduced to a variety of curricular topics, materials, and activities not ordinarily part of the pre-algebra curriculum. To accommodate different learning styles, she provided various instructional approaches including lectures, board work, the use of manipulatives, which she often made herself, small group work, journal writing, calculators, and telling stories in all her classes.

Ms. Albright strongly believed in altering instruction to provide success for students and just recently started using cooperative and continuous groups in her classes, following a workshop she took on the process. In most classes, students worked with their group some of the time, often informally. Ms. Albright did not group students by ability in her classes and only slightly agreed that tracking is beneficial to student learning. She strongly believed in an accepting, helpful atmosphere in the classroom.

While Ms. Albright provided a framework in which students could work, she also encouraged them to seek others who could better explain the subject matter and to use methods that work for them. Before exams or whenever problems arose, she encouraged students to help each other. For this purpose, she had instituted BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) math parties at which a student hosted a small get together and provided the house while other students provided popcorn and soda. She believed the parties not only helped students learn math, but helped them learn to work with others, supporting her emphasis on developing human relations.

While in general Ms. Albright felt it was necessary to accommodate students, she also asserted that it should not be taken to an extreme. For example, she expected students who did not speak English to work hard to overcome this barrier. However, she did facilitate learning by including instructional approaches that addressed the needs of limited English speakers. Her extensive use of manipulatives was an example. She explained that she used manipulatives because the concepts become clearer without language: "The tangible is the language of all people." Although Ms. Albright's emphasis was on reaching her students, she maintained that once she had reached them, they had the right to fail if they so choose. Ms. Albright believed that she should be accessible to students even if that meant meeting with them before or after school, during her prep or free period. Ms. Albright forged strong personal relationships with students, getting to know many of her students well and staying in contact with their families.

Ms. Albright is an example of a highly adaptive teacher who was strongly committed to her subject and her students. However, it is interesting that, while her instruction was much in line with reform programs, she believed she had developed most of these approaches on her own. She saw her classroom practice as continually evolving through "self-analysis, desperation and not liking to do the same things over and over again."

Department Context

Ms. Albright worked in the Esperanza math department, a unit that encouraged teacher development and collective responsibility for student learning. The department had a policy of course rotation such that all faculty taught courses for beginning and advanced students, which encouraged all teachers to take responsibility for the success of all Esperanza students and "to share the wealth and the other end." The Esperanza math department supported learning for all its students, holding high expectations for the current student body. Ms. Albright reported that although it had taken some extra effort, Esperanza has maintained the same number of Calculus classes it had before desegregation by "building up" the students for advanced courses. The faculty "try to beg and plead and coerce and everything else to get them to take Algebra." Ms. Albright reported that the department thought of "at risk" students as "kids who are turned off to math rather than kids who are too stupid to learn. It's a different philosophy and the kids like it." The math department chair expanded on this point:

We were in the 99th percentile on the California Assessment Program with a student body that is 55% minority. . . . We have an unbelievable math enrollment in this school. I don't think you will find any school with 1300 kids and 1100 kids taking math.

The department also held high expectations for its own members. They were proud that four of eight faculty could teach Calculus, having "grown" into the subject through personal effort and collegial support. Esperanza was a department in which professional opportunities were available and valued, even though the members of the department did not necessarily interact very often with one another around issues of student learning. While a positive and helpful atmosphere prevailed in the math department, Ms. Albright believed the department should spend more meeting time on professional issues, not just urgent matters such as ordering books.

While a number of Esperanza faculty participated in professional activities outside the school, including the chair who was stepping down, Ms. Albright was the most active. In assuming the chair role she told us she hoped to be able to offer "encouraging peer coaching and enthusiasm in this new position."


Carolyn Hanamori, a well-organized, well-prepared math teacher, felt somewhat beleaguered at Rancho. Her classroom practice was a prototype of excellent conventional math teaching. She focused all her attention on having students learn math, rejecting other goals, and her teacher-directed classes were run with a straight by-the-book approach.

A quiet, self-contained person, at the time of the study Ms. Hanamori had devoted 19 years to teaching, 10 at junior high and the last 9 at Rancho. Ms. Hanamori did not express strong interest in professional activities or other outside pursuits. She felt that teachers' professional judgment was questioned often and that the school and district were not as supportive of teachers as they were in the past. She reported conflict between the policies of the Rancho math department and new district policies. The Rancho math department believed strongly in student placement by exam and a strict sequence of courses. Ms. Hanamori endorsed this view of student placement and the mastery philosophy it embodied. She said, "to me, you have to have a bottom line. In order for a student to go to the next level they have to have a certain skill level."

Ms. Hanamori started teaching in 1973 having received a bachelor's degree in math with a minor in social sciences. She also earned an MBA and went through a teaching credential program. Ms. Hanamori taught a variety of courses. While we were at Rancho she taught Pre-Algebra, Introduction to Algebra, Algebra 1, and Math Analysis. She had also taught Calculus. She served as advisor to the math club and became department chair in 1991-92, the last year we interviewed her. She assumed the chair position because "someone had to do it for this year and I needed a little change . . . so I thought this would be a good change and then I signed up to do it. . . . I get a period off."

Ms. Hanamori strove to have her students learn mathematics, particularly the content that would prepare them for the next course in the math sequence. For example, in discussing Math Analysis she said, "I want to be able to encourage them to take Calculus. . . . I want them to be comfortable with the class [Calculus]. If I can do that in Math Analysis then I think I've done my job." Similarly, in discussing Algebra 1-2, Ms. Hanamori stressed the need for her students to "get skills and knowledge down pat" to succeed in future courses. Ms. Hanamori adjusted her goals depending on student level, so that advanced students were exposed to more problem solving and the idea that there was more than one way to do things, while beginners focused on computation and algorithms. Her current students were a source of frustration because they did not do homework and she asserted, "to me, math, the one way to get good at math, is through practice and repetition."

Ms. Hanamori also tried to ensure that students gain strong organizational and study skills. She told us ". . . when they come in, they're very scattered. They're not organized, everything is kind of all over the place." She required all of her students to keep notebooks, assignment sheets, and follow other procedures to learn to study and develop organization. Without a doubt, Ms. Hanamori's major purpose was to assure mathematics learning. She believed teachers should relate to students with regard to academic matters and course work and not venture into the personal-social arena. In discussing a presentation about Math A, she commented:

They told us that they [students] learn to work with each other. That doesn't tell us a lot. Math is really a skill. I am glad they learned to work with each other, but first they have to get out of high school.

Ms. Hanamori's responses to the survey items dealing with goals were somewhat extreme though she responded in the general direction of others in her department. Ms. Hanamori strongly endorsed mastery of basic skills and course content, holding the highest possible score on Basic Skills/Content. She had the lowest possible score on Personal Growth, which emphasizes the development of student self-esteem, and the lowest of all case study teachers on Human Relations, which emphasizes students' learning to work together (see Table 1).

Ms. Hanamori saw mathematics as a process of analytical thinking. She told us:

I think math is a way of thinking. It provides you with the options to think about solving problems differently, that there isn't one set way, and that you can actually break a problem down to smaller parts and look at it and try to solve it that way. Rather than be overwhelmed by some huge problem, you can approach it piece by piece, and then maybe at the end put it together and try and solve the whole problem.

She added, ". . . if you have a math background, I think you have a way of sorting through information and getting what you need out of it."

In thinking of it in this way, Ms. Hanamori saw the possible value of math in everyday life. Even though Ms. Hanamori described math as analytical, she also adhered to the idea that math is a series of skills to be learned in a given order. Ms. Hanamori held a highly sequential view of mathematics. She thought skills, topics and courses built on one another in an ordered fashion. She believed lower level math was the "foundation" upon which further math was built. She said:

Algebra 1-2, in terms of our college prep classes, in my opinion, is one of the most important classes we teach because that's our foundation class. If they don't have those skills and that knowledge down pat when they get to second year Algebra and the Math Analysis, they become very shaky and have real problems.

Along with most of her departmental colleagues, Ms. Hanamori held a mastery view of teaching and learning math. This view was institutionalized through a placement test program developed by members of the department. Ms. Hanamori strongly believed that

in order for a student to go to the next level they have to have a certain skill level. . . . Because with math, if they don't get the basics at the very beginning, it just mushrooms on them. So as they get further and further along, they get more and more lost.

Ms. Hanamori's strong belief in proper placement of students was evident when she discussed her approach to a student who might be having difficulty. She said,

Usually, before I do anything I look up their cumulative folder, and I see what their background is. I look up their test scores, I look up any information a teacher from their past may have put into their cumulative folder that will help me. If I find they're misplaced, I try to get them placed into the right class.

Ms. Hanamori believed math was a well defined field that was relatively unchanging. Her scores on scales that measure conceptions of subject matter revealed beliefs that were more pronounced than her colleagues' in the Rancho math department or than average math teachers. She strongly believed math was Defined, Static, and Sequential (see Table 1 and Appendix).

Changing Students, Changing Practice

In comparing her current students with those she taught in the past, Ms. Hanamori said: "It's like night and day. Priorities of these students are different. It gets more and more difficult to hang on to your standards and expectations." Ms. Hanamori noted a decline in the student body "across the board." She reported a lack of motivation in terms of "their desire to do homework. . . . They'll sit here and take notes. . . . But then, the minute they walk through the door, that's it. There's no more." She believed the lack of motivation characterized the whole student body:

It's not just the minority students; it's just a general feel overall. It includes even some of the honor kids. They have more direction, but they don't necessarily have the desire to do the work to go in that direction. I mean I have math analysis students that don't do homework. And you know, that's a shame.


Ms. Hanamori related much of the general lack of student motivation to an increase in outside school pressures. She told us that when students are exhausted from having to work all weekend or all night, "school takes a back seat real quick." For today's students, "just the attitude toward school is different. It's like school has become almost secondary as opposed to primary in their lives." She believed that students in her classes today had more serious social and family problems than students she taught previously, but it was primarily a lack of motivation and effort that stood in their way of success.

Despite their deficiencies, Ms. Hanamori indicated that most of her students were capable of learning the material she was supposed to teach, especially if they were placed in the proper course in sequence and were motivated. Younger students seemed to be a bright spot for Ms. Hanamori. She especially enjoyed teaching her Algebra 1-2 course because of the level of enthusiasm in these students.

You usually have the younger students. They may not be as easy to handle because they love to talk [but] they have a desire to learn the subject because they still have a lot of hope in front of them.

Practice Makes Perfect

Ms. Hanamori conducted highly organized, well-prepared lessons in a businesslike manner. Her instructional techniques were largely confined to whole-class lessons with the chalkboard, overhead projector, and pencil and paper. She said,

I have pretty much a daily routine. . . . [W]e start with a drill, and then we go over the homework assignment. Then I give the lecture for the next topic . . . and give them between 10-15 minutes of class to work on the assignment so that I can walk around and help them.

On a number of occasions, Ms. Hanamori talked about her belief that math learning comes from practice. "You just have to give them a lot of practice, and they have to be doing it all the time. . . . That's why I would love to see a pre-algebra book that has hundreds of problems for them to do." In discussing proposed math reforms Ms. Hanamori noted: "Part of high school is learning basic skills. They tell us that rote learning and repetition, you just can't do that stuff, but to some extent math is rote and memory. You have to memorize it."

In several interviews Ms. Hanamori laughed and admitted that she did not utilize manipulatives, the computer lab at Rancho, or formal cooperative grouping practices. She believed she was "not a manipulative person. I have problems handing out rulers and then making sure they all come back. I can't even imagine handing out all those little blocks and stuff." Based on earlier teaching experiences in the '70s, she opposed individualizing instruction as a strategy and the use of peer work groups. She said,

We did individualized out of math packs, and quickly burned out on it. You end up saying the same thing 30 times. Showing students how to get common denominators, the 30th time, it gets old. . . . There wasn't any improvement in terms of where we thought the students were based on what we had done before and it was a lot more work, so we regrouped them.

With regard to cooperative learning she observed:

It ends up unless you have an adult sitting in each group, monitoring what is going on, it seems like you have the students with better skills doing all the work. Students who are weaker are just sitting back, so they end up not having any growth, and the strong student is held back because they are explaining it to the slower student.

In light of these perceptions of alternative instructional approaches, Ms. Hanamori had a relatively small set of instructional arrangements at her disposal. Ms. Hanamori relied on students learning through whole-class instruction and opportunity for practice in class. In giving grades Ms. Hanamori judged absolute achievement but she did give some credit for completing homework.

Ms. Hanamori believed students must have their arithmetic and computation skills down before using calculators. Unlike other teachers at Rancho, she did not allow her lower level students to use calculators. She mentioned that students in the earlier levels require more variety, so she shortened her lecture and added worksheets, practice time, and drills to break up the class. She required all students to keep notebooks organized through an assignment sheet and required note taking. For lower level students, she provided a structured environment with the same daily routine. She commented, "They need to know the specific guidelines. . . . [D]ays can't change from day to day because that throws them off. And it throws off their concentration. So I probably have more structure in pre-algebra class."

Understanding that word problems are hard for most students, Ms. Hanamori tried to help them by giving additional examples and helping them identify the information needed to set up an equation. She said,

They don't want to read the problem. They have this wall. They can see the words, and they can read the words, but they can't tell you what the words are about. They can't pick out information. . . . I show them how I pick out information and I ask them what are we looking for, what numbers are we looking for, what sentence tells you-certain conditions, what sentence describes what numbers and what sentence tells you what you're going to do with those numbers.

Ms. Hanamori tried to give meaning to formulas students were expected to use by deriving equations for them and emphasizing that understanding was preferred to rote memorization. However, she did not teach math with applications and claimed that most word problems did not deal with real life, with the exception of "discounts and percent type problems . . . and mixture problems."

Ms. Hanamori did not actively question students or hold class discussions. She said, "I think I've made it comfortable enough for them to want to ask a question, and so if they DO have a question, they will ask it." This method of relying on the students to figure out when they need help did not seem to be as effective as she would like. "Some of them could ask for MORE help . . . and they'd be a lot more successfull" (emphasis in original). In general, Ms. Hanamori believed she should teach and students should take the initiative in seeking assistance and be motivated to learn. Therefore, she did not address student motivation directly in her classroom practices.

Ms. Hanamori reported that she established her preferred teaching techniques long ago. She scored very low on the Adaptation scale, indicating a lack of change in instruction in response to poor student performance, although she reported making some adjustments in her teaching to address the needs of current students. Because she believed students have many outside pressures, she provided more class time to practice problems and gave individual help. She also explained the material more, provided greater detail, gave a variety of examples, and slowed the pace. In keeping with her belief in the sequentiality of mathematics, Ms. Hanamori was willing to re-teach concepts with which students were having difficulty. In fact, at times she recommended a student repeat a course if their performance was poor even if they did not fail. She also encouraged students to take advantage of a peer tutoring program available at Rancho and to seek her out for assistance. The busing program was an obstacle for students "who need the most help because they have the least time to get the help. It's really frustrating."

Ms. Hanamori did not reconceptualize her curriculum or instruction when faced with new students. She made some adjustments, but the content of her courses remained essentially unaltered and did not seem negotiable except to the extent that she eliminated some material when there was not enough time. Her instructional repertoire was highly conventional and routine. She did not establish personal connections with her students, and placed the burden on students to seek assistance. Although she wanted to be successful and was strongly committed to teaching as a profession, she had the lowest scores of all our teachers on Efficacy, feeling there was little she could do to ensure student success. Despite her efforts, Ms. Hanamori did not feel successful and reported, "It's been a tough year."

Department Context

The Rancho math department developed a placement testing program to determine student eligibility for courses. Rancho teachers felt strongly that the tests defined the necessary skills for each course and had a strong commitment to sequential mathematics accompanied by a skill orientation. The department placement policy and its maintenance of a number of courses below Algebra put Rancho math in conflict with the district. When the district announced a policy of having all students take Algebra, Rancho introduced an Algebra 1A course consisting of what would ordinarily have been first semester Algebra taught over a full year and an Algebra IB course consisting of the second semester of standard Algebra taught over a year. In this way, the department met the letter of the law but still maintained placement of students into courses they believed the students needed. Another illustration of resistance occurred when the department was faced with the introduction of a new integrated math program promulgated by the district. Rancho opted out of using the new program by volunteering to serve as a "control group" for the district.

The department consisted of faculty who had all taught for many years. Members reported very little interaction, yet they seemed to share common perspectives and beliefs. Each course had a general content outline to which all teachers adhered. The department represented a kind of collegiality and consensus that was established in the past and was maintained without active face-to-face contact. Department meetings were infrequent and were mostly devoted to routine matters or to dealing with district mandates.

The department strongly reinforced Ms. Hanamori's beliefs about subject matter, student placement, and goals, though she was somewhat extreme even in relation to her departmental colleagues. The beliefs and norms of the department may have made it difficult for any of its members to think about alternative ways of teaching. Indeed the department had a number of members who actively resisted change. New ideas about teaching and learning and support for change and experimentation were not in evidence at Rancho. Department members reported little involvement in professional organizations—with the exception of some union activists.


Ms. Albright, Ms. Hanamori, Mr. Caro, and Mr. Lawson are dedicated, well regarded teachers who want their students to succeed. However, Ms. Albright and Mr. Caro reported a number of specific changes in curriculum and instruction to adapt to their new students, while Ms. Hanamori and Mr. Lawson made few changes in curriculum and instruction despite the change in student population. Ms. Albright and Mr. Caro had reconceptualized their approach to curriculum and instruction while Ms. Hanamori and Mr. Lawson had not. By their own reports, Ms. Albright and Mr. Caro felt they could ensure student success while Ms. Hanamori and Mr. Lawson were discouraged and frustrated by their lack of success in reaching students (see Efficacy scores in Table 1).

Why do some teachers tend to exhibit adaptations to diverse students while others make limited adjustments? We examine communalities and differences in characteristics and behaviors of the case study teachers. We begin by looking at the teachers' goals. Do Ms. Albright and Mr. Caro share certain goals not held by Ms. Hanamori and Mr. Lawson?


Despite different subject matter contexts, Ms. Albright and Mr. Caro shared a similar pattern of goals. In interviews and surveys, both teachers expressed a very strong commitment to students' personal development and to fostering interpersonal skills. While both teachers also wanted their students to learn subject matter, academic learning was no more important in their eyes than personal and social development, and, if forced to choose, perhaps somewhat less so. Both Ms. Albright and Mr. Caro held multiple goals for their students that encompassed intellectual, personal, social, attitudinal, and, in Mr. Caro's case, moral dimensions.

Ms. Hanamori and Mr. Lawson also held common goals. Both endorsed subject matter attainment as the preeminent goal for students. Ms. Hanamori also strove for study skills in her students, while Mr. Lawson tried to cultivate the development of civility and manners in his. Both Ms. Hanamori and Mr. Lawson rejected personal growth and enhancing self-esteem as goals in their classes.

The two teachers who changed their curriculum and instruction to accommodate a more diverse student body held a broad set of goals spanning personal, social, and academic outcomes for their students. In contrast, the two teachers who primarily adjusted their curriculum by slowing the pace of content coverage and eliminating certain difficult materials had goals focused almost exclusively on student academic achievement, defined as it had been over many years of teaching.

Holding multiple goals may make it easier for teachers to change curriculum and instruction because change can be justified on more than one dimension. For example, classroom arrangements such as cooperative grouping take on value in the service of promoting human relations skills and subject matter learning in the mind of a teacher with both goals. Teachers and students also can experience success across a broader spectrum of activities and outcomes.

Nevertheless, a difficult issue is whether pursuing broad and multiple goals might compromise the quality of academic attainment of students. Teachers who hold multiple goals typically see them as synergistic, each facilitating the successful development of the others. In some cases, however, it is possible that subject matter attainment might be underplayed in an effort to sustain personal, social, and motivational goals. For example, Mr. Caro's decision to emphasize personal essays rather than expository essays with his regular students may have led to lowered expectations for student writing. Of course, holding academic goals for which students are ill prepared without changing instructional strategies to promote more success also endangers subject matter attainment.


Both Ms, Albright and Mr. Caro took a personal approach in their teaching, getting to know students and their families and making themselves easily available. Ms. Albright used a personal connection to students to engage students in the subject matter, arguing, "If you can get a child with you, you can go anywhere." As a former performing arts teacher, Mr. Caro particularly enjoyed the personal contacts with students and tried to maintain them as an English teacher. The personal approach to teaching was a reflection of both attachment to students and a way to motivate student learning and effort.

Mr. Lawson expressed regret at having lost a personal connection derived from living in the same community and sharing a common background with the students he used to teach. Though Mr. Lawson made some efforts to connect personally with his current students, he felt his success was limited to a few and his primary concern with academic attainment took precedence. Ms. Hanamori firmly believed it was not a teacher's responsibility to go beyond matters of academic learning with students (see Personalization scores in Table 1 and Appendix).

An additional contrast between these teachers can be seen in the differences in instructional repertoire. Mr. Caro and Ms. Albright had access to new ideas and instructional techniques and reported an interest and willingness to try them. Recall the writing workshop techniques incorporated by Mr. Caro and the continuous small groups used by Ms. Albright as examples. In contrast, Mr. Lawson and Ms. Hanamori lacked both supportive sources for new instructional models and the proclivity to try those alternatives with which they were familiar. Mr. Lawson's strong belief that presentation and lecture were the appropriate modes of instruction in English deterred him from trying small groups or writing workshops. Similarly, Ms. Hanamori had an instructional routine with which she was comfortable and was skeptical and ill at ease with other approaches such as manipulatives, computers, or cooperative groups, the last of which she had tried a number of years ago and concluded "did not work."

One reason for a lack of faith in the potential of these new approaches may have been the very strong commitment to subject matter coverage held by Mr. Lawson and Ms. Hanamori and the concomitant belief that curriculum content was not negotiable. They may have believed that changing established formats of instruction could jeopardize teacher control over the pace of content coverage. This stance toward content coverage may stem in part from more general conceptions of subject matter to which we now turn.


As discussed in the conceptual framework, on average, math and English teachers view their subjects somewhat differently, which leads to differing contexts for curricular and instructional decision making (see Table 1). Most math teachers regard their subject as well defined, sequential, and somewhat static (Grossman & Stodolsky, 1995). For math teachers, a major constraint in adapting to new students may be their belief that they cannot alter either the content or the sequence of their courses. Survey data suggest that math teachers feel strongly that they must cover the curriculum, believing that they do not have much autonomy with respect to determining the curriculum (Stodolsky & Grossman, 1995). These beliefs may constrain math teachers' perceived opportunities for adaptation.

What is true of math teachers in general, however, is much less true of Ms. Albright. She held beliefs about mathematics that are unusual within our sample. Rejecting a strongly sequential definition of mathematics held by the majority of math teachers, Ms. Albright could imagine students learning more advanced concepts before they have mastered basic skills. This belief helps explain her willingness to alter the traditional sequence of the mathematics curriculum. For instance, she had students who had not mastered all the basic arithmetic skills use calculators so they could study fractions and algebraic expressions. Her belief that mathematics is a way of life rather than a set of defined skills also permitted her to experiment with both curriculum and teaching methods.

In contrast, Ms. Hanamori held strongly to a belief in math as a sequential subject. Her strong commitment to the importance of sequence made it difficult for her to endorse alternative curricula. In addition Ms. Hanamori believed math is rather unchanging and that the content and skills students must master have been the same for a long time. While Ms. Albright's conception of mathematics enabled her to adapt to a changing student population, Ms. Hanamori's view of math as strongly sequential and unchanging constrained her possible approaches to adaptation.

English may offer a more hospitable context for adaptations to diverse learners. Overall, English teachers do not see their subject matter as static, and while they believe that English is sequential, they hold this belief significantly less strongly than do math teachers. English teachers also report greater autonomy over the content of the curriculum than do math teachers; this perceived autonomy may provide English teachers with more perceived opportunities to adapt the curriculum to students. As Mr. Caro commented, as the student population changed, he began to use the anthology less and to select works closer to students' experiences. It is difficult to imagine math teachers feeling as free to disregard the assigned textbook or curriculum on their own.

English is also a diffuse subject matter, composed of many distinct parts. The sheer breadth of the subject matter may require teachers to make choices about what to emphasize in any given course or unit. This diffusion supports English teachers' belief in their autonomy over the curriculum. Mr. Caro clearly demonstrated this in his view of English as five distinct subject matters. In part because he believed there is simply too much to teach in English, Mr. Caro felt he had a great deal of control over what he actually chose to cover.

While these general features of English may create an environment more conducive to adaptation, teachers' individual beliefs about the subject matter matter enormously. While Mr. Caro believed that English is a conglomerate of different topics, Mr. Lawson held strongly to a disciplinary conception of English organized around his beliefs in the importance of cultural literacy and an established literary canon. This conception of English allowed Mr. Lawson fewer degrees of freedom to adapt his curriculum. For Mr. Lawson, the canon was nonnegotiable. While Mr. Law-son may have changed his goals for teaching Macbeth to adapt to changing students, substituting another author for Shakespeare was not an option. Mr. Lawson's perception of the nonnegotiability of the curriculum created a greater need to adapt his instructional methods to engage students in the traditional curriculum, but as noted Mr. Lawson had not adopted new instructional strategies.

Across the two school subjects, the teachers with more flexible conceptions of the subject matter seemed better poised to consider a variety of adaptations to a changing student population. Ms. Albright and Mr. Caro, while teaching different subjects, had a similar set of goals for students, that extended well beyond the specific subject matter. In addition, both had a broad and flexible perception of their own subjects. In contrast, Ms. Hanamori and Mr. Lawson held a more rigid view of their school subjects, and of the importance of prerequisite skills for doing advanced work in the subject. For both, the content was nonnegotiable, which constrained their ability to adapt the curriculum.


We used survey responses from math and English teachers in 13 public high schools, including Rancho and Esperanza, to see if a pattern similar to that described in the individual teachers occurs in a larger sample. The survey contains a measure of willingness to adapt instruction (Adaptation), measures of goals (Human Relations, Personal Growth, Basic Skills/Content), measures of conceptions of subject matter (Sequential, Defined, Static), a measure of Personalization, measures of instructional approach (Individualization, Effort Emphasis, Achievement Emphasis) and a measure of Efficacy (scale items are in the Appendix).

Table 2 contains correlations of scale scores measuring goals with the Adaptation scale. For both math and English teachers, highly significant correlations occur between commitment to Adaptation and Personal Growth and Human Relations goals for students. No relationship exists between Adaptation and the goal of Basic Skills/Content, although this scale is not as adequate as we might wish. In the whole sample, as in the case studies, endorsement of goals beyond academic mastery is associated with willingness to adapt instruction. As in the case studies, accessibility of teachers to their students and the creation of bonds between teachers students, and their families, as reflected in the Personalization scale, is associated with willingness to adapt. In addition there is a positive correlation between Adaptation and being more likely to report individualizing instruction, rewarding effort, and offering opportunities for personal expression.


In the realm of conceptions of subject matter, the survey data confirm negative relationships between a static, fixed view of subject matter and both willingness to adapt and various forms of instructional adaptation. Teachers who view their subject as more flexible and open seer willing to consider a wider range of adaptations, although the relationship is stronger in English than in math. Perhaps a more open conception of the subject matter allows more degrees of freedom for teachers to reconsider what and how they teach. Conversely, teachers who see their subject matter as more "cut and dried" and less negotiable perceive a more restricted range of opportunities to adapt curriculum and instruction. While case study teachers seemed less likely to adapt curriculum and instruction when holding a sequential view of their subject, that relationship was not replicated with the available survey measures.

Mr. Caro and Ms. Albright reported feelings of success with respect to their students, expressing confidence in their ability to provide effective instructional experiences. Regrettably, Mr. Lawson and Ms. Hanamori did not feel successful and were discouraged in the performance of their students. An Efficacy scale in the survey reflects the extent to which teachers feel they can get through to their students. In the overall sample of teachers we find a strong relationship between Adaptation and Efficacy. Teachers' who adapt or are willing to adapt their instructional practices for new students also feel effective in their teaching role.4

Of course, correlations cannot tell us the direction of this relationship. Are teachers who feel confident of their teaching abilities more likely to try new approaches? Or, do teachers who adapt to the needs of students subsequently feel greater efficacy? While the survey data cannot address this issue, our case studies seem to indicate that teachers who are not able or willing to adapt to new students begin to feel less efficacious. Both Mr. Lawson and Ms. Hanamori were well regarded teachers, and both reported feeling successful with an earlier population of students. They reported frustration with new students for whom their instructional approach appeared less effective and felt personally less confident as well.

The correlations found among the survey scales are very consistent with the patterns in the case studies. As far as we can tell, both stated willingness to change practice and actual reports of changed practice seem most likely to occur in teachers who hold goals for students in a number of domains, including personal and social development as well as academic achievement. In addition, these teachers seem more likely to take a personal approach with students, getting to know them and their families. Teachers who adapt or are willing to adapt also tend to feel effective in their teaching role.

As reflected in the conceptual framework, the departments in which individual teachers are situated can play a significant role in sustaining established patterns of work or encouraging and supporting new forms of teaching and learning when appropriate. The four case study teachers experienced very different departmental practices, policies, and norms and worked in departments that differed in the extent to which they supported teacher learning.


The department to which a teacher belongs can represent one of the most important influences on professional attitudes, knowledge, and behavior (Siskin & Little, 1995). Our cases suggest a complex interaction between individual factors such as goals, beliefs about subject matter, and pedagogical preferences and skill on one hand, and contextual factors such as departmental policies, colleagues, and professional learning opportunities on the other.

Individual attributes may make it more likely that a teacher will consider using new approaches with new students and seek opportunities to learn new strategies. But departmental support for such efforts can play an important role in opportunities for new learning. For example, Yori's experience as a member of the Rancho English department provided him with colleagues who functioned as conduits for sharing knowledge and experience gained in professional organizations outside the school. Departmental colleagues also can help teachers tailor new strategies for students in the immediate school context. Conversely, collegial resistance to change may sustain teachers' personal reluctance, as Carolyn's experience at Rancho math suggests. Departmental norms may also make it very difficult for individuals to contemplate or implement changed practice. In some instances, individual faculty may remain largely immune to departmental influences. Nevertheless, while departmental orientation does not assure change in practice, it can support or undermine efforts in significant ways.

Course assignment policies, which are usually determined at the departmental level, also appear to be an important lever for change. Policies that encourage course rotation provide a mechanism for communication and coordination among department faculty. In contrast, once teachers develop a curricular niche, they have less motivation or opportunity to experiment with their practice or to consult with colleagues about instructional strategies or content, as was true of the Esperanza English department. Under such departmental policies, courses appear to be individual rather than collective products, and professional learning of individual members goes largely untapped by colleagues. Under such circumstances, teachers can function largely in isolation.

In contrast, departmental policies that require that teachers rotate their teaching assignment across the curriculum, as in the Esperanza math department, can create opportunities for new learning, shared understanding of the curriculum, and a sense of collective responsibility for the success of all students. Positive expectations that accompany teaching across grade levels and courses seem to underlie continuing efforts to find ways for all students to succeed. Our findings confirm the work of Gutierrez (1996), who suggests course rotation is an important policy in math departments she termed "organized for advancement."


Even though each of the case study teachers was aware of alternative instructional and curricular practices that might have been tried with the changed student body, Mr. Caro and Ms. Albright adapted and reconceptualized their practice while Mr. Lawson and Ms. Hanamori did not. The tendency to adapt or not to adapt to a new student population correlated with a number of individual and institutional factors that clearly went beyond knowledge of cultural diversity. Somewhat to our surprise, the pattern of associations was similar for both English and math teachers. In particular, a dynamic conception of subject matter, multiple goals, and a personalized approach to students were common elements among teachers who did adapt their practice or expressed willingness to do so.

All adaptations are not equal. We believe that the most effective adaptations are those that continue to uphold high expectations for student learning in the subject matter. As illustrated by Mr. Caro's decision to discontinue teaching the expository essay to non-college-bound students, the potential for lowering subject matter standards may accompany efforts to adapt to new students even among highly committed teachers. Such trade-offs present a major challenge to teachers arid teacher educators as they deal with today's students.

As more and more teachers face the challenges confronting Mr. Caro, Ms. Albright, Ms. Hanamori, and Mr. Lawson, the need intensifies to understand more fully what equips teachers to respond successfully to diverse learners. Teacher education programs have already responded to this challenge by including multicultural education courses for their students and by trying to place students in more culturally diverse field settings. We argue, however, that these approaches are necessary but not sufficient. Preparing teachers to teach academic content to more diverse learners will require a broader vision that encompasses not only knowledge of diverse learners themselves, but beliefs and knowledge about subject matter and students. Teachers should not be expected to make these changes on their own. The myth of the heroic teacher who triumphs against all odds undermines the importance of structural and cultural transformations that must accompany individual change. Building strong professional community and maintaining a conversation within schools and departments about responding to a more diverse student population can provide the necessary support and resources for teachers as they experiment with their teaching. The students are changing. Is teaching?



Personal Growth

If I had to choose, I would emphasize learning subject matter content over personal growth for my students, (scored in reverse)

I believe that growth in students' self-esteem is as important as their academic achievement.

Human Relations

It is important that as teachers we try to insure that students learn to work well in a group!

I believe that ethnic diversity in classes provides students a valuable learning opportunity.

I work toward developing the skills needed for my students to become employable adults and responsible citizens.

Basic Skills/Content

It is important that as teachers we try to insure that all students master basic skills and subject matter course work.



There is a well-defined body of knowledge and skills to be taught in my subject area.

There is little disagreement about what should be taught in my subject area.

There is a clearly defined body of knowledge that guides my work.


Thinking creatively is an important part of the subject matter I teach, (scored in reverse)

Knowledge in my subject area is always changing, (scored in reverse)

The subject I teach is rather cut and dry.


Students must practice basic skills within my subject area before tackling more complex tasks.

If I do not cover my curriculum, students' future learning in this subject will be jeopardized.



I try very hard to show my students that I care about them.

It is important to me to know something about my students' families.

I feel that I should be accessible to students even if it means meeting with them before or after school, during my prep or free period, etc.

I believe that teachers should keep their relationships with students in their classes focused strictly on coursework. (scored in reverse)


It is important for my students to have opportunities to revise and redo assignments in my classes.

It is important to give individual students assignments that differ from those given to other students in the same class.

It is important that lessons in my subject area provide students with choices of assignments.

Personal Expression

Class discussion in which students exchange views and ideas is an integral part of instruction in my subject.

Students need to write about their ideas in order to really understand my subject.

Effort Emphasis

Indicate the importance you give to each of the following in setting grades for students in your class:

Individual improvement or progress over past performance.


Class participation.

Consistently attending class.

Achievement Emphasis

Indicate the importance you give to each of the following in setting grades for students in your class:

Absolute level of achievement.

Student Differentiation

Curriculum materials (textbooks, books, a.v., etc.) for a given course should be different for classes with different achievement levels.

Instruction in my subject is most beneficial when students are grouped by prior academic achievement.


Student Decline

Students in my classes today are less prepared than students I have taught in previous years.

My students are as able and motivated as students I have taught in the past, (scored in reverse)

Students in my classes today are better prepared than students I have taught in previous years, (scored in reverse)

My current students care more about education than students I taught in the past, (scored in reverse)

Low Expectations

No matter how hard they try, some students will not be able to learn aspects of my subject matter.

My expectations about how much students should learn are not as high as they used to be.

Most of the students I teach are not capable of learning the material I should be teaching them.

The attitudes and habits students bring to my classes greatly reduce their chances for academic success.


If some students in my class are not doing well, I feel that I should change my approach to the subject.

By trying a different teaching method, I can significantly affect a student's achievement.


If I try really hard, I can get through to even the most difficult or unmotivated students.

There is really very little I can do to insure that most of my students achieve at a high level, (scored in reverse)


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SUSAN S. STODOLSKY is Professor of Education and of Psychology and Human Development, University of Chicago. Her interests are in the impact of subject matter on teaching and learning and in educational program evaluation.

PAMELA L. GROSSMAN is Boeing Professor of Education, College of Education, University of Washington. Her interests are in secondary school teaching, English education, and teacher education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 1, 2000, p. 125-172
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10443, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 9:08:01 AM

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About the Author
  • Susan Stodolsky
    University of Chicago
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN S. STODOLSKY is Professor of Education and of Psychology and Human Development, University of Chicago. Her interests are in the impact of subject matter on teaching and learning and in educational program evaluation.
  • Pamela Grossman
    University of Washington
    PAMELA L. GROSSMAN is Boeing Professor of Education, College of Education, University of Washington. Her interests are in secondary school teaching, English education, and teacher education.
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