Recently an article entitled Differences in Teachers’ Comments on Classroom Events as Indicators of Their Professional Development (Krull et al., 2007) fell into my lap. The abstract promised some insight into the different ways beginner and expert teachers perceive and evaluate classroom events. After a quick scan at the references, the researcher in me was sufficiently intrigued: there were a number of sources which matched those I already considered valuable in my own mental list of essential authors, as well as few captivating titles for additional reading. This kindled the hope that perhaps this article would not only delve into the same themes I’ve been grappling with, but also that it might go through and beyond these themes, and ultimately illuminate the shadowy sections of my own research path. This was, admittedly, a naïve hope. Definitive, clear-cut answers to complex teacher research questions seem akin to mythological creatures: fantasizing about them may have its appeal, but letting your imagination (or desperation) convince you that they are real only places your conceptualizations in an even more precarious position. That said, the paper still held some reaffirming observations in terms of how it considered previous research on teacher expertise development, and also in its reiteration of research propositions put forth by other authors.
It also tipped me off to Kagan’s (1992) characterization of the four major dimensions of change among teachers as they progress through the professional development stages described by Berliner (2001). These were listed as:
1. The way a teacher monitors classroom events, moving towards an unconscious recognition of common patterns;
2. The degree of conscious efforts involved in classroom performance, moving towards fluid, flexible, automated routines;
3. The degree to which performance is guided by personal experience and the degree to which the teacher can predict events accurately;
4. The teacher's focus, as student work and academic tasks become the major organizing framework of instruction.
(Krull, 2007, excerpted from Kagan, 1992, p.160-161)
Useful as Kagan’s depiction of teachers’ professional change may be, I agree with Krull et al.’s assessment that the value is restricted to its explanatory function, and still leaves a lot to be desired if one intends to evaluate the level of teacher professionalization in more precise, practical terms. Or if one has reams of transcript to code in an effort to determine substantial differences in the ways expert and novice teachers perceive, assess, describe, and cognitively structure significant aspects of classroom management, and that same someone wants their interpretations to be not merely interesting, but sufficiently reliable.
Krull et al. described the process through which they increased the reliability of their categorization procedures, noting that considering and comparing teachers’ comments in terms of instructional events helped raise their inter-rater reliability. They ultimately settled on Gagné’s (1985) model of instructional events as a suitable structure for framing and analyzing teacher comments, but they also built upon and adapted these tried-and-true events in order to account for comments concerned with classroom atmosphere, organization, and management. Here’s what their categories ultimately looked like:
(Excerpted from Krull et al, 2007, p.1044)
Based on my own interests in how teachers at different stages of professional development perceive and represent aspects of teaching deemed significant for classroom management, my hopeful heart fluttered at the inclusion of the organization and management category. Unfortunately, the flutter faded quickly. I suppose this was a predictable outcome, since instructional events lend themselves to a broader construction than a specific, intentional focus on classroom management would. Depending on how one chooses to define it, classroom management could be considered a comprehensive task interwoven into nearly all aspects of instruction, or it could be listed as a mere sub-category subsumed by a broader theme. Krull’s article seems to have chosen the latter.
After additional rounds of constant comparison, the “organization and management of general class activities” did not pass muster for deeper discussion, since the differences were not calculated as reaching statistical significance. Krull and his colleagues did, however, zoom in on the “general teaching strategy and classroom atmosphere” category. But their discussion was limited to quantifying the relevant idea units in this category [Novices: 11; Experts: 59] and breaking the idea units into additional sub-categories [For novices: general management of instruction & motivating and praising students/ For experts: comments characterizing the teacher, the pupil and the class, general management of instruction, and general atmosphere of the classroom]. My critical heart found their analysis unfulfilling and unfinished, and took little comfort in their statement that:
“The other category of comments that revealed significant differences between novice and expert teachers is related to general teaching strategy and classroom atmosphere, which have enormous impacts on teaching a class in the long run in terms of classroom management and learning motivation.” (Krull et al, 2007, p.1048)
Though I was wishing (and hoping) that their research findings might allow for something more vigorous than an aside in their discussion section, it was gratifying to see that they had drawn a clear link between the teaching strategies applied, the classroom climate that follows as a result, and the implications for learning. They even went on to point out that the “lack of context specific and strategic knowledge” (p.1049) in novices is a major limiting factor when it comes to implementing preventative strategies that would avoid, or at least mitigate, classroom management issues.
As I read through and reflected on their conclusions my sedated heart stirred again, vaguely analogous to the fabled phoenix that resurrects itself only after it has been reduced to ashes (in a fire set ablaze through self-intention). As I’d been sifting through stacks of articles linking theories of teacher expertise development, classroom management, and teacher knowledge, I’d already latched onto the idea of teachers’ practical knowledge playing a crucial role in explaining the difference in knowledge structures applied by experts versus those (insufficiently) applied by not only novices, but also advanced beginner and competent teachers. Krull et al. drew similar links in their article, specifying in their conclusion that:
“(T)he student teachers’ sensitivity towards those factors playing critical roles in successful classroom management and in creating a positive atmosphere in the class should be addressed in lesson analyzes…Special attention should be given to promoting student teachers’ practical knowledge and awareness of factors shaping the classroom atmosphere and students’ learning motivation, as the development of these capabilities typically takes years.” (Krull et al., 2007, p.1049)
Though the direction of my research path still has a great number of areas and concepts which could still use some illumination, the hopes with which I picked up this article had not been as empty as I thought. The authors and I seem to agree on the prominent role of classroom management as an invaluable skill for teachers at the beginning of their career. Likewise, promoting the practical knowledge development essential to the development of this skill (and other skills) is presented as an imperative for improving teacher training, and thus the expertise development of teachers, which advances equally precious gains in student learning. These conclusions of theirs, reflected in my own speculations, restored a glimmer of hope -- enough light to forge ahead through further research.
Berliner, D. (2004). Describing the Behavior and Documenting the Accomplishments of Expert Teachers. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 24(3), 200-214.
Gagné, R.M. (1985). The conditions of learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Kagan, D. (1992). Professional growth among preservice and beginning teachers. Review of Educational Research, 62(2), 129-169.
Krull, E., Oras, K., & Sisask, S. (2007). Differences in teachers' comments on classroom events as indicators of their professional development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23, 1038-1050.