Dr. Beverly Showers: Iowa Professional
Development Technical Assistance Seminar Series Training Materials, October
- The following narrative is a record of
one person's approach to selecting staff development content for an
identified need. Although there are other processes that legitimately
can be taken when selecting staff development content, certain principles
apply to all such searches. The principles are:
- Selection is a Critical Decision
The selection of appropriate content
for a district or school staff development program is one of the
most critical decisions to be made. If the content does not have
a solid research base, the district/school risks considerable expenditure
of time, resources, and effort on learning, implementing and evaluating
something that does not yield the desired effects.
- Match Student Achievement Goals to
Finding a good match between district/school
goals for student achievement and content likely to achieve those
goals is not a simple process. The profit motive often drives the
claims made by commercial interests for their products and personal
ideologies can affect both the research undertaken and the results
obtained by researchers as they pursue evidence for their beliefs.
Unfortunately, there is not a simple index one can consult that
states, "If your ninth-grade students are struggling with Algebra
I, the three most powerful remedies are "x," "y,"
- Invest Time in Searching for Appropriate
Investing time in the search for appropriate
staff development content is time well spent. Spending the time
and resources to investigate the research-based options that address
your students' needs for improvement greatly increases the likelihood
that a district/school staff development process will be successful.
of Process for Selecting Content
I. What is the district/school
goal for improving student learning?
- After analyzing its student achievement
data, the Mid-Continent School District discovered a distressing pattern
in its reading scores: total reading scores were declining through the
grades. Thus, while 81% of elementary students were deemed proficient
(using the state's criterion for proficiency), 65% of middle school
students and 61% of high school students were scoring at the proficient
rate. Closer examination of the data revealed that many of their students
were struggling with higher-order comprehension tasks, or what NAEP
defines as "the ability to interrelate ideas and make generalizations."
(Campbell, Hombo, & Mazzeo, 2000) When special education,
low socioeconomic status and English language learner subgroups were
examined, the trend of declining scores was even more pronounced.
- The Mid-Continent School District set
Annual Yearly Progress goals for reading, using the state's trajectories
(as negotiated with the federal government under No Child Left Behind
guidelines). Its middle and high schools, however, set goals to rapidly
increase the numbers of students able to engage successfully in higher-order
II. Is there scientifically
based research on teaching higher-order comprehension skills to secondary
- What is available to address this need?
Entering the research base in any specific area can be a bit overwhelming
at first. Mid-Continent needed a
plan that would enable it to identify choices in curriculum and instruction
that addressed its need and had
strong evidence supporting its efficacy in the area they wanted to improve.
- [Although this example was generated by
a single individual working alone, it is strongly suggested that a committee
(three to six members) work together to study the research base and
generate options for consideration by the staff. Thus, one or two people
can search data bases, one can locate and copy relevant articles, and
one or two can read and summarize the articles. Dividing the labor makes
this a much easier task.]
- Look at the work of others who share
One way to enter the research base without
being swamped by the sheer volume of published material is to begin
with the work of others who have already begun the work of reviewing
research in a given area. Mid-Continent started with three sources:
- The Iowa Content Networks (with its links
to other reviews of research);
- Reading Research Quarterly (the primary
research publication of the International Reading Association); and
- Review of Educational Research (a journal
published by the American Educational Research Association that is devoted
entirely to reviews of research on specific topics).
- [A general note in terms of process: Try
to get a general feel for a body of work, rather than going immediately
for the "one right answer." Assume such a search is going
to take a couple of days, and consider it time well spent if an entire
staff is going to then invest a year of their time and energy studying,
learning, implementing and evaluating the product of the search. When
reading reviews, also mark promising references that you may want to
read in full.]
- Mid-Continent stopped here to summarize
general findings and trends. At this point it appeared that several
instructional strategies had strong research support for teaching advanced
comprehension skills to adolescents (e.g., inductive strategies, activating
prior schema, reciprocal teaching, independent reading with student
choice of books, vocabulary teaching strategies, think alouds, and collaborative
discourse.) It appeared that, given the multiplicity of student learning
preferences in any classroom and the prior learning histories of struggling
adolescent readers, a successful intervention needed to incorporate
a variety of powerful instructional strategies.
- The following sources provided additional
information for Mid-Continent to consider before making a decision.
- Educational Laboratories and Centers.
The federal government funds educational laboratories and centers
around the country, many attached to universities. It is the mission
of these labs and centers to conduct research in education. The web
links to all the federally funded educational laboratories. The site
provided links to several labs currently conducting research in reading
and provided some very useful reading.
- At the Johns Hopkins Center for Social
Organization of Schools, there is a very useful review of research on
both reading and math for high school freshmen struggling with those
subjects. The full text of the article provided a very useful summary
of the needs of such students as well as the remedies available.
- [Note: When reviewing articles that have
not gone through a review process be aware that there may be mistakes
or omissions. When authors are cited in text but missing in references,
go to ERIC or EBSCO
to find the reference.]
- Publishers websites. Some
publishers hire researchers to evaluate the impact of their programs
on students. Although some dismiss any research conducted by a publisher
or commissioned by a publisher, judge such research on a case-by-case
basis (e.g., examine the quality of an actual piece of research before
drawing conclusions about the strength of its findings).
- An example of such research is on the
web site at www.scholastic.com
on its secondary reading program READ 180. After reading the information
on their web site, the publisher was asked for the technical report
of the initial study conducted on this program and was willing to send
- ERIC and EBSCO. ERIC
and EBSCO are data bases which
list references (and sometimes, full text) for articles published in
educational journals, conference presentations, reports published by
foundations, labs and centers, etc. Both data bases provide abstracts
of reports and articles listed. When full text is not available on EBSCO,
the reference can be found in ERIC and the document needed can be ordered
or located in a college library.
- The size of these data bases are simultaneously
their strength and weakness if one is imprecise when requesting
information, a search can yield thousands of articles, many of which
are neither research nor on your topic. Nevertheless, these are invaluable
resources for identifying research in a given topic.
Summary. Fewer programs exist at the secondary level than
at the elementary level. There are, however, many studies of effective
instructional strategies in this area. That left Mid-Continent School
District with the choice of choosing from a few already developed secondary
reading programs or developing one by learning a combination of powerful
- The benefits of choosing an already developed
program were obvious. Someone else has already gone through the trial
and error of combining various strategies and programs and testing the
entire program to determine its effectiveness. A second benefit is the
relative ease of getting training in one place for a developed program.
However, as mentioned earlier, there are not as many choices at the
- III. Identify options
- The next step for Mid-Continent School
District was to summarize the findings of their search and to collect
the relevant articles/studies before presenting options to a decision
making body. The presentation to the group might begin like this: "We
have identified three programs and six strategies (plus some promising
practices) that are strongly supported by research. Secondary students
have repeatedly improved their reading comprehension skills when taught
with these programs and strategies. We have divided you into six teams
three teams will each get the best report of a program, and each
of the other three teams will get the best study for each of two strategies.
Before our next meeting, analyze your reports/articles and come prepared
to summarize the findings and make recommendations for the faculty (or
committee or board)."
- IV. Get information on costs
(for training and materials) and availability of trainers
- Once the decision making body had ranked
its choice, the top three choices were selected, and information was
collected on costs for materials and training. This information assisted
the decision-making group in making a final decision.
- V. Insert your choice into the "Select
Content" section of the Iowa Professional Development Model and