Research: In Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success effective practices C.1 through C.5 focus on staff development. The authors write
In What Works: Research-Based Practices in Developmental Education (2002), Boylan cites several studies that highlight the impact of professional development and training on student success. He concludes, “No matter what component of developmental education was being studied, an emphasis on training and professional development improved its outcomes” (p.46).
The characteristics of effective professional development are well-documented in the literature and summarized concisely in The University of Delaware's Education Policy Brief. Specifically, professional development that improves student learning is content-focused, extended, collaborative, part of daily work, ongoing, coherent and integrated, inquiry-based, teacher-driven, informed by student performance and has a self-evaluation component.
The research suggests that the typical list of inservice workshops offered twice a year for community college faculty will not have significant impact on improving student learning. Citing a national study of effective professional development programs from the American Educational Research Journal, Boylan writes in What Works "the 'one shot' professional development actitivity is far less effective than a sustained and intensive series of professional development activities undertaken over time. Furthermore, effective professional development should involve a combination of general instructional or service delivery strategies and those which are subject specific." (p.47) Rarely do community college inservice workshops focus on student learning of specific subject matter. Mary Kennedy, in Form and Substance in Inservice Teacher Education, analyzed the impact of inservice programs for math teachers on student attainment of basic skills and higher-level problem-solving skills. She concludes "programs that focus on subject matter knowledge and on student learning of particular subject matter are likely to have larger positive effects on student learning than are programs that focus mainly on teaching behaviors."(p.11)
Our practice: The primary approach we have taken to sustaining developmental education initiatives at LMC is the establishment of Teaching Communities. Our teaching communities are based on
Teaching Communities, facilitated by a DE Lead, meet throughout the semester to investigate some aspect of teaching and learning. Frequently, Teaching Communities are comprised of faculty teaching the same course and are focused on a collaboratively developed research question, though we have also experimented with seminars on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in which faculty conduct individual classroom-based research projects. Faculty participating in a Teaching Community are often required to apply concepts learned from the discussion of assigned readings in math or English education literature by producing artifacts such as lesson plans, class activities, an analysis of student work, or a course portfolio.
Some of our Teaching Communities have documented improvements in student learning as a result of their work. The English 70 Teaching Community that implemented Reading Apprenticeship produced impressive gains in students' ability to summarize and respond to assigned readings. Intermediate Algebra students have shown significant gains in communication, problem-solving, and use of multiple representations as a result of the collaborative work of a Math 30 Teaching Community that focused on writing and revising classroom activities based on assessment of student work. Other Teaching Communities have conducted inquiry that surfaced the need for more in-depth study, such as the group of instructors working on grammar pedagogy or the prealgebra Teaching Communities that are applying the findings of math education research in an attempt to improve their students' understanding of concepts related to proportional reasoning.
Faculty participation in Teaching Communities is supported by the college with an annual budget of $24,600 divided evenly between math and English.