Beyond Teach like a Champion
Today, schools are under increasing pressure to focus more on student achievement and less on teacher training. Groups like the Learning Coalition have been advocating for large scale teacher training efforts in school districts and states to ensure teachers have the skills necessary to effectively teach students. But what if the time and energy spent on ensuring teachers have the tools to teach could be used to help students to reach their full potential? A new paper published in the Journal of Gifted and Talented Studies suggests that may be the case.
The paper draws attention to the growing use of sites like Achievement Gap Solutions to help students identify their strength and weaknesses, and find out where they have missed the mark. Participants can observe teacher practice in classrooms, and in the process engage with the same adults that have taught them in order to identify practice gaps.
The authors highlight the practice gap theory, and how these peer accountability processes directly address the shifting role of teachers in the U.S. education system. By recognizing the importance of teachers as thinkers, and most importantly of their being able to teach as problem solvers, teachers can provide ample opportunities for growth and development on both sides of the classroom. This in turn helps teachers build lifelong skills that are essential to any educator. After all, not only is it critical for students to develop their own skills, but it is also vital for teachers to develop their own soft skills such as collaboration, problem solving, and leadership.
These skills are evident on the classroom floor, and in the hands of an enthusiastic, dedicated teacher, a student is able to grow rapidly and develop critically important life skills such as self-confidence and determination. As such, facilitating meaningful and valid peer assessments can help to drive the many practices that directly drive student achievement. Providing access to authentic and valid assessments allows teachers to continuously bring new and stronger ideas to the classroom and build partnerships in the process. They can also identify and address areas of weakness as they practice the skills that were previously never apparent.
This practice gap model is not new, but recent studies and policy proposals have accelerated its growth. One of the primary contributors is the growth of peer accountability, which is currently in development by the Surgeon General and at a number of large public and private research and development organizations. And although the practice gap model in practice may be relatively new, it has extensive roots in real-world practice as some of the best teachers in the country continue to use peer assessment in tandem with standardized test data in order to personalize their teaching and boost student achievement.
The practice gap model still has many unmet needs, including the impact that peer assessment can have on younger learners and English language learners, and how it can be combined with personalized learning models and the emotional learning component. The advent of NCLB and Common Core, however, has given us a framework for creating realistic and valid systems of practice that students, teachers, and policy makers can use to align the needs of students with the needs of their teachers.
This article is based on a course from the Chapman University Program for Graduate Studies in Education & Social Policy, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and led by Joel Baker, Associate Professor, Department of Public Policy, Center for Education Policy, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22919.