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Implementing innovative ideas and practices in the classroom: Lessons for teacher education and professional development Erik De Corte Center for Instructional Psychology and Technology University of Leuven, Belgium.

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Implementing innovative ideas and practices in the classroom: Lessons for teacher education and professional developmentErik De CorteCenter for Instructional Psychology and Technology University of Leuven, Belgium

Invited lecture presented at the Conference on “Education and Training of Secondary Education Teachers”

Lefkosia, Cyprus, January 22, 2011

overview of the presentation
Overview of the presentation
  • A research-based perspective on the objectives of school education and effective learning
  • Implementing new ideas and practices: A trail with obstacles
  • Remedies toward sustainable implementation of innovations: Teachers’ involvement and intensive professional development
a research based perspective on the objectives of school education and effective learning

A research-based perspective on the objectives of school education and effective learning

Overall goal of education: Adaptive competence (AC):

the ability to apply meaningfully learned knowledge and skills flexibly and creatively in different situations

opposed to “routine expertise: being able to complete typical school tasks quickly and accurately but without understanding

Building AC in a domain requires the acquisition of several cognitive, affective and motivational components

adaptive competence

Adaptive Competence

11. A well-organized and flexibly accessible domain-specific knowledge base

2.  Heuristics methods, i.e. search strategies for problem analysis and transformation

3.  Metaknowledge. i.e. knowledge about one’s cognitive functioning (metacognitiveknowl.), and about one’s motivation and emotions that can be actively used to improve learning

4. Self-regulatory skills relating to the regulation of one’s cognitive processes (metacognition) or cognitive self- regulation, and motivational and emotional processes (motivational self- regulation)

5.  Positive beliefs about the self in relation to learning in a domain, about the social context in which learning activities take place, and about the content domain and learning and problem solving in that domain


Traditional teacher-directed learning: not the most and certainly not the only appropriate way in view of achieving adaptive competence (AC)


To support progressive acquisition of AC novel classroom practices and cultures are needed that create the conditions for a major shift * from the dominance of direct teaching* toward the balanced and integrated use of structure and guidance by the teacher where and when needed, combined with substantial opportunities and space for self- regulated and self-determined learning by students


Taking also into account the importance of contextualand social aspects impacting learning, thisinvolves that learning from instruction in schoolsneeds to embody more than was traditionally the case the following characteristics of learning: * Constructive * Self-regulated * Situated * Collaborativebuilding thereby on students’ prior knowledge and taking into account individual differencesThis CSSC view integrates the acquisition andparticipation metaphors of learning (Sfard, 1998), or the individual and social aspects of learning (Salomon & Perkins, 1998)

implementing new ideas and practices a trail with obstacles

Implementing new ideas and practices: A trail with obstacles

The preceding perspective on the goals and the nature of learning and instruction has influenced reform movements in education world-wide:

more accent on understanding, reasoning and problem solving in domains like mathematics and science

more accent on strategy teaching in reading and writing instruction

more attention to the development in students of self- regulation skills

more attention to fostering positive beliefs about learning and about subject-matter domains

an example from flanders belgium

An example from Flanders, Belgium

In the Flemish part of Belgium new standards for primary education became operational in the school year 1998-1999

Mathematics: these standards stress more than was hitherto the case

the importance of mathematical reasoning and problem- solving skills (heuristics and self-regulatory skills) and their applicability to real-life situations

the development of more positive attitudes and beliefs toward mathematics


These innovative ideas about the standards have of course had a strong influence: they led to revising the curriculum and to a new generation of textbooks for primary math teaching, based on this new perspective on the objectives of math education Important question: To what extent do the innovative ideas underlying the new curriculum and textbooks effectively and appropriately impact classroom practices in today’s regular Flemish classes?

evidence from a video based study

Evidence from a video-based study

Theoretical background: socio-constructivist perspective


10 sixth-grade classrooms / 206 students

same reform-based textbook “Eurobasis”

Data collection

Same two problem-solving lessons videotaped in all 10 classes

Students’ beliefs questionnaire consisting of 2 scales:

S1: pleasure and persistence while solving problems

S2: problem- and process-oriented view on problem solving

Problem-solving test: 10 non-routine problems

analysis of the videotapes

Analysis of the videotapes

Focus of the learning environment

Instructional strategies

Classroom organization forms

Nature of the problem

Focus of the learning environment on

* 14 heuristics and self-regulation skills

e.g., distinguish relevant from irrelevant data

overall metacognitive strategy for PS

* 10 beliefs about PS

e.g., a problem can be solved in different ways or can have different solutions

it is useful to listen to the ways in which other students have solved a problem


Nature of the problems * Realistic: the problem refers to situations that relate to students’ experiential world and the questions raised are meaningful for the students * Complex: the problem is not merely a routine task but goes beyond the mere application of a previously learnt formula or procedure, thus forcing students to use heuristic or and self-regulations skills



Focus of the learning environment

Heuristic and self-regulation (SR) skills

Some heuristic/SR skills are frequently emphasizede.g. distinguish relevant from irrelevant data

make a scheme or a table

Most skills are hardly addressede.g. guess and check

overall metacognitive strategy for solving math problems

Little or no informed instruction !!

Striking differences between the teachers’ approaches e.g. distinguish relevant from irrelevant data: frequency range from 5 to 47

results cont

Results (cont.)


Little or no attention is paid to the explicit teaching of norms

To a small extent: A problem can be solved in different wayse.g. All roads lead to Rome, as long as you take the one that is the easiest for you

results cont1

Results (cont.)

Nature of the problems

Realistic problems: more than 95 % of the problems that were discussed in the classes were realistic

Complex problems: only 22 % of the tasks were complex

Group work: totally absent in 4 out of the 10 classrooms



Introducing in textbooks a new, innovative way of teaching problem solving does not easily and certainly not automatically lead to a high-fidelity implementation of the intended approach in regular classroom practices

This finding is in accordance with previous research

A major reason for this observation:

Teachers play an active role in the implementation of new ideas and curriculum materials: they interpret - often unconsciously – the new ideas through their existing prior knowledge, beliefs and experience. As argued by Spillane, Reiser, and Reimer (2002):

“Implementation failure results not because implementing agents reject the reform ideas advanced via standard-based reform but because they understand them differently” (p. 419)


Moreover: * teachers are constraint by their specific working conditions while implementing a curriculum, such as time pressure, students’ prior knowledge, etc. * teaching students how to approach and solve non-routine problems seems to be challenging and complex for teachersChallenging question: * How can we bridge the “implementation gap”

toward sustainable implementation of innovations

Toward sustainable implementation of innovations

Research in which new reform-based learning environments were designed and applied in classrooms provide evidence, that sustainable implementation of innovative ideas and practices is possible conditional however on the involvement and intensive training and guidance of teachers

Several such design studies in different subject-matter domains illustrate and support this standpoint

One example: A powerful learning environment (LE) for mathematical problem solving in sixth grade

designing a le in partnership with educational professionals

Designing a LE in partnership with educational professionals

Research project – commissioned by the Flemish Ministry of Education - aiming at the design and evaluation of a powerful LE that can elicit in students the appropriate learning processes for acquiring the new standards for math education

The LE (consisting of 20 lessons) in 4 classrooms was fundamentally changed with respect to the following components:

the content of learning and teaching

the nature of the problems

the instructional techniques

the classroom culture



Competent problem-solving model: An overall

SR-strategy for solving mathematical problems






acquiring this problem solving strategy involves

Acquiring this problem-solving strategy involves:

1. Awareness training: becoming aware of the different phases of the SR strategy

2. Self-regulation training: becoming able to monitor and evaluate one’s actions during the different phases of the solution process

3. Heuristic strategy training: gaining mastery of the eight heuristic strategies (involved in step 1 and 2 of the strategy)


Varied set of carefully designed realistic (or authentic), complex, and open problems that differ substantially from the traditional textbook tasks

Moreover, these problems were presented in different formats: a text, a newspaper article, a brochure, a comic strip, a table, or a combination of several of these formats

example of a problem used in one of the project lessons
Example of a problem used in one of the project lessons

Pete and Annie are building a miniature town with cardboard. The space between the church and the town hall seems the perfect location for a big parking lot. The available space has the format of a square with a side of 50 cm and is surrounded by walls except for its street side. Pete has already made a cardboard square of the appropriate size. What will be the maximum capacity of their parking lot?

1. Fill in the maximum capacity of the parking lot on the banner

2. Draw on the cardboard square how you can best divide the parking lot in parking spaces

3 . Explain how you came to your plan for the parking lot


A learning community was created through the application of a varied set of activating and interactive instructional techniques

The basic instructional model for each lesson period consisted of the following sequence of classroom activities:

(1) a short whole-class introduction

(2) two group assignments solved in fixed heterogeneous

groups of three to four pupils, each of which was followed

by a whole-class discussion

(3) an individual task also with a subsequent whole-class


Throughout the whole lesson the teacher\'s role was to encourage and scaffold pupils to engage in, and to reflect upon, the kinds of cognitive and SR activities involved in the model of skilled problem solving. These instructional supports were gradually faded out

innovative classroom culture
Innovative classroom culture

Establishment of newsocialnormsaboutlearningand teaching mathproblemsolving:

(1) stimulatingpupils to articulate and reflect


(mis)conceptions, beliefs, and feelings

relating to mathproblemsolving

(2) discussingaboutwhatcounts as a good

problem, a good response, and a good

solution procedure

(3) reconsidering the role of the teacher and the pupils in the mathematicsclassroom

This LE was elaborated in partnership with the teachers of the experimental classes and their principals

The teacherswereinvolvedat each stage of the study, from the pre-intervention planning to the postinterventionevaluation

Meetings were organized to encourage reflection and input from all members of the research team, the teachers and their principals

The model of teacher developmentadoptedemphasizedthe creation of a social context whereinteachers and researcherslearnfromeachotherthroughcontinuousdiscussion and reflection on the basicprinciples of the LE, the learningmaterialsdeveloped, and the teachers\' practicesduring the lessons


This has resulted, for example, in a set of ten general guidelines for the teachers comprising specific actions they should take and ways they should be involved with students before, during, and after the individual and group assignments in order to strengthen the power of the LE In the teacher’s guide, each of these ten guidelines was accompanied by an explanation of its purpose, as well as by several worked-out examples of their implementation


Guidelines before, during and after the group and individual assignmentsBEFORERelate the new aspect (heuristic, problem-solving step...) to what has already been learned beforeProvide a good orientation to the new taskDURING Observe the group work and provide appropriate hints when neededStimulate articulation and reflectionStimulate the active thinking and co-operation of all group members (especially the weaker ones)AFTERDemonstrate the existence of different appropriate solutions and solution methods for the same problemAvoid to impose solutions and solution methods onto pupilsPay attention to the intended heuristics and metacognitive skills of the competent problem-solving model, and use this model as a basis for the discussionStimulate as much pupils as possible to engage in and contribute to the whole-class discussionAddress (positive as well as negative) aspects of the group dynamics



Intervention had a significant and stable positive effect on the experimental pupils’ skill in solving math problems (in comparison with a control group)

The LE had also a significant, albeit small positive impact on students’ pleasure and persistence in solving problems and on their math-related beliefs and attitudes

Significant transfer effect: the exp. pupils performed significantly better on a standardized achievement test that covers the whole math curriculum

There was a substantial significant increase in the exp. students’ spontaneous use of heuristic and SR skills

Not only the high-ability but also the low-ability students benefited significantly from the intervention.

results cont2

Results (cont.)

Video-analyses of a sample of lessons showed that the teachers implemented the LE appropriately, although there were differences in their implementation profiles

Most importantly the intervention yielded a sustainable effect: the teacher continued to apply the innovative approach to math teaching after the research was ended

But these results were only obtained because of the very intense collaboration with and guidance of the participating teachers and their principals

implications for teacher training en professional development

Implications for teacher training en professional development

Considering both studies one can conclude that

it is possible to train and qualify teachers in the sustainable implementation of powerful LEs

but this does not happen overnight and requires intensive guidance and support

Indeed, as argued by the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1997) with respect to professional development, the changes we are asking teachers to make are“ much to complex to be communicated succinctly in a workshop and then enacted in isolation once the teachers returned to their school” (p. 116)

implications cont

Implications (cont.)

Difficulty: acquiring mastery and agency of new ideas and practices is not just a matter of picking up a set of new instructional techniques, but it calls for a fundamental and profound change in teachers’ beliefs, attitude and mentality

This requires:

for initial teacher training that student teachers are immersed during their own training in the kind of LEs that they are supposed to create and enact later in their own classroom

for professional development that throughout their career teachers get continued intensive guidance and support in the sustained implementation of powerful LEs

teacher professional learning
Teacher professional learning
  • To make significant changes in practice teachers need time and multiple opportunities in a variety of activities (e.g. modeling, coaching) to learn new info and grasp its implications for practice
  • Teachers need to develop SR skills that will enable them to monitor and reflect on the effectiveness of changes they make to their practice (reflective practitioner)
  • Active leadership: key role in organizing and promoting teachers’ engagement in professional learning opportunities
  • External expertise: necessary to challenge existing assumptions and beliefs and to develop the kinds of new knowledge, skills and beliefs associated with the new concept of learning

Timperley, H. (2008), Teacher professional learning and development. (Educational Practices Series, #18.) Geneva: International Bureau of Education (IBE) and International Academy of Education (IAE).


Booklets in the “Educational Practices Series”:

thank you for your attention erik decorte@ped kuleuven be http perswww kuleuven be u0004455
Thank you for your [email protected]://