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Keywords:

  • professional development;
  • science;
  • elementary science;
  • electric circuits;
  • student achievement;
  • teaching cases;
  • looking at student work;
  • metacognition;
  • teacher learning;
  • inservice professional development;
  • content knowledge;
  • English language learners

Abstract

To identify links among professional development, teacher knowledge, practice, and student achievement, researchers have called for study designs that allow causal inferences and that examine relationships among features of interventions and multiple outcomes. In a randomized experiment implemented in six states with over 270 elementary teachers and 7,000 students, this project compared three related but systematically varied teacher interventions—Teaching Cases, Looking at Student Work, and Metacognitive Analysis—along with no-treatment controls. The three courses contained identical science content components, but differed in the ways they incorporated analysis of learner thinking and of teaching, making it possible to measure effects of these features on teacher and student outcomes. Interventions were delivered by staff developers trained to lead the teacher courses in their regions. Each course improved teachers' and students' scores on selected-response science tests well beyond those of controls, and effects were maintained a year later. Student achievement also improved significantly for English language learners in both the study year and follow-up, and treatment effects did not differ based on sex or race/ethnicity. However, only Teaching Cases and Looking at Student Work courses improved the accuracy and completeness of students' written justifications of test answers in the follow-up, and only Teaching Cases had sustained effects on teachers' written justifications. Thus, the content component in common across the three courses had powerful effects on teachers' and students' ability to choose correct test answers, but their ability to explain why answers were correct only improved when the professional development incorporated analysis of student conceptual understandings and implications for instruction; metacognitive analysis of teachers' own learning did not improve student justifications either year. Findings suggest investing in professional development that integrates content learning with analysis of student learning and teaching rather than advanced content or teacher metacognition alone. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 49: 333–362, 2012