Contact: Audrey Breen

UVA Team Aims to Pinpoint the Preparation That Makes the Best Teachers

Millions of dollars are spent annually on professional development for veteran teachers aimed at increasing the quality of teaching in America’s K-12 classrooms. But what about the training these teachers get before entering the classroom?

A University of Virginia-led research team wants to know what happens in university-based teacher preparation programs that enhances the quality of teaching in individuals before they enter the profession.

With $2.5 million in new funding, the research team at UVA’s Curry School of Education and two other schools is embarking on a three-year study that will follow pre-service elementary teachers in their final year of preparation and their first two years of full-time teaching.

“There is not a standard practice or expectation for graduate programs who prepare professionals in a variety of fields, such as education, medicine, law or engineering, to collect data on the performance of their graduates,” said Peter Youngs, principal investigator on the study and associate professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education. “We believe it is an important piece of the puzzle as we work to improve teaching and learning.”

According to Youngs, the purpose of the study is to identify what experiences in teacher preparation courses lead beginning teachers to engage in high-quality mathematics and reading/language arts instruction.

The study is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. Two UVA faculty members, Julie Cohen and Robert Berry, will serve as co-investigators.

Cohen said some data already exists on elements of teacher preparation programs that have an impact on pre-service teachers. “We know, for example, that student-teaching placements have a significant impact on pre-service teachers,” she said. “But what we know is far outweighed by what we don’t know about effective practices in teacher preparation programs.”

“Schools of education have a responsibility to fulfill our promise to train teachers of excellence who are prepared to take on all of the challenges of a classroom,” Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School, said. “Identifying and then replicating the elements that make up teacher preparation programs that make the most effective teachers is a critical part of fulfilling that promise.”

According to Cohen, the research team hopes to begin to identify what elements of teacher preparation programs matter to which students and in what ways.

Youngs, Cohen, Berry and their team, which includes researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Connecticut, will track 300 elementary teaching candidates beginning in their final year in the teacher preparation programs at six universities: The Curry School, another university in Virginia, two universities in Michigan, and two universities in Connecticut.

During the first year of the study, the research team will survey the 300 elementary candidates as well as their university supervisors and the cooperating teachers who work with the candidates during their student teaching placements.

The team will then follow these elementary candidates into their first and second years of teaching, observing them in their classrooms during three language arts lessons using the Protocol for Language Arts Teaching Observation instrument – developed by Cohen – and during three mathematics lessons using the Mathematics Scan instrument, co-developed by Berry.

“One major question we want to answer is, ‘How do we ensure teachers have the necessary knowledge and skills to engage in effective instruction across elementary subjects?’” Cohen said.

At the end of three years, the research team hopes to have identified a number of experiences in reading/language arts and mathematics methods courses that are associated with high-quality instruction in these content areas.

“We strongly believe that this study will generate important findings that can guide teacher education program design and provide a strong foundation for future large-scale research on teacher preparation,” Youngs said.

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