Clearly detailing practice relates closely to the notion of high-leverage practices. We want teacher education students to be able to “do” the teaching of mathematics in ways that become generative. We believe that to do this, understanding the details of the practice is critical. It is not about using particular materials or putting students in groups; it is how we accomplish this as teachers that matters. The details of how to teach often remain, as Kathy Morris puts it, an “invisible” aspect of teaching. So as teacher educators, one of our most powerful pedagogical moves is to push our students to explicitly articulate the details of classroom practice.
Detailing practice involves understanding the practice in ways that allow one to be able to articulate the parameters of the practice, connect it to other practices, see it in relation to different students and how they may participate in the practice and so on. Details matter. Describing practices in our research and our work in our methods courses allows for unpacking, supports conversations about meaning, and helps us be explicit about agreement and disagreement.
Choosing a Pedagogical Focus
Janine Remillard allows students to choose their own pedagogical focus, “Each prospective teacher selected a pedagogical focus from a list provided to emphasize in their planning and teaching. The purpose of asking them to identify and work on a single pedagogical focus is to encourage them to direct their efforts on some aspect of their developing pedagogies, rather than trying to do everything at once. Having a single pedagogical focus also made it more likely that students would focus their attention on the role the four dimensions of teaching played in shaping their pedagogy.” See what her students learned.
Megan Franke pushes her students to detail the high-leverage practice problem posing. She uses the Quest site developed by Mary Hurley and facilitates discussions about what students notice about Hurley’s problem posing.
The Mathematics Planning Group explains that modeling computational algorithms with manipulatives is a central component of their methods course. They utilize records of practice to unpack these practices and identify and articulate key features of this work. Building in structured peer and instructor feedback allows for discussion of the details of modeling with manipulatives.
Kathy Morris focuses on detailing different participation structures that teachers can employ in their classrooms. She engages her teacher education students in these different structures, detailing the affordances and constraints of participation that each structure provides.
In each of the sites, the teacher educator is supporting the teacher education students to detail practice. And in many cases we work towards it in similar ways. You will see that we all develop tools that we can use repeatedly to focus discussion at a finer and finer grain of detail (you can see this with the mathematics task framework on the Franke site or the…). You can see it in the repeated passes looking at the same episode of classroom video (give an example, as when Remillard asks the students to…). You can see it in the questions that we ask to get students to attend to the details of the mathematics, the student thinking or the teaching routine (you can see this in the sets of questions Marks asks as he engages his students around understanding tasks and classroom culture. And you can see the push for details in the debriefing conversations we have as students discuss what they “see” in the sites. (Note: all of these examples of the teacher educator work make it explicit that it is not the web based materials alone that are important - it is how we are using them). These approaches all push teacher education students to have to make explicit their thinking, to continue to be more and more specific and to see how their ideas fit in relation to some broader sets of ideas.
In some cases we see this same detailing as the teacher education students move to trying out some of the practices themselves in their own teaching (Remillard and Franke).
We see this work as helping students to understand the practices, in ways they are developing their routines around the practice and making them explicit. You will see that it then becomes critical to spend a significant amount of time with a single practice, rather than moving quickly from practice to practice.