High Leverage Practices
Given all that must be accomplished in teacher education programs, we as teacher educators are faced with choosing how to spend our limited time. We know we have to help our teacher education students learn "how" to teach mathematics. We know that choosing "practice-based" activities is necessary (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Wilson & Berne, 1999; Darling-Hammond, 1998; Lampert & Ball, 1998), but there is no professional consensus about what it means for a methods course to be practice-based.
We have to find ways to support our teacher education students, as beginners, to develop mathematical teaching practice. This challenge is complicated by the need to maintain sufficient complexity such that what is being taught and learned in teacher education is actually usable in real practice. Our goal is to identify slices of practice that are high-leverage for beginners.
Mathematics methods students struggle in their first year of teaching to make sense of the practices inherent to mathematics teaching, choosing difficult practices to try and often giving up. We conceive of “high-leverage practices” as those aspects of mathematics teaching practice that are central to supporting the development of mathematical understanding, generative in nature, and productive starting places for novice teachers.
Working across these sites and looking then at the other examples across sites allows us to begin to see some common core elements in high-leverage practices.
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."
Megan Franke chooses problem posing as a high-leverage practice for our elementary methods students because it exists in every mathematics classroom (almost daily), it is critical to lesson development and to opening opportunities for participation, it supports attention to issues of equity, and research evidence exists for support.
Slices of Practice
The Mathematics Planning Group makes explicit their approach to focusing on an aspect of mathematical practice in ways that support teacher education students to learn to teach. "In order to make the complex work of teaching more learnable by beginners, we temporarily ‘slice’ teaching practice into smaller tasks or routines of teaching that can be articulated, unpacked, studied, and rehearsed." (link) We agree on the following:
Our focus on high leverage practices has pushed us as teacher educators to rethink our practice, to consider how to support our students in learning about practice in a way that becomes generative. We have always been concerned about practice, but we have now found ways to adapt our practice to support students to learn about the details of teaching in a way that helps them see what it means to learn in an ongoing way to perfect one's practice. As we have adapted our practice we have collected data about our students’ learning, which has supported continued adaptation and convinced us of the merit of focusing our teacher education courses on high leverage practices. We have learned a great deal about what constitutes a high leverage practice, and about what it means to engage students with high leverage practices to maximize learning.