Standards for Professional Development: A Sociocultural Perspective
Much research and theory has focused on improving the academic success of students at-risk for failure due to poverty, limited English proficiency, and/or background knowledge and experiences which do not map easily onto school expectations. Several studies have led to significant advances in understanding basic learning processes, including the social and cultural foundations of cognitive development. Rather than focusing on presumed student deficits, researchers have focused on ways that schools can scaffold learning, build on student characteristics as resources, and mitigate risk factors. The Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE) has synthesized this work with five standards for effective teaching: joint productive activity, language and literacy development, contextualizing teaching and learning, complex thinking, and instructional conversation (Dalton, 1998).
These standards can also be applied to professional development activities. Of course, adults and children learn differently. For example, adults have more extensive and more organized background knowledge than young children. They may be more strategic in how they learn, may have different motivations for learning, and may be more aware of their learning so that they monitor and self-regulate their learning better. However, the principles that describe effective teaching and learning for students in classrooms should not differ from those for adults in general and teachers in particular.
Some of the research studies on improving educational outcomes for students and improving schooling have concluded that effective instructional environments depend upon well-trained, reflective teachers who are adequately supported in terms of professional development. Rather than trying to develop teacher-proof curriculum and teaching practices, recent work has focused on fostering professional communities of learners and lifelong support programs. The current emphasis is to embed knowledge and skill acquisition within a framework of teacher growth and development, collaborative programs, and interactive research within a community of learners (see Sprinthall, Remain, & Thies-Sprinthall, 1996 for a recent review).
This Research Brief discusses the five standards in terms of sociocultural theory and explains how each standard can support the learning process underlying professional development efforts.