Mapping teacher-structured collaborative learning in a context of problem-based learning curriculum redesign
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This dissertation uses a single and comparative case study to examine the work of several teacher-led and driven collaboration groups, known as design teams, as they worked to redesign established curriculum into problem based learning (PBL) curriculum. The study is situated in Cielo Vista High School, a diverse, public, comprehensive high school in the Pacific Northwest. In 2009, teachers and administrators at Cielo Vista High School were awarded a five-year federal grant to redesign their curriculum from a traditional, teacher-centered curriculum to a problem based, student-centered curriculum. A key component of the curriculum redesign and transformation work was the formation of teacher design teams, in which teachers worked to redesign established curriculum into problem based curriculum. This dissertation focuses on design teams as the unit of analysis, to better understand how teachers structured their collaboration to design problem based curriculum. Theoretically, I explore several dimensions of teacher collaborative learning that represents current gaps in the research literature. First, I examine how teachers structure their collaboration when they are given the autonomy to do so and how they learn from the routines they establish in their collaborative work together. Second, I examine the social dimensions of teachers' collaborative work in an effort to identify how uneven levels of teacher status influence how teachers structure their collaborative work. Methodologically, this dissertation uses Little's (1990) concepts of "sharing" and "joint work" as analytical frames to describe the especially meaningful routines teachers have established in their collaborative teams. In addition, I leverage discourse markers (Schiffrin, 1987) to identify and link teacher turn-taking, argumentation, and decision making to illuminate how interpersonal and social interactions influence how groups of teachers work together. Discourse analysis using discourse markers also helps explain how and why some teams seemed to work more productively than others. I make extensive use of video recorded design team meetings and teacher interviews to examine teachers' collaborative work. This dissertation informs and extends the research literature around situated teacher collaborative learning by mapping what collaborative routines several teacher-led and driven design teams established in one year of daily design team meetings. I demonstrate that collaboration can be a highly relevant and meaningful setting for teacher learning if such collaboration is anchored in solving problems evidenced in teachers' practice and if teachers are given the autonomy to leverage their expertise to identify and apply solutions to such problems. These findings suggest that schools and districts need not dictate the terms, goals, and structure of collaboration to teachers. Instead, they would be wise to focus on providing teachers with relevant and authentic collaborative tasks, identified in part by the teachers themselves, in order to increase teacher learning and improved instructional practice. Findings indicate that how teachers structured their collaborative work varied across the school. The teams that leveraged routines of sharing also typically engaged in collaborative work characteristic of "joint work" (Little, 1990). The groups where teachers established an egalitarian culture, despite differences in teachers' years of experience or depth of content knowledge, also evidenced more instances of sharing and joint work. Broad findings from this dissertation suggest that a combination of teacher buy in to the collaborative task, coupled with explicit norms and teacher control over the structure and product of the collaborative work, and thoughtful and strategic support of collaborative groups can create especially rich collaborative experiences for teachers. Implicit in this dissertation is the argument for a return to principles of school renewal (Sirotnik, 1999) for meaningful school improvement.
- Education - Seattle