Middle School Teachers' Sensemaking of Job-Embedded Learning

Middle School Teachers' Sensemaking of Job-Embedded Learning

Brandi Wade Worsham (University of Georgia, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1067-3.ch026
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Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss a multi-case study on how middle school teachers constructed understandings of their job-embedded learning experiences. The aim of the study was to explore how teachers made sense of and gave meaning to their learning experiences that occurred during the school day as they engaged in the work of being a teacher. Job-embedded learning experiences referred to any formal or informal learning opportunity that was grounded in the context of the school day and characterized by active learning and reflection. This chapter includes a detailed overview of the literature on effective professional development and the characteristics of job-embedded learning as each relates to the middle school context; the background and significance of the study; a description of the research design, methods, and procedures; a discussion of the research findings and subsequent implications for educators; and suggestions and recommendations for practice and future research.
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Introduction

Scholars contend that the improvement of professional learning is critical for transforming schools, improving teacher quality, and increasing academic achievement (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009; Guskey, 2009). Furthermore, scholars assert that by enhancing the knowledge, skills, and practices of teachers through embedded, ongoing, and intensive professional learning within the context of the teacher’s work environment, the achievement of students and teachers will be greater (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Guskey & Yoon, 2009; Jaafar & Earl, 2008; Leithwood & Earl, 2000; Wills & Sandholtz, 2009). However, most of the professional development in which teachers engage follows the traditional format of one-stop workshops in which little opportunity is given for collaborative planning and implementation of knowledge and skills learned in the teachers’ work context (Birman, Desimone, Porter, & Garet, 2000; Butler, Lauscher, Jarvis-Selinger, & Beckingham, 2004; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001; Guskey & Yoon, 2009). These traditional forms of professional development have been widely criticized as shallow, top-down, and ineffective (e.g., Birman et al., 2000; Butler et al., 2004; Garet et al., 2001) while ultimately lacking the follow up and support necessary to deem such forms of professional development effective (Guskey & Yoon, 2009; Zepeda, 1999, 2006, 2011a, 2011b, 2012b, 2015). Thus, the professional learning of teachers is a task that must be assumed and revised if teachers are expected to improve their professional practice and ultimately increase student achievement and growth.

Consequently, little research has been conducted on alternative forms of professional development that include the key features of effective practice (Garet et al., 2001), the context and form of professional development in which teachers engage (Wei, Darling-Hammond, & Adamson, 2010), and the processes teachers use to make sense of professional development (Coburn, 2001). Greater attention to how teachers make sense of their professional learning experiences might offer ideas for revising current professional development practices as well as initiating changes in how teachers are supported during the school day. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to examine a study on how middle school teachers construct understandings of their job-embedded learning experiences. In particular, the aim of this study was to explore how middle school teachers make sense of and give meaning to their learning experiences that occur during the school day as they engage in the work of being a teacher.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Job-Embedded Learning: Also called as on-the-job learning, job-embedded learning refers to the learning that is grounded in the daily work of teachers. It is characterized as learning by doing and encourages teachers to actively engage in and reflect on their practices.

Sensemaking: An ongoing, social process individuals use to make sense of their world. Sensemaking assumes that interpretation and action are influenced by the negotiation of social cues and the co-construction of knowledge.

Case Study: A case study is defined as a holistic investigation and analysis of a person, group, or phenomenon within a real-life bounded system. Case studies offer researchers the opportunity to study the processes, perspectives, and experiences of a person, group, or phenomenon in the original context and culture. Case studies allow researchers to study a particular how or why question in great detail within the parameters of the person, group, or phenomenon’s unique context.

Informal Learning: Informal learning refers to loosely structured, continuous learning that is often the result of collaboration and interaction. Informal learning can occur anytime or anywhere. Specific to job-embedded learning, informal learning may take place during peer coaching, mentoring, and collaborative meetings.

Formal Learning: Formal learning opportunities include activities such as conferences, certification courses, or graduate coursework. In the context of job-embedded learning, formal learning might refer to book studies, lesson studies, or learning circles.

Middle School: A single school site that houses Grades 6–8 with a dedicated, full-time principal.

Professional Development: Professional development refers to any formal or informal learning experience or process that refines and enhances the professional knowledge, skills, and practices of teachers to improve student achievement and growth.

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