Does Teacher’s Induction Affect Knowledge, Teaching, and Student Achievement? (a.k.a. “AIM”)
Goals and Research Questions for Our Study: Development and Application of a Conceptual Framework and Instruments to Study Middle School Math Teachers’ Induction
This study develops a research-based conceptual framework for studying induction. It simultaneously builds the capacity of the field to study math teachers’ induction activities—with broader implications for investigating teacher learning at all stages of their careers—while contributing specifically to what we know about the effectiveness of induction activities in increasing math teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge, improving their instruction and bolstering student learning. Accordingly, the first year of the study was devoted to adapting and refining a coherent, integrated set of research instruments. The second year began a four-year longitudinal study of all beginning middle school math teachers in each of districts. We use the terms “beginning” and “new” teachers to refer to teachers who are new to the teaching profession, as opposed to experienced teachers who may be new to the district.
Year 1: Instrument Development
Our development work centered on the question, What is an appropriate framework and set of tools useful for both scholars and practitioners to study the quality of math teacher induction programs and their effects on instruction and student learning? Year 1 of our proposed study focused on modifying cutting-edge NSF-supported instruments from other areas of teacher professional development and math instruction research. Areas for measurement were derived from our research framework grounded in the professional development, induction, and math instruction literature. Instrument development activities included (1) drafting the instruments; (2) validating constructs through focus groups; (3) holding a working conference of researchers and designers and administrators of professional development and induction programs to share ideas and to assess the face and content validity of our instruments; and (4) conducting two rounds of cognitive interviews to refine the instruments (Desimone & LeFloch, 2004). Per recommended best practice, we combined the use of qualitative and quantitative instruments, each supporting the other.
Years 2 through 5: Studying the Role of Math Content in Induction
The broad substantive questions we have sought to address are, What aspects of teachers’ induction experiences focus on content and how students learn content, and to what extent is the content focus of induction programs associated with improved math teacher content and pedagogical content knowledge, alignment and/or quality of instruction, and student learning? Our intent has been to study the sources of support for new math teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge development, including mentorship, formal and informal interactions with other teachers, and other aspects of school and district induction programs. Recent research indicates that having a mentor-mentee subject match improves retention (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004), and suggests that early content-focused professional development experiences can shape instruction (Luft, Roehrig, & Patterson, 2003); we wish to build on this work to explore how the quality of these supports, such as the degree of match between the content knowledge and instructional goals of the mentor and mentee and whether induction is taking place within a strong or weak professional community, influence the development of middle school math teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge, the content and quality of their instruction, and their students’ achievement.
We addressed these issues in Years 2 through 5 by conducting a longitudinal study of all new middle school math teachers in each of the study districts, grounded in our research framework using our newly developed portfolio of research instruments. In the second and third years of the longitudinal study, we added an additional cohort of beginning teachers in each district as well as continued to follow the teachers who we began studying the prior year, for an estimated total of 135 teachers across our 4-year longitudinal study.
The longitudinal study, centered on our conjecture of the critical role of math content, aimed to provide proof of concept for an induction research framework and tools. It also aimed to provide a data source for generating hypotheses and beginning answers to pressing questions about how to build and assess an effective induction program for middle school math teachers, which could then be tested in studies designed to assess specific induction models, such as in an experimental setting.