Morris, Hiebert propose alternative way to improve education
Anne K. Morris
James Hiebert


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2:40 p.m., March 18, 2011----In the latest publication of the journal Educational Researcher, Anne K. Morris and James Hiebert, professors in the School of Education in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware, tackle two continuing problems in education by offering an alternative solution.

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In order to combat the large variation in learning opportunities for students across classrooms and to work toward improving the quality of instruction, Morris and Hiebert offer their vision in "Creating Shared Instructional Products: An Alternative Approach to Improving Teaching."

The article proposes a system that would engage teachers and researchers in creating shared instructional products, especially annotated lesson plans and assessments.

“These products would allow teachers to implement lessons that have proven to be the most effective across many classrooms,” explained Morris. “They would help to reduce the unnecessary variation that now exists.”

"One of the big problems we have in the United States is that you have all these teachers trying to teach essentially the same stuff, but everyone is doing it differently and not learning from each other," said Hiebert. "This model is an attempt to say that, as a profession, we can do better -- but we have to figure out a system to share the information that everybody is collecting."

The authors point out that in the past, some teachers have tried to work together to share their knowledge about lessons to improve instruction, but because there is no national, or even state, system for sharing and testing teachers' ideas, the efforts have been limited. While the Internet offers full lesson plans online, there is nothing to indicate whether or not the lesson is effective in helping students meet necessary learning goals.

The instructional products would be created around particular learning goals and have the ability to guide classroom instruction in great detail. They'd be quantifiable, improvable and accessible to teachers when needed.

Creating these products would require the expertise of various educational professionals who have had limited collaboration in the past. Researchers, teachers and curriculum writers traditionally work on separate products: research articles, lessons plans and curriculums, respectively. Under this proposed system, they'd work together to create the most effective annotated lesson plans and assessments possible.

"We've tried for years to improve classroom teaching by developing teachers' skill sets, without improving the products that help teachers teach," said Morris. "This is an alternative way to advance our teaching methods. By focusing on the methods of teaching and storing what we learn in products that can be shared and tested, each generation can build on the previous generation's work, rather than starting over."

Morris and Hiebert have started conducting research at the university level to test and refine these ideas. They are currently finalizing a grant proposal that would allow professors to share lessons across institutions. As part of the project, they will work toward developing a system for continuously improving those lessons by using common assessments and collecting information about which changes yield real improvements for students.

Article by Cassandra Kramer