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Developing teacher sensitivity to individual learning differences (ILDs) : Studies on increasing teacher effectiveness

By M.N. Rosenfeld


Effective teachers are sensitive to individual learning differences (ILDs). This dissertation investigates teacher changes as a result of eight long-term professional development (PD) courses (56-hours and 28-hours) designed to help them become more sensitive to ILDs. \ud \ud \ud In these courses, the teachers were mediated to investigate their own and colleagues' ILDs with the help of learning style inventories and a cognitive style test. The styles scores, interviews of colleagues and mediated discussions helped to raise teachers' metacognitive knowledge about themselves and colleagues as learners. The teachers were encouraged to question their styles scores, apply their growing insights and teaching repertoire with students and share critical incidents which they were experiencing as teachers. \ud \ud \ud Four studies investigated teacher changes. The first qualitative study found that when teachers underwent the PD, their metacognition and sensitivity to ILDs increased, i.e., they made positive changes in their language, beliefs about students and classroom practice. The second qualitative study uncovered insights regarding middle-school teacher preferences for traditional vs. project-based learning (PBL) contexts. The teachers' preferred learning context was found to match their own ILDs preferences. When the teachers legitimized their own and colleagues' ILDs preferences and learning contexts, many staff conflicts were resolved and teachers expressed increased support for PBL. The third qualitative study uncovered insights about style strength, i.e., how the strength of a teacher's own learning style can impact her language, beliefs and practice. In this case study, three teachers with extremely strong ILDs preferences were interviewed in depth during a 56-hour PD. Their scores on seven ILDs tools are explained and correlated with their changes. The fourth study was quantitative (N=234). A question to elicit beliefs about students and a scale to measure teachers' changes in such beliefs is presented (pathognomonic, blame-the-learner vs. interventionist, help-the-learner). Findings showed that teachers with ILDs preferences which matched school-learning (field independent, left-hemisphere and balanced) were more "at-risk" and held initial pathognomonic beliefs about students. In addition, such teachers were overrepresented in our population. The study showed that teachers, even those initially at-risk, significantly developed more effective (interventionist) beliefs about students after the PD. \ud \ud \ud The introduction chapter frames the dissertation and the four studies. The conclusions chapter explains the findings of all of the studies. We introduce a promising new research paradigm which we call a "2nd-person perspective", whereby the focus is on teachers' increased sensitivity to ILDs rather than on their ILDs scores. Guiding principles for other researchers and teacher educators are presented. The dissertation makes a compelling argument that sensitizing teachers to individual learning differences (ILDs) should be a top priority for the professional development of teachers

Topics: Algemeen, Individual learning differences, teacher beliefs about students, teacher professional development, learning styles, cognitive styles, teacher effectiveness, sensitivity to learning differences, learning contexts, strength of learning preferences
Publisher: Utrecht University
Year: 2008
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