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U. Mich. Project Scales Up 'High Leverage' Teaching Practices

The University of Michigan today unveiled a new organization that will help teacher-training programs—and the teacher-education field in general—develop a more systematic approach to preparing their candidates.

Led by Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a renowned professor and dean of the university's school of education, TeachingWorks will disseminate a set of core skills for beginning teachers, along with a curriculum, materials, and performance assessments to help teachers master 19 specific skills. It also aspires to serve as a clearinghouse of information and evidence about high-quality teacher education.

In an interview, Ms. Ball told me that the University of Michigan developed the 19 skills over the past five years. Drawing on research and experience, she and colleagues tried to identify practices that could actually be taught and assessed, rather than more general dispositions. The original list was winnowed down from 68 to 19.

So, how does this list compare to Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching, or the practices outlined by educator Doug Lemov, or the CLASS framework developed by the University of Virginia, or the rubrics used by TAP and Teach For America?

Ms. Ball said the framework intersects all of them, but differs from each in some ways, too. She said she wants to develop more of a consensus about beginning teacher practice with these organizations.

"It seems sort of silly to have all these different lists out there," she said. "Teacher training in this country is in deep trouble; no other profession has 1,400 different curricula for training their teachers."

The 19 skills identified by the University of Michigan and TeachingWorks include such "high leverage" practices as:

• Making content, including texts, problems, ideas, theories, and processes, explicit through explanation, modeling, representations, and examples;
• Eliciting and interpreting each student's thinking;
• Composing, selecting, and using assessment materials to monitor learning;
• Communicating about a student with his or her parents;
• Setting up and managing small-group work.

The practices are already the focal point of the University of Michigan's teacher-training. Last year, all the teachers in its elementary education programs had to pass assessments tied to some of these competences—not to their courses, as is typically the case. TeachingWorks will develop more.

Ms. Ball said that the group's approach to assessment will be somewhat more specific than, for instance, the Teacher Performance Assessment being developed by 21 states. It won't necessarily allow teachers to decide the content of the lesson they'll teach or the types of evidence they'll assemble for their portfolio, instead requiring those aspects to be tied to competencies in the Common Core State Standards.

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