on Use of Instructional Materials
Sustainability: Teacher Buy-in
Assuring teachers that a new initiative will address their concerns better than previous procedures or materials did is crucial to teacher buy-in. This was confirmed in the studies referenced in the Improved Instruction discussion. The studies established that the degree to which a teacher would use the new instructional materials was affected by the teacher’s level of trust that the materials would help meet their students’ needs. In the example of SEPUP training, PDLs were able to provide this assurance, since they were experienced CPS middle grades science teachers.
The “Chicago-ization” of SEPUP professional development was very important to both buy-in and institutionalization of SEPUP in Chicago. Teachers had some concerns about SEPUP implementation that were due to specific pressures coming from the district. First, Chicago had a long tradition of having students participate in “Science Fair.” School administrators take a great deal of pride in their school’s successful participation in this over-50-year-old program, and in the past, science fair projects had been the only tangible evidence of science instruction taking place in some schools. This changed with the advent of the CMSI, but some teachers still felt strong pressure to get their students to participate, and they often stopped regular instruction to “do” science fair projects. This was problematic on two fronts: (1) in schools using CMSI-supported instructional materials, teachers participating in Science Fair often got off the recommended pacing; and (2) many teachers were not adept at mentoring students through the process of developing a project, therefore project quality at the school science fairs was quite low.
Also, teachers district-wide felt the pressure to improve standardized test scores, which caused teachers to stop using the instructional materials sometime in February or March (depending on the testing dates) to prepare their students for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
The use of homegrown PDLs who were familiar with district and school culture was essential to gaining teachers’ trust about these concerns. PDLs showed teachers that it was not necessary to stop CMSI-supported instruction to meet the pressures of Science Fair and ISAT testing. In the case of Science Fair, PDLs pointed teachers to specific activities in SEPUP that used an open-inquiry approach and could easily be adapted to a Science Fair project. In the case of ISAT, PDLs emphasized that the science portion of the ISAT (given in 4th and 7th grades) largely focused on the skills and processes of science. The skills highlighted on the ISAT were the same as those highlighted in the CMSI-supported instructional materials (e.g., how to read and interpret graphs, understanding scientific methods, being able to read a description of an experiment and identify the independent/dependent variables, and control and treatment groups).
In addition, Lab-Aids provided documentation of the correlation between SEPUP and the Illinois Learning Standards, which PDLs pointed out to teachers in professional development sessions. The problem of teachers suspending instruction to work on ISAT skills decreased over the years of CMSI implementation. In the middle grades this was perhaps due to increased school departmentalization in grades 6-8, reducing the need for science teachers to prepare their students for the math and reading ISATs.
According to Lab-Aids consultants, SEPUP professional development in Chicago had some unique features, compared to other urban districts. These features include the close involvement of Loyola University faculty in the professional development sessions as part of the three-way partnership involved with the design and implementation of the SEPUP professional development; and the use of PDLs, the majority of whom were classroom teachers themselves, and had both the knowledge and flexibility to address teachers’ locally based concerns. Professional development consultants at Lab-Aids and Lawrence Hall (the developers of SEPUP) have been very enthusiastic about the site-specific professional development model created in Chicago, and have been eager to share it with other urban districts.