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RREXXX10.3102/0091732X19839068Review of Research in EducationTocci et al.: Introduction

Changing Teaching Practice in P–20 Educational
Settings: Introduction to the Volume

Charles Tocci
Ann Marie Ryan
Terri D. Pigott
Loyola University Chicago

R eflecting on a century of education reform efforts, Tyack and Cuban (1997)

wrote, “To bring about improvement at the heart of education - classroom
instruction . . . has proven to be the most difficult kind of reform” (p. 134). This
historical insight about teaching practice, that it requires intensive and extensive
effort to change, runs up against a popular and all-too-familiar canard that classroom
teaching and learning remain unchanged over the past 100 years or more (Dorn,
2011; Watters 2015; Watters, Anderson, Neuschatz, & Kantrowitz, 2018). Like
many public arguments about our education system, this argument is not about the
demonstrable, factual truth. We know teaching practice has changed and continues
to change because we have read about it (e.g., Cohen, 1988; Cuban, 1993), we have
seen it, and we have made changes ourselves.
Nonetheless, there are clear historical consistencies that persist in pedagogy
(Cuban, 1993; Tyack & Cuban, 1997). Dorn (2018) asserts that the “institutional
and cultural dynamics of schooling” have produced both perennial teaching practices
as well as spaces for educators to experiment, create, and implement new ideas.
Drawing on Schon (1973), Cuban (2013) characterized the interplay between stable
repertoires and reform initiatives within schools as representing “dynamic conserva-
tism” (p. 3), that is, the typical product of change efforts is a minimal or incremental
adaptation of current practice.
In turn, this means that year after year, millions of teachers work and tens of mil-
lions of students learn in classrooms that are complex composites of change and
continuity. Our schools are an ensemble of historical developments and contempo-
rary innovations that profoundly shape what happens in classrooms. For instance,
Review of Research in Education
March 2019, Vol. 43, pp. vii­–xiii
DOI: 10.3102/0091732X19839068
Chapter reuse guidelines:
© 2019 AERA.

viii  Review of Research in Education, 43

schools built to accommodate legal segregation, later integrated by court-approved

plans, might now again be de facto segregated through complicated interactions
between housing and school choice policies. In these schools, chalkboards gave way
to whiteboards that are giving way to smartboards, on which teachers broadcast
information to students sitting in tablet desks that supplanted wooden desks once
bolted to the floor. And at the end of a series of such lessons, students will likely show
that they have learned this information by answering multiple-choice questions, no
longer on a quiz or scantron form but on a laptop accessing a Web-based proprietary
learning management system. Every innovative practice is implemented within the
constraints and opportunities of our educational histories.
As Tyack and Cuban (1997) explored, there are a number of forces that have
served to maintain “the grammar” (p. 5) of schooling and resist sweeping changes:
cultural beliefs, institutional habits, entrenched interests, and the decentralized yet
highly interdependent structure of school systems. Efforts to make dramatic changes
to classroom practice require a sustained investment of significant resources and often
result in minor modifications to what it is that is already being done, an outcome that
often burns out reformers before the work is complete. Reflecting on Tyack and
Cuban’s work as well as his own efforts to reimagine education through the use of
computers, Papert (1997) dismissed the idea that any centralized grand plan could
overhaul a system as complex as schooling. But Papert was hopeful that a “rich diver-
sity” (p. 427) of new ideas and the change initiatives occurring throughout would
evolve schools into more effective and meaningful educational institutions.
We take our cue for this volume from this historically grounded yet optimistic
view of change to teaching practice. We know that teaching practice, while only one
of the numerous factors that produce educational inequality, is central to the mission
of improving schooling (RAND Corporation, 2012). We know that change is not the
same as progress or improvement (Payne, 2008); we know that for all of the resources
and time invested in reform initiatives, only some have broad, lasting impact
(Schneider, 2014). Yet the aspirational purposes of our school system calls us to make
changes in the pursuit of equity and excellence with our students, especially the most
vulnerable and marginalized. Deeper, more sophisticated understandings of why,
how, and under what conditions teaching changes in intentional, coordinated, sus-
tained, and responsive ways are essential to the work.
What makes this such a complicated research endeavor is the many variables
involved in teaching, including who is teaching, who is being taught, what is being
taught, and in what contexts teaching occurs. Similar to the past, future decades will
likely see significant changes in teacher (U.S. Department of Education, 2016) and
student demographics, evolutions in academic content, the introduction of new
instructional tools, and a proliferation of learning spaces—online and in person, for-
mal and informal—where teaching takes place. Generic answers to the question
“how do we change teaching practice” will not suffice. We need multidisciplinary
approaches applied in a wide range of settings to generate findings that illuminate the
common and the contingent elements involved in changing teaching practice. We
Tocci et al.: Introduction  ix

require research that has meaningful transferability across learning spaces, teachers,
and types of changes with careful consideration about how the particularities of place
and time influence change processes. We believe this volume can spark these conver-
sations by, for instance, bringing together a history of “race work” in the first half of
the 20th century with an analysis of resistance to culturally relevant education in the
early 21st century.
The chapters that follow span well-defined specializations as well as specific disci-
plinary and interdisciplinary approaches. They bring together varied strands of
inquiry into applied problems of changing teaching practice that are typically siloed
into different research specializations: education policy, organizational change,
teacher learning, curriculum and teaching, data use, and teacher preparation. Across
these specializations and disciplines used to investigate them, there are distinct litera-
tures and different units of analysis. To bridge these differences, we ask readers to
consider the following questions as they peruse the volume: How is change to prac-
tice conceptualized, evidenced, and analyzed? What are the key barriers, facilitators,
and contextual factors affecting sustained change? How do institutional and social
contexts shape efforts to change practice? How does teaching practice change relate
to student learning? Finally, what have we learned from both successful attempts to
change practice as well as failures? By posing such questions, the volume convenes a
broader discussion among education researchers and research-interested practitioners
seeking to understand a change to practice as a central problem. In turn, we hope this
will promote more multidisciplinary work that can draw overlaps among specializa-
tions and consider multiple dimensions of practical change in teaching.

The Organization of This Volume

Our goal in editing this volume has been to present high-quality reviews that
examine change to teaching practice from a variety of perspectives and a range of
disciplines with an eye toward the enormous scope of the field. This volume is not
exhaustive nor is it comprehensive. It does not reflect exactly what we thought it
would be when we published the call for proposals; the quality and creativity of the
proposals broadened our view. Taken as a whole, we believe that this volume presents
a compelling profile of the core challenges and opportunities facing those engaged in
the work of changing teaching practice and those who research these efforts. We have
organized the chapters into four sections in an effort to highlight major themes that
emerge across the reviews.
The first section of this volume delves into the history and policy of changing
teaching practice. Lauri D. Johnson and Yoon K. Pak begin in Chapter 1 with
“Teaching for Diversity: Intercultural and Intergroup Education in the Public
Schools, 1920s to 1970s.” This 20th-century history of diversity work in classrooms
highlights the intercultural education movement and pivots around Brown v. Board
of Education (1954) examining the deeper connections running from the past through
to our present day around the teaching and issues of race and structural racism. In
Chapter 2, “From Mass Schooling to Education Systems: Changing Patterns in the
x  Review of Research in Education, 43

Organization and Management of Instruction,” Donald J. Peurach, David K. Cohen,

Maxwell M. Yurkofsky, and James P. Spillane revisit a previous Review of Research in
Education chapter written by Cohen and Spillane (1992) to explore how policies
focusing on promoting equity and excellence in educational outcomes have played
out within the established structures of mass public schooling.
The second set of chapters consider the capacity of teachers to make changes. In
Chapter 3, Katrina Liu and Arnetha F. Ball concentrate on “Critical Reflection and
Generativity: Toward a Framework of Transformative Teacher Education for Diverse
Learners.” Through a review of the literature on teacher education, they ask, “How
can we instill in preservice teachers a capacity and a motivation to change practice?”
Rachel Garrett, Martyna Citkowicz, and Ryan Williams authored Chapter 4, “How
Responsive Is a Teacher’s Classroom Practice to Intervention? A Meta-Analysis of
Randomized Field Studies.” Their review concludes that teacher practice does change
in response to professional development interventions but that there is also still a
great deal to learn and research. Mary M. Kennedy discusses the assumptions under-
lying teacher professional development in Chapter 5, “How We Learn about Teacher
Learning,” and how researchers think about teacher learning. Chapter 6 by Megan
McGlinn Manfra, “Action Research and Systematic, Intentional Change in Teaching
Practice,” focuses on teachers as self-directed learners engaged in the problems of
changing practice at both practical and conceptual levels; there are success stories but
also many barriers to overcome to strengthen and spread action research. The last
review in this section by Rebecca Colina Neri, Maritza Lozano, and Louis M. Gomez,
Chapter 7, “(Re)framing Resistance to Culturally Relevant Education as a Multilevel
Learning Problem,” engages in a rigorous examination of how we understand and
find ways to overcome a key barrier to implementing culturally relevant educational
practices, a change that is past due and powerfully argued in the research literature.
The third set of chapters review literature examining how to change practice in numer-
ous settings in various ways. Miranda Suzanne Fitzgerald and Annemarie Sullivan
Palincsar lead off this section with Chapter 8, “Teaching Practices That Support Student
sensemaking Across Grade and Disciplines: A Conceptual Review.” The authors go below
the techniques of teaching to examine how we know how children make sense of the
world and then analyze how instruction can promote sensemaking; viewing change to
practice from how students learn represents a necessary and productive complement to
assessing practice by its outcomes. This is followed by Mariana Souto-Manning, Beverly
Falk, Dina López, Lívia Barros Cruz, Nancy Bradt, Nancy Cardwell, Nicole McGowan,
Aura Perez, Ayesha Rabadi-Raol, and Elizabeth Rollins’s Chapter 9, “A Transdisciplinary
Approach to Equitable Teaching in Early Childhood Education.” Their review is a deep
rethinking of the core ideas and assumptions of early childhood education, to move
beyond increasing availability to powerful learning experiences that foster equity. Steve
Graham takes on the critically important core skill of writing in Chapter 10, “Changing
How Writing Is Taught.” He reviews the past two decades of efforts to improve writing
instruction, focusing on the specific barriers identified in the literature and making con-
crete recommendations to policymakers, administrators, teachers, and the public.
Tocci et al.: Introduction  xi

Complementing this review, Kara Mitchell Viesca, Kathryn Strom, Svenja Hammer,
Jessica Masterson, Cindy Hammer Linzell, Jessica Mitchell-McCollough, and Naomi
Flynn review literacy instruction through content areas in Chapter 11, “Developing a
Complex Portrait of Content Teaching for Multilingual Learners via Nonlinear Theoretical
Understandings.” Using Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome concept to think anew about
how teaching is deeply tied to context, the authors broaden the view of change to practice
by identifying the myriad contextual factors involved. Rhonda S. Bondie, Christine
Dahnke, and Akane Zusho tackle the complicated practice of differentiation in Chapter
12, “How Does Changing ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ to Differentiated Instruction Affect
Teaching?” The chapter takes on the now well-established trope of differentiation to
explore its developments and limitations, ultimately pushing for a new definition to move
the field forward. Finally, Dolores Perin and Jodi Patrick Holschuh round this section out
in Chapter 13, “Teaching Academically Underprepared Postsecondary Students.” They
discuss the research on teaching approaches for postsecondary students in developmental
courses and suggest ways to improve their educational opportunities.
The final section of the volume centers on emerging issues for practice. In Chapter
14, Philip J. Piety begins with “Components, Infrastructures, and Capacity: The
Quest for the Impact of Actionable Data Use on P–20 Educator Practice.” He offers
a broad survey of the subfields grouped under the heading of “data”—data-driven
decision making, learning analytics, and educational data mining—and finds that
there is little research evidence that data have informed or changed practice. In the
end, the review looks to how the field might move to do so. Authors M. Shelley
Thomas, Shantel Crosby, and Judi Vanderhaar review the newer interdisciplinary
field of trauma-informed practice in Chapter 15, “Trauma-Informed Practices in
Schools Across Two Decades: An Interdisciplinary Review of Research.” The authors
are a team from different fields—education, social work, professional—who analyze
research related to trauma-informed practice now migrating into education and its
implications for teachers and schools. Finally, Chapter 16 is authored by Julia Daniel,
Karen Hunter Quartz, and Jeannie Oakes, who examine community schools and the
impact they have on teaching practice, “Teaching in Community Schools: Creating
Conditions for Deeper learning.” In a return to an older literature that viewed
schools as inextricably part of their communities, the authors review recent work
exploring those ties and analyze the extent to which deeper and expanded learning
opportunities can be fostered through community schools.
Taken as a whole, these chapters consider some of the most critical problems facing
educators and scholars today: how our history shapes our present-day possibilities,
how we develop the capacity of educators to change and improve practice, the innu-
merable aspects that can be changed, which dimensions of teaching should we priori-
tize, and what emerging issues will shape this work in the coming years? Again, we do
not imagine this volume of Review of Research in Education represents the full range of
issues, approaches, and potential developments regarding change to teaching practice.
Instead, we believe it provides an insightful profile of recent research on changing
teaching practice that shines a light on the complexity, intricacy, and contingency
xii  Review of Research in Education, 43

involved on both the professional and scholarly sides of classroom instruction.

Furthermore, across the volume we see ideas and the seeds of future projects that, in
order to be undertaken with rigor and sensitivity, must be approached in ways that
span disciplines, subfields, and the gaps between researchers and practitioners.

Looking Forward
Again, based on their historical study, Tyack and Cuban (1997) posited that
change to teaching practice “will result in the future more from internal changes cre-
ated by the knowledge and expertise of teachers than from the decisions of external
policy makers” (p. 135). To this formulation, we would map education researchers in
the space between and overlapping with practitioners, policymakers, and communi-
ties. This is a privileged position that allows us to investigate, collaborate, experi-
ment, and deliberate with degrees of freedom and support unavailable to other
stakeholders. And it is precisely because we are afforded these privileges that we
researchers are obliged to work with determination and a morality attuned to the lives
of our most vulnerable and marginalized youth. As a diverse community of scholars,
we can fulfill these obligations through the concerted development and well-consid-
ered communication of knowledge about that most difficult kind of reform, chang-
ing classroom practice to be more equitable and just.
In pursuit of this aspiration, we see several core challenges that emerge as central
for the next generation of research on change to teaching practice: fostering collab-
orative relationships across research fields and with practitioners to generate more
robust scholarship, developing consistent and shared language to facilitate these part-
nerships, bringing educational history to bear to deepen and nuance our understand-
ings, identifying the general elements of change in relation to the context- and
practice-dependent elements, and articulating studies about teacher capacity and
performance with research in institutional and sociocultural context.
It is our hope that this volume finds readers across the range of the American
Educational Research Association (AERA)’s subfields and specializations, including
research-interested practitioners within the organization, because it will be through
collaboration across these distinctions that the next generation of literature will
become more holistic, cross-disciplinary, methodologically sophisticated, and
engaged with the complex realities of teaching and learning. Our students are depend-
ing on it.

The editors thank the many people who made this volume possible. First and foremost, we
thank the authors, who worked tirelessly to produce high-quality reviews on a short time line.
We were fortunate to have such dedicated and talented scholars to work with. We also thank
our reviewers who similarly worked with very tight turnarounds yet managed to provide feed-
back that was substantive, constructive, and thoughtful. And we extend our thanks to all the
scholars that submitted proposals, whose excellent ideas made the selection process difficult
Tocci et al.: Introduction  xiii

and had a formative effect on this volume. Leann Zuhrmuhlen, our contact at Sage, was
instrumental in helping us manage the editorial process. Both Felice Levine and John Neikirk
at AERA were indispensable guides and advisors from start to finish; we would not have been
able to put out this volume without drawing on their knowledge and expertise. Thank you to
the AERA Journal Publications Committee who selected our proposal and provided us the
opportunity to address the vital issues shaping teaching practice. We thank our colleagues,
friends, and family for their support, encouragement, and continual understanding. Finally,
and most important, we thank teachers and students for their persistent and inspiring commit-
ment to teaching and learning.

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