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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
cess skills and diverse ways of looking at student work. The groups can be anything to which the teachers agree, but usually involve issues of student achievement, such as, “What is good work?” “How do we know?” and “How do we develop shared standards for good work?”
Some communities of practice are supported by school districts. For example, at the Dade Academy for the Teaching Arts (DATA) in Florida, “extern” teachers spend a 9-week sabbatical working with resident teachers, who have reduced teaching assignments at neighboring Miami Beach High School. The externs design their own programs, do research projects, and participate in group seminars. In DATA, the community of practice is supported by providing the extern teachers with sabbaticals, supporting the resident teachers through reduced loads, and by giving the program a home— portable classrooms next to Miami Beach High School (Renyi, 1996).
The notion of bringing teachers together to review student work in a nonjudgmental fashion is also embodied in the “Descriptive Review” (Carini, 1979). Again, the central questions involve looking deeply at student work, not trying to provide reasons (psychological, social, economic) that the student might not be producing strong academic work. This approach often uses student artwork to help teachers identify student strengths. Project Zero’s “collaborative review process” (Perkins, 1992) for teachers builds on the descriptive review approach and adds some new elements as well, such as a variety of computer networks for teachers. Examples of computer networks include BreadNet, out of the Breadloaf Writing Project, LabNet (Ruopp, 1993), and Mathline (Cole, 1996). Other ways to foster collaboration include opportunities to score and discuss student essays or to compare and discuss student portfolios (Wiske, 1998).
Collaborative discussions become most valuable when two teachers are jointly involved in sense-making and understanding of the phenomena of learning (e.g., Peterson et al., 1989). For example, in creating a new functions-based approach to algebra teaching for all students, teacher colleagues at Holt High School report how important for learning it was for two teachers to “team” together in the same classroom and share decisions (Yerushalmy et al., 1990). Every day these two algebra teachers had to discuss and agree on what to do next. This joint decisionmaking required reflection and discussion on the texts of specific algebra problems, as well as discussion of students’ understanding of functions, as reflected in the classroom discussions and in students’ writings. Coming to joint decisions required these teachers to wrestle with issues of mathematics and mathematics learning around their own specific problems of practice as teachers, such as what constitutes valid evidence for students’ understanding in the specific day-to-day situation.
Overall, two major themes emerge from studies of teacher collaborations: the importance of shared experiences and discourse around texts and