University High School Charter

Uni High teachers learn new tricks on Tuesdays

Teachers at University High are getting a new education; however, this implementation has a long way to go. Every other Tuesday, students are dismissed early so teachers can work on professional development to improve teacher performance.

This year, a committee of teachers and administrators known as the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT), are focusing the framework for professional development on “The Theory of Action.” The Theory of Action is based on the belief that student performance will increase if teachers are shown the right methods.

However, since the Theory of Action was introduced last year, only 66 percent of the 27 Uni teachers surveyed rated their level of understanding of the Theory of Action a 3 or above on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 5 (excellent).

Science teacher Kevin Paulsen says, “I think that the Theory of Action is a good platform, but it needs to be fleshed out more.”

The ultimate goal for teachers is to have every student understand the curriculum. Unfortunately, in a survey of 243 Uni students of varying grade levels, less than half of students agree or strongly agree when asked if they understand everything their teachers are teaching.

To aid with increasing student understanding, the ILT is focusing its professional development on using evidence-based arguments, improving student-feedback, and creating interactive discussions. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, feedback is defined as helpful information or criticism given to someone to improve a performance.

In an English classroom, feedback may look like an essay returned to a student, listing all of the rhetorical devices or writing strategies a student needs to improve upon. Whereas for math, feedback may simply be providing students with solutions to the homework problems. Different types of feedback correspond better with varying subjects and teaching styles.

Math teacher Mandy Lenham says, “The problems I give allow everyone to have some sort of entry way in so that they can all participate in their own way.”

With more students participating in the discussion, they can build on each other’s understanding of the material.

This student-to-student feedback can be beneficial when teachers can’t adhere to students’ individual needs in a class of nearly 40 students or more.

For more conceptual understanding, a delayed-feedback approach is more advantageous, where teachers withhold scores from students until they discover and understand their mistakes.

Math teacher Katherine Wittig says, “Students can benefit from getting feedback that prompts them to analyze their own understanding or mistakes.”

On the other hand for mathematics classes, which require a procedural understanding of the steps to an equation, electronic mediums like Delta Math can be used for more immediate feedback on homework assignments.

Senior Emma Mahoney says, “Teachers need to be more straightforward and analytical with feedback. By immediately bringing attention to how I can better my work, they can help me improve in the most efficient ways.”

All of these newly enforced approaches raises the question of just how transferable the knowledge teachers gain from learning these new approaches is to the classroom environment, one of the biggest problems in the teacher profession world.

Uni hopes to overcome this pressing issue by encouraging collaboration and conducting peer-evaluation among teachers who are practicing similar teaching approaches. By evaluating each other, teachers can discuss how the process of incorporating the approach is going, how it could be better, or whether it is producing better or worse results.

“Everybody has a chance to learn,” math teacher Karli Orr says.