A Review of Research Supporting the Development of TeacherPlanBook

SKF Educational Services, LLC

Introduction

Usually credited to Benjamin Franklin, the proverb, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” is perhaps nowhere more true than in the field of education. While the over-arching goal of education appears relatively simple—to help our students become literate, productive citizens—as educators and administrators well know the process of educating students is remarkably complex.  As teachers, we must have a clear vision regarding our educational goals and become masters of our curriculum. We invest a great deal of time recognizing our students’ strengths, identifying their weaknesses, and differentiating our curriculum to meet the needs of all students. We solicit the support of parents as partners in the educational process and seek guidance from colleagues as collaborators. We use instructional data and feedback from administrators to solidify our strengths and bolster our instructional weaknesses. As principals, we lead our teachers and staff through thoughtful use of data to support instructional decision-making. We prepare our teachers to better reach our students by providing quality evaluations and instructive, supportive feedback.  As superintendents, we adhere to state and district accountability systems and policies to ensure our teachers, principals, schools, and districts engage in those practices that promote academic success for all of our students.  Certainly, few would argue that the degree to which we fail or succeed in these endeavors lies in how much time we devote to forming a plan and preparing to execute that plan.  In fact, planning and preparation is so critical to the educational process, it is the first domain included in the Danielson Framework, a research-based set of components necessary for high quality academic instruction (The Danielson Group, 2017).  

One innovative product signed to facilitate the work of teachers and administrators is the TeacherPlanBook (hereafter, TPB).  The TPB is a powerful, online platform that draws upon recommendations from leading educational researchers and theorists in those components and activities that comprise high quality instruction and lead to positive academic outcomes. The platform is designed to support not only those routine instructional tasks in which teachers engage, but also tasks and activities that promote parent engagement, teacher collaboration, and data analysis. TPB is not just for teachers; the program additionally provides a powerful data analysis feature that allows principals and superintendents to identify patterns of performance, evaluate, in real-time, what transpires in the classroom, and support teachers in creating rigorous, high quality instruction.  The purpose of this document is first, to give a brief overview of some of the features of TPB that support the work of teachers and administrators, and second, to provide a review of research supporting its development. 

TPB Lesson Planner

The TPB Lesson Planner is perhaps the cornerstone of TeacherPlanBook. The TPB Lesson Planner is an online, easy-to-use platform with the ‘feel’ of the familiar, paper planner.  Included in the Lesson Planner are tools that permit teachers to easily complete those fundamental tasks encountered in the daily business of teaching, such as creating objectives, curriculum maps, and formative and summative assessments. The Content-On-Demand feature allows teachers to incorporate pre-vetted lesson plans based on learning objectives, and compliant lesson plans are easily created by selecting via a drop-down menu, state and other curriculum standards. The TPB Gradebook feature allows recording of formative and summative assessments and permits visual analysis of class averages and easy identification of students considered at-risk. Pre- and post-test scores can be used to calculate effect sizes, which provide an index of learning growth.  Additional features allow teachers to: select and implement academic modifications and accommodations for those students who need additional support; through the Engagement Tools feature, promote and track communication among parents and facilitate collaboration with colleagues; and  provide accountability documentation to administrators in regard to compliance review and teacher evaluation.  Principals and other administrators can extract information found within the Lesson Planner to facilitate administrator’s data analysis for school- and district-wide initiatives or teacher evaluations.

Lesson planning comprises the ‘nuts and bolts’ of teaching and is paramount to crafting high-quality, focused academic instruction. To be certain, it is impossible to get where you need to go if you don’t know where you are going in the first place, and the importance of lesson planning is well documented in literature.  In their factor analysis of those tasks and behaviors associated with effective teachers, Womack, Hanna, & Bell, (2012) found that, for new teachers in particular, lesson planning accounted for 41% of the variance in teacher effectiveness scores. An additional study (Womack, Pepper, Hanna, & Bell, 2015) examined specific behaviors that comprised lesson planning. The authors found that: 

  • Initiating modifications, accepting responsibility, and efficacy accounted for 60% of the variance in lesson planning. Effective teachers understand their students, by recognizing the need for modifications and being accountable for implementing those modifications. 
  • Parent-teacher communication accounted for 18% of the variance in lesson planning. “Teachers who know where there are going in the subjects they are teaching will be much more likely to enlist support from parents than teachers who lack that sense of direction” (Womack, Pepper, Hanna, & Bell, 2015, p. 10). 
  • Effective use of instructional time, effective pacing, and time on task accounted for 8% of the variance in lesson planning. Well-prepared teachers have learning aids “at the ready”. 
  • Development of clear learning objectives appropriate for all students accounted for 4% of the variance in lesson planning. Methods for teaching and subsequent assessment are largely driven by learning objectives (Womack, Pepper, Hanna, & Bell, 2015 p. 10-11). 

As stated previously, planning and preparation is so important, it is the first domain of the Danielson Framework (2017).  As a summary of this domain, lesson planning and preparation involves: 

  • (1a). Demonstrating Knowledge of Content Pedagogy, or the structure and content of the discipline in which teachers teach (p. 7);
  • (1b.) Demonstrating Knowledge of Students, including special needs status, students’ culture and heritage, child development, and the learning process (p. 11); 
  • (1c.) Setting Instructional Outcomes, which reflect what students learn, different types of learning, and ensures outcomes are suitable for different types of learners (p. 15); 
  • (1d.) Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources, which extends beyond district-provided resources to include, for example, internet or community resources (p. 19); 
  • (1e.) Designing Coherent Instruction, which includes, among other things, the integration of learning activities and instructional materials that align with content and learning outcomes (p. 23);
  • (1f.) Designing Student Assessments, meaning that assessments are planned, reflect learning expectations, and offer a variety of performance opportunities for students (p. 27). 

In Teaching for Rigor: A Call for a Critical Instructional Shift, Marzano and Toth (2014) list 13 core instructional strategies for meeting college and career readiness standards, and all strategies in some regard address lesson content. First and foremost, teachers must “identify which information or skills are critical to mastery of the standards on which they are working” (p. 18). One of the vehicles for identifying instructional content and activities is known as curriculum mapping.  Curriculum mapping is broadly defined, as “ a tool for improving communication among teachers about the content, skills, and assessments that are a part of the instructional process” (Koppang, 2004, p. 155). Research shows that in instances in which curriculum mapping has been successful, the following components were present: 

  • Teachers were provided with adequate resources, including technology, materials, and time for collaboration with staff;
  • Maps were frequently evaluated and revised, in accordance with student needs;
  • Curricula was aligned with standards;
  • Teachers had access and training in the available technology and the freedom to add information and revise it (Walker, 2006, p 1-2).

Within the TPB Gradebook feature, teachers can input results from formative and summative assessments and conduct analyses for a variety of purposes. As educators well know, formative and summative assessments are a critical part of the educational process, and research shows that a combination of formative and summative assessments are associated with higher levels of student achievement (Peterson & Siadat, 2009). Formative assessments, administered at regular intervals during instruction, help educators determine how well students are mastering targeted curriculum goals as they move through instruction.  Summative assessments, typically administered at the end of instruction, determine how well students did, overall. Formative assessments are particularly important, as they help educators identify, early on, those students who are not acquiring those skills and concepts necessary for mastery and who may require additional support.  Research shows that the majority of teachers use results from classroom-based assessments to support decisions about making instructional modifications, but often feel overwhelmed regarding the amount of data available and the paperwork involved (Herman, Yamashiro, Lefkowitz,  & Trusela, 2008).  One of the features of the TPB Gradebook is that it permits visual analysis of data which can be used in a variety of ways to assess instructional efficacy and easily identify at-risk students. 

TPB Engagement Tools

Within the TPB Lesson Planner is the Share function, which permits teachers to share individual lesson plans and homework with parents and other teachers.  Parent communication is documented through the Call Log feature. Principals and other administrators can access the Share and Call Log features to determine which teachers are routinely communicating with parents and collaborating with colleagues.    

Facilitating home-school communication is critical if parents are to become partners in their children’s education, and teachers have an obligation to communicate with families information regarding the instructional program itself as well as children’s progress moving through the program (Danielson, 2014, p. 91). This is particularly important, as research indicates that higher levels of student achievement are associated with specific behavioral support from parents—which is not possible unless parents and caregivers posses knowledge about their child’s homework, performance, and school activities (Finn, 1998).  There appears to be a reciprocal relationship between parent involvement and the degree to which school staff encourage involvement, particularly in poverty-stricken schools:  in lower SES schools that exceeded expected achievement levels (given student demographics and other variables), teachers and administrators perceived the parents as more involved and additionally, encouraged involvement (McCoach, Goldstein, Behuijak, Reis, Black, Sullivan, & Rambo, 2010).  One of the benefits of TPB is that, within the Share function, lesson plans, homework, and communications can be sent electronically, via email or text. This option for electronic communication may be particularly important to parents, as one study found that about 91% of parents preferred that schools have a means to communicate with parents via technology (Olmstead, 2013). 

While communication with parents is no doubt important, teachers value opportunities for communication and collaboration with other teachers. When asked what experiences teachers thought improved the quality of their instruction, 100% agreed with the statement, “trying different lesson plans and methods for teaching” (The New Teacher Project and Student Achievement Partners, 2013a, p. 13) and collaboration with colleagues is often viewed as a valuable means for brain-storming additional methods of instruction or obtaining advice about using assessments to address individual student learning needs (Herman, Yamashiro, Lefkowitz,  & Trusela, 2008). Research suggests that opportunities for coordinating instruction and collaboration among colleagues are particularly important to teachers teaching in high-poverty, urban schools (Kraft, Papay, Johnson, Charner-Laird, Ng, & Reinhorn, 2015); further, teachers in higher performing, lower SES schools were more often to report that they sought other ways of teaching struggling students, sought the collaboration of other teachers, and initiated contact with the student’s parents when given time to collaborate (McCoach, Goldstein, Behuijak, Reis, Black, Sullivan, & Rambo, 2010).  Finally, “instructional supports aimed at enhancing teachers’ practice through individualized feedback, common planning time, and productive instructional teams helped teachers to meet the varied needs of their students and the external demands of accountability” (Kraft, Papay, Johnson, Charner-Laird, Ng, & Reinhorn, 2015, p. 769)

TPB Learning Analytics

Perhaps the most powerful feature within TeacherPlanBook, Learning Analytics allows principals, superintendents, and other administrators to extract and analyze data for a variety of purposes, at the school and district level. Pulling data from the TPB Lesson Planner and Gradebook features, Learning Analytics allows administrators to examine group and sub-group student performance necessary to guide the development of improvement plans based on failure rates, and identify at-risk students who may need intervention support.  Access to data permits principals and administrators to view documentation necessary for conducting comprehensive teacher evaluations. Since principals and administrators have access to all of the platforms used by teachers, administrators can easily and quickly determine which teachers, for example: 

  • Incorporate standards-based lesson plans
  • Regularly collaborate with colleagues
  • Communicate with parents
  • Use formative and summative assessments
  • Identify at-risk students and implement accommodations and modifications
  • Progress toward achievement of personal goals

Similarly, superintendents and other district-level administrators can easily access information through TPB Learning Analytics to facilitate evaluation of principals and monitor growth.  At the district level, specific data can easily be extracted to satisfy state and district accountability mandates.  

Accountability

Perhaps one of the more prolific uses of data is in regard to satisfying accountability requirements, and very often, administrators must have data at the ready. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Education Act into the Every Student Succeeds Act requires state-developed accountability systems that, among other things:  

  • Annually measure student performance based on state assessments, and include performance of selected student subgroups;
  • Measure student growth using other academic indicators, for example, student growth;
  • Report on the graduate rate;
  • Evaluate the growth and progress of students identified as English Language Learners;
  • Aside from test scores, include a valid, measurable indicator of school quality or success  such as student and educator engagement, or school climate and safety (Marion, 2016, p. 2).

In their article entitled, Understanding how Principals Use Data in a New Environment of Accountability, Englert, Fries, Goodwin, Martin-Glenn, and Michael (2004) list seven essential characteristics of high accountability systems, that:

  • Create high expectations for all students, by ensuring that all students have equal access to learning opportunities and that subgroups of students who might not meet performance standards are adequately identified;
  • Incorporate high-quality assessments that are aligned with standards, and utilize assessments to gauge performance of students, teachers, and schools;
  • Align resources and support with the overarching goals of the system to make necessary improvements, by strategically allocating resources based on areas of need and providing training and leadership and feedback to teachers regarding assessment issues;   
  • Link sanctions and rewards to results, which allow stakeholders to hold teachers and schools accountable for performance; 
  • Utilize multiple measures, to provide a more comprehensive assessment of teachers, schools, and districts, and which include, for example, data on parent engagement and feedback, principal feedback, and school safety;
  • Use data in strategic ways, to identify problems and orchestrate solutions, evaluate staff and methodologies; and
  • Communicate with parents, teachers, and the community, by providing useful and understandable information about individual student performance, as well as school-wide performance (p. 2-5). 

Often, the volume and type of data necessary to satisfy accountability mandates is overwhelming for administrators. The degree to which data is accessible is shown to have a moderate effect on how administrators actually use data (Luo, 2008), which in turn impacts decision making and leadership. The manner in which administrators use data to guide decision-making is important: meta-analysis of 57 studies indicates a moderate relationship between educational leadership and student achievement, with those leaders who adapted to rapidly changing environments and distributed leadership roles to teachers associated with higher levels of student achievement (Karadag, Bektas, Cogaltay, & Yalcin, 2015).  

Staff Evaluation:

Language in the Every Student Succeeds Act  “authorizes states to use funding to implement teacher and leader evaluation systems, reform teacher and school leader certification systems, improve equitable access to effective teachers and leaders for all students, and develop mechanisms for effectively recruiting and retaining teachers” (Marion, 2016, p. 7).  While teacher evaluations are authorized through ESSA, the process by which teachers are evaluated remains a time consuming and controversial procedure. A 2013 survey of principals found that a “substantive” teacher evaluation requires 11-15 hours, and on average, principals manage between 10-40 staff in smaller districts and up to 60 staff in larger districts (Maxwell, 2014).  Furthermore, while observations continue to be the chief component of teacher evaluation systems, they are questionable as a method for validly evaluating teacher effectiveness and therefore as a vehicle for providing useable feedback. Factors critical to teaching—included among others, professionalism, engagement with parents, willingness to collaborate with colleagues, and the construction of compliant lesson plans, for example—are often difficult to capture within a single observational session. (The New Teacher Project and Student Achievement Partners, 2013). 

The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument (Danielson, 2014) addresses this issue in the provision of an evaluation rubric that incorporates elements of instruction not directly observed by sitting in the classroom. These elements include, among others, the degree to which teachers engage parents, exhibit knowledge about available resources, construct and use formative and summative student assessments, reflect upon personal goals, and maintain accurate records. Similarly, Marzano’s Focused Teacher Evaluation Model (Carbaugh, Marzano, & Toth, 2017) incorporates 23 teaching competencies into four domains: 

  • Standard-Based Planning, which includes using standards-based lessons, aligning resources to standards, and incorporating data;
  • Standards-Based Instruction, which includes identifying critical content from standards and helping students master the content using a variety of strategies;
  • Conditions for Learning, which involves, among other things, using formative assessment, using engagement strategies, and communicating high expectations; and
  • Professional Responsibilities, including following school and district policies, engaging in collaborative activities with colleagues, and maintaining knowledge and expertise (p. 7). 

If evaluations are to be useful, teachers must be provided feedback that facilitates growth. In a survey conducted by The New Teacher Project and Student Achievement Partners (2013a), only 48% of teachers ‘strongly agreed’ that school leaders provided positive feedback on their teaching, yet 74% of teachers felt advice and feedback from administrators improved the quality of their teaching.  Research suggests that teachers’ response to feedback is influenced by their perception of the usefulness of the feedback; the accuracy of the feedback; the perception of evaluator credibility; and access to resources (Cherasaro, Brodersen, Reale, & Yanoski, 2016, p. 2).  

Teachers and educational administrators are often bombarded with educational products designed to facilitate the many tasks in which they engage to promote high quality academic programming and ensure academic success of all students. The purpose of this article was two-fold: first, to summarize some of the features of TeacherPlanBook, an innovative online platform designed to support all of the necessary tasks in which educators engage, from the routine to the complex; and second, to legitimize these features by providing a summary of research supporting its development. 

References

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