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The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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"Kernel Routines" Can Help Make Beneficial Changes in Practice More Sticky
November 25, 2015
By Cathy Gassenheimer

Why do new practices, proven to improve teaching and learning, not often take hold in classrooms and schools?

This is the question addressed by researchers Lauren Resnick, James Spillane, Pam Goldman, and Elizabeth Rangel, in a chapter from an important international book titled The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice (OECD, 2010).
The authors suggest there are at least four reasons that most classrooms still look like those of our parents.
► First, education still has a “relatively weak knowledge base” with no formal way of systematically incorporating new knowledge into practice.
► Second, teacher preparation and a good deal of professional development relies on “telling what is known” or reading a “specific set of texts—sometimes in the original scholarly versions.”  Unfortunately the result is predictable:
"Most practitioners in the field can remember the names and claims of a few major theorists but the links between research-based prescriptions and what educators actually do in their work are thin. An unannounced visitor to a random school or classroom would encounter very little practice that matches the principles of learning and instruction being taught in teacher preparation programs.

"The same goes for principles of educational leadership: the vocabulary of distributed leadership, or ‘professional learning communities,’ can be heard at professional meetings but is more rarely found in practice” (p. 287)

► A third reason, the authors posit, is even when schools and districts embrace a reform initiative, they may try to fit the innovation into the existing instructional program, often watering it down, or causing frustration and eventual abandonment of the innovation.

► And, finally, teachers’ belief systems may get in the way. “Beliefs about who can learn what run deep in our schooling system and our societies. Despite substantial research showing that ability to learn can be acquired (Resnick and Nelson Le-Gall, 1997; Greeno, Collins and Resnick, 1996), educators in most Western countries continue to believe that intelligence and aptitude set limits on learning…” (p. 288)

To overcome these barriers and make new practices more sticky, the authors suggest using what they call “kernel routines” that promote organizational change. Kernel routines are those that have “the potential for transforming school practice by ‘seeding’ and ‘propagating’ new forms of practice in schools” (p. 293).Read More
10 Cornerstones: What Can We Learn from the Surprising Cognitive Research on Teaching?
November 19, 2015
By Cathy Gassenheimer

“Teachers cannot put their hands into the heads of their students and insert new pieces of knowledge. The knowledge a person has can only be directly accessed by this person. As a consequence, learners have to create new knowledge structures for themselves.”
This striking statement begins the explanation of the first of 10 "cornerstone" findings from recent cognitive research on teaching. It's found in a chapter of an important book from the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), published in 2010.
The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice is a literal treasure trove of research and best practices featuring chapters written by (among others) Dylan Wiliam, Linda Darling-Hammond, Lauren Resnick, Robert Slavin, and Michael Schneider.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to blog about insights and findings from several chapters, beginning with the Ten Cornerstone Findings.Read More
Can we find the "Both/And" solution in the debate over knowledge vs. skills?
November 10, 2015
By Cathy Gassenheimer
A few weeks ago I participated on a team at the Montgomery Education Foundation’s “Brain Brawl.” The event was a fundraiser for the MEF and for schools in Montgomery. Teams of five from companies, nonprofits, and education paid a $150 entry fee to participate in a night of trivia.
Driving to the multiplex, I reminded myself that I was pretty good at trivia. Then, I remembered my depressing “milestone” birthday earlier this fall and wondered whether most of the questions would be outside of my wheelhouse…like "bands from the 90's."

Fortunately, our team crossed generations with several millenials on it as well. So, we were in good shape, or so I thought. By the third round, however, we were hoping just to not come in last!

Reflecting on trivia and learning

As I drove home that evening, I started thinking about the relationship of the trivia questions to learning, particularly in light of Alabama’s new standards. As teachers design and plan lessons to engage students in higher-level content, it has become clear that many of the factoids that I had to memorize in school now can be easily accessed on Google or SIRI, leaving mental space to use those facts to think more deeply about their implications.

But can our students really become deeper thinkers without a solid foundation of background knowledge? Many experts say no. Read on!Read More
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