National Center for Research on Teacher Learning

About the NCRTL

     The name of the National Center for Research on Teacher Learning (NCRTL) reflected its innovative vision and the focus of its research. Originally called the National Center for Research on Teacher Education, the NCRTL was founded at Michigan State University's College of Education in 1985 with a grant from the Office of Education Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. The center was renamed in 1991 to reflect its new emphasis on teacher learning and the center's desire to provide leadership in defining this new area of research. Outside support for the center's work ended in 1995. Those associated witht the center extended the work begun in the center in a wide range of other projects, supported by the College of Education and by sources outside MSU>

     In its first five years, the center examined various approaches to teacher education-including preservice, inservice, alternative route, and induction programs-to further knowledge and understanding of the purpose of teacher education, the character and quality of teacher education, and the role of teacher education in teacher learning. This longitudinal research, known as the Teacher Education and Learning to Teach (TELT) Study, formed the foundation for many of the NCRTL projects.

Why Teacher Learning?

     For centuries, educators assumed that learning consisted of rote memorization of new knowledge: students listened to lectures and read books, their progress measured by their ability to recite what they had heard and read. Research in the past 20 years, however, clearly shows that understanding occurs only when learners actively think about or try out new ideas in light of their prior knowledge. This shift in understanding how learning occurs marks an important new direction for teacher learning. The NCRTL extended its findings about learning from students-as-learners to teachers-as-learners in order to understand how teachers learn to teach.

Four Essential Elements
     In conducting its research on teacher learning, the NCRTL addressed four major concerns within education:

     1. Responding to public expectations for schools--Researchers concentrated on how teachers can learn to teach in more powerful and demanding ways.
     2. Constructing a theory of the teacher as a learner--The
NCRTL investigated how teachers can transform the understandings they bring with them into better ways of understanding teaching.
     3. Incorporating a theory of the teacher's task of connecting subject matter to diverse learners--Researchers asked what teachers need to learn about subject matter and learners, and how teachers learn about both.
     4. Balancing the unique features of teaching practice--Researchers examined how teachers learn to carry out both the intellectual and logistical aspects of managing ambiguous, dynamic, and complex learning environments.

An Agenda for Research on Learning to Teach

     Why is it so difficult to learn to teach challenging academic content to diverse learners? Three hypotheses guided NCRTL research.
     First, teachers need to rethink their assumptions about teaching and learning. Teachers' beliefs about learning are often limited by their own experiences with conventional teaching practices. For teachers to change these resilient beliefs, they must be introduced to better ideas and provoked to question their own experiences and the beliefs that are founded in those experiences.
     Second, teachers need to enhance their subject matter knowledge and learn about diversity in its cultural and community contexts. To enhance their subject matter knowledge, teachers need to encounter substantive ideas within and about their disciplines and to engage in learning tasks that help them connect new ideas to previously held ideas. Over time, this process enables teachers to understand their subjects in a broader and deeper context, thus enhancing their ability to present subject matter in ways that enable diverse learners to connect with subject matter knowledge.
     Third, teachers must learn to reason about their work in the process of doing it. Teacher learning occurs best when teachers have the opportunity to reflect on their practice-to see the links among relevant subject concepts, criteria of practice, the classroom setting, their students, and their own behavior. However, providing such opportunities requires that teachers balance the demands of learning new practice and the demands of the classroom situation.

     All three tasks are essential in learning to teach and must be completed at the same time to be effective. When teachers change their beliefs about learning and teaching, they recreate their role in helping students learn. When teachers have a thorough understanding of the subjects they teach, they are able to choose worthwhile learning activities for students. And when teachers hone their reasoning skills about the practice of teaching, they can make the sophisticated decisions needed to manage complex learning activities.

     By examining the conditions that are conducive to each of these aspects of teacher learning and then describing the kind of teaching that results from them, NCRTL research linked teacher learning directly to the goals of educational reform: more rigorous teaching and learning.

NCRTL Projects