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Apprenticeship and intensive training of consulting teachers: a naturalistic study.

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of a model for intensive training of consulting teachers, and to explore whether the consulting teachers who received intensive training performed differently from those who received standard training. While both groups of teachers fulfilled satisfactorily the administrative aspects of the job, significant differences were found in favor of the group receiving intensive training in all aspects of the job relating to instructional improvement. The findings and their implications for the training of consulting teachers are discussed.

Within the last decade a movement has called for the end of the traditional pullout model for providing services to students with mild disabilities. Its proponents (DeBoer, 1986; Idol, 1988; Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987; Will, 1986) have argued that the core educational programs for these students should operate within the least restrictive environment, the regular classroom. This alternative model calls for a new role for the special educator, involving consultation with classroom teachers in specific teaching strategies for meeting the needs of low-achieving students within the constraints of the classroom situation (Idol, 1988; Knight, Meyers, Paolucc-Whitcomb, Hasazi, & Nevin, 1981; Nelson & Stevens, 198 1). These writers have expressed a concern for providing quality educational services to all low-achieving students in the classroom, whether or not these students have gone through the formal identification process for special education certification.

Despite the explosion of research over the past 15 years on strategies for effectively teaching low-achieving students (Brophy & Good, 1986), most classroom teachers receive virtually no training in how to effectively work with these students within the constraints of a typical classroom setting (Baker & Gottlieb, 1982). Nor do most teachers adapt their teaching styles and strategies to meet the needs of these students (Ysseldyke et al., 1983).

Though there is a reasonably solid research base (Brophy & Good, 1986; Englert, 1984; Reisberg & Wolf, 1988) on effective procedures for teaching low-achieving students, developing procedures for conveying this information to classroom teachers is a difficult, delicate process. There is an urgent need for this activity to take place, however, particularly in schools serving low-income, minority students, where students tend to "fall through the cracks," and where there are serious problems with over-referral of students into special education. The current study focuses on a district's attempt to address this issue in four low-income schools.


The context was four low-income schools in a large metropolitan area. Over 95% of the students were eligible for free lunch programs; 90% were minority (African-American, Hispanic, or Asian). Some of the parents were only marginally literate; and about one-third of the students entered school with limited English proficiency.

The district was attempting to provide research-based educational services to low-achieving students in the regular classroom, rather than use a mosaic of fragmented pullout programs and services (Reynolds et al., 1987). The district was trying, as much as possible, to keep "at risk" students in their classrooms for the entire day. To implement and monitor these classroom programs, the district's administration adopted a consulting teacher model. The consulting teachers had no classroom teaching responsibilities; nor did they have pullout teaching or tutorial responsibilities. Their sole responsibility was to assist teachers in implementing the instructional improvement program, which was based on the research on effective teaching and mastery learning. Each consulting teacher was required to assist between 8 and 12 teachers within a school in the day-to-day details of implementation of the school improvement program. They were responsible for monitoring the performance of each class on weekly curriculum-referenced tests and for assisting teachers in decisions regarding student placement and re-placement in reading groups. Consulting teachers were also responsible for the supervision of remediation activities.

The district used two different models for inservice training of the consulting teachers. Most new consulting teachers experienced a fairly traditional district inservice program. A few participated in a much more intensive apprenticeship program, as part of a federal grant.

The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of this intensive training and to explore whether those consulting teachers who received intensive training performed differently from those who received more standard training. The study provides an in-depth description and analysis of the observed performance of eight individuals serving in the role of consulting teacher: two received extensive inservice training (apprenticeship), and six received more standard training (nonapprenticeship).

The study involved observation of all of the consulting teachers for a period of five to nine school days. The purpose of the observations was to describe and delineate areas in which the consulting teachers seemed to successfully help teachers with instructional problems, particularly with low-achieving students.

In addition, we interviewed the 70 classroom teachers. A major goal of the interviews was to explore how classroom teachers reacted to the situation of being both assisted and monitored by fellow teachers. Analysis of the interview data allowed us to assess whether the teachers ascertained any differences in effectiveness between the consulting teachers who received extensive training and those who did not. We studied the schools in the fifth year of implementation of the consulting teacher model.



The consulting teachers were selected by their principals according to the following criteria: quality of teaching and potential for leadership. All consulting teachers were volunteers, with at least 10 years of teaching experience each. Of the eight consulting teachers, six received standard district training and two an intensive apprenticeship training experience. The apprenticeship experience was offered only to consulting teachers in four schools receiving a federal inservice grant. The two groups of consulting teachers were similar in years of teaching experience, principals' assessment of their teaching ability, and interest in instructional leadership roles. The only major difference between them was the school in which they worked.

Procedures for Training Consulting Teachers This section briefly describes the training provided to the two groups of consulting teachers. Standard District Training Procedures. Once appointed, consulting teachers received an orientation to their position. At a 2-day inservice session at the start of the school year, the district coordinator explained the goals of the school improvement program and described the consulting teachers' job responsibilities. The teachers were trained in the use of a curriculum-referenced assessment system, and they were given guidelines for assessing whether classroom teachers were using the system appropriately. They were also provided with guidelines for classroom observation and procedures for assessing whether the classroom teachers were providing appropriate remediation activities for students who demonstrated learning problems. They observed several model lessons demonstrating appropriate use of the instructional program.

Following these initial training sessions, monthly meetings were scheduled. One or two of these sessions consisted of presentations by outside consultants on research on mastery learning and effective teaching strategies. Other sessions focused on assessment, classroom management, study skills, and record-keeping procedures. These sessions also included discussions of problems and issues relating to implementation of district procedures.

During the first year of implementation, consulting teachers attended approximately 10 inservice training meetings. In the following years, they were provided with approximately two formal training sessions per year, in addition to the monthly meetings. During these meetings, they continued to discuss issues and problems relating to implementation. Finally, several demonstration lessons were scheduled each year. Consulting and classroom teachers in the schools were invited to attend.

Apprenticeship Training. A small cadre of consulting teachers participated in a fairly intensive apprenticeship training program as part of an inservice grant. The training involved apprenticeship with an experienced educational consultant. The apprenticeship stressed several key observational, consultation, and staff development principles.

During the early years, each novice consulting teacher was paired with an educational consultant. During the latter years, the novice was paired with an experienced, skilled consulting teacher. Once or twice a week, the novice and consultant (or experienced consulting teacher) observed together and analyzed their perceptions of the classroom situation. Initially, the novice watched the experienced consultant work with the classroom teacher. Gradually, the responsibility for advising the teacher shifted to the novice, although the experienced consultant always provided immediate feedback to the novice.

During the first year of the apprenticeship, the consulting teachers spent approximately four full mornings with the consultant. In addition, they met monthly with the consultant to discuss observed problems. Often the consultant would observe a classroom where a problem was identified and present his or her perspective to the consulting teacher. They often would discuss by phone how the teacher (and students) were responding to the suggested feedback, compare notes, and debrief. In subsequent years, the consulting teachers met less frequently with the consultant, perhaps once every 6 weeks. However, the consultant was available in the schools to answer questions if the consulting teachers needed guidance with a particular classroom situation.

The content of the apprenticeship training can be broken down into four interrelated areas: (a) the content of feedback provided to teachers, (b) methods of delivering the feedback, (c) the use of modeling and in-class demonstrations of new teaching strategies, and (d) scheduling of follow-up observations.

The first and most important area of training was providing specific feedback to teachers after each classroom observation. This analysis was rooted in the instructional variables found to be consistently linked to student achievement (for example, reviewing previous day's work, checking for understanding, reteaching, correcting student errors) (Rosenshine, 1986).

The second area of training was communicating with teachers to minimize conflict and enable teachers to maintain their self-esteem. This was the most delicate phase of the process. The consulting teachers were taught that if they had to communicate material that might be perceived as critical of a teacher's performance, they should include feedback on positive aspects of the teacher's performance.

Further, they were taught to phrase their comments in terms of student, rather than teacher, performance. In other words, rather than saying, "You should correct all errors immediately," they might say something like "Morris will learn math more quickly if, every time he makes an error, you and he work together and you show him the strategy for getting the right answer.... Watch me do this."

The third critical component was providing in-class demonstrations and models of proposed teaching strategies and techniques. These demonstrations were brief (i.e., a 3-5 minute (min) lesson segment), as opposed to a full lesson. The last component was the need to follow up on all suggestions made.

Measures and Research Methodology Interviews With Classroom Teachers. The semi-structured teacher interviews lasted 45-60 min each. The interviewers asked classroom teachers to describe what the consulting teacher did and how useful these activities were. Items sampled a range of administrative and technical assistance activities. In addition, teachers were asked to give an overall assessment of the usefulness of the observation-feedback process, areas for improvement, and their feelings about the school improvement program. Interview items were field tested in a pilot study (Green, Gersten, Miller, & Morvant, 1986) and revised once more. Mean reliability between interviewers was 89.6%.

All 70 classroom teachers at the four schools were interviewed. Fifteen of these teachers were served by the two consulting teachers who received apprenticeship training, and 55 classroom teachers were served by the six consulting teachers who received the district's standard training. Naturalistic Observations of Consulting Teachers. All three observers were experienced instructional supervisors or teacher trainers at a university. The three observers spent between 5 and 9 days with each consulting teacher. They used a participant-observer approach (Borg & Gall, 1983), which allowed for broad access to classrooms and meetings. The observer recorded the time and activity in which each consulting teacher was involved. Figure I shows a sample from an observer's field notes. At various points during the day, the observer asked the consulting teachers to discuss the purpose of each classroom visit, the rationale for what they did, and what they planned to do in subsequent classroom visits or discussions with a specific teacher. A particular focus of the questions asked by the observer was on feedback relating to low-performing students in the classes observed.

Data Analysis

To analyze the observational data, a coding system was developed to catalog the discrete supervisory activities performed by the consulting teachers. The coding system catalogued supervisory activities along three broad dimensions: Level 1, procedural and administrative activities; Level 2, activities aimed at monitoring curriculum implementation; and Level 3, activities including coaching and discussion of research-based teaching practices and their application to observed classroom practice and coaching. Examples of administrative and procedural activities included distributing curriculum materials, attending meetings, and routine testing of new students. Activities aimed at curriculum implementation included monitoring time allocations for instruction, answering questions about the reading and math curriculum, and teaching full demonstration lessons for classroom aides and new teachers. Research-based activities and coaching included observed instances of coaching (i.e., brief, focused teaching to demonstrate a single concept or skill) and providing teachers with specific feedback (oral or written) based on observed classroom performance.

Field notes were scrutinized by two independent raters. Each activity performed by the consulting teachers was coded as representing a Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 activity. Reliability of the coding system was assessed by means of percent-agreement analysis (Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1977), using a random sample of one-third of the observational records. Mean percent agreement between independent coders was 88%, with a range of 79% to 100%.


Classroom Teachers' Perceptions: Results of Interviews

Table 1 presents the results of the teacher interviews.

The analysis contrasted mean scores and frequencies between the 15 teachers served by the consulting teachers who received apprenticeship training with the 55 teachers served by consulting teachers who received standard training (no apprenticeship). To determine whether significant differences were perceived on key supervisory variables, chi-square analysis was used. As shown by items 1-3, no significant differences were found between the teachers served by apprenticeship and nonapprenticeship consulting teachers in the administrative and procedural aspects of the job. Both sets of consulting teachers appeared to adequately fulfill district-mandated functions relating to initial placement of students in reading groups, obtaining curriculum and testing materials, and conducting classroom observations to monitor program implementation.

Significant differences were found in all aspects of the job related to instructional improvement. Significant differences were found in favor of the apprenticeship group on item 4, assessing how well the consulting teachers monitored curriculum implementation. Of the teachers served by the apprenticeship consulting teachers, 87% were helped in using the curriculum-based assessment information to reassign students to more appropriate placements; only 57% of the other teachers received this service.

The apprenticeship consulting teachers modeled teaching techniques for 87% of their teachers, whereas the consulting teachers who received the standard training modeled techniques for only 32% of their teachers. The apprenticeship consulting teachers provided help to virtually every teacher in the area of interpretation of curriculum. Perhaps most important, in schools with such a high number of at-risk students, the apprenticeship consulting teachers provided 80% of their teachers with suggestions for working with low-performing students, as opposed to 48% for the nonapprenticeship group.

In a second set of questions Table 2) , classroom teachers were asked to evaluate the utility of the feedback and services they received from the consulting teachers. For questions in this segment of the interview, teachers used a 1-5 scale, where 3 was neutral, I was "not helpful/specific" and 5 was "extremely helpful/specific." T tests were used to determine whether the teachers' evaluations were significantly different for apprenticeship and nonapprenticeship teachers.

The overall performance rating for the consulting teachers who received standard district training was 3.0 (neutral), whereas the overall evaluation for the apprenticeship group was 4.2 (positive). Classroom teachers reported that the feedback they received from the apprenticeship consulting teachers was significantly more specific, and significantly more useful than that provided by their colleagues. Observations by the intensively trained consulting teachers were rated extremely helpful (M = 4.86) and very specific (M = 4.42). Feedback from the other consulting teachers was judged to be nonspecific (M = 3.24). In particular, the brief observations they made were assessed to be nonhelpful (M = 2.38). Overall, teachers felt neutral (M = 3.0) about the feedback they received from these individuals. From the results of these interviews, we can conclude that the apprenticeship training created consulting teachers who performed more useful functions than did their colleagues who received standard training; and we may infer that the apprenticeship consulting teachers were giving the type of feedback they were trained to provide. Observations of Consulting Teachers With and Without Apprenticeship Training Analysis of the observational records for the two groups of consulting teachers provided insight into the qualitative differences between the apprenticeship and nonapprenticeship style of consultation.

Figure 2 presents these findings.

Essentially, the majority (61 %) of the activities performed by the apprenticeship consulting teachers were aimed at providing classroom teachers with feedback about students' performance and coaching teachers in the use of effective teaching practices. Approximately one-third of the activities they performed were concerned with assisting teachers in curriculum implementation; only 5% of their activities were administrative in nature.

In contrast, only 13% of the activities performed by the other consulting teachers were aimed at assisting teachers in improving their instructional approach for working with low-achieving students. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the activities performed by these consulting teachers were centered around curriculum implementation (i.e., monitoring time allocated to instruction, checking progress charts). In addition, a greater proportion of administrative and procedural tasks were completed by consulting teachers receiving standard training.

In reviewing the detailed observational notes, it became clear to us that the day-to-day modus operandi of the consulting teachers who had undergone apprenticeship training was dramatically different from that of the other teachers. They were more direct; they took more risks.

After each classroom visit, the apprenticeship consulting teachers provided the classroom teacher with feedback on some aspect of the lesson observed. At times, they would actually take over reading or mathematics groups for a 5-10-min period to demonstrate a new technique. These demonstrations, in fact, were based on Rosenshine's (1986) teaching functions. The teachers modeled techniques such as the use of extended guided practice during each lesson, the need for daily review of previously taught concepts, and the practice of teaching each skill to mastery. They also monitored students' independent seatwork to assess how well students had mastered the material in the day's lesson.

One example from our field notes demonstrates a typical classroom visit of an apprenticeship consulting teacher.

Grace visits Ms. Lupone's third-grade classroom. Some of her third graders have not mastered basic word-attack skills. She is unsure where to place them and how to integrate review of basic word-attack skills with instruction in comprehension. Grace arrives while students in the target group are doing independent seatwork. She spends 15 min looking at their seatwork. When she notes an error, she practices the sounding-out rile with the child. At the end of the 15 min she has spent some time with all 13 students.

Grace tells Ms. Lupone she would like to teach the first 10 min or so of the reading lesson. Ms. Lupone agrees. Grace tells her to watch how she provides feedback to students when they make reading errors. She also explains how she will use review to ensure that all students experience success. Grace then takes over the lesson. She explains to the students that they will practice reading. She plays a little game with them, where sometimes she is the teachers, sometimes they are the "teacher" and try to trick her. After 8 min of this type of practice, she has each child read a few words individually. When it is time for story reading, she turns the lesson over to Ms. Lupone. She tells Ms. Lupone to make a list of words that were missed and to use these words to play word-attack games with the students. She says she will be back in a few days to see how things are going.

In contrast, consulting teachers who received standard training played a less assertive role. They tended to give fairly general, basically positive feedback to most teachers after most classroom visits. The only exceptions were when a teacher exhibited weak control over the class, or failed to proceed through the curriculum at the appropriate pace. Then they provided suggestions about classroom management and prodded the teacher to move through the curriculum more quickly. Unlike the apprenticeship group, these consulting teachers almost always waited for teachers to bring up a problem before intervening. Though they were always available for advice and suggestions, their suggestions were not often rooted in the research on effective teaching.

Consulting teachers without apprenticeship training modeled a lesson only upon teacher request. These requests often came from the inexperienced teachers. The consulting teachers tended to model a full 30-min lesson once, rather than use the step-by-step procedures of the apprenticeship group. They did not necessarily return for a follow-up visit.

The following example demonstrates a typical visit of a consulting teacher who received the standard training.

Ms. French, a fourth-grade teacher, meets with the consulting teacher, Harriet, after lunch. Ms. French is concerned because her low group is not mastering fractions. Four of the eight students have failed the unit mastery test. She doesn't want to go on to something else, but doesn't know what to do. She asks Harriet to observe the next morning and watch the review lesson. She says she is afraid the kids won't learn the material after only one review lesson, using the same book and same methods. Harriet reviews the test scores with Ms. French. She tells her that all fourth-grade teachers are having problems with fractions. She tells Ms. French that she is one of the best teachers in the school, and she shouldn't worry about this so much. She can always come back to fractions in the spring. Harriet also reviews the reading results, and points out how well all reading groups are progressing. She consistently accentuates the positive. Ms. French, who had entered the room looking rather depressed, leaves with a smile on her face. However, no follow-up classroom visitation has been Uscheduled.


Lortie (1975) wrote that education is strong on prescriptions and short on descriptions" (p. vii.). The major intent of this study was to describe what individuals actually do on a day-to-day basis in their role as consulting teachers. This article presented only highlights of the extensive field notes gathered on the operations of eight individuals charged with the task of assisting classroom teachers work with low-achieving students within a regular classroom situation. A qualitative, descriptive study of a small number of individuals such as this cannot clearly determine cause-effect relationships. But it can describe, in a reasonable amount of detail, what actually happens when teachers begin to "consult" with their peers, thus breaking down traditional norms of teacher autonomy (Lortie, 1975). The results of this study also provide some insight into what may be necessary to train consulting teachers to effectively assist their colleagues.

A unique feature of this study is the setting--four schools whose students were primarily from low-income and minority ethnic groups. The findings of this study, therefore, cannot easily be extrapolated to a school in a middle-income community. On the other hand, schools such as those in this study are the most in need of effective consultation services (Singer & Butler, 1987). These are the schools with heavy referral rates; and students in these schools tend to be overclassified as learning disabled (Maheady, Towne, Algozzine, Mercer, & Ysseldyke, 1983; McGill-Franzen, 1987).

Despite the limitations of a small-scale study such as this, the contrast between the two groups of consulting teachers was dramatic, and was replicated from several independent data sources. Our major finding was that apprenticeship training seemed to have increased the ability of the consulting teachers to coach and assist classroom teachers in strategies for working with low-performing students. Classroom teachers perceived these consulting teachers as more useful, particularly in making suggestions for working with low-achieving students.

The extensive apprenticeship training immersed the novices in the effective teaching research. First, by the time we observed them for the purpose of this study, they appeared to think along the lines of this research. For example, when called in to help out with a mathematic,,, problem, they would automatically go through a mental checklist" with items such as: Is the teacher providing an adequate number of clear models of how to solve the problem? Do students receive immediate feedback whenever errors are made? Second, the apprenticeship teachers were taught to prioritize the items in their analysis. For example, if they saw three ways the teacher might improve the math lesson, they were shown how to select one area to begin work on.

The reader may wonder how the apprenticeship teachers were able to break through traditional barriers of teacher autonomy, and why teachers accepted their direct, sometimes critical feedback. As the research of Judith Little (1985) has shown, teacher consultation and collaboration is a delicate, difficult process. When teachers begin to observe each other in the classroom and provide feedback to each other, time-honored traditions of teacher autonomy are broken. A consulting teacher system can "place teachers' self-esteem and professional respect on the line, because ... it expose(s) how teachers teach, and how they think about teaching ... to the scrutiny of their peers. " (p. 34). As Little (1987) more recently put it, Closer to the classroom is closer to the bone" (p. 35).

Because of their training, the apprenticeship consulting teachers were able to take risks. They risked violating the norms of teacher autonomy; however, they met the needs of many teachers for specific feedback on how they could improve their classroom practice.

Initially, many teachers felt a bit threatened and uncomfortable with the directness of the feedback given by the consulting teachers. They had never experienced anything like it. The majority of teachers served by the apprenticeship consulting teachers, however, seemed to adapt to the level of specific feedback. There may be several reasons for this. In the words of one teacher interviewed, the apprenticeship consulting teachers "practiced what they preached." in their work with classroom teachers, they used the same instructional procedures that they encouraged the teachers to use with students. They broke complex teaching skills into small steps and balanced critical feedback with positive feedback. They provided a detailed model of desired behavior before asking teachers to use a new teaching strategy, and they made a point of following up on all suggestions they made.

Even one of the teachers who was in the midst of a conflict with her consulting teacher over how to handle a classroom management issue said she felt comfortable with the consultation model. She said, " At least, everything is above board and direct. If a suggestion doesn't work-and sometimes they don't-I can always try it for a few days and report to Grace on what happened. Then, we'll try something else."

The results of this study show that although an individual may be a skilled or experienced teacher, he or she will not automatically become a skilled consultant, advisor, and coach. The observations demonstrated that if teachers are not adequately trained in how to consult, they will tend to shy away from specific feedback and escape" by providing broad, general feedback to teachers, or retreat into the never-ending world of paperwork. The findings also demonstrate that, despite initial reluctance and resistance, many classroom teachers crave specific feedback by a trained professional on what they are doing in their classrooms. Merely appointing certain individuals to serve this function will not do the trick.

The consulting teachers in this particular study were not special educators; they were experienced classroom teachers with extensive background in teaching low-achieving students. Their new role, however, was quite similar to the new resource consultant role espoused for special educators. There is every reason to believe that the problems many of them faced and the training needs they demonstrated will be similar to those faced by special educators suddenly asked to assume the new role of assisting teachers with low-achieving students (Johnson, Pugach, & Hammitte, 1988).

It is unrealistic to think that someone who is skilled at teaching small groups of 5 to 8 students will instantly acquire the ability to (a) analyze a situation involving a classroom of 32 students and (b) communicate findings in a sensitive, concrete fashion to a classroom teacher. The training provided will need to focus not only on interpersonal communication skills, and an understanding of data-based instruction and behavioral teaching techniques, but also on developing a working knowledge of effective teaching research and its implications for classroom instruction.

The type of extensive training this district used is costly in the short run. However, the benefits are clear. After 9 months of observations and interviews, we concluded that it is more beneficial for a district to have one trained consulting teachers than five with minimal or standard "training." The amount of technical knowledge, competence, and sensitivity in communication required by the position is immense. It is difficult to see how this can be accomplished without some type of serious apprenticeship and guidance.


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RUSSELL GERSTEN (CEC Chapter #375) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Oregon, Eugene. CRAIG DARCH (CEC Chapter #368) is Associate Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation and Special Education at Auburn University, Alabama. GARY DAVIS and NANCY GEORGE (CEC Chapter #85) are Research Associates in the Department of Special Education at the University of Oregon, Eugene. This research was supported in part by a grant from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education.

The authors wish to express their appreciation to David Mittleholtz for his active support of the project.

Manuscript received February 1989; revision accepted May 1989.

Exception Children, Vol. 57. No. 3, pp. 226-236. [c] 1990 the Council for Exceptional Children.
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Author:Gersten, Russell; Darch, Craig; Davis, Gary; George, Nancy
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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