Research on Professional Development and Teacher Change: Implications for Adult Basic Education July 9-13, 2007

General Information

Preparation for Discussion


Marilyn Gillespie, Ed.D., Senior Educational Researcher, Center for Education Policy, SRI International

Cristine Smith, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Center for International Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Description: Historically, very little research has been conducted in adult literacy professional development. Recently, the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) has published a chapter within the Review of Adult Learning and Literacy (v. 7) on research in professional development and teacher change. This chapter (available free and online) draws from the NCSALL Professional Development Study as well as research on professional development from the K-12 field. Join the Adult Literacy Professional Development Discussion List where the authors, Cristine Smith and Marilyn Gillespie, will participate with subscribers in discussion on teacher professional development issues like:

  • What is known about what makes teacher professional development effective
  • How teachers change as a result of professional development
  • Implications for policy, practice and research in professional development
  • How the Association of Adult Literacy Professional Developers (AALPD) can take action to:
    1. Develop a centralized location for professional development
    2. research, and

    3. Advance research in adult literacy professional development.

Guest Biographies

Marilyn Gillespie

Although most of Marilyn's work in the past has focused on adult literacy education, over the past three or four years she has also conducted evaluations of K-12 projects including a study of the Early College High School initiative (for the Gates Foundation), a National Evaluation of Educational Technology and Training (for the U.S. Department of Education) and an evaluation of professional development offered by the National Writing Project.

In addition, Marilyn is currently working on contract with the National Institute for Literacy to conduct an environmental scan of research conducted in the field of adult literacy education which NIFL will use to create a research agenda for the field of adult literacy education.

Marilyn worked with Cris Smith analyzing and reporting on the data collected as part of the NCSALL Staff Development Study. She and Cris Smith also collaborated on a chapter on teacher professional development for the NCSALL Annual Review.

Cristine Smith was NCSALL's deputy director and was the research director for the NCSALL Professional Development Study. She also served as the national coordinator of dissemination research and development initiatives over NCSALL's 10 years (the Practitioner Dissemination and Research Network (PDRN) and Connecting Practice, Policy and Research (CPPR) initiatives), designed to help practitioners access, understand, judge and use research. She holds an Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts, and she is currently an Assistant Professor at the Center for International Education at UMass Amherst.

Additional Resources

Questions for Discussion

To prepare for next week's discussion, reflect upon your answers to any one or more of the following questions:


  1. From your experience, what has been the most effective professional development in which you have participated? What factors made it most valuable for your professional growth and learning?
  2. What aspects of the chapter on professional development research stood out to you most? Why?
  3. What are the similarities and notable differences between K-12 and adult literacy education professional development?

Lessons Learned

  1. Given the lessons learned from the NCSALL Professional Development Study and PD research in general, are these understandings being translated into the professional development our field is offering teachers? For example:
    1. Is more teacher training involving both the program administrator and teacher?
    2. Are you seeing more follow-up on-site?
    3. Is there less of a focus in the field on single-session workshops and more on program-based, job-embedded, or hybrid models of professional development?

State of Research

  1. What are the differences in K-12 and adult literacy professional development research needs?
  2. What kinds of research in adult literacy professional development are most needed?


  1. How are states currently funding professional development research? What are potential ways in which states may fund PD research, such as collaborating with neighboring states to address common PD research questions of concern?

Professional Development Models

  1. On-site professional development vs. the regional or state workshop model: What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Single Session Professional Development - Exception vs. Norm

  1. The authors note that one implication for practice from professional development research is that states should make single-session workshops the exception rather than the norm. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  2. What are other options for increasing professional development designs that offer longer term, more job-embedded models of professional development?

Teacher Working Conditions

  1. Authors discuss what researchers call the "dilution effect" of professional development: The actual impact of the professional development is diluted by all of the other factors that support or hinder teachers from making change.
    1. How do you see teachers' working conditions (such as paid prep time or benefits) impacting the abilities of teachers to implement what they learn in PD?
    2. Is improving teacher working conditions a concern that can only be addressed at the local level? Why or why not?
    3. What work is being done to improve teacher working conditions in programs and states? What has changed since the advent of the NCSALL Professional Development Study, specifically pertaining to teacher working conditions? Have we "taken the lesson home?"

The role of the school administrator in teacher professional development

  1. How do program directors support and/or constrain teacher change?

Using student data to improve instruction

  1. What work is being done in using student achievement data to improve teaching practice?

Teacher Turnover

  1. Is teacher turnover higher in adult education than in K-12? What are the factors that cause teachers to leave the field? What are the implications of high teacher turnover for our students, for our field?

Serve more students or serve fewer, better?

  1. From your experience, shed light on the issue about the extent to which research-based professional development should be more heavily invested. For example, given that research indicates that working conditions, such as access to benefits and paid preparation time for ABE teachers, may actually influence the effectiveness of professional development, should policy makers consider whether any increase in funding be channeled into such expenditures, even if fewer students are served as a result?
  2. The annual average cost per adult education student in states is $800.00. In many states, this cost is much lower. Should it cost more to teach adult education students? Why or why not?
  3. What other issues may arise in the quantity versus quality debate?

Moderator: Jackie Taylor,

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