Overview of ICEP

ICEPs are small group discussions between the teacher and students on academic ideas. They engender meaningful participation in disciplinary practices that are agentive and collaborative and connect with the everyday experiences of students from marginalized communities. We identify four ICEP domains by drawing on over 50 years of research on classroom talk (Resnick et al., 2015) and more recent work on equitable teaching and learning practices (Jensen et al., 2018).

Figure 1
Figure 1. ICEP Domains and Indicators

ICEP Domains and Indicators

These domains (with associated indicators in Figure 1) include:

  1. Contextualized Discourse: Through classroom talk, teachers and students connect classroom topics and ideas with students’ everyday experiences (such as routines, interests, relationships, perspectives, expertise, values, and traditions), including issues of fairness, bias, and justice.
  2. Collaborative Activity: Teachers and students collaborate in a small group on a joint activity to develop tangible (e.g., a chart, essay, report, list of ideas shared) and intangible products (e.g., a shared understanding, co-construction of ideas, or discovering solutions) in order to explore ideas, foster shared reasoning, and construct meaning together.
  3. Complex Ideas Using Everyday Language: Conversations between teacher and students engender student expression of complex ideas using students’ everyday language resources (e.g., dialects, vernaculars, creoles, home languages) through modeling, elicitation, and affirmation.
  4. Equitable Participation: Teacher and student interactions in small group instructional conversations foster opportunities for every student to contribute as meaningful participants.

Enabling Collaborative, Close-to-Practice Teacher Learning

The purpose of these ICEP materials is to assist in continuous improvement in collaborative teacher teams. Research suggests collaboration in school-based teams is critical for teachers to learn to enact ambitious practices (Borko, 2004; Horn et al., 2017; Lefstein et al., 2020a; Vangrieken et al., 2015). Working together to plan and enact lessons and to analyze and revise practices generates trust and community among teachers to improve a reality (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Little, 2003).

Research points to the need for focused instructional aims, peer facilitation, sustained engagement, and inquiry protocols for collaboration to foster durable changes to teaching (e.g., Andrews-Larson et al., 2017; Gallimore et al., 2009; Horn & Little, 2010; ). Conventional professional development through conferences, seminars, or book studies falls short of goal-driven instructional improvement aided by collaboration (Ermeling & Graff-Ermeling, 2016; Lewis et al., 2006). Driven by common instructional goals aligned with student learning standards, collaborative teacher teams develop a capacity for “continuous” improvement by applying information from practice into honed lessons—by extending the study of teaching across time and among people (Bryk, 2020).

Structuring team meetings with protocols to guide teacher inquiry leads to instructional insights that teachers may not expect and could not necessarily accomplish independently. Plan-do-analyze-revise (PDAR) cycles for improvement help teachers open up about their practice, identify common goals, and develop better lesson plans (Saunders et al., 2009; Segal et al., 2018). Without this, there are fewer glimpses into teachers’ practice; team conversations often drift to logistical matters such as scheduling or record keeping, which are important but not central to the improvement task.

Peer facilitation of team meetings is another structure to support “close-to-practice” teacher learning (Feiler et al., 2000; Gallimore et al., 2009). Peer facilitators “are uniquely and credibly positioned to model intellectual curiosity” for fellow teachers precisely because “facilitators try out in their classrooms the same lessons as everyone else” (Gallimore & Ermeling, 2010, p. 2). Peer facilitation engenders a sense of communal trust within the team (Muijs & Harris, 2003).

Peer Observation to Improve Together

Information on teaching used in teacher team meetings should be “anchored in rich representations” of classroom practice (Lefstein et al., 2020b, p. 363). Typically, teacher inquiry meetings consist of student work samples because they are easy to gather (Horn, 2007). Though student work can be valuable in representing student thinking, often it does not provide direct information needed to examine and improve the most ambitious forms of teaching. Examples of these practices include fostering rich and equitable talk among students or connecting with their day-to-day experiences and identities (Jensen et al., 2021). For this, teachers need information that is even closer to practice, such as lesson videos or classroom observations (Sherin, 2004).

Classroom observations are useful to understand and improve teaching because they frame and provide a shared conceptual language, can be used repeatedly to track change, and imply a set of goals for improvement (Bell et al., 2019). Observations among collaborating peer teachers are especially useful for teacher learning to improve practice because they:

Organizing ICEPs into rubrics for peer observation builds common language among teachers to talk in depth together about their classroom practice. It affords the collective capacity for teachers to discern issues and concerns together arising from their practice. These rubrics help teachers identify common dilemmas in their teaching, build an understanding of nuanced concepts in classroom talk, and assist in talking about these nuances in professional learning settings (Andrews-Larson et al., 2017; Horn & Little, 2010; Little & Curry, 2009).

By using ICEP materials, teacher teams deepen shared understandings, assumptions, and interpretations of classroom talk. Shared understandings of nuanced concepts help teachers navigate tensions that invariably arise in teacher-team settings (Saunders et al., 2009). It builds trust and collegiality among team members (Little, 2002) and the capacity to problematize their practice through constructive criticism (Horn, 2007; Lefstein et al., 2020b).

Finally, ICEP materials foster teacher learning to enact rich classroom talk by enabling generative stances of teachers (a) towards students from marginalized communities (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999) as well as (b) towards one another’s practice (Horn et al., 2017). Decisions in planning, preparing, and revising lessons are based on evidence, explanations, and reasons derived from shared understandings and interpretations of their classroom practice (Gallimore et al., 2009). ICEP materials help teachers assess evidence, offer alternatives, and justify refined courses of action to improve classroom talk together. This generative stance supports students and teachers to exercise their agency to address ongoing teaching and learning challenges (Vedder-Weiss et al., 2019).

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