Research Focus

The Organizing to Learn Practice (O2LP) project was designed to support teachers to improve their practice by participating in collective teaching practice and engaging in approximations of teaching practice. The project builds on and combines models that have been established in the field including lesson study, teacher noticing, and practice-based methods for supporting teaching.

This practice-centered professional development is situated within a summer mathematics program for fifth graders. The class comprises primarily Black youth, along with a small number of Hispanic and white children, mostly from low-income families. The teacher is an experienced teacher, comfortable with making her practice visible and open to others. Teachers’ engagement approximates a form of “legitimate peripheral participation,” through structured conversations about the lesson plans, close observation, mathematical analysis of student tasks, and examination of records of teaching and learning practice.

The project explores the impact of the professional development on teachers’ practice, as well as on their knowledge and dispositions, from participating in these structured ways. We investigate two variations on the basic approach: (1) whether there are differences between participating onsite, in person, or remotely, online, and (2) the addition of supplementary practice-focused professional development.

    1. Learning from structured peripheral participation in “live practice”: What do teachers learn from structured participation in the class? Does their participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways?
    1. Learning from structured peripheral participation in “live practice” in person as part of a group versus online and on one’s own. Does the setting of the peripheral participation matter? Does this form of participation impact their own teaching practice, and if so, in what ways?
  1. Impact of supplementary practice-focused professional development: Does the addition of professional development focused on a particular teaching practice impact teachers’ own practice, and if so, in what ways?  How does the addition of professional development focused on a specific instructional practice compare across the in-person and online forms of participation in terms of impact on teachers’ own practice?

The Professional Development Approach

Since 2007, we have conducted a summer mathematics program, the EML, for rising fifth graders at the University of Michigan. The program enrolls approximately 28 students each summer. The children are recruited with the assistance of the partner school district. For more information about the program, visit or watch the video below.

The student program seeks to surface and leverage students’ strengths, fill gaps, and support them to do challenging and complex mathematical work. In the EML, the students work on mathematics with an experienced elementary teacher for 2.5 hours each day for ten days across two weeks. The mathematical content of the instruction includes work on fractions (definitions, representations, placement on the number line), as well as on reading, interpreting, and solving equations. The students also encounter and are supported to solve complex and unfamiliar mathematics problems. Mathematical practices and techniques include explaining, representing, proving, presenting in public, and listening to others’ mathematical ideas attentively, respectfully, and critically.

How is the live instruction used to support teacher learning? Each summer, approximately 80 Kindergarten through Grade 8 teachers participate in the EML. Detailed lesson plans designed specifically to support participants are prepared each day. The detailed lesson plans include timing, goals, details and commentary which includes anticipations. The instruction is carefully documented both to support real-time and subsequent study. Each day is structured in the following way to support participant learning.

Daily Components

30 minutes
Read lesson plan and solve mathematics problems i
Particular parts of the detailed lesson plans for the day are studied and the children’s mathematics tasks are solved. For example, participants are asked to solve the fractions task shown in the lesson plan on the next page and asked to consider misconceptions that may arise as students work on the task.
1 hour
Prebrief of the class i
The lesson plan is discussed with the teacher and adjusted as needed. Design and enactment problems are discussed, as are questions that are surfaced by the teacher or participants. For example, within this lesson, the question was raised about how the teacher might respond if students appear to believe that ¼ of the rectangle is shaded gray when a line is drawn to create equal parts but that 1/3 of the rectangle is shaded gray when the line is removed.
2.5 hours
Observation of the class i
Live observation of the class. Participants are provided with focus questions to guide their viewing of the laboratory class. For example, in the lesson outlined below, participants were asked to note the explanations given by students, the work that the teacher did to support student explanations, and the evidence of student understanding captured in the explanations. They observe the class from either the back of the classroom or they watch the class in another room via a remote feed.
30 minutes
Review of the children’s work i
The children’s classwork from the morning is available to be read and analyzed by participants. The work is also made available for later study.
1 hour
Debrief of the class i
Structured debriefing of the class occurs and is organized around particular focus, some of which are pre-determined and others are determined based on the work that unfolds during the lesson.
2 hours
Participate in a leading discussions workshop i
Some participants attend a weeklong practice-based workshop focused on leading mathematics discussions.