Rationale and Brief Description of the Project

Research evidence over the past two decades suggests that teachers matter for student learning (Nye, Konstantopoulos, & Hedges, 2004; Rowan, Correnti, & Miller, 2002; Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000). In fact, teacher effects have been found to explain a higher percentage of variance in student achievement compared to school- and system-level effects (Scheerens & Bosker, 1997). Studies exploring teacher-level factors suggest that what matters most is teaching itself (cf. Cohen, Raundebush, & Ball, 2003) rather than teacher attributes, such as their beliefs or job satisfaction (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008). However, the question, as Hiebert and Grouws (2007, p. 371) argue, lingers: "What is it, exactly, about teaching that influences student learning?" One way or another, this question has faced scholars since the 1970s. Earlier studies trying to answer this question (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1986; Creemers, 1994; Scheerens & Bosker, 1997), as well as some more recent ones (e.g., Charlotte, 2007; La Paro, Pianta, Stuhlman, 2004; Pianta et al., 2011) have mostly focused on generic teaching practices. After Shulman's plea (1986) for attending to the content itself, researchers have also turned to domain-specific practices. However, it seems that the research community has attempted to answer the preceding question in an "either/or" way: either looking at teaching generically or content-specifically. No attempts to synthesize these two perspectives or to understand whether and how they relate to one another seem to have undertaken.

In this project, we seek to address the aforementioned question in two novel ways. First, instead of focusing on either generic practices—such as structuring and orienting (e.g., Creemers, 1994) —or more domain-specific practices—such as using demonstrations or providing explanations (e.g., Rink, 2010; Stein & Kucan, 2010)—we explore how both, individually and jointly, contribute to different types of student learning outcomes (cognitive, affective, and psychomotor). The potential of this dual focus to better understand the relationship under discussion is suggested by a recent meta-analysis that showed both generic teaching practices and domain-specific elements of teaching to individually influence student learning (Seidel & Shavelson, 2007), without, however, exploring any potential joint contributions. Second, we examine this complex association with regards to two subject matters: Mathematics and Physical Education (PE). Because these subject matters are notably different in terms of the knowledge and skills required by teachers, the instructional practices in which teachers might engage, and the goals set for student learning, focusing on both is expected to enable testing the robustness of our findings. Furthermore, it is envisioned to allow exploring whether the contribution of generic and domain-specific teaching practices varies across subject matters and across different types of learning outcomes, thus investigating the consistency of the effects examined.
To undertake this exploration, the study samples 50 elementary teachers who teach mathematics and/or PE to the same students. We measure students' growth in the two subject matters using instruments that have already been developed and validated in previous studies (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008, 2009; Kyriakides & Tsangaridou, 2008). Teachers' generic and domain-specific practices are captured using three observational instruments: an instrument measuring generic teaching skills, which has already been tested and validated in a series of national and international studies (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008), and two instruments, one for each of the domain-specific practices. These latter instruments, which have been validated in studies in which the project team has participated, were adapted for use in the Cypriot educational context. Using these instruments three observations per teacher per subject matter are conducted by trained raters, one rater capturing generic aspects of instruction and two raters focusing on domain-specific aspects of instruction. Data on the quality of instruction are also collected by student and teacher surveys; thus, from a methodological viewpoint, the project offers the possibility of examining the predictive validity of different sources of information in explaining student learning in the two subject matters under consideration.

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