The Collaborative Analysis of Student Learning: Professional Learning that Promotes Success for All


Amy Colton, Georgea Langer & Loretta Goff

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    This is a critically important book. This book is important for the manner in which the complexity of teaching and learning is intertwined with a refreshing straightforwardness in what is possible and achievable. The complexity tackled in this book is a generations-old struggle, namely, the education of all students in our diverse society. The major value of this book is the authors’ approachable manner in which they straightforwardly pose three implicit and pivotal questions: What structures do we need to develop in order to effectively educate our students? How do we develop support systems for facilitating student learning? Why are my assumptions and deeply held habits of practice with regard to our students important to the development of trust with colleagues and basic to transformative changes that benefit our students?

    As educators and authors, we, Delores and Randy, have been engaged in equity-based work for over four decades and have observed slow progress in schools shifting from deep-seated resistance to a burgeoning support for equitable educational practices. Active and passive resistance are still expressed in comments such as, “Given the circumstances these students come from, we can’t expect too much.” Or, “They are doing the best they can for who they are.” The “circumstances” and “who they are” are too often focused on students’ race, ethnicity, gender, or social class not being aligned with white middle-class norms and experiences. Increasingly we are witnessing educators and schools, albeit unevenly across the country and with pockets of deep antagonism, embracing the notion that all students can learn to high levels. When progress is evident, schools reject the cultural deficit model and regard students’ cultures as assets on which to build their (and our) educational experiences.

    In the educational history of the United States, systemic awareness of racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic academic achievement gaps is a fairly modern concept. Reading and mathematics achievement gaps were first ushered onto the consciousness of educators with the initial National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report in 1971. That ground-breaking report documented the gender and racial achievement gap for 9, 13, and 17-year-old students in reading (Perie, Moran, & Lutkus, 2005). It was followed in 1973 by the NAEP report on mathematics that described gender and racial achievement gaps. NAEP has continued to issue reports every odd-numbered year since then and has provided the reports to school districts and related agencies across the United States. Unfortunately, those reports were rarely embraced or studied by mainstream educators and too often were remanded to those involved with Title I or school desegregation programs. President George W. Bush revealed the achievement gap to all educators and the general public with the signing of No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002. What had been the province of equity advocates became public and set forth a veritable tsunami of finger pointing, ill-conceived accountability measures, and consternation among educators who were content to avoid equity issues. However, for equity advocates, NCLB provided a “silver lining” by removing systemic excuses of blaming students for their under-education, and rightfully, holding us, educators and our schools/districts, accountable for identifying and closing achievement gaps.

    A myriad of programs and approaches to addressing “achievement gap issues” were rolled out by commercial enterprises and think tanks in response to NCLB and related state level actions. A common characteristic of most programs is that they provided educators with detailed processes for the What and How of educational reform and change. The downside of such efforts has been programs, strategies, and accountability movements that promote mechanistic, top-down approaches but do little to engage teachers and administrators in substantive dialogue about curriculum or pedagogy. Such approaches have rarely involved educators in understanding how student engagement is hindered or facilitated by uncovering the assumptions embedded in curriculum and instruction. In marked contrast, Colton and her colleagues contend that the professional learning of educators is a key ingredient to accessing and narrowing achievement disparities. In presenting professional learning as the central activity in their Framework: Teacher as Collaborative Inquirer, the value of Why is coupled with the What and How in fostering personal, professional, and institutional changes required in transforming assumptions about teaching, learning, and leading (Sinek, 2009). This approach is what sets this book apart from others.

    This book demonstrates that the inquiry approach is important at two levels: (1) guiding educators to understand the manner in which their assumptions and beliefs about student cultures influence how they interact with students and (2) engaging educators with colleagues in ways to facilitate student learning. The Collaborative Analysis of Student Learning (CASL) engages educators, teachers, and administrators as co-learners. This book is a substantive rewrite and update of their successful 2003 ASCD publication. This new edition is recognition by these reflective authors that they, too, continue to learn. In doing so, this volume holds cultural diversity and the transformative power of educators as a central organizing theme in recognition that the question pivots away from asking if students can learn to asking what is it that we educators need to learn in order to be effective teachers and school leaders. In doing so, this becomes a critically important book. The authors provide a source of hope for today’s educators. The hope is found in the authors’ clearly defined framework. The Framework: Teacher as Collaborative Inquirer defines the knowledge, skills, and dispositions possessed by teachers who successfully pursue, discover, and apply responsive approaches for learning so that each and every student reaches standards of excellence. This approach translates hope into practice and reality for educators and the students they serve.

    We close as we began this essay: this is a critically important book. The authors demonstrate that we have the capacity to learn what it takes to teach all students to higher levels than ever before.


    We thank the hundreds of teachers and administrators who worked with us over many years to develop our understanding of teachers’ professional learning, growth, and reflective practice. We especially acknowledge teachers and administrators from the following schools and districts for helping us refine the CASL professional learning design:

    • Reading Apprenticeship Teachers, Washtenaw Intermediate School District, and Livingston Education Service Agency, Michigan
    • Forest Hills Public Schools, Grand Rapids, Michigan
    • Ann Arbor Public Schools, Ann Arbor, Michigan
    • University Preparatory Academy, Detroit, Michigan
    • All elementary and secondary schools, George County, Mississippi
    • Rawsonville Elementary School, Van Buren Public Schools, Michigan
    • Kettering Elementary School, Wayne-Westland School District, Michigan
    • Kosciusko Middle School, Hamtramck School District, Michigan

    Finally, many thanks to Jennifer Rosenberg for her valuable insights and inputs. We also wish to thank the Corwin staff for their guidance throughout the writing and publishing process, with special appreciation for Dan Alpert for believing in the power of CASL and inviting us to share what we have learned with other educators.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Gustava Cooper-Baker
    • Principal
    • Kansas City School District
    • Kansas City, MO
    • Lois B. Easton
    • Consultant and Author, LBE Learning
    • Learning Forward
    • Oxford, OH
    • Barb Keating
    • Educational Consultant

    About the Authors

    Amy Colton As executive director of Learning Forward Michigan and senior consultant for Learning Forward, Amy Colton works tirelessly with educators to build their capacity to design, facilitate, and evaluate quality professional learning so that all students are successful in school and in life. Amy’s work is influenced by years as a special education teacher and district professional learning consultant. While serving as a teacher-in-residence of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, she played an active role in coordinating the development of the Board’s first teaching certificates. Dr. Colton is best known for her professional learning designs that create learning communities and tasks that support professional and student learning for excellence with equity. She holds a doctorate in teacher education from the University of Michigan. Her work appears in publications including Journal of Teacher Education, Educational Leadership, National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality’s Research and Policy Brief, and The Journal of Staff Development.

    Georgea Langer became intrigued with teacher growth and expertise when she taught middle-school foreign language. To pursue this interest, she completed her PhD in Educational Psychology at Stanford University. As a professor of teacher education at Eastern Michigan University, Langer won three teaching awards and published extensively in professional journals. She has co-authored five books for both beginning and experienced teachers. She lives happily in Michigan and Florida with her husband, Peter, and their cat, Murphy.

    Loretta Goff worked as a K–12 teacher, guidance counselor, adjunct professor for two universities, assistant principal, principal, director of instruction, and assistant superintendent in charge of an attendance area of five schools, K–12. Loretta retired from her work in public schools after 27 years and served 9 years as a consultant for JBHM Education Group, which later became Generation Ready. With experience at all levels in public education, she was able to provide teachers and administrators guidance and support in many areas; but she is especially proud of her collaborative work with teachers to implement struggling-learner initiatives in many schools throughout Arkansas. Loretta received her doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi and has co-published with the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development and in the Journal of Staff Development.


    This book would not have been possible without the constant encouragement and support from my family, friends, and colleagues. I wish to thank my husband Ken, who has tolerated piles of papers and books in every nook and cranny of our house for years, and whose unconditional love and support gave me the courage to put pen to paper. I am grateful for my precious sons, Andy, Josh, and Zach, who have always believed in me and are excited about my accomplishments. My admiration and appreciation go out in loving memory of my mother, who was my first editor, and my father who was my mentor. If it wasn’t for Georgea, I would never have found my voice and believed that I could be a writer. Her willingness and patience to tease out the kernels of my abstract thoughts is uncanny. Finally, I wish to extend a special thank you to Victoria Duff, who helps me reach my greatest potential; Joellen Killion, who continues to support my professional learning; Margie Fellinger, a strong advocate for CASL, and my go-to person when exploring the potential of new ideas; and Virginia Winters, who has given me the strength and knowledge to stay the course toward building my own cultural proficiency.

    —Amy B. Colton


    First, I must thank my mother, who inspired my interest in education by insisting that my elementary school get the best teachers possible—and they did! Second, I am so very grateful to my husband, Peter, for his steadfast encouragement as I spent many long days and nights in trying to understand and promote teachers’ best professional learning. Finally, thank you to my friend, Amy, for sharing this journey with me. Her creativity, intelligence, and caring helped us to develop and refine CASL, and then to bring this book to you. We hope it is of service to you and your students.

    —Georgea M. Langer


    To my loving husband, Jerry; my four daughters, Stacy, Erin, Rachael, and Emily; and in loving memory of my mother and father, Lois and “Chopper,” for their unconditional love, commitment, and support for every endeavor.

    —Loretta S. Goff
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