By Stephen Winton, TCTELA recording Secretary
I have had the good fortune to learn from amazing colleagues a few ideas regarding professional development. The principles of crafting good PD are often the same as planning a quality lesson. Here’s a few thoughts:
Follow the gradual release of responsibilities model of instruction.
Pearson and Gallagher (1983) suggest that learning best occurs by first modeling the strategy (I DO), followed by guided practice (WE DO), before independent practice (YOU DO). Therefore, planning a PD or a lesson often begins by thinking, “How will I model and demonstrate? How will the learners practice what I modeled collaboratively?” Often in a one-hour PD there is not the time for independent practice, but in longer PDs this may be possible.
2. Never teach reading without a text in your hand.
A phrase I heard from a friend and mentor Judy Wallis, we should ask ourselves if we are simply talking about reading or modeling with authentic texts. PowerPoints and worksheets with inauthentic examples are both disengaging and abstract. Find texts that will be accessible and meaningful to your audience. This means the facilitator or teacher needs to read a lot of texts that are meaningful to the learners. I often spend the most time I planning a PD or lesson think about which texts to use.
3. Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.
We all have sat through professional developments where the lecturer delivers a PowerPoint for an hour without pause. We are on the verge of falling asleep, and we are college-educated adults who are often paying or being paid for attendance! Frequent turn-and-talks and discussion on reading promote engagement in learning.
4. Don’t rush, but keep it moving.
It’s balancing act in pacing a PD or a lesson. Move too fast and you risk frustrating the learners, too slow and distractions creep in. Usually when I’m giving a PD and the phones come out it’s a sign to move on. And remember not all learners move at the same pace!
5. Remember the professional literature.
Most quality PD touches on the professional literature and research, through quotations or short article studies. Similarly, learning from our published colleagues brings new ideas and depth to our lesson planning.
6. Invite uncertainty.
Learning often occurs when we are unsure and try out new ideas. The above phrase from Peter Johnston counterintuitively suggests uncertainty is a good thing. By asking open-ended questions with multiple right answers, we allow the learners to explore their own thinking rather than try to guess what is in the presenter’s or teacher’s head. If we explicitly state there are probably many possible interpretations to the text or idea at hand, we encourage learners to take intellectual risks. History is made by those who think differently.
7. Aim beyond the test.
Some administrators might jump at the chance to send teachers to PD with titles like “10 Tips on Passing STAAR!” But oftentimes these direct assaults on test-preparation are quick fixes that ignore the more substantial work needed to grow readers and writers. Similarly, the goal in the minds of educators, to pass a test or to inspire authentic learning, is often a clear predictor of the quality of instruction.
Adults and children learn in much the same ways. In my work, my teaching has informed my professional development work and vice versa. The joy that comes from teaching and learning alongside colleagues and students in is often much the same.
Pearson, P.D. & Gallagher, M. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8 (1), 317-344.
The above article originally appeared as:
Winton, S. J. (2018). Ideas on Professional Development. The West Houston Area Council of Teachers of English. The ELAborator, 19(1), p. 14-15.