Ideas on Professional Development

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:

  1. 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.

 

Reference

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.




The Artful Do-Over

By Diane M. Miller, Ph.D., TCTELA President

One of things I treasure most about teaching is the powerful do-over that we get each year (or even each semester).  We push our students to be lifelong learners, of course, but it is incumbent upon us to emulate that eternal sense of wonderment and discovery.  I always tell my students—pre-service teachers—that a reflective novice is a better teacher than a stagnant veteran.  Each year should be viewed as an opportunity to research the latest best practices, fine-tune your classroom environment, enrich the diversity of your classroom library, and more authentically support your students’ learning.  Experience is valuable only when the power of the do-over is embraced!

In The Numberlys, William Joyce and Christina Ellis (2014) graphically narrate the ultimate do-over in a picture book that would be a perfect read-aloud to kick off your year.  In the beginning, we encounter an orderly, numbers-only, gray world without “books or colors or jellybeans or pizza.”  Next, we are introduced to five friends who are “wondering if they could do something…MORE.”  Dissatisfied with the status quo, the friends embark upon a project to create something “DIFFERENT.” At first, their results are “awful,” but with hard work, they produce something “artful.”  When the friends share their newly created alphabet, they fill their gray world with multi-colored, lexical “amazements.”  At the end of their very industrious day, they are able to rest, proud of their “something new, something different, something more.”

Each new year of teaching provides teachers an opportunity to accomplish this type of transformative work.  What will you learn with your do-over this year?  While we may not create alphabetic metamorphoses, we do teach children to read, write, think, and contribute to their worlds in meaningful ways.  Here’s the thing:  we are doing that work, year after year, in shifting worlds.  That is where the do-over concept comes in.  Last year was not wrong, necessarily, but how will you push yourself to make this year the best it can be with an ever-changing set of variables?   

The upcoming year brings new boundaries to cross, new topics to explore, new distractions to mitigate, new learners to inspire. In her influential book The Right to Learn, Linda Darling-Hammond (1997) argues that diversity in our classrooms—in curriculum, texts, experiences, and people—empowers students’ thinking and participation in society.  She advocates a multicultural approach, noting that such work can “help students to develop an analytic frame for life in a democracy, seeing problems and ideas from many vantage points” (p. 126).  In the current atmosphere of inflammatory tweets, fake news, and shifting loyalties, our students must be equipped for “analytic” lifelong learning.  As I consider Darling-Hammond’s words, I can hear song lyrics: “What the world needs now…” (David & Bacharach, 1965).  

To make this year’s do-over more “artful” than “awful,” consider ways in which you will recognize and embrace the various lenses, diverse voices, and multiple pathways inherent in our Texas classrooms.  

References:

 Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). The right to learn: A blueprint for creating schools that work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 Joyce, W., & Ellis, C. (2014). The numberlys. New York: Moonbot/Atheneum.

 David, H., & Bacharach, B. (1965). What the world needs now is love [Recorded by J. DeShannon]. On This is Jackie DeShannon [Album]. New York: Imperial Records.