Best PD for Teaching IS Teaching

It’s been a while since I’ve taught during the summer, but this one particular program I started at yesterday intrigued me. First, the objectives of the classes were not written the way  State Standards or Core Curricula are written. For example, one of the objectives in one of the classes I’m teaching is for the student to ‘explore the different ways to employ creativity techniques in the development of a new invention.’ Second the classes are 90 minutes long which really allow for project/problem-based learning activities. Third, these are all multi-aged classes, so I’m seeing kids from ages 5 to 12 throughout the day. Not having committees, faculty meetings, regular email communication with parents, homework to assign, and unbelievable amounts of autonomy to reach or adapt these objectives to the actual kids I’m teaching, I have had time to play with, use, and have kids use technology in the class already. Finally, the program is only three weeks long, so there’s a lot of interesting thought that goes into planning out the courses. There are a lot of books about regular classrooms and how important it is to set the tone and expectations for kids in the first 6 weeks. I’ve only got three!

One can read and see examples of project/problem-based learning, but until you have a solid 90 minute block and figure out how to utilize that time best to suit the needs of the kids, it’s just a theory. By nature of the schools I’ve worked in, I haven’t taught a multi-aged class in over a decade. It’s been a lot of fun (and it’s only been my second day on the job). I am also loving the objectives being so open-ended and relevant to kids’ lives. While objectives for basic skills can be and are appropriate, it is evident that these kids are getting basic skills instruction and practice as part of their project/problem-based objective. Just thinking about the ‘real-world’ product that kids will create as a final assessment has been fun for me. Making the material relevant to them now, not someday in the future increases their motivation incredibly.

Professional Development can happen in so many ways. We can have workshops, attend conferences, teach other teachers, or coach, but in my mind, I think the best way to become a better teacher is to keep trying new ways to teach and adapt to your students.

In our own schools, it is possible for us to develop professional development like this. According to Douglas B. Reeves in his book Transfroming Professional Development into Student Results, he notes that not only does a school have to have vision for this kind of PD, but also implementation. Without implementation, the vision “not only fails to achieve the intended objectives but also engenders cynicism and distrust.”

Reeves also criticizes most schools for what he calls “Institutional Multitasking,” and that we need to FOCUS: Focus on teaching, curriculum, assessment, and leadership. Darling-Hammond and Richardson (2009) stated that the largest effects in teacher improvement were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours over 6 to 12 months. We’d have to use all our faculty meetings and in-service days throughout the year just on one topic to reach that goal. So what is one of the biggest factors in supporting this kind of PD? The schedule. Marzano (2009) notes that school “leaders must be the architects of systems and schedules.”

Finally, Reeves talks about recognizing our biases and being willing to fail. “School leaders have a particular responsibility to respect research integrity, particularly when a teacher-researhcer expresses disappointment that a planned intervention was ineffective.” Teachers have to get over their fear of being wrong or making mistakes. It’s how we learn.

This summer job that I’ve got is a great one. Including the work I’m doing prepping for each class, I’m spending about 105 hours. That definitely puts me in Darling-Hammond’s range. Unfortunately, it’s not over 6 to 12 months. The systems and schedules for the next school year, may determine how effective our school’s PD is. I will have to build in my own to maintain what I’m currently learning.

We had a guest speaker talk about the campus's Green initiatives. These kids are examining native and invasive species on the campus's wetlands.

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Gifted or Precocious?

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s book Nurtureshock is a great parenting book – it’s like a Freakonomics for parenting. What I liked about this book is that the authors keep reminding us that things are not always as they seem. Humans by nature make far too many assumptions that they believe are true, but in fact, are wrong. Unfortunately, in trying to simplify their explanations, some of their claims are presented as generalizations which may lead the reader to assume that there are no exceptions to their theories. They claim. for example, that it’s usually just precocious kids that do well on IQ tests before the age of 8 and schools that admit based on this principle don’t give late bloomers a chance. In general, that is what the research says, and from my own experience, I would mostly agree. The problem with generalizations is that I have worked with many young students who are truly academically advanced kids. Their needs are different and they need to be met.

Having said that, this article that appeared in the nytimes today with the headline, More Pre-K Pupils Qualify for Gifted Programs got my attention. How many of these kids have the potential to be part of solving some of the globes big problems? How many are just precocious? I hope you answered ALL to the first question.

Nurtureshock is definitely a good read. Any author that uses Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets as a catalyst for a book, is worth reading.

Does the ‘Gifted’ Label Get In the Way of Developing Real Potential?

This short article appeared in the NY Times – The Learning Network Blog yesterday and poses a great question to teachers at the end: How do you maintain the ambition of those showing early promise while simultaneously trying to tap into the hidden potential of everyone else?

David Shenk is the author of The Genius in All of Us: Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong. …and of course he mentions Carol Dweck’s work.