Friday, November 6, 2009

Vertical Professional Development

One of our challenges in professional development at the Creek has always been to move our seasoned teachers forward while at the same time offer foundational work to our newcomers. Accomplishing this type of differentiation at an individual school with limited professional development time has been challenging and sometimes frustrating. We don't want our seasoned teachers to start on lesson one at the beginning of every year, repeating the same content year after year, but at the same time we don't want to leave our beginning teachers behind. We have also always wanted teachers to take more personal responsibility for their own professional development. We want the time that they spend learning to be be useful and applicable. I am sure you have been to hundreds of training sessions that were "required" where you left and felt like you had wasted your time. We have been committed to trying hard NOT to have teachers say that, but how do you meet the many and complex needs of such a large faculty?

This year we decided to try something new and different. We are offering whole days of instruction around a single topic. The topic is chosen based on what teachers identified as their number one need earlier in the year. The day is open to anyone that feels like s/he wants to learn more about that particular subject. The day includes the topic with information from K-5 so that teachers leave with both deep and wide knowledge of the subject. There is some reading/ research about the topic, multiple demos and debriefs with an emphasis on vertical conversation.

Our first day this year was a Science day. Our first Reading/Writing day was on the topic of "Shared Reading." The group included about 10 teachers representing most of the grade levels who had chosen this topic as one they wanted to further investigate. Susanne Shall, our Instructional Coach facilitated the training. She gave each teacher a reflection sheet (on the right) to take notes during each of the live demos. The sections on the reflection sheet included What Shared Reading is... What Shared Reading is not... Artifacts, Resources, Implementation ideas for my classroom.

Kindergarten, of course, was the natural starting place, and Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard did not disappoint. They began by reading a new "sounds chart" together - one that they will do every day for quite a while. Next they demonstrated how they use the sound chart to practice new skills and to review previously taught skills in their Morning Message. This too was another example of how they use shared reading. Then they let us peek into a rereading of a favorite Joy Cowley big book. They have been doing an author emphasis of the many delightful Joy Cowley big books since school started. This was their third day of working with this book, and to reread it for the demo, each of the teachers and two of the students took parts while most of the reading was done chorally by the entire class. After this shared reading, the children were asked to match some of the phrases in the book with sentence strip phrases. Finally as yet another example of shared reading, the teachers brought out a chart with the words to a new color word song for the students to practice singing together. All of these examples were part of their Skills Block. When you leave Maria and Cheryl, the one thing that you absolutely know for sure with so much learning going on, is that they are having fun and so are their students!
Then it was off to first grade with Carrie McLeod. The interesting thing about Carrie's presentation was that the children used a familiar text that was enlarged on the document camera so that all of the children could see the words. While this is a common way for intermediate teachers to find an enlarged text to use for shared reading, it was an a-ha for me. I have become so accustomed to pulling out laminated charts from previous years and using my set of big books, that I had forgotten how easy it is to take any text and enlarge it on the document camera. Duh? I am kicking myself for not thinking of this strategy to use with the many rebus nursery rhymes that are on the web while we were doing nursery rhymes. It is this sort of professional development that can introduce you to new strategies, remind you of some that you have used in the past or help you find new and easy applications of strategies that you already know. We debriefed both lessons, finding the things that were alike in the lessons and the things that were different. All of the teachers who taught the lessons joined us for the debrief.  Watch the lesson.

The Principal provided lunch for this group (isn't that a treat?!!) so we could work through our lunch time, getting to know each other better, trading ideas and gaining new respect for those that teach other grades. We jigsawed a text on shared reading to get the researched best practices and then it was off to fourth grade.

Jenny Nash is one of those teachers that is just a natural so it is always a pleasure to watch her teach... anything! She began by having the children read a poem by a familiar author, Roald Dahl. It was a funny poem with a part for the teacher and a part for the class. It required the children to really understand the poem to use their voices correctly. Jenny often uses poetry in her intermediate classroom because it is shorter than a story, picture book or chapter and poems often have interesting punctuation and phrasing, perfect for oral reading. Jenny then took two familiar texts to enlarge by flashing them on the document camera, one that had punctuation clues to help the reader know how to read it and another with and and or without punctuation that still required the reader to understand the passage to read it correctly. Watch the lesson. These were both great examples of how to use shared reading in the Readers' Workshop to enhance comprehension at a more advanced level.

One of the great things about a day like this is that it is relaxing and yet you feel like you've really learned something when you leave. You feel like you really understand the concept presented and the activities and conversation help you to figure out how to incorporate the topic into your everyday teaching. What a delightful way to ENJOY professional development! Can't wait until the next day.


Mrs.Mallon & Mrs. Dillard said...

It was a wonderful experience to see "Shared Reading" across the grade levels. We got to see how the Kindergarten foundation is built upon from year to year. I highly recommend this experience to other learning leaders. The debriefing proved to be a comfortable way to talk about how our teaching impacts our student's learning. Suzanne did a great job of organizing this event. MM

Suzanne said...

I love these vertical days of conversation. Both the Science day and the Reading day received great reviews from participants, and I look forward to the next one. I am most impressed with the diversity and depth in conversation between teachers of different grade levels. It makes our work so much richer. I am esctatic that Melanie captured each one on video. She's in the middle of uploading it now so she can make it available on Setting the Standard. I'll also cross post it on my blog and provide the text for study for interested CCE teachers. However, what I want our teachers to understand is that it is never quite the same virtually--you miss a level of professional dialogue that just makes the day richer. But, I know some teachers simply couldn't make it, so the video postings will at least help to recreate the day.