Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Online Professional Development - It's easier now!

When I first began teaching overseas, I craved the interactive professional development of conferences and well-planned in-services.  However, there was a dearth of both for various reasons - time, money, small teaching staff etc.  But, I found several resources to fill the gap.  One summer at NECC (now ISTE's annual conference), I won a year's worth of classes through Classroom Connect Connected University.  Again, remember, this was ten years ago when online learning was still uncommon.  It was so amazing and fun.  I took classes on communicating with parents with technology, creating good internet projects, and infusing technology across the curriculum.  I also found my way to MiddleWeb, which has had various incarnations since its early days.  I loved having the ability to post a question to countless colleagues around the world and have multiple answers within hours.  Now, I realize this doesn't sound surprising, but in the early 2000s, social networking was still new. 

But now?  Wow - there are so many resources online for teachers to continue their professional development.  One that I'm especially keen about this the Teachers Teaching Teachers Technology Virtual Conference (4TVirtualCon) which has FREE registration!  Last year I attended and presented on creating an  internet projects that ROCKS.  This year, I'm interested in the 4T's mulitple sessions about QR codes in the classroom.

Twitter has also become my goto space for connections with colleagues. If you don't know what this is all about, check out Teachers on Twitter: It's All About the Hashtag.  As a teacher, I attend Twitter chat sessions for English teachers #engchat on Monday nights.  As a research and academic, I also follow #phdchat (Wed  and #gradschool. There is a good overview of Twitter for Academics from the University of Evansville.  I also found Using Twitter in University Research, Teaching and Impact Activities.

I often hear about people's predictions about what the classrooms of the future will look like.  However, in just thinking about how the opportunities for teacher professional development have changed over just the last decade, I think the better question is, what should the classrooms of today be using to prepare students for the world of the future.  We certainly can't accurately predict what the new technologies will be.  Somehow, I've learned to adapt and embrace the changes of the last few years, but how? I have to admit, it is a lot of trite proverbs:
* If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
* Treat others as you would like to be treated.
* Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.
* Faith sees a beautiful blossom in a bulb, a lovely garden in a seed, and a giant oak in an acorn. William Arthur Ward 
* Experience is what causes a person to make new mistakes instead of old ones.  
* If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.-Isaac Newton
* Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. -Mitchell Kapor

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teachers as Continual, Collaborative Learners: A Case-study of Implementing New Practices

I'm presenting another poster at  Division K - Teaching and Teacher Education / Section 8: Teacher Professional Development: Impact on Teacher Practices and Student Learning.  

Several years ago, I was supervising a student teacher at a middle school and the CT was using literature circles.  I was curious how the practice got started in the school because I have often seen individual teachers use literature circles, but I haven't often seen an entire school adopt the practice.  I am a strong supporter of the use of literature circles and have given numerous workshops to introduce and refine the use of peer-led book discussions.  However, I also often hear things like, "I tried literature circles and they didn't work."  In my own experience,  the first time I used literature circles, I also encountered several problems that I had to resolve to make the discussions rich and meaningful.  I wondered how this particular school sustained the practice over time.  So, I decided to talk to some of the teachers currently using literature circles.  Here is an outline of my research and poster:

This exploratory case-study of a small Midwestern middle school seeks to understand how and why one school moved toward implementing student-led literature discussions. Data was collected through interviews with three teachers and analyzed using thematic analysis and constant comparison. Several themes emerged focusing on professional development, which indicate that professional development practices need to: encourage the development of teacher-leaders; support collaboration; recognize that teachers are adult learners; be embedded in daily practice; recognize that to truly embrace a new practice, teachers may initially struggle with the practice.

The research question is:
  • What professional development support structures are needed to give teachers the knowledge base and confidence to implement and refine the use of student-led literature discussions in their classrooms?
Data Sources & Analysis
  • 3 focused teacher interviews of 60-90 mins.
  • Thematic analysis & constant comparison
Analysis (Support structures needed)
  • Teacher-leaders
    • Sally introduced & championed lit. circles
      • Inspired teachers to take risks
    • Current – librarian support
      • Lunch book club & adult book club
      • Supports teachers in acquiring books
  • Collaboration
    • Reflecting with each other
    • Team teaching
    • Articulating ideas
  • Recognition of the needs of adult learners(the teachers)
    • Identified need for differentiation
    • Choose the pedagogy
    • Worked together to build practice
  • Embedded in Practice
    • Daily contact with practice & teachers
    • Constant reflection & refinement during practice
    • Applied to own context
  • Struggle & Refinement
    • Struggled with:
      • Assessment
      • Finding books
      • Preparation for discussion (roles)
    • But, were given time, space & support to refine
    • Identified areas for modifications

In this study, the three teachers spoke extensively about the teacher-leader who introduced them to student-led literature discussions and the support she gave as they were learning. Even after her departure, her legacy continued, as the initial teachers are passing the practice to new teachers. Traditionally schools tend to look to the principal, curriculum director or other specialists to provide the leadership and direction for professional development, however, more teachers are becoming informal teacher-leaders in their schools, especially when the formal processes of leadership have been ineffective. If there is recognition that teachers are adult learners, with unique needs and issues, then the deficit model of professional development can be eliminated. Instead, by focusing on the strengths and expertise already existing in schools and providing time and space for collaborative reflection that is embedded in daily practice, professional development can be relevant, empowering and influential in changing practice.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Navigating Essential Tensions While Adopting New Practices

This week I've been working through the outline for another article based on my dissertation work.  I'm creating a poster for the AERA Annual Conference in Vancouver .  I've been invited to participate in the Division K Teacher and Teacher Education Graduate Seminar.


Teachers have been using the reading workshop format since the late 1980s. Research supports the underlying prospects of the reading workshops such as self-selected reading (Allington, 2006; Krashen, 2004) and extensive reading (Allington, 1983; Anderson, Wilson & Fielding, 1988; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998). There are multiple books, courses, workshops and videos to help teachers implement the method and philosophy in classrooms from early childhood through high school, however, teachers still struggle with implementing the workshop approach. The goal of this study was to document and understand the experiences of two third grade teachers as they implement a reading workshop approach to teaching reading in their classrooms. The lens of activity theory (AT) and contradictions provides a tool to inquire into various aspects of pedagogical change, taking into account individual perspectives and context as well as evolution over time. AT and its principle of contradictions provide insights into how transformation occur with the adoption of new practices and the tensions between conventional classroom practices and dialogic pedagogy.

Theoretical Framework
  • Activity theory (Engeström, 1987, 1993)
    • Activity system analysis
    • Expensive learning
  • Collaborative reflection (Rodgers, 2002)
  • Reading workshop (Atkins 1998; Calkins 2001; Reif 1992)

Methodology (Guba & Lincoln, 1983; Scriven, 1983; Stake, 1983).
  • Instrumental case study
  • Naturalistic inquiry
  • Grounded interpretations

Data & Participants
  • Two third-grade teachers
    • Classroom observation & field notes
    • Interviews
    • Collaborative reflection sessions
Essential Tensions Exhibited
  • Teacher as Expert vs. Teachers as Learner (Subject/Community)
  • Traditional Core Novel Approach vs. Reading Workshop Approach (Tool/Objective)
  • Monologic Interactions vs. Dialogic Interactions (Division of Labor)
  • Commercial Curriculum Program  vs. Contextualizing Curriculum (Rules/Authority)


Prophetically, Bond and Dykstra realized that reading education needs to focus on the “teacher and learning situation characteristics rather than method and materials” (1967, p.123) and because of the variety of students in any classroom, “it is necessary to train better teachers of reading rather than to expect a panacea in the form of materials” (p. 123). Research and teacher training needs to focus on the decision making and reflective process of teachers in context not just the implementation of a program or curriculum. In this study, the teachers struggled with reconciling their old practices, expectations and perceptions with the new pedagogical demands inherent in the workshop approach. As Wold observed, “Deep-level literacy implementation requires strategic decision making and action. The process of becoming an exemplary literacy practitioner requires deliberate, long-term attention to and reflection on practice” (2002, p. 91). Even with a mandated or scripted curriculum, teachers are constantly making decisions about which content to teach, how to structure the lesson, which materials to use, and how to respond to students. Over time, the two teachers in this study experimented with different approaches and reflected on the process, which illuminated some of the underlying tensions of philosophy, practice, and expectations that influenced the classroom culture and through the reconciliation of the old and the new, the teachers have transformed their teaching.