Turning PD into Action

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_400996306‘Tis the season . . . for professional learning! Conferences, early releases, and late-start days; inspiring speakers, intense conversations–and then we return back to our students and apply the lessons. It’s one last big push to propel us to the end of the school year.

However, the challenge becomes how to thoughtfully take our new learning and strategically act on it, in order to change practices and meaningfully impact our students. My team of teachers and I recently had the opportunity to attend a national literacy conference. We wanted our investment in time and travel to pay off, so we committed to collaborate in a variety of ways.

How We Solidified Our Learning

  1. Talk, talk, talk! We had conversations when the presenters encouraged us to “turn and talk.” We talked in between sessions and we talked our way through dinner and adult beverages. All that talk helped us to deepen our understandings and reconcile new ideas with current practices.
  2. Write. A lot. We took notes in a variety of ways. Some of us took pictures of slides and inserted them into notes and apps on our iPads. Others used composition notebooks, highlighters, and sticky notes. Many took notes and then made annotations of our thinking in the margins. Some e-mailed, texted, or connected using social media (Twitter, Facebook).
  3. Take quiet time. It seemed overwhelming to consider the richness of all these new possibilities, and time was needed to prioritize our thinking. Quiet time was the answer to the questions, “What’s next?” and “What do we need to rethink in regards to current practices?”

Steps that Led to Action

  1. shutterstock_437390470Consolidating big ideas and notes into a Google Doc. Learners’ block! We were paralyzed and couldn’t decide what was important to tackle first. We agreed to wait a week and then to revisit our notes. Additionally, mid-year reassessments were in full swing. And so with data in hand, it was much easier to focus and prioritize what to put into action. This also meant we would have to let some things go for now.
  2. Commit to change. We all committed to putting new learning into action. There is power in working with a team, because once we said it out loud, it was real! We were accountable to each other.

Actions We Took

  • One teacher committed to making a video to share with our classroom-teacher teams.
  • Others agreed to add new procedures to lessons. They would report back on how students’ processing changed, by sharing running records and students’ writing with our team.
  • We set up a new Google Docs folder where we would post pictures of student samples and lesson plans.

Other Takeaways

A need emerged. It was partly due to our collaboration. It also resulted from the formative assessment process with our students, as well as the speakers who inspired and showed us new ways to connect with our students’ next learning steps. The need was to be more intentional with our teaching. Intentional teaching equals “accelerative” learning.

  • We would study how to intentionally design word-work lessons that assist students to problem solve words effectively and efficiently while reading and writing.
  • We would continue to be conscious of our teaching interactions and language, so that we’d be teaching for tomorrow, not just today.
  • Our collaborative work would continue, and it would also be imperative to include our classroom teacher-teams by sharing concrete examples of how lessons look and sound. Together we would assist the students’ transfer of new learning to independence.

Resources

Here are a few of the resources and speakers that pushed our thinking, as well as resources we revisited as we renewed those valuable “friendships” with our long-time mentors.

Who’s Doing the Work?, by Burkins & Yaris

Finding Versus Fixing,” by Anderson & Kaye

Dr. Laura Tortorelli, Michigan State University

Interventions that Work, by Dorn & Soffos

Apprenticeship in Literacy 2nd Edition, by Dorn & Jones

Literacy Lessons, by Clay

updated Lynn Lynn Mangold Newmyer has been an educator for 42 years. She is a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and an Elementary Literacy Coach in the Walled Lake Consolidated School district. Lynn has presented at state, national, and international conferences and has taught graduate classes at Oakland University. She currently teaches her students at Loon Lake Elementary. Lynn emphatically believes that you can never own too many picture books. You can follow her on Twitter at @LynnRdgtch.

The Science of Good Writing

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_380117134“Hattie. Take a look at this. One of your kids wrote this, and I don’t know what to do with it.”

My friend Brian, a Physics teacher, handed me an essay. It was by one of my AP Language and Comp students from last year.

I read the first line and snickered. She was breaking down a complicated physics concept with an unexpected and slightly silly tone. It was funny. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but she had taken some liberties with her punctuation and phrasing to achieve a relaxed, informal tone; it was definitely intentional, and I was proud.  

I could tell by the look on Brian’s face, though, that he didn’t share my delight.

“Who was her audience supposed to be?” I asked.

“Me?” he replied uncertainly.

I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation, but we quickly realized that we had very different ideas of what a good piece of writing could or should look like in a Physics classroom. Our district, much like many others, has spent the last few years grappling with the increased writing demands placed on content area teachers by the Common Core. Our science and social studies teachers have stepped willingly up to the plate and increased the writing in their classrooms—fantastic!—but we’ve discovered along the way that all of that new writing creates new challenges.

Are all teachers really writing teachers now? Can we hold kids to the same standards in science that we hold them to in ELA?  

Yes and of course! But…that’s easier said than done.

Enter Collaboration  

This is not my first rodeo with collaborative, cross-curricular writing. For the past seven years, all of the English 10 teachers and all of the Civics and Economics teachers at our school have combined forces to help our students write research papers. Though it was challenging to coordinate instruction with 12 different teachers, we made a lot of strides with improving the quality of our students’ research writing. Unfortunately, due to scheduling and class alignments, that project is no longer feasible, but I’m not quite ready to give up on this idea yet.

Luckily, Brian, the Physics teacher, was willing and eager to work with me on tackling these cross-curricular writing challenges. The more we talked, the more we zeroed in on a common goal for our students: We want them to think like writers.

We want students to write with their audience and their purpose in mind, regardless of the class. We want all kids to be able to look at any writing assignment, in any discipline, and know how to tackle it without asking, “How many paragraphs?”

That’s a pretty big goal, but we think combining our writers might help us get closer to it.

Bridging Science and ELA

My AP Language class is largely skills based. All year we’ve been working on crafting arguments, analyzing texts, and synthesizing research. These are all skills that should translate nicely to scientific writing, but it’s the translating part that kids are having trouble with, we think.

We wanted to create a bridge between the classes during our actual class time. This, we thought, might help students in that translating of skills. Though it would be ideal to just combine our classes for a few days and run a large writing workshop together, schedules and numbers of kids made that impossible.

shutterstock_309290015So our first step was a tiny one. Brian’s kids wrote some essays, and he dropped the students off to my classes, where they received some feedback about focus and organization. It was a great experience for my students to practice giving constructive feedback, and Brian was happy with the help his kids received.

Still, we both think we can do more. Having my students edit isn’t really helping students translate their ELA skills to their Physics writing. In fact, it almost seems to reinforce the idea that writers exist in ELA classrooms alone.

So what comes next? In order to keep the assignment meaningful and relevant for both groups of students, we realized, we needed to clearly articulate our goals. For the argumentative essay he is about to begin with his classes, Brian wants his students to have more confident, natural voices in their writing. He wants them to take their scientific writing from good (but perhaps dull) to interesting and engaging. My students have been working on developing a confident, natural voice all semester—specifically through the lens of their grammar and syntax.

This can be our focus. Rather than simply have my students “fix” the essays, I can challenge them to teach their peers some of the syntactical tricks we’ve been learning this semester. To get past the shared-class-period hurdle, we plan to pair students virtually, using shared Google Docs.

I’m not sure that this gets at our ultimate goal of making students think like writers. To truly achieve that, we’d need to have the students co-writing right from the beginning, and we just can’t work out the logistics of that right now. Still, this is a step in the right direction. We’re connecting writers, and we’re helping them to model good writing and revision with their peers.

I’m no science teacher, but this is an experiment, right? Hypothesis: we’re all going to learn a lot.

Hattie profileHattie Maguire is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her fifteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition and English 10. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.

Collaboration with Design Thinking

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

At the start of December, I attended a workshop at the Detroit Port Authority Lofts, which, it turns out, is an event space, not a place where ships check in. I’ve lived in southeast Michigan my entire life, and spent many, many hours in the city. But I didn’t know this place was there. I thought, The city of Detroit is like teachers: there’s so much good stuff happening, but no one knows about it, or the ones who do know treat the information like it’s secret.

Teachers are terrible networkers. We don’t collaborate very well, and we tend to keep ideas to ourselves, especially the really effective ones. It’s not all our fault, though, and it doesn’t have to stay like this. But we do have to make more of an effort to reach one another, to build relationships—professional and personal.

Professional development can help. Take the event I attended in Detroit, which was cohosted by the Henry Ford Learning Institute and Teacher2Teacher. The event introduced teachers to the principles of Design Thinking. We ate and talked and were lead through what is called a “rapid cycle design challenge.” That’s a short activity that introduces the elements of Design Thinking in an interactive way. Participants use Design Thinking principles (Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype/Feedback, Reflect) to redesign something for their partners. We talked to one another, worked together, and learned how Design Thinking works.

Considering the Audience

Design Thinking is a set of moves developed at the Design School at Stanford to solve problems and to design products. At first blush, it sounds like it would be limited to an academic setting. But as I’ve worked with it over the past few years and seen it in action, I’ve discovered how well it fits with other effective teaching practices, like feedback, formative assessment, and audience-driven writing.

CYOY4ZgWwAE9nGH

Members of the Avondale English department talking to students about the logos they designed in Mrs. Schupbach’s Geometry class.

One of my colleagues, Dawn Schupbach, a math and science teacher, came away from the professional-development session with some great ideas. She took what she learned at this event back to her classroom, where she turned her Honors Algebra 2 students loose on a challenge: to use Design Thinking and conics to redesign logos for the different departments in Avondale High School.

In the past she’d had the students design logos for businesses. But one of her takeaways from the professional development was the importance of audience, empathy, and feedback. It’s important to know that those are key moves that my colleagues in ELA have been working with over the past few years. 

With the idea that everything needs to be designed with a user—in ELA we say audience—she sent her students out to find what the members of the departments (the users/audience) thought about their respective disciplines—not what they wanted in a logo, or what they thought about themselves as a department. This is called Empathy in Design Thinking, and it’s vital. How can you design or write for someone you don’t understand?

Teaching Across Disciplines

Math students—let me say that again, math students—came to English and science and foreign language teachers, in order to talk about design. Look at all the cross curricular connections being made, all of the opportunities for teachers to talk to students about their disciplines. I know it sounds like a joke. “A math student walks into an ELA classroom to talk about design . . . .” But it’s really a model for what we ought be trying to build into our curricula. I want to teach writing and reading in ways that make students better at math and science and art. And I want my students to take what they learned from Mrs. Schupbach’s Geometry class into my writing class.

In the end, her students took the feedback back to their math classroom and combined it with what theyIMG_2324 were learning about conics. With that, they created logos for us to vote on. Most of my department picked the logo shown on the right. It reflected our desire to have a design that opened a conversation, by provoking a person to ask about the logo. The shapes are meant to represent aspects of our discipline and practice. We didn’t want books or pens or apples. Too cliché.

Everything that’s great about the project—collaboration, Design Thinking, cross-disciplinary work—these things happened because a good teacher had the chance (and the drive—she attended the workshop on her own time) to learn from other teachers. She not only took what she’d learned about Design Thinking back to her class. She took the way she learned it—collaboratively, interactively, cross disciplinarily—and created a rich experience for her students and, I’d argue, the whole school. That’s what happens when you put teachers together and give them time and space to learn.

RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.