A couple weeks ago I quickly responded to Leeanne Branham’s question about what makes good teacher PD.
Had I given more thought to Leeanne’s question I would have added PD must have a common thread running through it, an over-arching theme, aka a number 1 takeaway you almost don’t realize is there until near the end of the session.
As I was reflecting on Year2, Day2 of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math PD with Kevin Liner of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math and Illustrative Mathematics Curriculum fame, it occurred to me that Monday and Tuesday’s PD hit every mark. (Aug 13-14) The number one takeaway, over-arching theme, common thread was simply this: in order to be effective and efficient, don’t over teach the lesson. Do not go beyond the Learning Goals set out in the lesson. Over-teaching, getting off on tangents and celebrating spoilers rather than quietly acknowledging and telling smarty pants students (I mean that in the best possible way) to keep it to themselves for now are the main reasons we get behind during lessons. Teachers are the problem. I am the problem. I need discipline and self-control and first of all self-awareness. Now, to get down to the nitty-gritty of how this unfolded throughout training—not exactly in order.
We talked about what it really means to reflect on our teaching and, in particular, a lesson we have taught. The take-away here was that we as educators must reflect on our planning processes and not just what went well or poorly during a particular lesson. In this refection of our planning process we must not only look at the short term planning of the lesson, but also the long-term planning, both forward and back. Reflect forward. Whoa! Failing to do this risks understanding the learning progressions that are so carefully written into the curriculum. In edu-speak, this is coherence. It matters what comes before as much as what comes after. Sequence matters. The big reveal is not going to be in the first lesson of a unit. Ever. Teaching for conceptual understanding necessitates learners progressing through the concepts and building understanding that each individual personally owns. Seeing far into the future in the planning stage will help us as educators honor the conceptual learning progression. We are learning to teach differently so our students can learn differently. We keep hearing, “trust the curriculum” and this deep dive and reflection into long term planning reveals why the curriculum can be trusted. It’s all there.
We were reminded once again of the Five Practices, and looked at them from the perspective of planning.
- Anticipating students’ solutions to a mathematics task
- Monitoring students’ in-class, “real-time” work on the task
- Selecting approaches and students to share them
- Sequencing students’ presentations purposefully
- Connecting students’ approaches and the underlying mathematics
NCTM , 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions
Kevin said these practices are the ingredients that create magical conversations among learners. For our training session, we focused on anticipatingand sequencing. When planning anticipating and sequencing it is always better to do that with our peers rather than in isolation on a Sunday afternoon. To that end, establishing group norms for PLCs at our schools is necessary. Day 2, we spent quality time broken into our school groups discussing, developing and revising PLC norms. This is where we got something tangible to take back to our schools to put into motion. Having a group protocol is the difference between a productive PLC and a non-productive PLC. Highlights of the group norms for planning developed by the wonderful teachers at Northwest Guilford Middle School in Greensboro NC follow. Please know, this is NOT a final, polished, static list, but rather a summary of the norms we discussed as a group. They will change as we change as educators.
- Doing Math Together (like actually work problems)
- Respect think time
- Do not interrupt others
- Be “all in”
- Drop your pencil and listen
- This is not a race
- Pick a topic with a longer term focus so the PLC can go deeper with exploration and problem solving
- Sharing Our Understandings
- Focus on teaching goals as they relate to learning goals, meaning goals for my actions as a teacher, for the future
- Use a timer to move things along
- Listen more than you speak (a rather BIG deal)
- Be fully present
- Discussing Students and Their Understandings
- Strive for more than antidotal evidence
- Speak of learner understandings and common errors
- Focus on the product, i.e., what students are producing as evidence of their understandings
- Confidentiality is critical
- Connecting and Reflecting on Our Own Practice
- Just as assessment informs instruction, so must past experiences inform planning and teacher-moves
- Help is on the other side of vulnerability. Open up and be vulnerable in your PLC as you plan and reflect and get feedback
- Leave with a plan of action for the future
- As peers, we must hold one another accountable
With norms also comes the issue of what to do with breakers of the norms. Some suggestions were a yellow card or a light bell ring. A taskmaster, timer, rule enforcer, norm police position needs to be assigned on a rotating basis. Not it! Please don’t pick me!
So what is missing from here from the past? Notably, negativity, comments about what students can’t or won’t do and war stories. As teachers, we must have an outlet for frustrations, but such actions can run the productive PLC train off the rails. Take these frustrations to the gym or to the track or the bar. Work them out and get over them, but please don’t derail your PLC.
We spent a good deal of time learning about how to use Cool-downs more effectively. I thought I did Cool-downs great last year. I did them everyday. I reviewed them at the beginning of the next class. I thought I nailed it. I was wrong. Other teachers at the training stated they periodically used the Cool-downs as homework or just used them when and if they had time. Cool-downs were rushed through and never truly sorted and analyzed by teachers. We went through a lot of motions last year, but none of those motions were great. Kevin helped us see a productive, more intentional way to use Cool-downs.
The biggest shocker was that we do not have to use Cool-downs each and every lesson. As we plan, we decide if we are going to use the Cool-down and budget the time for it. Maybe even do two in one day. When we do Cool-downs, we will look at them with a focus on student understandings, not merely, did the kid get it or not. A student can get a correct answer and still not truly know what they are doing just as a student can get an incorrect answer and make a computational error while the conceptual understanding is solid. What is understood is quite different from what we see in a mere answer. You want kids to show their work? You better really LOOK at their work. The information gleaned from the Cool-downs will then be used to actually plan subsequent teacher-moves.
So here is this great concept of teacher-moves. Not teacher reactions. Not teacher assumptions. Not teacher experience. Not teacher instincts. Actual planned out teacher moves designed specifically to intentionally address student understandings. These get noted on the daily clipboard roster so they are addressed and not forgotten by the frazzled teacher.
Another shocker—not every lesson/activity is a five-practices activity. Wait. What? I still don’t quite have my arms around this one. Note to self: pay more attention during PD. More on this when I figure out why I’m confused here. Truth.
How to differentiate daily and live through it has never truly been taught to teachers in a way that is actually possible to successfully pull off. Asking administration for help and advice on differentiation will keep them out of your room because they don’t know how to do it either. (This is obviously, just one snarky gal’s opinion.) What we can do in our teaching, however, is make small tweaks that get the actual support to the learners in need. Planning multiple lessons at multiple levels to be monitored and evaluated and assessed all at the same time day in and day out by one teacher in a class of 35 students is pure folly. Small tweaks. We can do that.
We spent time looking at multiple representations of mathematical concepts and limitations of each. The point is, buildings of conceptual understandings have varying entry points that may expire when the situations get more complicated. This necessitates higher-level thinking and abstraction. We start with accessibility by honoring coherence in concepts layered throughout progressive courses. Colloquially, the punch line may be the algorithm, but you must lead up to it—lay foundation on which to build. For the record, my English teacher, bestest buddy, has told me on many occasions that my analogies, while useful at times, take a bit to get used to. My apologies, but I must be me.
Now, how to plan a lesson as a PLC:
- Do cool-downs together for upcoming lessons
- Read learning goals and learning targets
- As you go through the steps above: Do, Share, Discuss, Connect
- Read the synthesizes–ALL of them
- Read each activity and complete and then Do, Share, Discuss, Connect
The focus must be on WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!!! for each lesson.
Every piece of feedback to a member of the PLC has an action associated with it:
- I like the way you did…I’m going to do that too!
- Oh, I didn’t see that part. Can you re-explain that form to me?
Teachers are to a PLC as students are to a classroom. Self-discipline and focus as individuals are essential. Just as we want our students focused on the learnings of the day, so too must be focused on the learnings of the PLC. Teacher-management is like classroom management for PLCs. It is essential for successful group planning.
I have been working on this post for two weeks off and on—mostly off. I apologize if it seems disjointed, but I wanted to share and may not have polished like I should. I’m sorry.
So fearing that TLDR has set in for most readers, (I would have bailed long ago) if you made it this far, you have earned a merit badge. Enjoy.