During my many years as a classroom teacher I taught in primary through secondary grades and in public, private, and charter schools, and regardless of the type of school or grade level I was teaching a common pattern reoccurred. At the beginning of each school year I would attend a half day, or if lucky, one whole day of training in whatever new initiative, strategy or trend was “hot” in education, and then I would be handed a stack of materials and sent on my way with a figurative pat on the back and wishes for good luck. I have a few lonely memories involving follow up, on-going support, or assessment of the “hot” new strategies and materials. I was mostly left to wonder if I was “doing it right” and to determine whether I, and my students, were acheiving “success.”
These experiences are a big part of what drew me to the work of Inquiry by Design. Inquiry By Design’s curriculum is always paired with an ongoing cycle of professional development and support so that teachers are able to ask questions, share their successes and challenges, see firsthand how their colleagues are implementing the changes and pedagogy, and to culminate all that work with a study of what students have actually produced as a result. Teachers end up with concrete indicators of success and/or indications for where instruction should go next. They have a sense of teamwork and collaboration so that no one is left to their own devices in figuring out what the new curriculum, pedagogy, and standards really look like in a classroom of students. The cycle looks like this:
Teachers often report that the day of Student Work Study not only clarifies the work for them in many ways, but that it gives them a fresh picture of their students’ thinking and abilities, a new way of looking at student work overall, shifts the types of feedback they are giving their student writers, and motivates them to continue working with complex texts.
Recently, fourth grade teachers in Thompson School District in Loveland Colorado, spent a day studying the student essays from the Close Reading of Informational Texts MicroCourse, Unit One: The Push and Pull of Immigration.
Here are some of their comments:
“It was so beneficial to see ways of breaking things down and making writing manageable for students – having ‘ah-hah’ moments for the next steps in writing…it would be REALLY nice if during district PD days – this was the work we did.”
“This training was ongoing for the year versus one ‘sit and get’ class. True professional development is about the teacher making a change in their teaching and this workshop did this with the support of peer interaction.”
“I enjoyed implementing the nonfiction unit on immigration with my students. The text was complex, emotional, and high interest. I enjoyed sharing it with my students. They loved the search and study.”
“Analyzing students samples solidified our understanding of Common Core Standards and our expectations of student work. Most importantly it helped us identify where to go with our instruction.”
Not surprisingly, teachers reported that the opportunities to collaborate with colleagues during the student work study and other components of the professional development cycle had the greatest impact on their success in implementing new materials and pedagogy. Carrie R. Leana, a professor of organizations and management at the University of Pittsburgh, has conducted extensive research on what she calls social capital, as the chief factor in effective teaching and educational reform. (Research Shows Teacher Collaboration Helps Raise Student Achievement)
What is social capital? Linette Branham, Connecticut Education Association’s director of policy and professional practice, describes, “When teachers work together with their colleagues to look at student learning data, use it to determine student learning needs, and then determine their own learning needs based on what students need, they design programs that really help improve instruction. That’s social capital at its finest.”