Sunday, March 3, 2013

Professional Development: Targeted, Ongoing and an Opportunity to Develop Teacher Leaders

Professional Development: Targeted, Ongoing and an Opportunity to Develop Teacher Leaders

Patrice Bucci
February 2013

The face of professional development is changing. Delivery models are evolving.  Now more than ever teachers need support as they negotiate their way through the reams of information that is being rolled out in federal, state and district initiatives. As municipal budgets continue to be hampered by cuts, it becomes more difficult to design and fund professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators. We are at an inflection point. Where is professional development going and how are we going to get there?

Stakeholders are beginning to understand that for educational initiatives to be successful, professional development that fosters teacher learning needs to be targeted, relevant and ongoing.  Instead of the traditional one size fits all delivery systems, professional development models going forward would be more supportive of teacher learning if teachers had a say in what they wanted to learn.

But, teachers can’t wait for districts to research, plan, and fund professional development days. As a result, grassroots efforts by teachers are gaining traction as the digital world enables them to connect and learn in new ways.  Teachers can no longer wait for their one or two days of professional development, they want their PD streaming. 

Teachers are always thinking about teaching, but now their focus is on learning…their learning. Teacher accountability issues have brought teacher learning into hyper focus. Teachers are rapidly becoming consumers of their own professional development. They are rethinking faculty meetings, engaging in study groups, and developing personal learning networks in the digital world.

Twitter, facebook, and the blogosphere are ripe with ideas for changing professional development models.  Negotiating this landscape requires leadership, instructional leadership that fosters inquiry and collaboration. In order to prevent this landscape from becoming the Wild West, it is necessary for planning to be three pronged. Professional development needs to address the district’s strategic vision, the schools instructional needs, and teacher’s personal goals.  Given the recent MetLife survey that highlighted the decreasing teacher morale problem, this is no easy task.

Where do we begin?  Fostering teacher leadership is a great place to start.  Identify what makes a teacher leader.  Identify what supports a teacher leader needs in order to grow and reach colleagues. Have faculty members define the teacher leader’s role and responsibilities so that everyone has input and understands the rationale for the role.

Teacher leaders can facilitate school based literacy teams. They can guide their colleagues in identifying areas of strength that can be capitalized on. They can also steer their colleagues in their efforts to identify areas of need. These teacher leaders can direct teachers and administrators to the research and resources that can support faculty efforts in their ongoing professional development efforts. They can utilize a wide variety of delivery models (livebinders, curating platforms, blogs, wikis, edcamps, etc).

The days of the one-day drive by professional development workshops are over.  Professional learning has taken on new meaning and new forms.  It’s exciting and invigorating! The digital world has given teachers a voice and a seat at the table…knowledge is expanding…and knowledge is power. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Guided Reading in a Common Core Classroom

Guided reading is a cornerstone practice in a classroom that aims to deliver balanced literacy instruction. This small group instructional practice enables teachers to observe student reading behaviors: how the reader engages with text and how the reader processes text. Often, guided reading involves a lesson framework that includes selecting text, providing a supportive book introduction, whisper reading the text, discussing and responding to the text. Teachers select a text that aligns with the students instructional reading level.

In recent years, guided reading instruction has grown increasingly dependent on the use of leveled text. Book rooms have been filled with a range of text levels that teachers, students and even parents have come to use to classify a students reading ability. Somewhere along the way we have substituted our quality instructional compass that guides intentional responsive decision making, for reading levels and text gradients. Too often teachers administer a DRA assessment, determine a text level, find a corresponding text in the book room, and voila! Guided reading!

Enter the common core. Enter text complexity.

Teachers are now being asked to do guided reading a little differently. Skip the supportive book introduction, increase exposure to increasingly complex texts, and foster accountable talk through the use of text dependent questions.

This change has prompted a host of reactions across educational blogs (Shanahan on Literacy), in many professional journals ( The Reading Teacher), and countless lunchrooms.

But this sea change is less about guided reading and text levels and more about the importance of teacher knowledge and teacher expertise when it comes to instructional decision making.

Guided reading in the age of the Common Core continues to require small group instruction, ongoing assessment, use of text gradients, fluency probes, and an understanding of the reading process. None of that has changed. What has changed is the emphasis on text complexity and the need for all students to have equal access to grade level text and opportunity to engage with texts beyond their instructional level. Research has demonstrated that students who have had a steady diet of leveled text have limited opportunities to develop their academic vocabulary, and limited opportunity to develop background knowledge and hierarchical knowledge necessary to advance content literacy.

This shift requires that teachers hone their responsive teaching skills. It requires that we become experts in grouping our students, analyzing our assessments, and knowing our students reading behaviors and how they operate on text. That involves knowing lot more than a level. It involves teachers knowing the reader AND knowing the demands of the text we provide for our readers.

We need to become experts in intentional, responsive teaching. Intentional teaching means having an instructional focus for our guided reading lesson. It means teaching for strategy or skill use when reading connected text. It means intentionally teaching our students HOW to do a close reading. Responsive teaching means we have to have a repertoire of teaching moves that respond to reading behaviors our students demonstrate so that through our instructional language,we can help the reader problem solve on the run.

As we move toward understanding the role of text complexity in guided reading, we need to understand so much more than lexile levels and text gradients. We need to understand the readers we have in front of us, and the demands of the texts we choose for our guided reading lesson. And that means we have to engage in intentional, responsive teaching built on careful text selection. And that means knowing so much more than a lexile level!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Common Core Call to Close Reading

The Common Core Call to Close Reading

Close reading is the new buzzword. The call to teach for close reading is being sounded in professional journals, blog posts, and across the twitterverse. Reading scholars from Timothy Shanahan to Doug Fisher are offering valuable and timely advice to teachers as they ramp up their efforts to implement the Common Core Call to Close Reading.

The call for close reading is indeed a call to intentional teaching. It is more than following a core reading program script. It requires responsive teaching where students and teachers interact through dialogic thinking. Teachers have to know the students and know the text. Effective reading instruction requires teacher knowledge of how reader factors, text factors, text structures and teacher questioning impacts the ability of students to read closely.

In recent years teaching reading has been likened to teaching rocket science ( Moats, AFT ). Teaching Close Reading can be likened to teaching so you can understand the rocket science.

Close reading instruction requires teachers to know and understand the reader, or reader factors. Knowing the reader means that teachers have gauged  a readers background knowledge, prior knowledge and hierarchical knowledge. It also means that the teacher has a sense of a students vocabulary knowledge ( Tier 1, 2 and 3). Additionally, teachers need to know and understand the  repetoire of comprehension skills and strategies that their student has control over.

Now, add to that the  text factors that teachers need to understand as they  engage in teaching students how to read closely. Enter the other new buzzword, text complexity.  In order to effectively teach close reading, teachers need to choose a mentor text paying careful attention to genre, text structures,  and text features. Understanding   the role of text complexity in teaching for close reading means teachers have to understand the features of text complexity. It means understanding  the knowledge demands of the text as well as  the language features, structure and layout.

The Common Core standards call for  all students to engage with grade level exemplar texts. The challenge for all of us is how to do that with those students who are not at grade level. Scaffolding text for these students means teachers have to further develop expert knowledge in understanding  how to effectively choose text,   scaffold instruction, promote  metacognitive strategy use, and  foster interactive discussion through thoughtful questioning.

This is no small task. Its more than understanding those other buzzwords: quantitative measures, qualitative measures,  readability formulas, lexiles,  etc. The rush to heed the call to teach for close reading demands some slow thinking.