Bridges to Learning 2019
When teachers are working to acquire new instructional practices, particularly ambitious reforms, teachers tend to gravitate toward approaches that are congruent with their prior practices, or they focus on discrete activities, materials, or classroom organization (Spillane, 2009).
Refine Instructional Practices Through PLC Discussions That Relate Content, Student Thinking, and Pedagogy
Almost every school out there has tried to implement some sort of professional learning community, or PLC. Many of those schools started PLCs with the right intentions and provided time for PLCs to meet regularly to work collaboratively with the goal of increasing academic performance of students.
Propel Pitcairn, one of the Institute for Learning’s newest partners, went through the process of an organization-wide curriculum adoption for both math and English language arts last year. As a result, the teachers will now be regularly using high-level tasks, which dovetails with the network’s vision that students will do the thinking.
As part of the Networks for School Improvement (NSI) work, I’ve been working directly with 8th grade coaches and their grade-level professional learning community (PLC) teams in the Dallas Independent School District (ISD) to understand and use two protocols that first work to honor the knowledge and day-to-day lived experiences that teachers bring with them to their PLCs, and then ask teachers to critically reflect on classroom experiences and student work to increase professional knowledge and enhance student learning (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008).
A growing number of schools focus on some form of communities of practice as a key to improving their performance. Schools typically refer to communities of practice as professional learning communities (PLCs). These work in a variety of ways and have different goals, but only some achieve their intended results.
Accountable Talk® discussions are discussions that promote learning. They are discussions that have evidence of accountability to the learning community, accurate knowledge, and rigorous thinking.
“It definitely makes my heart smile when I hear a teacher say, ‘I just stopped what I was doing because the student knew more than I did and just took over!’ or ‘I began to feel frustrated because we were not able to work through the content the way that I originally planned, but I learned so much about what they know and have experienced by re-framing some of my questioning and allowing them to create the questions too.
Conferring with teachers in advance of observing a lesson is a critical component of the Content-Focused Coaching® (CFC) cycle. These “pre-conferences” are opportunities for the coach and the teacher to reflect together about a teacher’s lesson plan, and thus are a rich opportunity for teacher learning. Lesson planning is specifically important for facilitating rigorous Accountable Talk® classroom discussions.
The Institute for Learning (IFL) and Schenectady City School District have worked collaboratively for several years, and this year, we continued our ongoing partnership with a focus on using improvement science methodology to “get better at getting better.” District-wide, there is a focus on using improvement science to work on persistent problems of practice.
Children are born with the innate capacity to reason beginning at a very young age (Carey, 2009; Gopnik and Wellman, 2012; Spelke and Kinzler, 2007). Very young children build explanatory systems—implicit theories—that organize their knowledge. These theories enable children to predict, explain, and reason about relevant phenomena and, in some cases, intervene to change them.