evaluations · participants · positive mindset · professional development · workshop

Professional Development

I recently gave a workshop to a room full of teachers, which in this particular venue amounted to 150 educators. First, let me say that I don’t think I have ever given a 2 1/2 hour workshop to a group this size. In fact, I know I haven’t. Although it may appear intimidating to be confronted with 150 educators from pre-school to high school, I felt quite comfortable once we got started.
I thought the workshop was going well and then I started noticing certain things. First of all, I always want to get workshop participants talking, to me and to each other, because I feel that is one way we learn best, and in a group this size with chairs in rows facing forward, there isn’t much else to do. There was a bit of discomfort during these times. I used a 3-min pause purposefully, which I often do in workshops and in my classroom, as I wanted the participants to pick up some instructional strategies that they could take back with them to their classrooms. I also referred participants’ questions right back at them, just like I do in the classroom. 
The teachers in that room wanted to be given the answers to their classroom conundrums. They weren’t interested in or didn’t know how to take their own questions and come up with possible solutions to their classroom problems. I probably should have stopped at this point and explicitly pointed out what I was doing though I’m not sure it would have made any difference. Nevertheless, there was participation by some of the teachers present and, when I walked around during share times, there were some interesting conversations going on.
Although the majority of the evaluations were favourable to the workshop, there were 50 or so comments that were mostly negative. As I read through them, I realized that many of them demonstrated uncomfortableness with a method of instruction where the teacher isn’t the bearer of all knowledge. The participants asked questions during the workshop and they wanted me to provide all of the answers. Having me and the other attendees respond told them that I didn’t know the material and/or that I wasn’t well-prepared. Furthermore, some comments revealed that there was not enough background knowledge regarding the topic of the workshop for the participants to hook any prior learning to what they were hearing me talk about; they were expecting a different topic than the one I was there to impart.
So, what do I do with this information? In the classroom, I always adopt the attitude that the worst criticism, even if it’s stated in a disrespectful tone, may still teach us something. So what is my take away from this experience? First of all, I will need to do more backgrounding before plunging into any workshop topic. A fun, stress-free oral true/false questionnaire, for example, might be the perfect tool to elicit information from the audience about what they do and don’t know about the topic to be addressed. Then, I can adjust the workshop accordingly. In addition, I can be even more explicit about what I am doing during the workshop so that the participants can see the value of it for themselves even if it discomforts them, which obviously was true for this situation.
A piece of advice that I give myself whenever I attend professional development workshops, of my own choosing or mandated by my school or jurisdiction is the following: go into any workshop with an open mind that I will learn something, either from the presenter or the participants. A positive mindset will make all the difference in the world and you’ll be surprised at how much more enjoyable and informative a workshop can be. I only wish the 50 participants who left such disparaging comments on my session had come in determined to learn at all costs and be happy about it. They might have walked away with more than a handout. 
How have you responded when a workshop you attended hasn’t met with your expectations? How have you expressed your opinion to the workshop presenter? As a presenter, what have you done when you notice discomfort or disagreement about what you are doing in the session? How do you handle these situations?  
content area literacy · ESL · partner reading · The Reading Teacher · vocabulary

Partner Reading and Content, Too Routine (PRC2)

I’m a hoarder.

There, I’ve said it.
I try to deny that I’m a hoarder but it comes back to haunt me every time I move houses, or pack up my classroom at the end of the school year.
I have old articles, lesson plans, handouts, folders brimming with teaching ideas, past issues of profesional journals. I hardly throw anything out though I’ve learned to be more selective over the years. My one rule of thumb, and I really try to stick to this, is that if I haven’t used or referred to something in a year, then it’s time to toss it into the recycle bin. One exception to this rule (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) is past issues of journals from professional organizations. However, with the ability to locate articles online through my professional memberships, even this exception is becoming less and less useful, which brings me to the topic of this blog post.
I am currently reading a copy of The Reading Teacher from 2010. I’ve clipped a couple of informative and useful articles from this issue and other issues, as well as from other professional journals that I will be writing blog posts about over the coming weeks. Today I want to talk about Supporting English Language Learners and Struggling Readers in Content Literacy with the ‘Partner Reading and Content, too’ Routine by Donna Ogle and Amy Correa-Kovtun. Donna Ogle is the originator of the K-W-L strategy that many of us have used during content area instruction over the years. This more recent strategy, or routine, helps ESL students focus on content area strategies for enhancing comprehension and improving vocabulary in math, science, and social studies. 
The PRC2 is based on the following well-documented premises from research:
  • Students need to read text every day that is at their instructional or independent level and that is of interest to them. Of course, what is “instructional” or “independent” can be determined in many different ways from formal testing or teacher observations through conferring with students.
  • Students need many opportunities to use academic vocabulary so that they feel comfortable enough to use it independently.
  • When students formulate and then respond to their own questions, they learn more.
  • Facts are important in content learning but knowing just facts is not enough. Students must have multiple opportunities to apply what they know using critical thinking strategies, as well.
  • Teachers need to teach non fiction structures that will allow students to enhance their comprehension and increase their facility with content area vocabulary.

The PRC2 routine is fairly simple to implement in the classroom. In fact, if you are familiar with the Daily 5, PRC2 is similar to Read to Someone, except that in PRC2 students with similar reading levels and interests pair up to read an informational book. In Read to Someone, children have many more choices than in PRC2, including with whom to read and what to read (fiction vs. non fiction). That is why it’s critical for students to understand why they are engaging in PRC2: so they can gain better understanding of their content area units of study and to increase related vocabulary.

In PRC2, pairs of students take turns reading two pages in a row to each other after previewing the text. This conversation before reading is critical to help build background knowledge and anticipation of what will be read. Before one of the partners reads two pages out loud, they both read the text silently. The child doing the reading at any given time needs to prepare a question to ask his or her partner that will hopefully start a conversation about what was read. The question is either created on the spot or from a list of questions that the class has created together. Then, it’s the other child’s turn. Partners move back and forth taking turns until the book is finished. Last, but not least, both students add new words from their reading to a vocabulary notebook.
This routine provides many opportunities to teach children not only non fiction text structures but also how to take turns, ask questions, how to respectfully disagree, ask follow up questions, and find evidence in the text. I am planning to use this routine with my ESL students this coming school year.
What do you think? Is this a routine you might try with your students? I’d love to read your comments.
Ogle, D. and Correa-Kovtun, A. (2010), Supporting English-Language Learners and Struggling Readers in Content Literacy With the “Partner Reading and Content, Too” Routine. The Reading Teacher, 63: 532–542. doi: 10.1598/RT.63.7.1
Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers SOL.
safety · taking risks · the gym

The Gym

For some people, working out comes easy.
They decide on a time in the day that they’re going to exercise.
They decide how many days a week they’re going to go running, jogging, swimming or to the gym.
And, they pretty much stick to their schedule.
They don’t let excuses get in the way.
They jump in without looking back.
And they follow the same routine, or close to it, several times a week.

I’m not that organized. And, maybe you aren’t either.

First, I need to find the right gym.
That may take up to a year or more.
(Well, that’s how long it took me after moving from Canada to Ecuador.)
Then, I have to psyche myself up to go to the gym.
I can’t just walk in anywhere and start exercising.
There have to be classes set up and hours that work for me.
But, once I make up my mind, pay my gym membership, and go to the first class, I’m off and running.
Of course, some of you are thinking that you don’t need a gym to exercise.
You can just walk out the door and start walking. That is good exercise, after all.

But, I do need a gym.

I need the social aspect of it and someone to keep me accountable during the class. Otherwise, I have a hard time knowing how hard to work myself. I haven’t developed that sense yet despite years of joining gyms in the various places I’ve lived. And, that may be because I haven’t been consistent in my participation. Nevertheless, I need to ease myself in.

Oh, and the instructor needs to be kind and helpful. Not overbearing and intolerant.

How many of you are like that?
How many of you know students in your classes that are like that?
They need to feel their way around before they trust you.
They need to make sure that they’re going to be moderately successful before they start taking risks.
They need to push your button once, maybe twice or more.
They need to make sure that the investment is worth the gain. In my case with working out, it’s about the losses. But, you understand what I’m talking about. Right?

How easy do we make it for those students who just need time?
Are we patient? Or do we try to rush them into being full-fledged members of our class, whatever that means? Do we give them space and reassurance? Do we teach them and have faith in them that they’ll come around, so to speak?

Ultimately, it comes to this: how safe are our classrooms? Can we make them safer places? Havens, almost, for those students who need to know that such a place exists? Until they’re ready to venture out??

What do you think?