“You have got to have a lot of dance steps, so depending on who your dance partner is, and what the music is, you can actually shift the repertoire. A lot of us fall into default mode so when the music changes to rumba or cha-cha, we keep doing the samba…. A skilled professional … will actually shift repertoire, and has a range of pedagogy.” (Allan Luke, Leaders in Educational Thought, 2012)
This year #Cyberpd is exploring DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. Roberts and Beattie Roberts focus our attention on the idea that students will have different learning needs at different times and that we need to be ready to meet them where they are with the tools they need so that they can be independent learners. While I agree that tools that make the learning sticky are important, I want to first pull the focus away from the teaching need (the tools) and put it on how we determine what the student learning need is because it’s only with a very clear sense of the ‘why’ that the tools become meaningful. Without focusing on the problem first (the learning need), tools and strategies may become “activity traps” (Katz, 24).
Sometimes teachers struggle to identify student learning needs. They reference things like students’ level of organization (coming to class prepared to learn) or self-regulation (putting phone way) or responsibility (completing independent work/homework) as obstacles to learning. And sometimes they identify “the curriculum, or the politics of education, or the lesson plan” (DIY, 2) as the things that block student learning. But none of these things are student learning needs.
What does a student learning need look like?
It is learning that the student(s) needs based on the evidence we have. This might be our own assessments, and it might be evidence from standardized tests, and it might be a combination. What is clear, however, is that even after we have taught the skill in the best way we know how to, some students still don’t get it.
What Roberts and Beattie Roberts note is that a student learning need is a teacher learning need; that “we don’t [always] have at our fingertips the content we most need to teach our kids” (23). What do you do if the way you have been teaching students a skill is not reaching all of your students? If we have evaluated the importance of the skill; that is, we have determine that the skill is valuable, then there must be a sense of urgency for students to learn it (33)!
If you don’t belong to a collaborative inquiry or a professional learning community then the authors suggest that teachers can access professional texts and a professional learning network (PLN) to help them find new content and/or strategies that may address their students learning needs. But by far and away, their first suggestion “Never teach alone” is the best alternative. We are better together! And not just because we need to model modern learning for our students, but also because the themes of teacher leadership, collaboration, and inquiry feature prominently in the research findings of leading education experts (e.g., Little, 1982; Darling-Hammond, 1998; Ball and Cohen, 1999; Lieberman and Miller, 2004; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012; Hattie, 2012; Timperley et al., 2007; and Katz et al., 2013) (Donhoo and Velasco, 13-15). This research drives the collaborative inquiry I facilitate each year. The “link between teacher practice and student learning is a strong and robust one (Katz et al., 36), and it compells me and my team to work together to do the learning we need to.
So, when I read the Bonus Chapter, “Do it Yourself: Mining Your Own Work for Strategies”, I immediately made the connection to the work we do in our collaborative inquiry. Based on the determined learning need, we do
- ask “How do we teach our students to…?;
- seek the advice of experts;
- challenge each other’s perspectives to “try to see a lot of different kinds of WHATS”;
- do the work ourselves to see what will happen;
- study what we did;
- challenge each other’s assumptions about the learning.
We do all of this because we are trying to get to the WHY–the WHY behind the observable because that is what makes the difference. (Katz et al., 2013)
What is the it – if improved – that is going to make a difference for learning? This is what defines powerful professional inquiry, “a challenge of practice” or “a persistent and familiar instructional improvement dilemma” for which both educators and learners “at this point in their learning, have no easy solution” (City, Elmore, Flarman, & Teitel, 2009). Addressing challenges of practice is complex work as educators examine, analyze and make sense of the connections between student learning needs and their instructional practices. (Capacity Building Series, Dynamic Learning)
The challenge while reading DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence is to not get caught up in the tools…in a teaching focus, but to hold on to a learning focus.
Please share your collaborative professional learning experiences in the comment box.
Let’s learn together!