Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Collaboration: Deeper learning and interpersonal skills

StackofHands123rfIn a recent TED Talk, computational geneticist Pardis Sabeti told of a tidal wave of Ebola cases coming from Guinea to a clinic in Sierra Leone. The medical team there collected samples of the virus and shipped the deactivated samples back to Sabeti’s lab in Cambridge, MA. The team worked round the clock to decode the genome of the virus from the samples in order to help health officials devise large scale treatment plans. Almost immediately, the amount of data they produced outpaced their ability to analyze it. Sabeti asked for help from the larger scientific community via the internet.

In similar fashion, physicists studying high-energy proton collisions from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN sifted through astronomical amounts of data to find the unique pattern of the then-theorized Higgs Boson. More than 2,800 collaborators from 35 countries analyzed different segments of the data and identified the markers of a significant interaction. Watch Physics for the 21st Century, “The Fundamental Interactions,” from 5:39 to 7:42.

Collaboration on the job

These are just two instances of the high-stakes international collaboration needed to battle epidemics and solve complex puzzles. But the daily business of science also requires individuals who can work in teams to question and support their colleagues. Workers at a bio-tech startup must understand technical terminology, explain their conclusions and roadblocks with colleagues, and function effectively as a unit. “It’s important that everybody sees the data, understands why you’re concluding what you’re concluding, and at least agrees that the next steps are probably the right next steps,” explains Aaron Oppenheimer, head of the team.

Working together to solidify learning

Teachers at the middle and high school levels can help students to develop the skills of collaboration: listening, presenting ideas, and questioning to work through more difficult material and find answers that they could not find working on their own. Each classroom lesson in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines includes learning objectives in three areas: content, literacy/language, and engagement/interaction. In this blog we share examples from science classrooms, but collaboration is a key skill in all disciplines and is supported by the Common Core Anchor Standards in College and Career Readiness.

Chemistry teacher Martin Berryman bonds his classroom management practices to student engagement and interaction as his class of 32 individual thinkers learn to work collaboratively. He assesses their group work as well as their group interaction.

Biology teacher Mary Murphy forms study inquiry teams so they can apply new knowledge to an unfamiliar problem. See how her students support and challenge each other in tackling a problem, using scientific discourse, and applying their understanding of transcription and translations processes.

Getting started on collaboration

Students practice the foundational skills of collaboration and scientific discourse in earlier grades, learning to listen to peers, asking about their reasoning, and sharing the result of a new idea. Amy Miles points out opportunities for her students to engage in conversation while reading a complex text on rock types.

Building a collaborative classroom requires a shift in practice and expectations. Taking it a step at a time and comparing notes with your colleagues in your school or here on Learner Log will get you started in the right direction. Visit “How to Build Effective Collaborative Groups” to find more suggestions for supporting student collaboration in the classroom.

Image Copyright: ammentorp / 123RF Stock Photo

Are You an Introverted Teacher in an Extroverted Classroom?

introvertchalkboardWhat is your workday like? How do you spend your time at school?

Ask the average non-teacher how a K-12 teacher spends their time each day at work, and they will likely picture that teacher in a classroom, lecturing or reading aloud to students sitting quietly in rows of desks, or sitting at their desk grading, or eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge, quietly reading a book or writing notes.

They would likely not describe teachers immersed in the noise of multiple small groups of working students, continually managing the personality dynamics within each group. They would not imagine teachers trying to grab five minutes of prep time after school in which to transition to any number of meetings: PD workshops, meetings with administrators, LMS tutorials, or team-building adventures. The general public would not picture teachers leaving school early in the evening or late at night on a regular basis, having put in a full day of interconnected, collaborative, public group work.

But that’s the new reality for most teachers. Group work is not just for students anymore. Teachers are also encouraged—or forced, depending on their point of view—to work in teams, get input on their teaching or their group work from multiple teams of colleagues or administrators, work collaboratively to create lesson plans and learning paths, and generally be available to anyone and everyone who has a stake in the teaching enterprise.

All of these activities are supposed to support teachers, and often they do. But for the introverted teacher, the ever-increasing social load can be very difficult to endure.

In his article “Why Introverted Teachers are Burning Out,” Michael Godsey puts it this way:

…41 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years of entering it. Teacher attrition among first-year teachers has increased about 40 percent in the past two decades—a trend that’s coincided in part with the growing emphasis in classrooms on cooperative and student-driven learning and on “collaborative overload” in general.

…I remember, as a new teacher, the overwhelming number of interactions that were ostensibly designed to help me—support classes, beginning teacher programs, department meetings, union mixers, “Back to School Night,” constant public introductions, and administrative observations. I remember desperately yearning to just quietly study Hamlet and read my new students’ papers.

What does it mean to be introverted?

Introversion is different from shyness: generally, shy people want social interaction but are too afraid of being rejected to attempt it; introverted people want less social interaction than the average person. Introverts don’t hate company; they just want it in small doses that they control. Most people are not complete introverts or complete extroverts: we all fall somewhere on a continuum. But as a rule of thumb, introverts need time alone to recharge and are exhausted by constant company, while extroverts are energized by social interaction and unmoored by too much time alone.

Introverted teachers, as Godsey puts it, are “drained by the insistent emphasis on collaboration and group work” that characterizes modern teaching. This collaborative overload means that introverted teachers do not get the time alone they need to recover from the workday, and therefore become exhausted and burned out faster than non-introverted teachers.

Collaborative overload is not restricted to the teaching profession, of course, but it has tended to attract quiet people who prize teaching for its opportunities to work one-on-one with students, read and speak thoughtfully, and spend time focused on internal tasks like grading papers.

Why isn’t this introverted teaching style honored? If, as teacher Abigail Walthausen says, different student learning styles are supposed to be valued, why aren’t different teaching styles given the same respect? Why can’t a teacher’s preferred zone of social interaction be acknowledged, if not always honored? Why must all teachers be extroverts?

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, puts it this way:

Most schools are designed for extroverts. So if you picture the typical classroom nowadays: when I was going to school, we sat in rows. We sat in rows of desks like this, and we did most of our work pretty autonomously. But nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks—four or five or six or seven kids all facing each other. And kids are working in countless group assignments. …and teachers have to be extroverted like that, too, going from group to group for group talk instead of one on one.

…Solitude is crucial to creativity. Solitude matters.

Because the push for extroversion comes from so many directions, it can be hard to figure out a solution to the problem. The demands on teachers come from administrators at the local, district, state, and federal level. Content providers push certain types of classroom interaction, and therefore teacher performance by offering more options for group activities than solo assignments. Teacher’s unions and parent associations add to the mix.

If you’re an introverted teacher, how do you make it through each hyper-social day, and how do you recharge?

Image Copyright: pixelsaway / 123RF Stock Photo

How to Build Effective Collaborative Groups

ssin action_groupworkFor many educators, the resolutions that really matter are the ones they make in August in anticipation of the new school year. Maybe you’ve resolved to integrate more technology resources into your instruction. Maybe you’re determined to tackle some classroom management issues. For the sake of this post, let’s say that you’ve decided to make your lessons more student-centered.

So, how does the sage exit the stage? Create conditions in which students build skill and knowledge while you assess progress and maintain an organized and productive classroom. Take a look at “Groups, Projects ,and Presentations,” a component of Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practice Library, K-12. Although the series centers on teaching Social Studies, the practices illustrated and explained in the “Groups, Projects, and Presentations” video are relevant to all academic subjects and grade levels.

In the K-12 classrooms presented in the video, the spotlight is on the students as they work collaboratively toward common goals that require problem solving and decision making. Their teachers encourage students’ active involvement in their own learning in ways that reinforce and personalize knowledge.

The video points out key factors in planning and implementing students’ collaborative creation of projects and presentations:

Creating Group Structure: What teacher hasn’t planned a terrific group project to see it go horribly awry (one student shoulders all the work or nothing gets done at all) because the group dynamic wasn’t right?  5th grade teacher Kathleen Waffle (5:06) starts her planning by assessing which of her students are natural leaders and makes sure one of those students is in each small group. Her groups are heterogeneous, not only because students who have learning challenges benefit from group support, but also because all students benefit from learning to value the different skills group members can contribute to the project as personal strengths emerge. She remixes groups every four to six weeks so that students learn to work with different personalities, just as they would in the real world.

Setting a Purpose: Setting clear, purposeful goals that keep the students focused is a key factor in the success of groups projects. Teacher Rob Cuddi (12:45) creates a set of essential questions. These anchor students’ research and discussion as they work in small groups. Cuddi also uses the questions and student responses as an assessment tool. The students respond to the questions in their journals at the beginning of the project and again at the end.

Rubrics, often student-created, also help provide purpose.

Determining Team and Individual Roles: When students work in collaborative groups, they all share responsibility for a successful outcome. It’s also important that students take individual responsibility for their learning. High school teacher Tim Rocky (19:04) gives individual team members specific roles: reader, recorder, facilitator or process keeper. Most importantly, he doesn’t assume that students know how to work effectively in small groups. He asks a “fish bowl” group to model the process while he provides feedback and guidance.

Creating Assessments: Assessments (21:19) like scoring guides or rubrics not only provide purpose and focus; they also make assessment or grading less arbitrary. They give teachers concrete evidence of student progress or point to areas in need of improvement. You can also assess by listening to group discussion. You might hear something that signals a group’s need for your input on its process or for additional resources. Students may use rubrics to evaluate each other and to understand how their own work will be evaluated.

When you invite students to take a collaborative approach to group projects and presentations, you are giving them a stage on which they actively seek knowledge and own and share their learning. One of Osvaldo Rubio’s fourth graders (16:22) says it best of working with his peers: “They tell me what they know, I tell them what I know, and we put that all together and it makes a lot of difference…”

These teachers provide lots of practice for the kinds of collaborative interactions the students will encounter throughout their lives.

What kinds of collaborative experiences will you offer your students in the coming school year? We would love to hear your ideas for projects.