We know that choice for young learners increases achievement and engagement. When we empower students to choose their own topics for research, decide how to best organize their results from a science experiment and choose the text type and form for their writing, we are saying to them, “we trust you to make decisions about your learning.”
Yet in most of the professional development I’ve attended, I’ve been guided through a powerpoint or given specific things to read or analyzed one particular piece of student work. I remember my first year as a kindergarten teacher being told I could “modify” assessments that were shown to me at the third-grade level. Modify? As a beginning-career teacher that wasn’t part of my skill set. No, that year a lot of professional development didn’t seem to apply to me and there was little choice. Certainly there are times for classes that give you direct information and keep everyone on the same page. I’ve attended, led and will continue to lead trainings that meet these needs, but there are alternatives.
In the last few months I’ve insisted that “students” are present at the professional development I offer. Because it’s not often feasible to bring in our actual students, I make sure they are represented by their work or on video. And when I bring student work, I bring multiple pieces and offer choice to the participants. For example when we are discussing opinion/argumentative writing, I’ll bring kindergarten, second-grade, fourth-grade and sixth-grade samples from the writers with whom I’ve worked. I’ll suggest that teachers look for claims, reasons and elaboration at the level that most interests them and study what the writer is doing well. After they’ve had time to peruse and annotate the sample, I’ll have them go to different corners of the room to discuss the piece other professionals to get new perspectives. In this way educators choose what is most meaningful for their learning and leave the training with a vertical alignment of student writing. Yes, it makes more work for me to gather those samples, but the payoff in engagement from adult learners is well worth it.
How do you incorporate students into adults’ professional learning?