In Part One, I outlined how our school division approached our whole group PD for this year and the work that led up to it. In this post, I will explore the goals our team hoped to address and the reasons behind these goals. As with any goals and subsequent plans, they serve as the starting point, the destination and the map, but the journey itself is where the real magic (and challenge) happens. In response to detours, pot holes and unexpected picturesque sites, the route shifts and this was certainly the case by the time all sixteen PD days had occurred. Nevertheless, let’s begin with our vision.
As mentioned in the previous post, a number of things positioned us to engage in these Data Days. Firstly, we have spent the last number of years exploring curricular outcomes, criteria, rubrics, assessment events, differentiated instruction, Response to Intervention, and effective planning. We were ready and very willing to explore our students and their learning. We needed to talk about what actually happens in the classroom after all the great planning has occurred and the environments have been structured to hopefully support learning. How well are the students actually learning? How do we know? How do they respond to the learning experiences? What happens when we pre-assess? What happens when we check in on learning and the needs start to diverge? What happens when whole group instruction is not meeting the needs of everyone? What data do we have to show us, more precisely, how each student is doing? And the biggest question of all: What do we do in response to the answers we get?
As a team, we have facilitated a lot of workshops in our school division… I mean A LOT. This has afforded us plenty of reflection time and insight into how we wanted to approach these days. We knew we can easily find ourselves talking too much. We knew that when participants construct their own understanding, the results are much more powerful. We knew that we had some key ideas we wanted to explore. We knew we had multiple data sets to examine. We knew we wanted teachers to have time to think about their students – the ones who they would see the very next day after the workshop. We knew we wanted the teachers to also think about how they were addressing various needs in their classrooms. And we knew that we had to make a plan that would allow for plenty of room to adapt to each group and their needs as they unfolded throughout the day.
Suffice it to say, the task of planning was daunting and we took several runs at it over several months. We started by researching; topics like data, school improvement, change, learning and learning strategies, and interventions. We mapped out the day several times, trying to arrive at a strong sequence and a manageable pace. We ended up focusing on three main goals or themes and these themes guided the day:
1) Data – We wanted to engage in the data available to us as well as discuss terms associated with the data sets we would be looking at. After looking at some provincial and divisional data, we wanted each teacher to focus on one specific data set for one specific class and one set of students. We felt that looking at more than that would limit our ability to plan responsive instruction that would impact students the very next day.
2) Learning Strategies or “Habits of Mind” – We knew that this was one of the key pieces of both whole group instruction and small group intervention. We wanted to really explore the importance of thinking processes and metacognition as a way to address learning both proactively and responsively. We knew we wanted to develop familiarity with these key processes and connect them to curricular outcomes in each subject area. We also wanted to frame them in relation to feedback, reflection and goal setting. Most importantly, we wanted to connect them to actual students and allow time for reflection on which processes may need to be taught and reinforced in order to increase learning.
3) Small group, Tier One intervention in a whole class setting – We wanted to end the day by thinking about how we structure our class time and the instructional approaches we use in order to maximize learning by each and every student. We were aware that teachers offer targeted intervention and instruction to small groups at recess, noon hour and after school. However, we wanted to talk about how teachers could structure their actual class time to allow for some of this work. The idea harkens back to our work on differentiated instruction but it moves beyond flexible groupings as part of a whole group approach. We wanted to connect the thinking habits to the idea of targeted, teacher-directed small group work. Based on our achievement data, we know we are reaching 70% of students most of the time through our whole group approaches. But that still leaves 30% who we aren’t reaching and that number is too large to leave up to whole group approaches. So we needed to talk about how we use our class time to address the gaps.
In my next post, I will share how we ended up structuring our workshop day to try to address all these lofty goals. In a subsequent post, I will explore what we learned, both as expected and by surprise and some of the responses of the participants. For those of you who engage in experiences like these, you understand that these blogs capture the learning through select lenses. Actual personal experiences are as vast as each person who was involved. However, my own reflection and observations have helped me to think about the future and these personal thoughts are what I am working through.