14 September 2015

Developing our School Inquiry Cycle

At the end of each term our staff share where they are at in their teacher inquiry with other staff members. This reflects our Learn Create Share pedagogy for students learning .

Recently team leaders got a chance to give me feedback and ideas for going forward on the inquiry process we follow.  I have shared a summary of this.

3 September 2015

Professional Learning Communities

There has been quite a paradigm shift in regard to school wide professional development for teachers. The complexity of teaching and increasing accountability has moved professional development beyond the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Teachers are now in a duel role as teachers and learners of their own trade. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) is one model that has evolved as a way of supporting this paradigm change.

We call our PLCs Collaborative Inquiry Groups at Pt England, but essentially they follow the same assumptions:
1. knowledge is situated in the day to day experiences of teachers and is best understood and reflected on with others who share that same experience.
2. active involvement in Collaborative Inquiry Groups will increase teachers professional knowledge and enhance student outcomes.
Vescio, Ross and Adams (2006)

The key here for me are the words 'active' and 'collaborative'.
Active involvement is a topic I shared with teachers in our end of term presentation (in a  previous post). Just as we want active engaged learners in our classrooms, we need to be active in our own learning.

Proponents of collaborative learning claim that the active exchange of ideas within small groups not only increases interest among the participants but also promotes critical thinking.There is persuasive evidence that cooperative teams achieve at higher levels of thought and retain information longer than learners who work quietly as individuals. The shared learning gives learners an opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning, and thus become critical thinkers.
Hari Srinivas

 One factor that determines the efficiency of collaborative learning is the composition of the group. So far we have grouped teachers who have  a similar inquiry focus (Term 1) then in similar student age levels or curriculum disciplines (Term 2). Feedback from teachers is that they prefer the mix across age levels and disciplines because they get to hear from colleagues from other syndicates, and groups are more heterogeneous.

So in Term 3 we are back to our first model;different viewpoints but within the boundaries of mutual inquiry interests.

Choosing The Right Words

As a staff we looked at Choosing the Right Words, a chapter in Using Literature to Enhance Writing Instruction by Rebecca Olness (2006).

Olness refers to precision in the use of words, or wordsmithery, as a trait that shows a love of words, alongside skill choosing just the right words to convey the intended meaning.

I like her reminder that it is not about students choosing the biggest or most unusual words, but the one that suits the mood or topic best. It is a matter of using everyday words precisely, as much as it is having an exceptional vocabulary.

She mentions research that's shown vocabulary can be acquired through incidental learning (NICHD 2000) but the key word here is 'can'. Without being surrounded by rich oral language or being exposed to words through wide reading, a student' vocabulary isn't going to be as expansive.

If students are reading below standard they are encountering fewer words again, further compounding the problem. Karen Belt talks about this in her blog e-xplore. It is a case of the Matthew effect, where the more able you are, the more likely you are to have rich dialogic discussions around rich content, and be reading a variety of texts with elaborate vocabulary.

The answer?
Reading regularly to students from books that expand their vocabulary and critical thinking.
One or our year 2 teachers, Laura Nalder, has a blog post on this very thing. I totally agree with her focus on modelling a love of reading and books, and providing rich book language  especially to those students who can't access it independently.