I am helping to co-facilitate a professional development class this spring (it began in December, actually) around writing and literacy and the Common Core with an area elementary school. Our work is being funded through a generous grant by the National Writing Project, and administered through my Western Massachusetts Writing Project. We have a great group of teachers who are diving into literacy and will soon begin an Inquiry Project that will move us forward into the end of the school year.
The other day, we spent our Saturday in professional development activities. (There are three of us co-facilitators from WMWP helping to guide the sessions). My role was introducing research components to the teachers, and to get us thinking about ways that research might not only inform learning, but what it might look like in the classroom. Our main text was Chris Lehman‘s fantastic book — Energizing Research Reading and Writing (which I highly recommend) — and each teacher has their own copy of the book, which sparked some interesting discussions about how research projects look now, and how they could look as we consider the Common Core.
On a whim a few weeks back, I asked Chris if he might be available to Skype into our session, and discuss what he discovered as he wrote the book and to answer questions from the participants after they had read his book. He agreed, and his virtual visit was a huge hit. Not only is Chris a passionate professional development leader, and a talented writer and researcher himself, but he connected with this audience of teachers in a struggling urban school and he really inspired them to look closely at their own teaching practice. We covered a lot of ground in our short Skype visit, from narrowing down topics, to finding and using sources, to the role of audience in the writing.
My other motive was to begin to show the teachers how the technology they have in their building might open up some more avenues for learning for them and their students. A few of them asked me about Skype in the Classroom — wondering how to invite authors into their classrooms. As we begin to use Edmodo for sharing about Inquiry Projects, they are considering if the site works for their students as writers. Our aim is to embed learning and technology in the PD in a meaningful way, and make it useful and viable for classroom instruction as well as teacher learning.
The visit with Chris was a good example of that: it not only brought some more expertise into the room that day, expanding our work around research and writing, it also demonstrated the power of technology to make connections, with relatively little fuss or set-up. And I deeply appreciated that Chris gave up his time on a Saturday to share some of his understanding with our teachers. They appreciated it, too.
Peace (in the visiting),