On February 6 I held a meeting with our In-Service Advanced Course teachers. My group of Supervisors had decided that it would be worthwhile to try a different approach to our In-Service meetings, which have traditionally been lectures containing announcements and information about course features, with an audience of teachers passively taking it all in. I wanted to engage teachers in reflection on their own practice, as well as tap into their beliefs and values as educators, so I gave them a challenge, a driving question that would sort of give some direction and purpose for the session. This was our driving question:
How can we adapt coursebook use in order to foster more meaningful learning experiences to our Advanced students?
In order to get teachers immersed in our context, they were asked to carry out a poster & post-its activity. They sat together in groups of five to six people at round tables in our Resource Center. Each group was given a poster containing three questions: who are our students? what are their needs? how might we meet their needs? Teachers were asked to brainstorm responses to those questions, writing their ideas/responses on sticky notes for each of the three questions. Once they had generated plenty of ideas, they went over their notes with their groups, selecting what they agreed to be the most relevant ones and placing those higher up on the poster. The atmosphere fired up with the buzz of nearly ninety people talking, exchanging ideas, interpreting their findings together.
Now that they had brainstormed and discussed their teaching/learning context, they had a vivid, dynamic image of their students in mind, as well as their challenges in their everyday teaching practice. The next stage would take them closer to the topic addressed in the driving question – coursebook use and adaptation. For this stage of the session, I had reccommended (a few weeks before the session) that teachers read a post written my me on the subject of materials adaptation. The idea was to give them some theoretical and methodological references to help them shape their contributions and reflect on their materials’ use so far in the piloting stage. Each group accessed a Google Doc, which I had previously created especially for this meeting, where they would be guided in their reflection and suggestions for making the best of the coursebook we are currently phasing in in our Advanced Course.
Before we finished the session, once groups of teachers had finished editing their Google Docs, they were asked to leave an exit ticket, sharing their impressions of the session. I will now share some of their responses, sharing some of my reflections triggered by their feedback.
“I think this session was very interesting for learning and suggesting improvements for the advanced course. Sharing experiences with more experienced teachers, was also fantastic.”
This was definitely a concern of mine when planning the session: creating opportunities for teachers with different backgrounds and classroom experience to work together and engage in meaningful discussion. I was hopeful that this kind of heterogeneous collaboration would produce interesting learning for all involved, regardless of how experienced they are, or whether they are new teachers at our institution.
“It was great to have this opportunity to share experiences and generate new ideas with other advanced teachers. The discussions we carried out today will help me plan my lessons and adapt the course materials this semester.”
Hopefully, a great number of teachers was able to take something practical from the session. The fact that they were asked to collaborate in order to carry out the tasks proposed naturally led teachers to share experiences and tacit knowledge, which is especially valuable for those teachers starting out. It’s also a positive way to make the institutional culture known among the people – teachers – who directly contribute to (re)creating it every day, in and out of the classroom.
“it’s important to get someone to keep group on course or discussions become very general rather than specific…”
This was also an experiment in teachers’ capacity for self-directed, self-managed collaborative work. Some groups seemed to manage to keep on track, being highly productive, whereas others seemed to lag, getting sidetracked in long discussions. This is, therefore, a valuable suggestion for future sessions. I should point out, though, that I feel it’s only natural that it so happens, especially when we are beginning a shift from sessions centered on one person transmitting the information to a hundred passive listeners, to decentralized, collaborative (and often times messy) work among different individuals.
“This was a very hands-on meeting which was very productive. We have had the opportunity to share many ideas and impressions related to the advanced series. There was active participation and a thorough exchange of ideas/concerns/experiences.”
“I really enjoyed the way that this meeting was planned as it allowed us to participate actively and to go deep into the topics discussed. It was also very nice to get to know my colleagues better and to find out their ways to teach the advanced course.”
My two takeaways from these two quotes are hands-on and participate actively. One of my core goals was to have teachers go beyond the generation and discussion of ideas by actually getting them engaged in making something. For me, the posters and the docs they created as a result of their negotiations are valuable iterations of collective knowledge.
“I think this was a very interesting attempt at dealing with such an overwhelming topic. I find the session would’be been more effective if we didn’t need to go through the warm up stage in the meeting.”
This comment has given me some insight on the issue of timing. It had been my idea not to spend too long on the poster & post-its stage of the session. I must confess, nonetheless, that I myself lost track of time at certain points of the session, since discussions seemed to become denser and denser by the minute. This suggestion also reflects a concern I mentioned above, regarding the different teacher backgrounds and levels of experience. A very experienced teacher, having been immersed in the Advanced Course context for a long time, might have been ready to dive into the second stage of the session right away. My takeaway here is differentiation. How might I be able to differentiate without alienating, and still keeping it productive?
There were 43 exit tickets total. Below are a few other comments (highlights are mine and will hopefully speak for themselves):
“it was interesting to share opinions and discuss the questions. i felt there was a sense of focus and that our group feels more ready to tackle this semester. a great way to have the ‘meeting’.”
“A profitable and organized session! I actually had new ideas and heard nice ideas from peers!”
“I much prefer this over the traditional meeting. I think the activity was fantastic for generation of ideas. It was very focused and could have been more productive if people kept the conversation on task.(…)”
“The discussion was relevant and productive. Thank you for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to our next meetings.”
“Very organized and productive!!! I was glad you opened a channel for us teachers to express our real concerns about the book. Hope we find our way out of the main problematic situations.”
“The session was thought- provoking and insightful. The steps were clear and meant to fit a very demanding audience. The group discussions were interesting throughout the session. Most of all, it gave room to the ” Thank God I’ m a teacher” feeling we need in the beginning of the semester!“
I will end this post here, for it’s already quite long, but I’ll be coming back to this session in future posts where I hope to explore the richness of content generated and beliefs shared by this amazing group of teachers.
I take this opportunity to thank each and every teacher who participated in this session for their commitment to their own professional development, and to being eager to provide meaningful learning experiences to our students. Thank you.