Wednesday, August 1, 2012

No More Thorns

Professional development has always been a thorn in my side - not because I don't want to participate, or because there aren't any good ones out there - because there are, but because the cycle deceives me in the same way, all the time.  First, I'll hear about a course and get psyched.  I write it on my calendar admittedly with a squint and silent under-commitment, and then plan the rest of my day-to-day with some long range events and trips intermittently scheduled.  Then the week before the actual class I start to feel anguish and the uncertainty of my commitment gets the best of me and I begrudge myself for signing up in the first place.  And then I get there and it's either as good as it gets or as good as I make it or really not all that interesting, and my personal reality of this cycle is affirmed.

And so it goes with professional development.  That, and well, there's the adolescent and two little kids and my husband.  And there's climbing.  All significant priorities and all satisfactory reasons to lay off the development of my professional self.

This summer was different, though.  This time in April, I took notice.  As professional development opportunities came across my desktop, I mindfully looked them over and actually chose to break the cycle.  The courses were interesting and timely, and well . . . I willingly wanted to learn some new ideas and soak in what others had to say.

I didn't feel that same uncertainty I described or experience that familiar cycle, and I think, "When the student is ready the teacher will appear."  Here are the top three things I want to apply from my first class - AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.  This class focused on critical reading and deep reading strategies for expository texts.

1)  Since my students have difficulty summarizing both orally and in writing, there's a need to isolate synthesizing as a skill.  I need to do this with more intention if I am going to guide them into considering more than what the text is about.  Marking the text is one strategy that includes a) numbering paragraphs, b) circling key terms, and c) underlining information relevant to the reading purpose.

2) Charting the text helps organize students thinking so that there is a distinction between what the author of the article is saying and what the author is doing.  For instance, to determine what the author is saying, questions to ask as a reader are: What is this section about? What is the content? What did I learn from this?  Making this intentional as a reader could increase and improve focus and comprehension.  The other question, What is the author doing? means the reader determine if the author is giving an example, interpreting data, sharing a story, summarizing information, or reflecting on a process.  Finally, the reader asks what does the author mean, which ultimately gets after the significance of the message or why the content is important to us today.

3) Socratic Seminar was my favorite idea, mostly because I know my students like to engage in "arguments" or in the opportunity to say what is on their mind.  I've structured learning and performance assessments like this and called it a Panel Discussion, but I like this format for different reasons.  First, there is an inner and outer circle, where the students in the inner circle are part of the discussion - free flowing, yet students must be accountable for staying on topic and citing evidence of their argument or thought, as well as asking questions to the group.  Second, the outer circle are listeners, which is important for active engagement.  I've perused websites about this format and like this one best: Socratic Seminar

That's it - the top three ideas I believe I can and will directly apply as I begin this next school year.  So thankful to have the opportunity to learn some useful practices and even more thankful I broke away from my funk - no more thorns!


  1. Love this post, Vera. The focus on prioritizing what you want to learn and then applying that to your life was nice. And, I like the careful reading of the text -- Lisa would love this too, I'd think.

  2. It astounds me year to year when I learn how little students comprehend text, and how dependent they are in their readings. I like the strategies I got from this course - which wasn't really new, just repackaged in an efficient and accessible way, and I'm excited to apply them. Thanks, Sue!

  3. I'm excited for you and the coming year!