iwonderstand?


Wonder #5: What Form of Professional Development is Most Effective?

Effective Professional Development puts the needs of professional learners at its centre, and provides opportunities for teachers to assess, explore, and construct their own knowledge about teaching mathematics. It should:

  •          focus on mathematics concepts and connections amongst concepts;
  •          increase teacher understanding of learning progressions and instructional possibilities for key concepts;
  •          introduce new ideas that challenge teacher beliefs;
  •          provide opportunities for collaborative conversations to build knowledge and plan for implementation;
  •          allow time for reflective conversations around teacher practice and student learning;
  •          make the connection between student learning, teacher practice, and teacher learning;

Most research is centered around a single form of Professional Learning. Because of differences in learner needs and learning styles, a math community does not limit itself to a single form of professional learning. Different types of opportunities are available to community members. While all community members attend full community meetings, there are also opportunities to access individual instructional coaching, small group collaborations, and Pick-A-PD Responsive Small Group workshops. This allows for professional learning to be differentiated and relevant to all.

Forms of PD

Whole Community Meetings

Full community meetings are an opportunity for a facilitator and every teacher in the mathematics learning community to come together approximately 3-4 times per year. These are opportunities to not only learn mathematical content, pedagogy, and curriculum together, they are opportunities for the community to come together to share, collaborate, and connect with one another around their understanding, practice, and student learning. Through a community concept, the ownership of learning destination is distributed to each member, and community members access each other to move their learning forward.

One key idea is that while the facilitation is carefully planned to meet the learning outcomes for the community, it is important that the facilitation team moves flexibly away from this plan if formative assessment during the workshop indicates that pacing and process changes are needed to best meet learner needs. The pedagogical stance of workshops should be consistent with the pedagogical knowledge that the facilitator is trying to teach the community about. Community Members experience the learning in a way that their students would. Rather than learning about a concept, teachers learn the concept through exploration and reflection.

Facilitator Planning Processes

Community members are invited to co-plan and co-facilitate community meetings. Sometimes community members may volunteer because the topic chosen is an area of strength and they would like to share their knowledge with others. Sometimes community members may volunteer in order to learn more about a mathematical topic by being a part of the planning process.

Each meeting has specific mathematical purposes, including content, pedagogical, and curricular knowledge. To begin, these ideas are concept mapped in a way that is similar to the connection mapping that is a part of instructional coaching conversations. This concept map results in an instructional sequence for a concept. An instructional sequence summarizes a concept over multiple grade levels and provides a framework for instructional strategies. This same framework is then provided to community members during their workshop for note-taking purposes.

Once mathematics ideas have been identified, then the workshop is planned using a Facilitation Guide. A Facilitation Guide is a summary document for the facilitation team that outlines the flow of content, processes, assessment strategies, timelines, and materials for a workshop. This is an important communication tool for the facilitation team so that everyone understands their role. While the facilitation is carefully planned to meet the learning outcomes for the community, it is important that the facilitation team moves flexibly away from this plan if formative assessment during the workshop indicates that pacing and process changes are needed to best meet learner needs.

The pedagogical stance of workshops should be consistent with the pedagogical knowledge that the facilitator is trying to teach the community about. Community Members experience the learning in a way that their students would. Rather than learning about a concept, teachers learn the concept through exploration and reflection.

A summary of the community meeting, including facilitation materials, summary of participant comments, and teaching materials can then be put into an online Clickable Agenda hung on a collaborative space so that community members can refer back to the agenda and learning activities at another time, and share their learning with other colleagues.

Community Meeting Structure

A community meeting has the following basic structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Math Brains in the Room
  3. Sharing and Reflecting on Professional Learning
  4. Revisiting Commitments
  5. Sharing Small Group/Individual Learning Experiences
  6. Do the Math
  7. Learner Talk
  8. Teacher Talk
  9. Collaborative Planning
  10. Community Building
  11. Making Commitments
  12. Closure

 

Pick-A-PDs

Pick-A-PD Responsive ½ day workshops are an opportunity for differentiating content for community members based on self-identified needs. In a school year, 2 or 3 rounds of Pick-A-PD offerings would occur between whole community meetings. These Pick-A-PD sessions are optional, with each community member able to pick up to 2 sessions per round, depending on budget and time. Pick-A-PD topics are determined through a combination of responses on Agenda Assessments, professional learning surveys, conversations during collaborations, email, or informal discussion.

Topics for Pick-A-PDs

Based on Schulman’s (1986) types of knowledge needed to teach mathematics, workshops are categorized under 3 different types: content, pedagogy or curriculum. Lists of potential topics are identified, then teachers are surveyed to determine the topics to be offered from each category. This provides workshops for teachers to choose from that honour the three types of knowledge needed to teach mathematics. Some examples of topics could include:

Content Workshops

  •          Place Value
  •          Multiplication & Division
  •          Addition & Subtraction
  •          Parts of a Whole: Fractions, Decimals, Percent

Pedagogy Workshops

  •          Technology to Enhance Mathematics
  •          Use of Manipulatives to support Mathematical Thinking
  •          Orchestrating Mathematical Discussions
  •          Authentic Tasks
  •          FNIM Perspectives in Mathematics
  •          Assessment Practices

Curriculum Workshops

  •          Planning for Combined Grades Instruction
  •          Differentiation vs Modification
  •          Planning for Instruction and Assessment
  •          Models of Responsive Instruction
  •          Thematic, Cross-Curricular Planning

Facilitation Teams

There are often community members who have confidence and skills in the topics that are chosen. When possible, access those community members to be a part of the planning and facilitation of these workshops. This encourages community members to become leaders in the larger community, and is another way to share teachers’ best practices with their peers.

The planning and structure for a Pick-A-PD is very similar to planning for the ‘Do the Math’ portion of a whole community meeting. It involves an instructional sequence for the topic, and allows participants to experience new learning in a pedagogical stance that is appropriate for a classroom, then reflect on how they learned it in order to co-construct key ideas including vocabulary, differentiation, assessment, and pedagogy.

Audience

Pick-A-PD workshops are an opportunity for non-community members to participate in mathematics professional development alongside community members. Because there are teachers who are a part of an ongoing mathematics discussion, conversation and collaboration within these workshops are elevated, and non-community members are able to experience learning at a deeper level. The mindset of the facilitation team is parallel for whole community and Pick-A-PD workshops, where facilitation plans call for active participation by workshop attendees, and there is a sense of safety and community because a number of participants know each other and know the facilitators. This makes the learning more interactive than is possible in stand-alone professional development opportunities.

Pick-A-PD workshops are also a strategic way for community members to be table leaders with their colleagues, as there are resources, pedagogy, and content ideas that they may have been exposed to and can share with non-community members in table group conversations. This can both increase confidence of community members, but also create informal relationships between community and non-community members, thereby increasing the ripple out effect of the learning within the professional mathematics community.

Small Group Collaborations

Some community members prefer to work together on an assessment or instructional idea, share resources, or learn collaboratively about a specific topic of their choice without input from a facilitator. Structures that encourage small group collaborations are:

  •    Grade alike seating within large community meetings to allow community members to get to know each other;
  •    Emails inviting community members to collaborate and learn from one another;
  •    Release time;
  •    Teacher choice of dates and topics for collaboration; and
  •    Providing release time for colleagues from outside of the community who have an area of expertise that community members would like to access.

When a small group of teachers has identified that they would like to collaborate, the topic and date can be advertised out to the community so that others can join. Community members involved in small group collaborations bring back the learning to the larger group through:

  •    Presenting their learning at the large community meeting;
  •    Posting unit or lesson plans on the online sharing space; and
  •    Sharing their observation of student learning results due to changes in instruction.

Providing opportunities for small groups of teachers to plan and learn collaboratively exemplifies teachers owning their learning, which creates a wide variety of learning initiatives that can be shared back to the larger community. The key is for a facilitator to not control the direction of those collaborative opportunities. Rather, through questioning and conversation, a facilitator can deepen those autonomous discussions and have participants reflect on their purpose in order to further their learning.

Instructional Coaching and Co-Planning

When invited to be an instructional coach who is co-planning mathematics instruction, a process to work through in partnership or small group collaboration would include:

Making Connections

Determine curricular strand area of focus.

  1.    Which strand does the teacher want to explore?

Find connections within that strand.

  1.    What are the outcomes and indicators related to this strand?
  2.    How do the outcomes and indicators connect to each other?
  3.    What is the instructional sequence for this concept?

Identify prior learning for these outcomes.

  1.    What pre-skills and understandings are vital for a student to be able to know, understand, and do in order to engage in this year’s mathematics?

For example, connections within the Saskatchewan Grade 8 Shape and Space Strand:

Measurement connections

Creating the Instructional Plan

A robust instructional plan exemplifies the Assess – Respond – Instruct Cycle and includes:

Robust Instructional Plan

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