I just finished presenting at the New York State Middle School Association’s Annual Conference. My session today focused on looking at student work as a means of building a professional learning community, something I have been investigating through my work at CSETL. Eight teachers stayed on a rainy Saturday morning to engage in the protocol and discuss how they could bring this back to their districts. What a rush!!
I worried a bit about how this might work – 4 science teachers, 1 ELA teacher, 1 Spanish teacher, one central office administrator, and one building level administrator sitting around the table examining writing in social studies!! But we had some powerful conversations about grammar and spelling, organization in writing, clarity of ideas, and technical writing. Resources and strategies were shared, people started to view student writing in a different way, and most importantly, we learned from one another!!
It reaffirmed for me that teachers of all content areas are concerned about student writing – but many of them don’t seem to have the resources available to them to know how to address it. One of the most powerful moments came when one teacher shared the Four Square writing organizer. She had used it as an example and when others indicated that they weren’t familiar with it, the teacher did a mini lesson with science content so that the teachers could understand it. Nothing formal – just sharing what worked for her. During that discussion, the ELA teacher asked that if they use this method, the teacher not force conclusions by having the students write “In conclusion….” He expressed that it made writing sound artificial and the students could simply do without the phrase and sound much more authoritative. A poignant plea from the ELA house – and the teachers heard what he had to say, promising to not demand that kind of transition as a conclusion.
My hope is that the teachers take the model we engaged in and bring it back to their school districts. Everyone seemed to value looking at student work – regardless of the content area. They recognized the need to share their expertise with others, and tap that of their colleagues. There were lots of questions and some pretty valid concerns, but it was a two for one day. The teachers experienced a protocol to build a professional community and learned a whole lot about writing in the process. We didn’t start a professional learning community today – but we planted the seeds for several.