Friday, January 4, 2008

Diving in - Learning in the Deep End

Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect about my teaching practice with one of the assistant superintendents of our school district. We had a wonderful conversation that lasted over an hour. We talked a lot about a recent blog post of mine: Teaching Teachers to Fish (or Cut Bait). She helped me to visualize what constructivist professional development could look like. Together we fleshed out a structure to provide teachers with an investigative model for learning to use technology.

Here are the basics of what we came up with:
1. Have a discussion about constructivist learning/teaching :
  • What is it?
  • How do you use it (or not)?
  • What are the benefits for kids?
  • What are the challenges?
2. Discuss how this applies to the learning of new technologies.
3. Send them out to explore an application in a constructivist way - be explicit about this and provide some guiding questions and some goals.
4. Examples of guiding questions:
  • What were goals of the people who designed this program?
  • Why did they structure it the way they did.
  • What were they (the programmers) thinking?
  • Did they succeed?
5. Example of some goals - podcasting example:
  • Can you record your voice?
  • Add music?
  • Add sound effects?
  • What else can you do?
6. Come back together and share answers and discoveries.
7. Explicitly discuss the learning process :
  • How did it feel?
  • Was it frustrating?
  • Did they have any breakthroughs?
  • Did they make connections to the ways students learn.
8. Send teachers back out to continue to explore - give an option of more guided teaching materials, encourage them to continue problem solving.
9. Conclude with a "Now What" discussion of how they can apply their experience to their future learning and to their teaching.

Have you tried anything like this with teachers? Did it work for you? Have you experienced this kind of professional development (perhaps in another context)? Do you have any suggestions or advice? I'm going to try this out in the spring. I welcome your thoughts and ideas!

Image Citation: hidden side's, "tuffo." Flickr. 08 Feb 2006. 4 Jan 2008 .


Carolyn Foote said...


I love this idea. I think it models more closely what students do and that would also help teachers understand how their own students keep up with technology.

I always think it is more powerful when you teach people how to learn, rather than just specific content--when you give them a framework to work from.

Love your post about bait/fish as well.

Thanks for sharing!

Robert Talbert said...

I've been in the position not of teacher training but of pitching the advantages of technology to my fellow college professors. Mainly I have found that my colleagues who come to my presentations are (1) just technologically interested to come, but (2) not interested enough to invest what they think will be a lot of effort in implementing new things.

You and I both know that most of the technology of Web 2.0 is dead simple to use -- most recent consumer technology is -- but to the 30 year veteran professor it all looks like Star Trek stuff. So when I did a presentation on blogging, and people started asking me HOW blogging works, it was all good until I showed them the administration dashboard. And the supposed complexity of that totally shut them off. Never mind that their automobiles are hundreds of times more complicated to operate.

So I find that the biggest barrier to the kind of training model you are setting out here is just the initial negative reaction to the newness of the technology. That is awfully hard to get over, and profs (presumably teachers in K-12 too) have to be first convinced that there's a really compelling reason to shrug off that reaction when it happens.

I'll also add that students are exactly the same way.

Penelope said...

I really like that you're working a constructivist model of PD. So rarely is all we know about how to teach well applied to how we teach teachers! So bravo for that.

I've never experienced this since I graduated, but my college did run an Ed Media class that was constructivist in nature. It was not as well done as your outline sounds, although I think that may have been because the course was trying to accomplish too many things at once.

I completely agree that teaching people how to learn and be comfortable learning technology is the way to make them feel less like powerless tech dinosaurs.

Helen said...

Hello Liz,

I love this style of PD. I've been in a fortunate position to have worked in a school where learning was high on the agenda for teachers - it was Essendon Nth Primary School. It was very much a constructivist approach to PD - either with our Teaching Coach or within a Professional Learning Team (PLT).

In fact, PLTs are very highly regarded now in Victoria and are sometimes given funding for learning and sharing.

I trained as a Peer Coach in 2005 with the Puget Sound Centre - training was in Asia. Our model was all about empowering the learner through on site, in time coaching that was reflective in nature and non judgmental. It used a range of listening and questioning strategies to do this.

Feel free to look at my Peer Coaching group in Classroom 2.0.

I have a model of the peer coaching cycle featured and a link to The Peer Coaching Program.


AFB said...

Outside of an educational setting the model you have built works with those people who are willing to be taught.
Production Assistants in TV and Movies need to be "mentored" to look at the situations they face exactly the same way. (Without the software aspect most often, but sometimes they need to learn the software too.)
Thus it's not only a good model to use in helping develope teachers skills I think it is a good way to teach kids, adults, and seniors.
I'm glad that you have found an active way of prepairing the teachers to prepair our students

Susan said...

Liz, Your blog consistently makes me think and pulls me in directions that I want to go, but couldn't "see" the path. This post is another great example of that. Being only my second year on the job, there is so much I feel that I am not yet doing well, but providing PD is definitely my worst area. My teaching roots are very constructivist. Thanks for helping me see how to transfer that to teaching teachers.