Lisa Weiss contributed today's post. For more information, read Lisa's other posts about her district's "laser-like focus on the intentional use of literacy in service of our contents."
My vision of how this would play out changed once we returned from winter break. I thought that once teachers had the look and feel of the gradual release, the next steps would be planning for that same process of modeling and guiding writers. Time was provided each week during January collaboration times for such planning, and I had February 4th set as a time for teachers to come together to look at student writing--to see how their modeling, and use of GRR worked for their students.
By mid-January teachers were asking for more time to prepare. As I had conversations with teachers it was clear that this was an entirely new way of providing instruction, and fear was ruling. It became abundantly clear that we do not have a culture of learning established in our secondary schools. While it was not a shocking revelation, it was an insight that forced me to reflect on how starting with belief statements, or starting to build a culture of learning, would have been wise. Since I missed the boat on that critical aspect of professional development this year, I considered how we might be able to lead teachers into that culture shift next year. Turns out this was a glaring problem to many of the secondary leaders, and we are currently engaged in the messy work of planning how to foster that culture with teachers next year. More on that in the fall...
Back to January: I have the sense about me to listen to what the teachers say, and they were saying, “Slow down!” I knew it was necessary to pull back, and allow more time for teachers to plan for writing models, but applying the brakes was a disappointment because there was a tradeoff of time involved. To provide more time on the GRR, we were not going to be engaged in learning about and practicing close reading with the depth I had envisioned. I also felt, in some ways, that by allowing more time that some teachers might think we were sending the message that we do not need to continue using the GRR when the message was quite contrary. The message was this: We’ve heard you. We’re going to slow down and allow for more time to plan. We will not throw a new strategy at you in April, but….we need to continue practicing the GRR when modeling writing because the GRR is not going away, nor is our focus on writing.
The revised plan created more time in January for learning about the GRR with articles, videos, excerpts from Better Learning, and additional teacher demonstrations of modeling student writing--all dependent upon what teachers needed in each building. February was the new time frame to be engaging students in GRR when teaching writing; reading the writing students completed was also an expectation.
March 11th was the date that was designated for reviewing student writing and having conversations about the writing. I created a student work protocol, and placed teachers in small groups, with an English teacher or a literacy or instructional coach in each discussion group. I felt the English teacher was critical to the success of the conversations because, as teachers of writers, they hold the most insights when analyzing student writing. In the end, feedback was overwhelmingly positive! Many coaches reported that people, again, were saying that this was the best professional development session they had been to--we had similar feedback in December! The literacy coaches who were sharing this feedback, all commented about the depth and quality of conversations that took place. It was a time devoted to thinking about students, their writing, and the feedback that could be offered to students, and teachers appreciated the process.
We spent March engaging students in another round of writing, so the April literacy-focused professional development session was an additional opportunity to read, converse, and analyze student writing. The last (May) collaboration session of the year will focus on our data from English and social studies classes, the data sources for W4 and W9 goals; I am excited to receive all of it, as I have had many conversations with excited literacy coaches--boasting about the writing growth students have made this year. I’m anxious to see what that means as a district, and wondering what that means for professional development next year...