Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Arrested Development

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We will never improve as a profession if we continue to train teachers in ways that fly in the face of what we know about learning and engagement. I wish I had had the courage to walk out of a recent training, but I did not. I did not feel right packing up my colored pencils, my journal, my iPad, my pens or  my cell phone into my rolling briefcase and exiting stage left. There were twenty teachers in the room and I worried about them. Plus it was thunder-storming, so I stayed.

We ask students to sit still, be quiet, listen, copy and more. I am sure students have felt and do feel the anguish when all they get in class is information as lecture. High school students suffer through seven hour school days and some still sit in lecture-based classrooms. At least that is what my students tell me. 

I have to sit in this particular training session for six hours. I am five hours in. So far, I have to listen to the trainer talk at us. Only once, this morning, were participants given time to talk to each other. We read, annotated and discussed something,  all in less than ten minutes. We did not work at a task in a small group. We did not get up and move or chart ideas or share insights. A few teachers asked questions, maybe three out of the twenty.

The trainer did not offer us an "invitation to use what is best in the standards" to deepen or practice or reform the cultures of our schools (Calkins,  et. al.). This session would never "beat the odds" (Langer).  The session ignores participants, and technology. There are no N.E.T.S. to catch these teachers. The trainer occasionally questions the whole group in ways that let us know there is a right answer: no wait time, no acknowledgement of a response, no restatement of responses nor invitation to extend or connect. No one knows our names. We were examining texts ( a poem) and listening to an interpretation (the trainer's). The trainer tried to push us to the same interpretation with rapid fire questions about the text and structure. We knew we weren't giving the right answers when it was given to us after the questioning round. Such trickery shuts my learning down. Surely that happens in classrooms too.

More than a decade ago we talked in Best Practice terms saying we need "more of..." and " less of..."(Zemelman, Daniels and Hyde). Where is everyone who internalized that language and practice? Why are they not leading teachers' study of, in this case, Common Core, close reading and PARCC assessments?

My ears are nearly numb. I can hear  someone talking at me, but that does not mean I am listening. I am not sure I believe  a trainer who,  without assessing my level of familiarity with the Common Core Standards,  reads us entire swaths of the document (and appendices) from the screen while chastising teachers for reading to students. 

My teacher voice tells me to do less: lecture, telling, showing, saying, stating, giving. My teacher voice reminds me to look for the lesson. Let learners: read, write, wrestle, discuss, share, question and discover. 

In the real world, I know that not all teachers read. Not all teachers read professional books, nor do they familiarize themselves with research. Not all do, but many do.  Several of the people in this room do.

What is a large district to do? I've really been wrestling with the question of how corporations inform cast. This is one two professional development experiences offered my district this summer. I would label one the in-person lecture and the other computer-based training.  The district pushed five computer-based training modules out to more than 12,000 teachers to encourage summer learning. The modules, as you can imagine, require learners to watch, read and write and take multiple choice assessments. The district is paying teachers one thousand dollars if all five modules are completed within a set time frame. On the up side teachers can work at their own pace and under their own direction. On the down side the content is lecture-heavy, but tech-savvy teachers can click around the scripted power point presentations and read the material for themselves if they so choose. Choice matters.

In the face to face training today choice was limited. As I watch the trainer I put my own facilitator hat on and start to sketch out how I might restructure the day. My teacher voice tells me to read the room, to assess the group, to differentiate and diversify. Differentiating curriculum and diversifying delivery or methods of instruction is not easy in the classroom and it is certainly no small task when working with adult learners but to not attempt such care meets no one's needs.

During today's training a few in the room created their own back channel via text messaging. The trainer did not set up digital discussion spaces: no hashtag, no back room, no parking lot ( whether virtually or in reality on chart paper). Learners had no voice in the room.  

PARCC Content Framework ELA
Instead of examining students' samples (something this particular company says it teaches and trains from) we listened. Instead of discovering meaning, forming questions, planning ahead, we listened. We listened for hours. We had one ten minute break mid-morning and a lunch hour. We had one moment of doing in the morning and one in the afternoon; less than ten minutes of talk time in the span of six hours. Instead of talking together about how the PARCC Content Framework outlines quarterly reading
and writing demands and checking those against past practice and aligning them with current expectations, I got texts that said things like:

Is this what nationalism looks like?
Is he going to stop talking? 
Do we just need to write "Common Core" units to make money?
I'm in PD pain.
What IS he talking about? I've lost it.
My company is going to be called...
We're paying money for this?

At the end of the day, I quickly exited the media center and went into a back room. I took care of a friend's printer issue and then sat to think for a moment. I knew I'd behaved badly. I didn't heckle. I didn't pester the trainer with questions, but I did write. I didn't smirk or snort or sigh. I took notes and drew in my journal (the shark in dangerous waters was probably not a subtle hint).  I also spent a large chunk of time in the afternoon crafting this blog piece. I couldn't sit still and listen. In order to maintain a facade of industry and attention, I wrote. Because I was sitting in the front table, I knew my misbehavior did not go unnoticed. What would I want a participant to say to me if I were the facilitator? I knew I needed to speak to the trainer.

I walked back into the room and asked him if I could speak to him for a minute. The room was empty. He had not yet begun to pack up. He and I sat down.

I said, "You can't talk at teachers for six and a half hours and expect them to learn." 

"I did talk a little too much," he admitted. "But some teachers had questions, so I followed them."  

"I couldn't stayed tuned-in."

"I noticed."

"I'm sorry, but ... teachers will not learn and grow if all we do to guide them is lecture.Questions from the few do not insure engagement from the many." My hear raced, but I was glad I'd spoken up.

Authentic professional development grows out of practice.  Learning needs or goals can come from a department, a cohort, a content-area group, a school, a district--the point is we identify a need, a knowledge or information gap and we work together to address it. When one person in the room is doing the work, the rest are left out of the learning.  


ISTE. "Iste NETs for Teachers: Advancing Digital Age Teaching."  Available: http://www.iste.org/standards

Langer, Judith. (2000). Beating the Odds: Teavhing Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well. National Research Center on English and Learning Achievement. Albany, NY. Available: http://www.albany.edu/cela/reports/langer/langerbeating12014.pdf

Zemelman, Steven; Daniels, Harvey and Arthur Hyde. (2012).  Best Practice Forth Edition:Bringing Standards to Life In America's ClassroomsPortsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, Lucy; Ehrenworth, Mary and Christopher Lehman. (2012). Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


  1. So many truths here. I think of Don Graves, who used to always say, "The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning." We know what we want teachers to do with kids, but then we make them sit through hours and hours of this kind of bologna! At least you were brave enough to try to talk to the trainer. Good for you!

  2. Very interesting post. I have taken so much from this, but two things stood our for me:"Questions from the few do not insure engagement from the many" and "When one person in the room is doing the work, the rest are left out of the learning." Gentle reminders as we head into the new school year. Thanks!

  3. Maybe i had been there we could have walked together and then really started talking about ways we can integrate what we are doing and create a model of change, if that needs to take place around CCSS. Twenty people is such a doable group to have interaction and dialog. I am impressed that you talked to the facilitator in the end. I was at a phenomenal workshop that lasted 7 hours, interactive, engaging...amazing! Guess who led us? Smokey Daniels himself. I worked hard in my learning zone that day. xo

  4. Now the work for me is to make sense of the goals of that day and figure out how that matters to our site-based work. I am still grasping at straws. On the second day, Kelly and I had good conversations, but not sure if we were on task. Glad you had the courage to post and challenge the facilitator.

  5. Good for you that you spoke up. This was an example of how not to teach, and I hope the presenter took your advice. By the way, you were remarkably precise in your comments to him- no ranting, no wasted words, just to the point. Well done!

  6. Lee Ann --

    Wait a minute. There is an accountability issue here. Someone hired, approved, maybe even paid that individual to come in there and bore the hell out of a bunch of teachers and set a bad example for them. I'm willing to give the presenter a slight bit of benefit of the doubt. Maybe that's the best he could do. Still, the person who said, "This is exactly what we need" is the one who needs a shark attack.

    Is this that huge county-wide Orange County PD day? If so, Tony and I were presenters there a few years ago. We had a group of enthusiastic teachers up and out of their seats and fired up about starting off the school year with a new focus on writing. Orange County teachers deserve better than what you got today.


  7. Bravo! Glad you posted this. Good food for thought for so many perspectives.

  8. Lee Ann,
    Great points. I have been through the same types of trainings, and now that I am responsible for delivering "workshops" (yes, I renamed them in our region because I like to be a workshop participant not a trainee), all this has been at the front of my mind since last January. I always enjoyed workshops in which the material we were learning was presented in a useable classroom strategy so everyone is getting 2 things at once. (Straight lecture doesn't count as a classroom strategy.) Plus, it's engaging. That's the kind of PD culture we're trying to build over here.

    The challenge is when an administrator tells me "We need a Common Core training." And I say, "Great! What sorts of challenges are your teachers experiencing? Which standards would they like to discuss? What grade levels/classes/etc.?" And s/he says "It doesn't matter. We just have to have one in the first semester." It takes a lot of time and money on everyone's part to have a PD day. Why waste that valuable opportunity with a "cover-your-ass" approach that bores people?

  9. Also, good for you for speaking up at the end without being nasty. :)