Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dialogue vs. Content

One of the things that's been circulating in my head is the idea that dialogue has more value in terms of developing teachers than giving teachers already well-developed content. During KSI, we read some article that talked about different forms of lesson studies, and the surprising takeaway for me was that after these teachers had worked so hard to craft their lessons and to try them out and then to reflect on them, they decided not to publish their final revised lessons, because they felt that the product was not the most valuable part of the entire experience. Instead, they placed the greatest value on the dialogue that had led to that development of the improved lesson.

Immediately upon reading this, I reflected on my own tendency to share content from lessons or activities that I have tried and liked, without stepping back and thinking about the fact that that's not helping other teachers learn the process of creating similar activities from scratch.

During PCMI, in our "working groups" we had to develop projects that we think are worthy of being published by the Institute of Advanced Studies in the future. On Day 1 of the program, our group leader had us look at some example projects from the past, and then gave an open-ended challenge that we were to create something that is not necessarily content-heavy, but something that can be used to facilitate the development of the mathematics teaching community at large.

We spent a day just brainstorming. It was stalemated at some point. I felt pretty strongly that the "lesson" content we create should not be as important as the framework we create to facilitate teacher dialogue, and some other teachers felt equally strongly about making the Common Core our primary focus, while other teachers felt that we should still be putting our energy toward making a GREAT, collaboratively designed lesson. We all compromised by deciding that in order for teachers to have effective dialogue about pedagogy, they need to be looking at something specific and concrete -- such as a lesson plan. In the end, our group split up into four sub-groups: 1. One group to develop a PD session that brings teachers from a school community to examine the differences between their existing state standards and the Common Core; 2. another group to develop an exemplary lesson based on some of the Common Core features; 3. another group to develop a rubric (and supplemental document of resources) for assessing how well a task or a teacher is facilitating the mathematical practices as outlined by the Common Core; 4. a group mapping the content topics of the Common Core as threaded throughout the various grade levels. The products from all the four sub-projects can either stand alone, or work in conjunction to open up the space for teacher dialogue about where they currently stand and where they wish to go.

After 3 weeks of hard work, we're done with the projects!! --For now, anyway. :) My group was responsible for the rubric project, and (if I may say so myself) it's looking pretty fabulous. My partners are pretty much both rock stars. We pulled together a 25-page document supplementing the goals of the mathematical practices, clarifying expectations and giving ideas for how to implement those goals. I am very proud of what we've accomplished, both as a sub-group and as a collective working group! yay. I hope our stuff gets reviewed and published, sooner rather than later, so that they can be made publicly available and serve the purpose that we had hoped to achieve.

And, not to go too "meta", but in creating the rubric, our group had some GREAT dialogue about teaching and learning. It ties rather nicely together with my belief that the dialogue is more important than the end result.

What do you think? Where in your own experience (besides the web) do you see dialogue about teaching contributing to your professional growth?


  1. Well, this goes with your rubrics experience:

    Long ago, before the Internet, when giants walked the earth, California had CAP and CLAS, now long-dead assessment systems. The math parts had, among other good things, longer problems and performance assessments. They got put in because you get what you assess, and we (snooty progressives) wanted students doing larger, more interesting problems and investigations rather than bubble-test exercises.

    But that meant that there would be gazillions of student responses to grade. No scantron. And these evaluations had to be comparable. So you needed to use teachers in great numbers to do the grading., Thus there were workshops, all over the place, about making rubrics, using rubrics, and all that, in which teachers got to sit with piles of student responses, and, in order to make the grading reliable, discuss student work in detail, and try to decide what constituted evidence of understanding.

    Well. Many participating teachers said, WOW! This was the greatest PD I've ever had! The most useful thing was not grading the student work, of course. That was just the excuse. Instead, it was talking about actual student work with colleagues, and grappling with big questions: what DOES constitute evidence of understanding? And how can we give more assignments that fit that description?

  2. I LOVE THAT!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE. Thanks for sharing that.