When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

A few weeks ago at the Edscape Conference I co-facilitated a one-hour session titled, Non-Negotiables of Professional Development. 

The Problem 

My partner, Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5), and I only made it through 6 of our 23 planned slides. All it took were the first few slides and a thinking routine to generate an intense, on-topic discussion that lasted the entire hour and could have easily gone on for much longer.

My decision to stop the slides took place with about 15 minutes remaining in the session. I determined that it would have been nonsensical for me to abruptly halt an engaging conversation because I found the need to carry out what had been planned (even if the content took several hours to put together). So, I stepped away from the computer, pulled up a chair, and fully committed myself to the dialogue.

The Solution

As the session concluded and participants started to file out, Gerald Aungst (@geraldaungst) asked if I was upset that our presentation did not follow its intended path.

My initial thoughts…

At a conference, prioritizing your slides over a stimulating conversation is equivalent to telling students that it is time to move on because there is a lot to cover.

In other words, harness the teachable moments and emphasize depth over breadth. Be grateful if your conference presentation is “hijacked” by those in attendance because they have taken a genuine interest in your topic. After all, the more common problem is attendees being indifferent, nonparticipants, who succumb to being talked at while turning their attention to what’s next on their program.

Another Point of View

Interestingly enough, yesterday I was having lunch with Dr. Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) at Roberta’s, Brooklyn. He was in the room during the presentation, and here is his take on the situation:

“Honestly, I left wanting to hear more of what you had to say. When I go to a session because of who’s presenting, I want to hear what that person has to offer…But, in that situation [Edscape], you did the right thing.”

In the End

Right now, I feel the “answer” varies based on the context of the presentation.

For example, if I am working for a school district (such as my own), and my job is to deliver a certain message and for participants to leave with specified takeaways, my plan should be my top priority. On the other hand, if I am at a local conference and everyone starts to jump in because of their strong, on-topic opinions, I should allow for them to do so (especially if many of the attendees are colleagues/friends, as was the case at Edscape).

In short, my takeaways:

  1. Be flexible. Sometimes it is necessary to shift from presenting content/ideas to facilitating discussion, much like a teacher in the classroom when engaging students in inquiry-based learning.
  2. At the same time, others might want to experience what you have to offer. So, don’t be afraid to own it and do your thing. In the words of Joe DiMaggio, “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.”

Has anything similar ever happened to you, either as a presenter or as an attendee? What are your overall thoughts on stopping the slides?

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Overcoming the SQUIRREL: Why PD Sessions Should Use Digital Tools Sparingly

Guest post written by Jaime LaForgia, Director of Professional Development for Discovery Education

Overcoming the SQUIRRELWhy We Love Digital Tools

For many, the term “in-service” or “professional development” conjures images of tirelessly boring days of sitting and getting information while some expert drones on and on about the latest and greatest in education.  But 21st century professional learning is different.  Think about your last experience. I’d bet within the last year, you’ve been in a session during which the presenter used cool digital tools like Kahoot! or Poll Everywhere, which most likely made your time together more fun and engaging.

But what was the purpose?  Using digital tools in professional development solely to create a “fun” and “interactive” environment completely circumvents the intended learning outcomes. I’ve learned this the hard way.

Why We Hate Digital Tools

Last fall, I planned a six-hour PD session with a group of teachers who were just learning about the new standards and the pedagogical shifts demanded of them. My learning targets for the day focused on understanding the need for evidence-based thinking, academic discourse about texts, and the meaningful instruction of academic vocabulary. I needed a quick and efficient way to get them into the standards in order to understand the vertical alignment and the importance of employing the instructional shifts into their current practice.   

Enter QR codes.

What better way to help them extricate the most important aspects of a rather boring document than through a QR code scavenger hunt through the standards?  

So off they went–phones in one hand, standards in the other.  I facilitated their learning as they scanned, searched, read, scanned, searched, read.  And this just got our day started!  There was so much more we accomplished.  We debriefed, experienced a model lesson, introduced the idea of close reading, and even had some co-planning time so their learning would transfer immediately to practice.

And transfer it did.  Later that week, I entered the school to do some classroom visits bubbling with excitement.  I couldn’t wait to see the teachers’ learning in action.  When I walked down the hall, however, I noticed several QR codes hanging in the hallways and on lockers.  I stood back and watched as students engaged in their content by scanning codes and writing their responses on a, for lack of a better term, worksheet.  When I got a closer look, I realized that much of what was being asked on their QR code was basic recall and recitation type of thinking.  Where was the evidence-based thinking?  The text-based discussions?  The rigor?  It seemed the only learning that transferred was that QR codes were really cool and engaging.

As the content creator of the professional learning, I knew I was using QR codes at the very lowest level of SAMR. But I wanted an easy tool that would enable us to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.  I was going for efficiency, not redefinition.  I knew this, but the teachers, through no fault of their own, did not. The QR codes were the shiny object that hijacked my learning goals.

Untangling the Quandary

So how do we overcome this pesky squirrel?

  • Use digital tools sparingly. It’s much more effective to use one tool in a robust and meaningful way than to expose your audience to three or four tools they can’t use well.
  • Let the pedagogy lead the tool.  Start with your learning outcomes, and plan with that end in mind.  If there’s a digital tool that, if leveraged, will enhance the learning you want to happen, go for it.  If not, skip it.
  • Connect the tool to the outcomes.  Digital transformation happens when teachers see how the technology can enhance their instruction.  If you’re learning about differentiated instruction, showcase a tool that will actually help teachers differentiate.
  • Focus on the learning opportunities, not the tool itself.  While we want our audience to know where to find the tool and how it functions, it’s way more important for us to spend time talking about how the tool can be used to impact student learning.  Learning about flexible grouping?  Show teachers how you can actually use the real-time data provided by a fun tool like Plickers to create groups.

One of cornerstones of effective professional development is modeling the best practices we’re learning about.  Because technology integration is so pervasive, effective modeling of digital tool use is more important than ever.  So next time you want to infuse a digital tool into your session, ask yourself, Is this how I would want to see it used in the classroom?  Then, make your decision.

Connect with Jaime on Twitter

Rigor vs. Relevance…Who Wins?

Rigor vs. Relevance...Who Wins?Daggett’s Presentation

A week ago I had the privilege of attending a full-day presentation by Bill Daggett. If you ever have the opportunity to work with him, do it! Highly recommended! Prior to the presentation I had heard so much about his ability to engage an audience. So, I was as interested in watching a world-class presenter do his thing as I was in the content that he would bring to the table. In both regards, he did not disappoint.

The Turnkey

A few days after Daggett’s presentation, I had about 20 minutes during a district leadership meeting to turnkey some of what I had learned to other administrators. The Rigor Relevance Framework served as the focal point for this time. However, rather than simply showing and explaining, I took an approach that resembled how I instructed when I was a fourth grade teacher.

I simply displayed a version of the framework (pictured) for all to see, and had participants pair up to answer and discuss the following questions:

  1. What is rigor?
  2. What is relevance?
  3. What’s more important?

When we came back together as a group to share out, the dialogue that ensued amongst administrators was impressive. After a few minutes I was able to sit back, keep quiet, and watch almost everyone willingly engage in a debate that pitted the importance of rigor against the importance of relevance.

Think for a second how the chosen “instructional approach” can familiarize adults (and students) with this content (or comparable content) through collaboration, debate, and inquiry. Meanwhile, the other extreme, as previously mentioned, would be to show, explain, and then probably just jump to the next topic without any meaningful dialogue or assessment of understanding.

My Thoughts

Like any good teacher, eventually I tried to move on without offering up my own opinion, even after I was prompted to do so by our High School Assistant Principal. However, after being provoked a second time by our Coordinator of Technology, I announced something to the following effect:

As a classroom teacher the rigor drove the relevance. I knew that if my students were consistently exposed to activities that were challenging and unique, they would be engaged and therefore the content would be relevant to them. In general, I led with inquiry and tried to let the rest take care of itself.

I should also mention that I followed up with the disclaimer that this approach is what I thought worked for my students and me, and that mileage may vary based on different contexts.

In the End

Regarding this post, what is worth noting is not so much the Rigor Relevance Framework (although, definitely look into it) but rather the idea that every instance of educator professional development is another opportunity to model best practice. Even a short, 20-minute turnkey during a district leadership meeting is not the exception. Never hesitate to blur the lines between the way you facilitate educator learning and how you believe learning should be promoted in the classroom.

What unique approaches have you taken when planning/facilitating professional development? Also, what experience do you have with the Rigor Relevance Framework?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

Four “Look Fors” in an Education Conference

Four %22Look Fors%22 in an Education ConferenceWithin the past month or so I have attended three local conferences: NJPAECET2, Edcamp Long Island, and Edscape. As I reflect upon these experiences (and the other events of which I have been a part), I find a handful of common denominators in regards to what I personally look for in a conference. With these ideas in mind…

Here are my four “looks fors” in an education conference:

  1. Balance of “old” and “new” friends/colleagues: There is something comfortable about showing up at a conference, knowing that your “local PLN” is going to be there. At the same time, I am always looking to expand upon my friendships/PLN by establishing new face-to-face connections with those (1) I have previously only interacted with via social media, or (2) I have not interacted with altogether. It is funny to think that when I first started going to conferences a handful of years ago, the only people I knew were those who came along with me for the ride.
  2. Powerful keynote: I am always in awe of anyone who can stand up in front of a large crowd for a lengthy period of time and deliver a powerful story, straight from the heart. (It is easy to forget that speaking is an entirely different art than writing, blogging, or presenting. And, just because you can do one does not necessarily mean you can do another.) I was particularly blown away by the closing keynote of Gemar Mills (@PrincipalMills) at NJPAECET2 and the opening keynote of Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) at Edscape. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Inspiration, move me brightly…”
  3. Pedagogy first, technology second: I love technology, I really do; but, I love pedagogy more. After all, “Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator.” While I see the value in conferences/sessions that focus mostly on “cool tools,” I prefer to learn about “best practice” when interacting face to face with other educators. (For the most part, I can learn about all of the apps and Web 2.0 I need via social media or Google.) That being said, I think there is a fundamental problem when the biggest “pedagogy” conferences (such as ASCD) are run entirely separate from the biggest educational technology conferences (such as ISTE). Think about that for a second.
  4. Food: If you are going to serve bagels for breakfast, make sure they are fresh and local, not from a chain. When serving lunch, please let everyone know ASAP how many lines there are. (“Oh, there’s a shorter line on the other side?”) Coffee throughout the day is a non-negotiable. Finally, and most importantly…if a friend is driving in from out of town, and that town is located near a famous pizza place, pizza delivery is a must. At Edscape 2014, my friend Sharon Plante (@iplante) and I started this tradition when she was kind enough to bring Pepe’s Pizza all the way from Connecticut to New Jersey!

If you had to add a fifth “look for” to the list, what would it be? What do you look for in a conference? What are some of the best conferences you have attended?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

Writing Pathways Professional Development

Writing Pathways Professional DevelopmentThis past Monday I facilitated an introduction to Writing Pathways professional development with two of my district’s Reading Specialists.

According to the official website:

Lucy Calkins’ groundbreaking performance assessments offer instructional tools to support continuous assessment, timely feedback, and clear goals tied to learning progressions that have been aligned with world-class standards…These assessment tools make progress in writing as transparent, concrete, and obtainable as possible and put ownership for this progress into the hands of learners, allowing students and teachers to work toward a very clear image of what good writing entails.

The six main components of Writing Pathways include: learning progressions, on-demand writing prompts, student checklists, rubrics, student writing samples, and annotated exemplar pieces of writing. (You can read more about these resources on the official website.)

The session lasted three hours and it involved the classroom teachers from all two elementary schools in my district.

Here is a brief outline of what took place. (Although this outline applies to a session on Writing Pathways, you will find several non-negotiables of professional development that can be applied to the learning of any topic. You can also read more about the non-negotiables here.):

  1. The teachers grouped by grade level to discuss and answer the following six questions on a Google Doc (Storytown is our current Language Arts series.):
    • Typically, what does your writing instruction look like?
    • How does writing fit within your Storytown rotation? (scheduling, how often, etc.)
    • What materials (e.g. Storytown, books, websites, etc.) are you using to support your writing instruction? What are the main components of Storytown on which you rely for instruction?
    • Overall, when it comes to writing instruction, what do you feel is working/not working for your students?
    • How could your writing instruction be better supported? (resources, guidance, professional development, etc.)
  2. A short discussion about the session’s essential question, “Why Writing Pathways?”
  3. A short discussion about the session’s four enduring understandings (more or less, the day’s takeaways):
    • “Where are we” with writing instruction?
    • Where do we “want to go” with writing instruction?
    • I am somewhat familiar with the six different components of Writing Pathways.
    • I have a general idea of what the Writing Workshop structure entails.
  4. Testimonials by teachers who already have experience with Writing Pathways
  5. A brief, direct instruction overview of the six components
  6. The teachers explored the six components on their own by (1) browsing through the actual resources, while (2) referring to a handful of slides that contain key facts about each resource. As the teachers worked, they were encouraged to collaborate/discuss with their teammates.
  7. Break
  8. The teachers individually completed the QTT graphic organizer by synthesizing (1) what they knew about the six components, with (2) key quotes about each resource that were pulled straight from the book. As the teachers worked, they were encouraged to collaborate/discuss with their teammates.
  9. Video: A Day in the Life of Writing Workshop. (While Writing Workshop was not the main focus of the day, the integration of Writing Pathways with Writing Workshop is our eventual goal. So, we thought that the video would help to provide some context and preview where we are headed.)
  10. A review of the enduring understandings (see Step 3)
  11. A review of the essential question (see Step 2)
  12. A brief talk about what’s next: the distribution of a follow-up survey to gauge teachers’ reactions to the learning, and using subsequent sessions to dive deeper into the six components.
  13. Thank you!

Just like any other professional development session that I have facilitated/co-facilitated, some parts “clicked,” while others I would modify if it had to be done again. Either way, I do feel that the teachers appreciated the “less is more” approach to the day, and it was exciting to see that some of them are already asking for resources to assist in facilitating the Writing Workshop model that integrates with Writing Pathways.

What does your school or district “do” for writing instruction? What are your experiences with Writing Pathways and/or Writing Workshop? What kind of writing instruction have you seen “work” for students?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

How to Transform Educational Books into Professional Development

How to Transform Educational Books into Professional DevelopmentIn the last post we explored three ways in which educational books can be used (or misused) during professional development to impede our progress. One of these points touches upon making professional development more focused by (1) starting with the end in mind (or with what enduring understandings you want participants to walk away), and then (2) focusing only on the parts of the book that pertain to these understandings.

In Instructional Coaching, Jim Knight talks about the “art form” of instructional coaches being able to take a book and present/teach its contents in a simplistic fashion. He explains that ideas “will catch on much quicker if they are (a) powerful and (b) easy to use.” As implementers of professional development, I believe that we must own the process of making our resources and books as absorbable as possible (and not be so quick to blame teachers who may not “get it” the first time around). As Knight declares, “Teachers do not resist change so much as they resist poorly designed change initiatives.”

With my thoughts and Knight’s research in mind, here are the steps that I generally follow in order to “transform” a book into professional development: 

  1. Determine your enduring understandings, keeping in mind that the majority of the time less is more when it comes to professional development. Understandings should be based on an ongoing assessment of “where you are” and then deciding “where you want to be.” An emphasis should also be placed on practices that possess significant effect sizes related to student achievement.
  2. Select the book that addresses your understandings in the most practical way possible. As mentioned in the last post, ideally, the book should be (1) 200 pages or less, and (2) based on actionable research, which is a combination of “how to” and “here’s why.” A few months ago I wrote an article for Education Week that examines the importance of being able to effectively navigate Amazon in order to find these types of resources.
  3. Read the book and highlight any useful information that you may end up using for professional development at any point in the future (saves you the time of having to reread the entire book if/when educator learning shifts to different enduring understandings). Pay special attention to visuals – photographs, charts, graphs, etc. – that will help you to better tell your story. One option to save time is to only read/highlight the chapters that relate to your current focus.
  4. “Extract” the highlights that pertain to the enduring understandings on which you are currently focusing, while having the discipline to ignore everything that does not directly relate to your present efforts. This is the step where the planning (and therefore, learning) can easily start to go downhill through the inclusion of research/information/ideas that may appear to be useful, but only serve to dilute your message by promoting mile wide, inch deep learning. Think laser focus, less is more, depth over breadth, etc. Typically when I extract my highlights I simply go through the book, front to back, and type the relevant information into a word processing document.
  5. While reviewing your extracted highlights, start to plan what the professional development will actually look like. While there is no precise “formula” that will get you to where you need to be, the one rule to always keep in mind is that professional development should model best practice. For example, if you are focusing on differentiated instruction, your professional development better be differentiated. Not only will participants experience firsthand how learners can benefit from the approach, but they will walk away with multiple explicit strategies to use in their classrooms.
  6. As you wrap your head around what the professional development will look like, convert your extracted highlights to slides. When I first started presenting I used to simply copy and paste the key highlights/quotes on to my slides and call it a day. While I do think that some quotes can be effective, over the past few years I have transitioned to delivering these messages through the use of visuals (photographs, drawings, videos) and hands-on activities. (Disclaimer: The majority of the time I rely on a slide deck when facilitating professional development. However, I never hesitate to ditch the deck if I think there is a better option given the content that is being presented.)
  7. Towards the beginning of your slides, rationalize why the current topic has been chosen as the focus while being careful not to disrespect the past and current work of your participants. Or, take a risk by planning to have the participants “uncover” why certain needs exist. For example, for a future session on writing workshop we are going to have teachers discuss our existing structure/resources for writing instruction, and then (hopefully) arrive at the consensus that more is needed. Around this time might also be when you would show/explain where the present professional development falls within the context of past and future learning.
  8. Transition from examining needs to revealing the essential question that encompasses everything that is going to be learned. Essential questions do not necessarily have to be answered, but they should lead to some form of inquiry. For a session on encouraging more student opportunities to respond, I first quoted Total Participation Techniques:

Think about the typical question-and-answer session in most classrooms. We call it “the beach ball scenario” because it reminds us of a scene in which a teacher is holding a beach ball. She tosses it to a student, who quickly catches the ball and tosses it back. She then tosses it to another student…

This quote transitioned into our essential question, which was, “How can I create more beach balls.” Everything we explored that day connected to this question in one way or another, and the question was revisited towards the end of the learning.

  1. Incorporate the learning targets, which should directly correspond with the enduring understandings. For a previous session on Common Core Mathematics, the targets were (1) “I am somewhat familiar with the Practice Standards,” and (2) “I am starting to think about teaching with rigor.” The statements not only touch upon content, but each one also clarifies what the educators’ depth of understanding should be by the conclusion of the period. Present these targets in the order in which they will be investigated, which helps in creating a mental roadmap of the professional development in the minds of participants. Revisit the learning targets towards the end of the instruction.
  2. Think about how you are going to provide follow up once the session is complete. I always try to ensure that the learning/reflecting/progress is ongoing, rather than relegated to a handful of select days throughout the year. In general, perception is reality. If educators do not feel like they are being supported, something different needs to be done. Part of the ongoing assistance also involves an assessment of the initial professional development, which includes more than just surveying teachers to see if they enjoyed it.
  3. Upload all of your resources to a folder in the cloud (e.g. Google Drive), so participants can access them during, after, and possibly before the actual professional development. These resources should include the slide deck that is created, along with any accompanying handouts, and the link to everything can be distributed to participants as soon as possible. Take a less is more approach with handouts. Too many can be overwhelming, while including only a few one pagers sends the message, “These are important!” After all, anything with a staple in it doesn’t get read.

These ten steps represent a simplification (but not an oversimplification) of the process that I generally follow to transform books into professional development. More or less, the first five steps involve isolating the appropriate information, while the second five involve framing said information in the clearest, most absorbable, and most “educator-provoking” way possible.

For more on professional development, I encourage you to read 5 Non-Negotiables of Professional Development and then Revisiting the 5 Non-Negotiables of Professional Development.

What are your thoughts on “transforming books” into professional development? Do any of my steps stand out? Are there any that I may have missed?

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Do Educational Books Impede Our Progress?

Do Educational Books Impede Our Progress?A few months ago I was consulting with a principal who was planning to roll out differentiated instruction professional development in her school. A great deal of this planning time was dedicated to researching/deciding what book should serve as the basis for the learning.

After some conversation we started to ask ourselves if it was truly necessary to distribute a book to the teachers.

The Problems and The Solutions

When promoting change, we want to avoid or eliminate as many obstacles as possible, but often times we are creating yet another obstacle when we place a book in the hands of our coworkers.

Here are three ways in which books can impede our progress, along with a solution or two for each potential problem:

  1. Most “teacher books” are not based on actions, but research and theory. Research and theory generally help to promote interesting discussion and reflection, which can lead to some change. However, if we are talking “bang for your buck,” this is not the most straightforward and efficient way to influence classroom instruction. From what I have experienced, books that are based on “actionable research” (a combination of “how to” and “here’s why”) are the most impactful: The Daily 5, Strategies That Work, Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics, etc. In order for a book to be popular and have a lasting impact, Hal Elrod explains that the most important factor is that its content is actionable and centered around changing behavior. At the same time, he declares that when books are based on promoting thought, they have short-term value because most readers’ “newfound thought patterns are interrupted or diluted and forgotten as soon as they go to the next book,” and a month later 90% of the content is forgotten and “you probably didn’t implement any of it.”
  2. The book actually has to be read. This takes time, usually a lot of it. As we all know, time is a precious commodity for teachers. To counteract this dilemma, I customarily stick to 200 pages or less when selecting a book for professional development purposes, unless it is a book that can also serve as a reference and be utilized year after year. I love the idea of placing a book in the hands of teachers and announcing something like, “This is the only book related to [insert topic/subject here] that you will be getting within the next two (or three, of four) years!” Under these circumstances, any reasonable number of pages is fair game, as an emphasis is placed on depth and not breadth. (For more on the importance of depth over breadth, see #3.)
  3. Books can promote coverage-focused teaching, which is one of the “twin sins” of instructional design according to Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in Understanding by Design. With this mile wide, inch deep approach there is so much to “cover” (mile wide), that there is no depth to the teaching/learning (inch deep). In a previous post I talked about the importance of making professional development more focused by breaking down topics by multiple enduring understandings. For example, go from, “We’re learning about standards-based grading,” to, “We’re studying why percentage grades are unacceptable, how to revamp our grade books, etc.” Now, think about the usual disproportion between how many enduring understandings exist within any given “teacher book” vs. the amount of professional development hours dedicated to that book. Cramming too many objectives into too little time results in learning that barely scratches the surface and sustainable change is less likely to occur. In general, I would recommend starting with the end in mind and not “the book in mind.” Ask yourself, “With what enduring understanding do I want teachers to walk away at the conclusion of the professional development?” Then, only focus on the parts of the book that pertain to these understandings.

In the End

Professional development based on books (and traditional book studies) generally force educators out of their comfort zones by provoking, inspiring, and encouraging us to think more deeply about our practice. At the same, we need to proactively avoid some barriers in order to maximize the potential impact that the learning has on classroom instruction and our students. Otherwise, we will be working harder (not necessarily smarter), spending an awful lot of hours with our noses in books, and the time and energy that we invest will be far from proportionate to the results that are experienced. This is when books can impede our progress.

What are your thoughts on using books for professional development? What barriers and/or successful models have you experienced?

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