I had not expected to begin implementation of the Dream It project so soon, but less than two weeks into the school year the school administration asked for a suggestion on professional development for grade level meetings. My natural response was, “let’s address unit planning with a focus on understanding understanding” The result was a series of professional development sessions designed to introduce the idea of teaching for understanding rather than focus on recall of facts and memorizing procedures. After the first month, the grade level meetings returned to serving several purposes.I was grateful for the chance to leave the staff with something to think about as I worked with teachers individually to help them create their units. Meanwhile, I was asked to evaluate all mathematics and science units and to provide feedback by adapting the praise, question, suggestion protocol.
The next opportunity to work with all staff occurred several weeks later.The planned professional development day on November 7th was an opportunity to stress the importance of unit planning as a way to achieve coherence in curriculum both vertically (across grade levels) and horizontally (within a grade level). A presentation to staff on unit planning was used to purpose the work and set goals for the session. Teachers were asked to bring a copy of their current unit plans to exchange with another staff member so that they could use the praise, question, suggestion protocol (PQS) to give feedback on the unit. The actual protocol did not occur at a high level but the process of peer review of unit plans led to increased teacher motivation to consider the importance of creating high quality unit plans. In the weeks following the professional development. Teachers were more likely to seek out peers or coaches for input on the unit planning process.
On the week of November tenth I suggested three possible dates as options for a focus group to 12 teachers. After following up several times I was able to get nine of the teachers to attend. With the focus group I was able to formally present the ideas of the Dream It project. These ideas have evolved to some extent and included the idea of continuing PQS as the format for review of units with groups of teachers to identify how understandings are being developed. The practice of presenting and discussing lessons designed by teachers to develop understanding of an identified concept (Lesson Study) was also introduced as part of the plan along with presenting and discussing work from a performance of understanding.
A critical part of the current Dream IT phase is the development of an online format for the creation, revision, and review of unit plans. The idea of creating a coherent curriculum through vertical maps creates a pacing for curriculum that respects standards and context, making it relevant for students. This online access would include an online forum for teachers to communicate, plan, question, or just chat. The online learning community is intended to evolve into a professional learning community that can address a number of issues in the school.
The last four weeks prior to winter break have once again been turned over to instructional coaches (myself and a reading coach). We have teamed up to continue the work of creating units for understanding of content in the classroom. We began with the idea of using the four meetings to assist all teachers in creating a unit collaboratively through their grade level teams. The first session was focused on the desired results of the unit, the second session addressed at evidence of understanding, and the third session completed the unit by creating the sequence of learning experiences that would lead toward the understandings. As we met, a discussion with our technology teacher led to the creation of a google site to begin the online creation and storage of the units. This site is intended to evolve into the full online experience outlined in the focus group presentation. By the second week the google site had been created, modeled after a draft of a possible site I created for the focus group
Not all teachers have started creating units through the google doc template on the actual site, but some have, and by the end of the year the goal is to have all teachers create a google doc version of every unit they teach. The emphasis on understanding and the evidence of understanding will continue for the entire year and beyond.
In a recent meeting another issue came up among math teacher leaders from all around the network (networks are the regions that divide up the city into smaller more manageable areas). We are working on several initiatives that we are trying out in our schools as teachers. Several teachers wanted to communicate and exchange plans and results from their work in the schools. A shared google folder was suggested as a possible place to store these items. I suggested the idea of creating a site to hold these items, with the intent of expanding this into an online professional learning community, also modeled after the draft created for Dream It. They said, "Let's do it!".