Recently I was asked to return to work with a group of high school teachers who were in their first year of transition to teaching in a block schedule. During my first training visit with them 6 months ago, my goal was to give the teachers the experience of utilizing a variety of learning situations of varying lengths. I wanted them to see the learning strategies in action, but I wanted them to leave with more than just teaching ideas. I hoped to provoke their ongoing reflection on what happens when students have more time to take ownership of the content, process and evaluation of their learning.
So when I was asked to conduct small group (with 6-10 participants) follow up discussion groups with the same teachers, I thought the best approach was to model it in a typical block format with three different activities that demonstrated real-time transitions in an 80 minute block. For more on my approach to professional development see my post: “A Guide to Designing Effective Professional Development: 15 Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer”
I choose activities which would facilitate our discussion and feedback on how “teaching in the block was going.” But I also wanted to use activities which teachers could easily adapt for use with their student in a variety of classrooms. The teachers were first asked to participate in the activity to gather feedback and then to reflect as observers on ways they could use the activity with their classes.
Here’s the three activities / prompts I used:
1. We opened with a “Brainstorm-Group-Label“ activity. The prompt I gave them was to list all the thoughts that came to mind when they reflected on the first semester of teaching in a block. As you could imagine the results were illuminating and ran the gamut from strongly positive to negative. This activity helped us probe larger issues of what was / was not working in the transition to the block.
2. Our second activity was a “Fishbowl Discussion.” A few participants volunteered to debate the statement “Student-centered instruction is great in theory, but in reality most students are not willing (or able) to take responsibility for their learning.” Other teachers served as observers who were assigned the task of tracking the arguments they felt were most compelling. Then the “observers” were asked to synthesize their ratings and share back their assessment with the entire group. This brought our feedback discussion closer to exploring the underlying assumption about the efficacy of the student – centered approach that underlies a block instructional schedule.
3. For our last activity, I gave a teacher volunteer a simple diagram. See sample diagram at left. I asked them to instruct the rest of the group how to draw it. Download Communications exercise. They could not show the diagram to the group, nor look at the progress any group members were making in recreating the diagram. Then we shared my diagram and the group member’s attempts to “copy” it. The exercise proved to be a bit frustrating for the volunteer and the rest of the group who had great difficulty getting it right.
Why the last activity? In my mind it mimicked what the traditional classroom lecture does every day - make the assumption that you can teach something by simply telling it to someone else. Thought I’d leave them with food for thought.