08/23/2012
Behind the Scenes
“Chalk Talk” and Meaningful Professional Development

Experienced NID Teachers Create Collaborative Learning Experiences

The instructions were simple: create a visual map of a conversation, share resources and ask questions … without saying a word. This “Chalk Talk” was just one of the collaborative learning exercises that second-year and Experienced Network Members (ENMs) participated in at this year’s Need in Deed’s teacher retreat, a format inspired by EdCamp and other crowd-sourced professional development models.

Network teachers led three professional development sessions, each with a different topic and format, but with a common theme: professional development is most meaningful when participants drive the lesson. To start the afternoon off, Patrick Kennison and Amy Gottesman teamed up to share an approach to reading comprehension that shows how each reader finds meaning in a text. The exercise led to a rich discussion of how students learn and how teachers can best support diverse learning styles.

Another NID veteran, Lisa Hantman, presented her method of finding community partners to help broaden her students’ understanding of an issue, and how to make the most of classroom visits and field trips. Some teachers were unclear about the process, or had experienced visits that went off-track for various reasons. Lisa stressed persistence and preparation. “I call, I email, I can be annoying,” she said, eliciting laughs from the group. “But it’s all about the students, and what they get from the guest.” She makes sure that the visitor or speaker knows where the students are in their project, and what they hope to gain from the time spent with the community partner. Afterwards, her class reflects on the experience through both writing and discussion.

Teachers Deborah Bambino and Kelly Ann Coughlin used the above-mentioned “Chalk Talk” to spark a discussion of resources that are available in the community to support students and teachers. Questions and comments ranged from the specific - “Which organizations can help me bring arts into the classroom?” - to the more general - “What is good professional development, and where do you find it?”

By the end of the session, participants all seemed to agree that what makes the learning experience most valuable is when it takes into consideration the needs, strengths, and learning interests of the group – no matter whether they are teachers or students.