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  • Writer's pictureThe Curious Coach

Start a professional reading book club

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

Seriously, this is a coaching call to arms.

After months of meaning to, I finally pressed send on a faculty invite to form a professional reading book club in January. I’d been listening to teachers during semester 1, picking up buzz words, trying to gauge what might make a juicy read and be relevant to anyone in the primary school. Our school is passionate about agency, and I’d also heard many teachers mention assessment-capable learners, so I got my hands on a copy of Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners K-12 over the December break and hoped it might be just right to kick-start a book club. 12 teachers put their hands up, we organized copies for each teacher, and we were off.

We met yesterday to discuss Chapter 3: Assessment-Capable Visible Learners…Understand Where They’re Going and Have the Confidence to Take on the Challenge. When we wrapped, I was on cloud 9.

Here's why:

We’re gaining new insights into learning and teaching - from the authors and our colleagues.

Having heard from a few book clubbers earlier in the week, I knew the question that was on people's minds after reading the chapter, and offered it as a starting point: what is the relationship between learning intentions, success criteria, and inquiry?

I’d responded to this question before and felt pretty solid about my stance. Basically I felt like we have big learning intentions we share with students that explore conceptual relationships (expressed as a question) and we have skills that might be discipline-specific or transferrable. We co-create the success criteria for these, keeping them broad enough to be able to apply them to multiple representations, and share loads of models with students. We spend some time together tuning in, sharing wonderings, and learning some key knowledge and skills that might be helpful during our inquiry - the way the journey will play out. When time comes to share our understandings we may bring different experiences and knowledge to the table, but we will be able to draw connections through the concepts and skills outlined in the learning intentions. Libby (Grade 3) was sat beside me with her sketch notes and I thought - yes! I should draw this, it'll be so much easier to communicate my thinking! Well, not sure it worked (my original was horrid) but this take-2 is kind of it:

Then Libby’s notes - particularly her plane analogy - got me thinking:

More approaches bubbled around the room, influenced by context, experience, and creative flair. Craig (Studio 5) explained his thoughts as an unfinished map, something he'd done before. Students embark on the journey together, provoked by a conceptual question, and then break off and begin adding their own ‘stops’ (experiences, goals, new learning, etc) as the inquiry progressed. He spoke of the impact on engagement as students actively plotted the map themselves, and how, because the work was underpinned by the conceptual understandings, students end-point was always very close to what they expected (the teacher had intentions!), and that they were able to be highly autonomous through the process. This idea seemed like a level-up from my earlier thinking. Libby even began crafting her own version of Craig’s map to ponder (at the bottom of her sketchnotes).

It's already become pretty typical to expect much more than just a discussion about the text when we meet. Teachers being teachers, a question like What is the relationship between learning intentions, success criteria, and inquiry? soon becomes How might we honor inquiry while having learning intentions and success criteria?

We’re connecting across grade levels on practice, experiences, and values

We enthused about success criteria, and Erin (KG), raised the point: what about when you share success criteria and they just copy them? The group went on to discuss how they’d used success criteria in the past, when it had worked and when it hadn’t (and why), and then we began to use teaching writing as a way to consolidate the groups' thinking. What constitutes copying? When are original ideas important? How do we learn to write? How do we read like writers? Soon we were realizing that many of the group had learned from Matt Glover at some stage and how using Writer’s Workshop strategies had changed their classrooms - we didn’t even know we had this in common.

We’re learning more about each other as teachers, as learners, and human beings

This group is a space for people to be whatever they need on the day. Some people look for me days before we meet, eager to express how the current chapter is speaking to them (or not), others sit quietly during our meet-time, absorbing, taking notes, others come ready with a list of questions, curious as to whether their colleagues share their wonderings or have ideas to offer. Some take the devil’s advocate role, approaching with caution, and some are grateful that being a part of the group motivates them to read every week.

And having a common focal point - a book about learning and teaching - creates a space for us to explore who we are as practitioners. The context of a book club, one that is entirely invitational, sets a tone that can be both individually fulfilling and collectively enriching - we don’t have to read this, and we have chosen to, as professionals, together. We are learning with each other, and from each other; we are taking away ideas, and getting ready to try them out. There are many aspects of this book club that resemble a teacher network (Donohoo, 2017: p55-60): teachers are building knowledge together, understanding more about each others' work and being inspired by high leverage practices.

What more do I need to say to convince you? Do it. Get the ball rolling (or the pages turning) and enjoy!

Donohoo, J. (2017). Collective efficacy: How educators' beliefs impact student learning. Corwin Press.

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