As a new curriculum director, one of my areas of interest is professional development. I’m a big believer in using “in-house talent” when possible. Our school system is blessed with outstanding teachers that have a wide-range of knowledge and gifts. I’ve recently begun an after school professional learning community (one of those new educational buzz-phrases). We have looked at using Bio Book Bags to introduce the importance of reading and real-world literacy experiences. We have explored the use of blogging as a means to professional reflection/growth, and how to use blogs with students within the classroom. We have seen how easy it is to set up, use, and share Live Binders (one of my personal favorites!). I love this time of collaborating and learning with one another. I sat down to write this blog and was originally going to write about this particular group. As I began typing the title, however, a different view came to mind. Can students form professional learning communities, too?
Research after research indicates the importance of student conversations about what they are learning. These solidify their thought processes, and settle this new material into their knowledge-bases. This dialoguing looks different depending on the teacher, the students, the classroom and/or the content. They might “turn and talk” to a partner about their writing during writer’s workshop. They can “turn and talk” about their reading in any subject area. They might moodle, blog, or respond on wikis about a piece of literature they are reading. They might work in groups to determine and solve a math problem. But, how else is student collaboration happening in K-12 classrooms?
Are we allowing students to split into groups of their choice to learn from one another about a particular topic? In a third grade class we have an expert on Denmark (he was born and lived there the first six years of his life), one who knows a lot about Peru (having spent a few weeks there one summer), an expert on Ethiopia (she was born and lived there for the first six years of her life). Could we allow the students to choose which country they wanted to study and join that “community” using one of the student-experts to lead the group? Major components of a seventh-grade social studies class involve the development of Africa, Asia and the Southwest Pacific from ancient civilizations to modern times. Why not let students decide which area they want to focus on, let them study different aspects (i.e.religious institutions, trade and cultural interactions, political institutions, and technological developments), and then let them teach the rest of the class in their area of expertise? Student-learning will increase when they have an authentic purpose. Students will practice multiple 21st century skills (wow – two buzz-phrases in the same blog) including collaboration, leadership and responsibility, initiative and self-direction, and communication. The teacher takes the sidecar and lets the students do the driving. It’s a win-win!