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November 11, 2010 / Sarah Ludwig

PD without the free wine

As I wrote this post, many of my friends and fellow librarians were in Monterey for Internet Librarian, a conference I never got to attend for one reason or another. It sounded great this year, as always, based on the tweets coming down the pike. I of course wish I was able to visit Monterey and attend some fabulous sessions, but what watching from afar made me think about is that good professional development can happen right in your own backyard. Traveling for it is fun and exciting, but you don’t need to. In fact, it might be better if you don’t.

I had two really great professional development experiences last month. Not only were they full of exciting and applicable ideas, they were also motivational. And I had a very nice lunch at both. I am not used to attending smaller conferences or workshops, and I loved it. Why? Because the content was so directly related to what I do. I didn’t have to stretch to find a use for anything I learned about — it was all laid out there for me. And as someone entering, essentially, a new field as a classroom teacher, this was crucial. At ALA and Internet Librarian, the speakers have to reach a broad audience of librarians in different organizations all over the country. At regional conferences and workshops, especially those geared toward specific groups of professionals, you know you’re going to be learning about things that directly relate to your job. [That said: I find that there is enormous value in exposing yourself to professional development resources that have absolutely nothing to do with your job, but that's a post for another day.]

At the Connecticut Educators’ Computer Association 2010 Conference, Hartford, CT, I was lucky to hear Gary Stager, who is a fascinating speaker. Both his keynote and his presentation – “The Best Education Ideas in the World” – were entertaining, interesting, and slightly edgy. He is clearly a fierce advocate for students and teachers, and while I am not yet knowledgeable enough of the theories and philosophies of education to know what side he comes down on, it’s clear he has a point of view: put the tools in the hands of the students and trust them. Let them tell you what their future is; it isn’t up to you to decide. Kids can learn, and it’s our job to facilitate that.

I attended a few sessions, the highlights of which were Richard Byrne’s rapid-fire introduction to 67 of the best ed tech resources out there (outlined in 60 minutes, no less), and Kathleen McClaskey‘s session on early literacy tools like

My PD got hyper local at the Connecticut Association of Independent School’s Teachers Sharing with Teachers at Chase Collegiate School in Waterbury, CT.  I went to an awesome presentation by an AP English teacher at the Pomfret School, who described a program he’s done for two years now that pairs up students in two different schools to write a collaborative paper.

Here’s how he did it:

  • Students use skype or Google video chat to communicate and Google docs to write the paper; there is limited use of email. The papers must be truly collaborative, meaning that the sentences or paragraphs aren’t divided up and written separately, but the students must communicate and make decisions about what goes into the paper.
  • His students were paired up and given a month to write a synthesis essay.
  • One advantage: Students are used to communicating online and enjoy meeting peers from other schools.
  • Students gain collaboration, empathy, and technology skills
  • The use of video chat led to the most seamless papers. You should model this for the students with the teacher in the partner school.
  • Students are dependent on their partners. How do students say to each other “this sentence isn’t good enough”? Are grades more important than hurt feelings? Students must learn online etiquette in a new way. Encourage them to use the rhetoric of writing to help cushion the blow.
  • Challenges:
    • finding class time – students must work independently
    • similarly, students must find time to collaborate
    • students aren’t used to communicating this way online – so, model effective collaborative skills and spend time discussing collaboration etiquette
  • All students receive the same assignment and sources (consider using AP Central).
  • Start every class period with a 5 minute update from the students on how things are going.
  • In terms of grading, you know your students, so you know what they’re capable of writing. Also remember that you can look at a Google document’s revision history to see how much has been contributed by each student.
  • What are the merits of this project? It prepares students for the workplace: collaboration in a global community. Students can briefly step into the world they will be entering.

Then I heard about some cool ways to using video in the language classroom from Veronica Lima of Greens Farms Academy. Veronica uses Windows Movie Maker to strip the audio out of telenovellas and dubs her students’ voices over the clips, having them focus on particular grammar points when they write their scripts. She also introduced me to Voki, which she uses to have her students record quick clips in Spanish.

While it’s true that I didn’t get the luxury of a king-sized hotel bed all to myself, I did come away from both of these events with about 7 different Evernote documents full of notes and ideas, plus resources I started using the very next day. I am more in need of professional development than ever before, and I’m thrilled that I can actually get educated in a day – or an afternoon – or in an hour.

…though free wine is pretty awesome.

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