Always Learning

I think that as teachers, we always have to be learning. While I always learn a lot watching my students in the classroom, talking to colleagues (either face-to-face or online), and conversing with administrators, I find that I struggle more learning during professional development sessions. This is especially true of the sit-down-and-listen variety. I need to train myself to listen well and to look for something new.

Now with our Board’s new professional development model, I don’t attend many of these types of inservices, but I go to a few. The other day, I had to go to one for the New Teacher Induction Program, as I’m involved in mentorship this year. I’ve been a mentor numerous times in the past, and I’ve attended very similar types of inservices as I did on Monday afternoon. I was excited though to find out that the inservice was being facilitated by Sue Dunlop. While I spend more time interacting with Sue online than in person, I can honestly say that every time I talk to her, I think about something new. I was confident that Monday wouldn’t be any different — and it wasn’t!

Although much of Monday’s inservice was a repeat of the information that I’ve heard before (and that has to be delivered to all new teachers and their mentors), Sue started off the day with a fantastic activity: Chalk Talk. It’s like a low-tech backchannel. Every table group got a big piece of paper, and each person got a marker. We all wrote about what mentoring means to us. We could reply to what others said and build off of the ideas of others, but we could not talk at all. After about 10 minutes, we reconvened, and discussed the pros and cons of this type of activity.

It turns out that the next day in class, I was introducing a new writing form in Language, and I wanted students to brainstorm what they already knew about myths. Then I was going to give each group a bag with a myth in it and a link to a Pinterest Page about myths. Students needed to then add to their ideas, and cross off ideas that they found out were not true. Initially, I was going to let the students discuss their ideas as they wrote them, but this would have likely led to less writing and more conversation. So I tried the “Chalk Talk” activity instead. I told the students that I learned it from Ms. Dunlop, and that they could only write (or draw), but not talk. I added in the drawing component because I teach some struggling writers, and I thought that this would be a way for them to contribute. I hoped that they would add captions to their drawings, and this is exactly what they did! I also created a task analysis/social story to help my students with autism contribute to the group discussion. For them, I asked specific questions that they could respond to, and then they could join a group, but in a modified way.

(In this video, I should have said Language and not Social Studies. Sorry!)

These new ideas came to me during Sue’s inservice, as the major disadvantage of “Chalk Talk” seems to be for the struggling writers. How do they contribute? I think it’s then that we need to not dismiss a good strategy because it’s not perfect for everyone, but instead, look at a way to change it to make it useful for all. And it was useful! Even my most struggling writers wrote more than they ever did before because this was almost like a “game.” They enjoyed this game environment, and they loved knowing that each one of them had a way to share their thinking and respond to others.

In fact, “Chalk Talk” was such a success, that I am using it again today as a quasi-backchannel during our 105 the Hive radio show. I can’t wait to see how this goes! Thank you, Sue, for making my professional learning engaging, and giving me something new to try with my students!


What new exciting activities have you learned from more structured professional development inservices? How do you modify these activities to meet the needs of all of your students? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


4 thoughts on “Always Learning

      • Exactly – you get it:) We are all learners. As a classroom teacher I was always amazed at the ongoing questions, opinions and creativity of my students, and colleagues ‘in the trenches’ & during moderation, curriculum mapping, assessment and reflection on student success.
        Listening – really listening and making a difference in student success goes hand in hand.

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