Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cooperative learning for our students and ourselves

Our department will devote one monthly faculty meeting to sharing topics that will help us improve our programs. We will engage in a form of cooperative professional development. For the first meeting, we will discuss cooperative learning. Doug Lynch suggested that we read Slavin's research review and an article by Johnson and Johnson, advocates of cooperative learning, to prepare for the discussion. He invited us to contribute readings that we share with students.

As part of my work with MSAD 75, I have been reading a recent book by Jonathan Supovitz entitled The Case for District-Based Reform: Leading, Building, and Sustaining School Improvement ( ). Supovitz uses his work evaluating reform efforts in the Duval County, Florida district as a case study in the process of reform. I found the book so helpful that I have recommended it to Sally Loughlin, Asst. Superintendent, as part of our reciprocal reading recommendations.

In the context of sharing ideas about cooperative learning, I found Supovitz's identification of seven critical components for professional development. I assume that they apply to us as well as they apply to teachers in districts. Supovitz contends that professional development must:
  1. show teachers how to connect their instruction to specific and ambitious criteria for student performance
  2. immerse participants in techniques of active learning
  3. be both intensive and sustained
  4. engage teachers in concrete teaching tasks that they can employ with their students
  5. focus on subject-matter knowledge and deepen teachers' mastery of their content area(s)
  6. capitalize on the experiences and expertise of peers
  7. be connected to other aspects of school change (pp. 81-83)
Supovitz elaborates on each of the components and cites research that support them. Since our program is a form of formal professional development, we will serve our students and ourselves well by reflecting on the ways our program supports these critical components. For example, we are capitalizing on the experiences and expertise of peers by collecting information from students in the program about issues they face in their classrooms, schools and districts. We hope to build distributed learning communities around some of those common issues. What other ways are we ensuring that we include these critical components in our work with students and each other?

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