From content expert to facilitator of student-centered teacher teams — coaches take on many different roles in districts. Regardless of the role, the research is clear: coaches have a powerful impact on teacher practice, and professional development greatly helps them maximize their role.
Strong literacy skills are a key factor for a student's educational achievement and career. But while the debate around higher academic standards has sharpened national focus on the reading of complex, discipline-specific informational texts, educators have been grappling with how to help content-area teachers support student literacy for decades.
Traditionally, content-area focused teachers, particularly in middle or high school, have not been trained to teach students how to access rigorous texts, including which disciplinary-specific strategies to use, how to break down and think about disciplinary text, or how to grapple with difficult questions while reading closely.
To address this challenge, Wyoming's Uinta County School District #1 is engaging in long-term, comprehensive literacy-focused professional learning in social studies, science, and vocational education.
It’s a familiar professional development experience for many educators: Seven middle school math teachers gather around student work and content area standards in preparation to observe an experienced consultant teach a group of eighth graders how to talk about their own learning, which today includes how to graph on a coordinate plane.
The teachers are eager to hear their students talk about their learning in the classroom. They are also eager to try out some different instructional strategies to support math discourse. By the end of the day, they leave the session excited to take their learning back to their classrooms.
Teaching is a complex and sophisticated endeavor. It involves thousands of decisions every day and requires teachers to constantly adjust their instructional practices to meet the needs of their students. To help them with this challenging task, school districts have put in place instructional frameworks and rubrics.
These frameworks and rubrics are intended to capture the complexity and sophistication of teaching across grade levels and content areas and give everyone a common language when talking about classroom teaching. But as instructional leaders and teachers increasingly have a shared general understanding of what good teaching looks like and how it is evaluated, many are asking how to grow teaching practice — in particular, content areas like math, language arts, social science and others. They are asking about using frameworks in content-specific ways to develop content-specific thinking habits.
At a recent high school English department professional development session in our partner district in Avoyelles, La. I observed teachers reading Elie Wiesel's Nobel lecture, "Hope, Despair, and Memory", a text that is included in the ninth grade curriculum. It is a powerful text on the importance of memory to counter hatred and build peace. It explores abstract concepts like the task of remembering horrific, traumatic events while stepping into the future with optimism. The teachers were clearly touched by the message and wanted their students to read it. But they wondered: could the students handle such a challenging text?
As curriculum packages and units of study aligned with the Common Core State Standards become more wide-spread, educators across the country face this challenge everyday. The standards push us to raise the rigor of texts while decreasing the amount of scaffolding, and educators are wondering how to best support students who read below grade level.