Experimentation Within a Professional Learning Community
One of the professional learning community’s critical questions is, “What do we do if the kids don’t know it?” The answer is the pyramid of interventions. The first and most important step on that pyramid is first best instruction (as the DuFours and Eaker stated, “No system of interventions will compensate for ineffective teaching,” p. 255). I would like to examine that first best instruction when the majority of students are having difficulty learning specific knowledge and/or skill(s).
We know that re-teaching in the same way will almost guarantee the same results. So, we change our pedagogy and reassess. But do we know if our new methodology worked? The way to find out is to rigorously determine whether or not our changes have been successful. Our science colleagues call this the “scientific method.” This is not easy in education but professionalism requires us to attempt our best. Utilizing this method is the only way to know what we are doing is successful. Many times we find school districts investing a great deal of time, effort, and financial resources into interventions and have no idea whether or not those interventions are truly successful. Below is an example of how to know whether or not you or your team has been successful.
Have one of the teachers teach exactly the same way, but with out the pedagogical change. Or, if you have multiple sections of the same class, teach the “old” way with one or two sections and the revised way to other sections. Science names the aforementioned control groups and experimental groups. (For example, use the same amount of lecture time, practice time, reflection time, etc. The other teacher(s) should teach identically to the control teacher but add the change in pedagogy.) Then reassess. If the intervention is successful, add it to your repertoire of teaching techniques, include it in your team notebook, and celebrate a small win. If the change was unsuccessful, try some other way.
This may seem trivial, but it is not. For too long in education we have gone on gut feelings, scripted publisher programs “guaranteed” to raise the learning of our students, apparent logic, and student compliance with the work. Modern medicine would never have advanced on such weak guesswork.
Rigid reevaluation of your team’s work is the mark of true educational professionalism and provides the equity in education that all students deserve.
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.