Professional development is fundamentally about helping the children we teach learn more effectively, while helping us all feel that we are growing as educators, becoming more masterful in our craft, and feeling in control of how our classrooms operate. It’s a given that the more we know about how children learn, the better teachers we will be.
The science of learning has a justifiably checkered past due to a history of often being impenetrable to the day-to-day classroom teacher because of arcane vocabulary, limited availability, and research that seemed to beg the question, “So how does this apply to the learning of the kids in front of me today?”
No more. The research is now increasingly accessible to us all and provides immediate “Monday morning” applications for enhancing the learning of the children we teach. More and more “how to” translations are being made available for us to use in our curriculum planning, instructional strategy choice, and assessment practices (please see the partial list below).
If our professional development opportunities focused more fully on this growing understanding of how children learn and how it then gets translated into our learning designs that children experience, then perhaps we’ll look forward to professional development opportunities at our schools. We might even demand that our schools devote more time to them. Especially if we see that our students are subsequently learning more effectively.
Translating the science of learning: One approach would be to develop our own site-based “learning coaches.” There is nothing wrong with an outside expert helping us learn new things but our own teachers know our school, faculty and kids best, and they can be available in an ongoing way to run workshops, work with us in small groups, and consult with us one-on-one when we need it. They also will know the work rhythms of our academic year and will know the special challenges and opportunities of our schools.
A learning coach would become in essence an expert in how children learn, tapping into the best learning research available but also making effective use of the “wisdom of practice” of our own faculties. They would look outward and inward to grow their expertise. And, they would help all teachers develop curricula, assessments, and instructional strategies that would teach our students to "learn how to learn" in enduring and transferable ways, a 21st century skill if there ever was one.
In the coming weeks we can flesh out what this might look like in different schools with different resources and constraints.
Learning coaches could be one way to embed our PD in ongoing, recursive, on-call, and as-needed ways.
Resources for the Science of Learning:
Brown, et al (2014) Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.
Carey (2014) How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About Where, Why, and How It Happens.
Deans for Impact (2015) The Science of Learning (attached)
Dunlosky (2013) Improving Students'Learning with Effective Learning Techniques. (attached)
Willingham (2009) Why Don't Students Like School.