Sunday, March 22, 2015

Learning Takes Differentiation and Time

By Jodene Morrell

This year marks my 20th year in education and I continually draw on lessons I've learned as an elementary teacher, middle school literacy specialist, student-teacher supervisor, university professor and researcher. The most important one I’ve learned and many educational researchers would agree – is that change takes time. We seem to have no patience with new curriculum, new professional development, or school reform. If we don’t see immediate results by the end of the school year, we toss it out. However, the “we” is rarely the teachers who understand that change takes time. We understand that we are investing time and energy and love and effort into the children with whom we are entrusted for a year and we may never see the fruits of our labor. But that’s not why we teach. We, and I mean the teachers, understand that we are making a long-term investment into an individual’s future, into their growth as a learner, into their self-esteem. If we are lucky, we may see phenomenal growth but most of the time we are simply adding another layer to the foundation on which they will continue to add subsequent layers of learning and growth and development.

Becoming teacher-researchers is no different. It takes time. Now at the end of our fourth year, I get to see the fruits of our labor. Conversations are significantly different. No longer do I ask the Fellows what they would like to do for their research – we talk about their existing research and then they tell me about their future research plans. In a meeting last week, one Fellow discussed final steps for this year’s research – conducting oral surveys with her first graders about their development as writers before we were launching into a conversation about next year which will focus on various forms of teacher evaluation systems. We also discussed writing an article for an academic journal over the summer. It is a profound transformation from three years ago when we were talking about how to identify a topic, how to develop a research question, what “counts” as data and so on through the research process with me leading the conversations. These days, I’m just trying to keep up with them!

The difference in learning is most obvious when we come together as a community each month at our All-Fellows meetings. Our two newest Fellows are engaging in amazing research and collaboration across state lines (NY and CT) – focusing on co-planning and teaching a unit on Malcolm X and the Civil Rights Movement from a critical perspective with their 6th and 7th graders. I forget when they ask about forms of data that this is not as “obvious” to them as the Fellows of the first cohort who began January 2012. A crude comparison would be teaching students (who come in as non-readers) to read for two and a half years and expecting a new (non-reader) student to be reading at the same level with the same comprehension, vocabulary, and understanding of text. I need to remember to step back, see how to best meet the needs and interests of the teachers, and support accordingly. It’s not so different from teaching.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we’re in this for the long haul. We recognize that there is always a new topic to research, room to grow, another article to read or write, another grant to pursue. Learning takes time – whether we are talking about K-12 children, teachers, researchers, or as a community. We are at a point, as a community, when we can talk about "years" ago when we first got started and remain enthusiastic about our upcoming plans for a new line of research. I hope this is a message we can convey to others through our publications and presentations - be patient with the learning process. We are all a work in progress.        

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