August is a time for professional development in our district. Sessions are held almost daily, with topics such as technology integration, working in a collaborative teaching environment, first aid/CPR training, and content specific training (ie. TI-Nspire training for math teachers). I attended several sessions this August, but two in particular really gave me pause.
One of the sessions had a LOT of important information. It was an all day session with structured breaks and a break for lunch, with many speakers addressing different topics. There was one activity that required attendees to get up and stand in a different part of the room for about 10 minutes, but other than that, we primarily sat and listened. The speakers were good – they were knowledgeable, had presentations to go along with their content, and most infused some humor along the way. Even though the content was very important, a casual glance around the room revealed very little engagement. Almost everyone had their laptops open. Some were a little more discreet flipping through email on their phones under the table. A few at each table were attentive, but as the day progressed, fewer and fewer people were really engaged.
A few days later, I attended a second session on a completely different topic. Again, we were at tables, and outlets were available for our laptops. Our introductory activity immediately had us up and moving. We were given name tags with pizza ingredients on a lanyard, but they were displayed hanging down our backs so we could not see our own ingredients. You had to find a group with other ingredients by asking yes or no questions about your ingredient until you formed a group of five making a complete pizza. After finding (and confirming) four other group members, the group set to work on a jigsaw activity. We came back to our original groups to share the information we had learned. The day continued in mostly this fashion. There were presentations broken up by group activities. We had think/share questions and discussed insights and opinions frequently. We took restroom breaks as needed (the group carried on while you were out of the room) and the inservice was over before I realized so much time had passed. I left the inservice energized, excited about the content and reflected over it long after I was home.
I know (most) of my students enjoy days that are more like the second in-service, with opportunities to get up and move, and activities involving collaborative groups. But some small part of me always thinks if the material is REALLY IMPORTANT, I need to structure the lesson more like the first session by telling them exactly what they need to know. Why is that? I can honestly say I remember the content from the second session because I was engaged 95% of the time. I’d have to refer back to the notes I took in the first session as I was not nearly as engaged. While both sessions offered new content, perhaps the biggest takeaway wasn’t the actual content of either session, but a reminder about the importance of engagement in the learning process. With the new school year beginning, this was the perfect catalyst to ensure more of my lessons are structured with engagement in mind 😀