Skype: Bringing in the Experts
The Skype session with Chris was helpful as he put Common Core instruction into perspective for me. He remarked that the standards are about habits rather than morsels of knowledge. – Travis
While the three WMWP facilitators brought in different backgrounds and areas of knowledge, it was decided early on to tap into video conferencing as a way to bring in even more voices and expertise for the Donahue teachers. While most of the teachers knew about Skype, a teleconferencing tool, very few had ever tried it. Given that Skype in the Classroom now boasts a large inventory of experts who can visit classrooms and talk with students, it seemed logical that our session should also reach out virtually to experts in the field of education.
One of the focus points of the professional development was on research strategies and writing, which was identified early on as a topic of high interest as it is now a focus of the Common Core, and the Massachusetts English Language Arts curriculum. Our primary text was Christopher Lehman’s excellent Energize Research Reading and Writing, and we reached out to Chris to see if he would be willing to Skype into a session in Holyoke from an office at Teachers College Reading & Writing Project at Columbia University. He agreed, and for almost 45 minutes on a Saturday morning, Chris talked about the role of many forms of research in the classroom and answered a wide range of questions from Donahue teachers.
A few weeks later, we invited Maggie Beattie Roberts, also a senior staff developer from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and co-author of TCRWP Units of Study in Opinion, Information and Narrative Writing, to Skype in as well, and like Chris, Maggie was an invaluable voice in the room that day, bringing in her own experiences and research expertise in the field of education, with a focus on informational text writing, and again, answering questions from the group of teachers in the room.
While the books and articles we used certainly provided grounding in literacy practice, having the authors and researchers in the field in the professional development session with us was a great example of the power of professional connections and video conferencing capabilities. It also empowered the teachers to think of themselves as learners in a much larger network, tapping into the world of published writers and educational thinkers.