November 1st, 2016
Stenhouse editor Tori Bachman gives us a behind-the-scenes peek into creating the Growing Independent Learners online workshop with Debbie Diller. The workshop is now available on our website!
By Tori Bachman
As we neared the finish line of editing the manuscript for Debbie Diller’s Growing Independent Learners, Debbie brought up a new Big Idea: an online workshop to help teachers really dig in to the ideas presented in the book, to show how to assemble all these pieces from standards to team planning to classroom organization to whole-group instruction, small-group differentiation, and ultimately, independent literacy work at stations.
Stenhouse has never created an online course, but as we started to research and think it through, it became more and more clear that this was a perfect book to start with.
After about a year of planning, Stenhouse video editor Nate Butler and I traveled to Houston to film the video portion of the online course. Nate has done many video projects in his career; I have not. In a way my newness was a good thing: I didn’t know what to expect, so I just paid close attention and tried not to get in the way. But in the end, I not only learned a lot about video production, I also learned a lot about Deb’s teaching philosophy, her instincts in the classroom, and her gift with children. And reflecting on the experience, I see three main points that apply both to the creation of the video and Deb’s Growing Independent Learners model:
Planning and organization are critical to success – and help you make in-the-moment decisions
Deb and I spent a full year, along with Nate and our colleagues, planning the outline and structure first, then filling in details to flesh out our vision for what to capture on film. We wrote a script for Deb to follow in the scenes in which she’s addressing the camera, along with bullet points we wanted Deb and the teachers to discuss in more off-the-cuff conversations. Nate and Deb created a shot list, and from that Nate developed a shooting schedule. We had a professional crew on site – cameraman, sound engineer, and teleprompter – to bring all this planning to fruition. We shot for three full days in two locations – Deb’s house and an elementary school in Houston. All that advance planning made the small hiccups completely manageable. We all had a clear vision and direction for the project, so we were able to make decisions in the moment, and we were able to add and take away and go with the flow. Planning! It’s critical. And a big part of Deb’s philosophy of teaching. I get it now.
There’s no substitute for a good team – in school, in the workplace, during a video shoot
A big evolution in Deb’s teaching over the years has been the critical role of teachers working together to plan instruction. We see it big time in the new book, then watch teachers planning with Deb in the online workshop. As I sat behind the scenes on the video shoot, it struck me how important our team was in the process: every person had a role and a distinct skill or strength to bring to the project. I know nothing about operating a boom mic or sound board, for instance, but James knew what every dial and knob on that board controls. It’s the same in your school, too, I’m sure: You may have a knack for teaching the finer points of writing, but your colleague really shines when it comes to breaking down mathematical thinking. You work together to fine-tune how your students learn and grow their thinking.
Kids really can reach independence – and they’ll have fun doing it – within a few months
Seeing literacy work stations in action, I have to admit, was a highlight of this past year for me. It’s one thing to read about children working independently – understanding it cognitively, seeing photos, hearing anecdotes – but my understanding and appreciation reached a whole new level as I watched first graders reading and writing together, listening to books and retelling to their partner, using academic vocabulary and pretty sophisticated language…and all on their own. Their teacher, Tracy Gilbert, taught small groups during work station time, using smaller versions of anchor charts she’d created with the kids during previous whole-group lessons.
We know these kids didn’t jump right in to independent work from day one. Literacy work stations take planning, teamwork, and thoughtful scaffolding through whole-group lessons and small-group instruction.
At the end of the three-day shoot, I returned home tired yet completely energized. This has been perhaps the most collaborative and creative project I’ve worked on – and seeing Deb in her “natural environment” in front of a room full of antsy, eager, brilliant little ones was the perfect culmination of over a year of work.
Entry Filed under: Literacy