Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives: Power Up in Virginia

The latest installment in our series of Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives takes a look at one Virginia school on the cusp of integrating technology into instruction. They used Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning by Jen Roberts and Diana Neebe to plan for the transition, examining and planning for possible pitfalls, and easing the anxiety of many teachers who are not quite as comfortable with technology.

power-upNext February, Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, Virginia, will have universal wireless connectivity as part of a new Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative adopted by the Loudoun County Public Schools. Instead of having to reserve a laptop cart or time in the busy computer lab, teachers and students will be allowed to use tablets, smartphones, and other personal devices to access the Internet and collaborate online anytime they want. Although many educators are excited about the possibilities for extended learning, they are also anxious about the changes to instruction, assessment, and classroom protocols.

“All the staff are in different levels of implementation of these devices in our lessons,” explained Blue Ridge principal Brion Bell.

So last summer, when sixth-grade English teacher Roberta Pomponio shared a copy of Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning (Stenhouse, 2015), Bell immediately found ways to use the book with his faculty. He engaged his administrative team in a collaborative study of Power Up, and the principal also began attending twice-monthly meetings with sixth-grade English teachers who read the book together for professional learning. Bell hopes they will share strategies and recommendations with other Blue Ridge teachers in the coming months.

“No one in our entire county is as well versed as the authors are,” Bell said. “By reading the book, we were able to look at everything from assessment to delivery to teacher connectivity and using learning management systems. Everything they’re talking about, it’s like it had an immediate connection.”

Thinking About Logistics

Throughout the book, Power Up authors Diana Neebe and Jen Roberts coach teachers through changes in pedagogy, planning, classroom organization, and collaboration so they can be successful in a 1:1 environment. They offer advice about avoiding common problems, as well as suggestions for using technology to provide immediate feedback to students, improve workflow, and reduce paperwork.

Pomponio, who discovered Power Up through a Twitter exchange with the authors, said one of the most valuable parts of her collegial book study has been thinking through potential trouble spots with technology integration. For example, she and her colleagues wondered how they would avoid losing instructional time when someone’s phone battery dies at the start of a lesson or what to do when students use the Internet for inappropriate activities. The Blue Ridge teachers said the authors’ classroom-tested strategies and good humor have given them the confidence to proceed.

“We guarantee you that lessons will not always go smoothly. The website you used last week could be blocked by the content filter this week. The power will go out. The app you were sure was free no longer will be,” Neebe and Roberts write. “We could go on, but we think that’s enough to terrify you for a while. All of these issues are temporary, solvable, or rare, but they might slow you down for a day or two. Have a backup plan, and don’t panic. It is tempting to give in to frustration and vent a bit when things like this go wrong, but remember: your students are watching you.”

Such frank talk emboldened Susan McWhorter, a sixth-grade English teacher who’s been reading Power Up with other members of her content-area team. A twenty-year teaching veteran, McWhorter was anxious about the school district’s expectation that technology integration become a routine, rather than an occasional, part of classroom instruction and assessment.

“For some of us older teachers, it’s kind of scary. It’s a big step for us,” she said. “The book helped my thinking, especially reading about the other teachers using it. It’s really just about flipping your classroom around. The book is helping me to plan better, helping me to think about how I can set up something that students can immediately get into when they enter the classroom.”

Using the Free Study Guide

McWhorter and Pomponio said the book’s free study guide, available on the Stenhouse website, has been an invaluable resource. The discussion questions provided by the authors were especially helpful in preparing teachers for collegial study and filling awkward silences when the conversation ebbed.

“I would definitely recommend using the book and study guide together,” Pomponio said. “It made everybody focus on the topics and then stay focused so we didn’t get too far offtrack.”

In her own classroom she has begun trying some of the authors’ recommendations, such as using Google’s online forms to provide feedback to students and simplify her workflow. One of her favorite chapters in the book focuses on differentiation strategies and how 1:1 learning enables teachers to offer accommodations to students without calling attention to their learning challenges.

“The examples the authors give with in-class situations have been very helpful too,” Pomponio said. “My copy of the book is completely marked up and used. It’s turning out to be our bible.”

Karin Nixon, the school’s sixth-grade dean, said reading Power Up as an administrator has helped her anticipate problems teachers might have with 1:1 learning and what kind of training they might need. Because she’s been out of the classroom only a few years, Nixon said she appreciated the authors’ message that good teaching and assessment practices don’t get replaced in a 1:1 classroom. Rather, they are enhanced through tools that are more motivating and engaging to today’s adolescents.

“Good assessment is good assessment. It does not matter if it’s electronic or in person. It’s just a shift in how teachers are thinking,” Nixon said. “Once we gain comfort, the possibilities are endless.”

Add comment December 21st, 2015


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