We know that students learn best when they are invited to play an active role in their education—and there is plenty of research to support that idea. Active engagement is even more critical for adult learners. And yet, too much of the professional development teachers receive places them in a passive role.
A growing body of research is documenting how teachers experience professional learning and what they find most relevant and meaningful. For example, read what a group of teachers had to say about a recent research study on the typical professional development they receive (Blanton, Broemmel, & Rigell, 2019):
- “You are just sitting in a seat thinking, ‘When do I get outta here?’”
- ‘‘You’re just listening or watching something but you really don’t have interaction.’’
- ‘‘That’s what, I think, lacks in a lot of professional developments is that you don’t have an opportunity to respond! It’s just, ‘Okay, what time is it?’”
Now contrast that to the comments the same group of teachers made about professional book studies they had participated in:
- “I felt like I had some greater insight just from reading the whole book myself and then being able to have our lively discussions and proactive solutions to problems. Like a member of a group that was accomplishing something.’’
- ‘‘The book study gave me the opportunity, again, to collaborate and then practice what I read. So it gave me opportunity to actually have more hands-on [learning].’’
Beyond being engaging for teachers, book studies are well-supported by research and consistent with federal guidelines of what high-quality professional development should look like. The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act created a new definition of professional learning, describing it as “activities that are sustained, intensive, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom focused.” Well-designed book studies can satisfy all of those requirements.
In a 2019 article in the American Educational Research Journal called Speaking Volumes: Professional Development Through Book Studies, researchers documented their study of a group of teachers who had participated in a series of professional book studies. They concluded, “The book studies provided components of effective professional development and principles of adult learning. Participants believed that the book study groups provided professional development that met their needs in more powerful ways than traditional professional development.” (Blanton, Broemmel, & Rigell, 2019)
According to research, book studies are most effective when they are:
- led by teachers or coaches
- sustained over several weeks
- tied to what’s going on in the classroom
- collaborative in nature; open discussions vs. presentations
It Starts with the Book
Part of the power of book studies comes from the resource that lies at the center of them. Books that bridge theory and practice and that outline new instructional strategies and classroom management tips provide a rich source for jumpstarting reflective conversations. The book supplies a common reference point to ground the discussion, and it’s less threatening than starting with one’s own practice or that of a colleague in the room. The social nature of the conversation amplifies the ideas in the book by giving teachers the opportunity to voice their personal reactions while also hearing different perspectives. The group’s ideas build on each other as the discussion unfolds over several sessions.
Stenhouse Book Study Bundles
In order to make the coordination of book studies easier, we’ve created Book Study Bundles to give you everything you need to get up and running, including a discounted set of books, an online study guide, and a white paper on best practices for book studies, plus free shipping! See below for a list of our current bundles.
This summer, we hope you will join together with colleagues to share insights and ideas as a group, while taking advantage of our bundles and save some money while you're at it!
- Welcome to Writing Workshop by Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman
- Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had by Tracy Johnston Zager
- Necessary Conditions by Geoff Krall
- Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman
- Practicing Presence by Lisa Lucas
- Who’s Doing the Work? by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris
- The Art of Comprehension by Trevor Bryan
Blanton, B.S., Broemmel, A.D., & Rigell, A. (2019) Speaking Volumes: Professional Development Through Book Studies. American Educational Research Journal, August 6, 2019, pp. 1–31 DOI: 10.3102/0002831219867327