Feature

Embracing Teacher-Directed Professional Learning

Terri Howell, Mary Spring

It’s the third Wednesday of the month almost 4 p.m. After a busy day at work teachers are heading out the door, to pursue their own learning. They converge at Spruce Glen Public School in Huntsville to share the fine art of teaching writing.

No administrator has insisted or suggested we be here. Our study group has been gathering regularly since the fall of 2007 to share a common interest in improving our own writing skills and our skills in teaching writing, an area where our students need improvement. Luckily, in mid-2007 we were the recipients of a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) grant from the Ministry of Education. It has allowed our group to spend time studying under some of the best teachers of writing in North America, to bring that learning into our classrooms and to other teachers, and ultimately to engage our students in rich writing experiences to improve their skills.

The two of us, both experienced teachers, initiated this group. We went to New York City in the summer of 2007 for a one-week course on the teaching of writing at Teachers College, Columbia University. Recognizing the value of collaboration, we came back eager to share all that we had learned.

Today, Libs Peca is leading the meeting and we are studying Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in TinyPackages from Units of Study for Primary Writing . Libs has asked four of us read a short section of the book before the meeting, and share some of the learning tasks. Following the shared and guided practice, each of us must write independently to experience what our students experience we ask them to write. Some of us find it daunting; others less so. This writing will provide some of the mentor texts for our students the next time we teach poetry writing. We take time to discuss our work and share our learning and the implications for our children. Some of us discover that writing poetry isn’t so hard after all. A student teacher who has joined our group for the evening is amazed that writing poetry isn’t mainly about writing different types of poetry.

The writing study group is made up of about 15 regular members, from student teachers to those nearing retirement, teaching JK to grade 8. There are also two literacy coaches, a literacy consultant, and a special education resource teacher.

In the summer of 2008, using the TLLP grant to cover registration costs, seven members of the group — ourselves, Libs Peca, Wendy Stephen, Debbie Holtby, Chris Lynd, and Jennifer Clark — travelled to New York to study writing under the guidance of Lucy Calkins, founder of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project

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