Friday, June 4, 2010

Taking the need for content knowledge into account in professional development for PYP teachers

Here is another excerpt from my FAST TRAIN Final Reflections document, this one dealing with a specific aspect of professional development for teachers.

Early in my class work in the FAST TRAIN courses, I was introduced to various pieces of research, such as the work of Lee Shulman cited by Anita Woolfolk, that point out that possession of “deep and interconnected” content knowledge is vital in the making of a successful teacher (Woolfolk, 2008, p. 7). My personal experiences in my teaching internship served to greatly buttress what those researchers have found. For example, in my work on a Grade 2 “Solar System” unit, knowledge gained from a recently completed online undergraduate course in astronomy (which I took to fulfill a science deficiency for my teaching certification) allowed me to serve as the classroom “expert” on much of the unit’s subject matter, and to craft and deliver three very important lessons introducing the sometimes confusing concepts of motion, gravity, and orbits. I am convinced that without the background given by my course work, I would not have been able to impart the understanding that the Grade 2 students needed.

This leads me to make another potentially controversial assertion. Professional development for teachers in a PYP school should not chiefly consist of PYP-oriented training. A significant portion of professional development should be in course work directly related to the unit topics that the teacher is covering in the PYP units that their classes are engaged in. While some institutions may in fact have a more balanced PD approach, those that I have observed are weighted at least 90% in the direction of purely PYP training for their teachers (e.g., Making the PYP Happen, International mindedness in the PYP, etc.). It’s not that there is anything wrong with PYP-oriented training itself; I just see the heavy focus on it as being out-of-balance. In my observations over the last two years, I have seen many examples of units being taught by teachers with only a cursory knowledge of the unit’s subject matter, with the obvious result being that student learning, as evidenced by formative and summative assessment work, was fairly shallow.

Reference List
  • Woolfolk, Anita (2008). Educational Psychology. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

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