“Thank you, Dana,” the fifth grade teacher said to me on the last day of our lunchtime study-group. “This has been really, really helpful.”
We had just finished our six-week long study-group centered around Christopher Lehman’s book Energize Research Reading and Writing. We had read, learned, talked and laughed our way through the book. The teachers were eagerly using the things we had read about in their classrooms already. By all accounts, our study-group was a success.
In Chapter 4 of the new edition of Becoming a Literacy Leader, Jennifer Allen explains how she uses study-groups to meet the professional learning needs of the teachers in her school district. Leading study groups has become one of my favorite parts of my job as an instructional coach since I get to be “hostess and party planner” (page 65) and participant.
Find a Core Resource
Of course, you will need a core resource to study. I usually choose a professional book that aligns with our district vision and curriculum, but you could also use videos or a collection of blog posts on a given topic as your core resource. On page 67 of her book, Jennifer Allen provides a sample of the study-group options she offered one school year. I really like the idea of offering a menu of possibilities for teachers at the beginning of the year. This would provide a lot of choice in topics and timing, so hopefully there would be something for everyone.
Determine a Predictable Structure
To me, this is the golden nugget in all of Jennifer Allen’s wisdom about facilitating study-groups for teachers. Find a predictable structure and stick with it. Just like the structure of a reading or writing workshop helps students learn, a predictable structure for your study-groups will help teachers learn. A predictable structure provides teachers the comfort of knowing what to expect each week, and it eases the planning process for you as well! The structure we used for our study-groups was:
- Discuss the real-life application of the day’s topic.
- Discuss text.
- Try it out!
This format worked really well for Energize Research Reading and Writing. For example, the day we studied Chapter Three on note-taking, our agenda looked like this:
- Discuss real-life application. (5 minutes)
Are you a note-taker when you read? Why do we take notes?
- Discuss text. (15 minutes)
The author presents four possible lessons for teaching your students to take notes. What were your reactions to these lessons?
- Try it out! (20 minutes)
Try lesson titled, “Even Kindergarteners Are Taught, ‘Find the Main Idea'”.
This format allowed us to both discuss the text and give it a go ourselves each week. This format also provided an easy planning template for me. I would formulate two questions or prompts to guide our discussions, and then prepare the materials for the “Try It Out!” portion. Planning for a fifty-minute study group usually took me about twenty minutes.
In Chapter 4 of her book, Jennifer Allen describes the predictable structure she uses:
- Video Clip
- Reading Excerpt
- Putting Ideas into Practice
- Follow-Up Between Sessions
I appreciate that she provides a bit of time for teachers to dig into the reading a bit during the study-group. We always did all of our reading outside of school, and I did my best to send reminders ahead of time. Decide on a structure that fits you and your teachers, and use it consistently.
Facilitating study-groups is one of my favorite parts of my job as an instructional coach. The feedback I receive each time is overwhelmingly positive, and there is never a shortage of teachers signed up to attend. I recommend finding time in your schedule for at least one each quarter/trimester. Like Jennifer Allen wrote, study-groups are a “worthy investment.”