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Teacher Learning Through Critical Friends Groups: Recontextualizing Professional Development in a K-5 School

Priya Poehner

Doctoral Candidate: ---

Professional Development
Many professional development programs currently offered focus on merely exposing teachers to the latest theories and initiatives without providing the conditions required for them to be linked to and to potentially improve actual classroom practice. Professional development programs can play a crucial role in fostering student achievement through a transfer of the training to classroom practices. Some schools are consequently moving toward initiatives that provide a more dialogic and meaning-making view of teaching and learning, whereby teachers take a more active role in their own development, collaborating with others in their profession to address various pedagogical problems (Clark, 2001).

Collegial Supervision
Glatthorn (1987) refers to these collaborative processes as collegial supervision, and suggests that it can include professional dialogue, curriculum development, peer supervision, peer coaching and action research. Teacher learning in collegial supervision occurs through interaction in the social and cognitive activity of teaching rather than through the transmission of

Collaborative Inquiry
Collaborative inquiry requires that teachers meet in groups to talk about individual issues of teaching and learning that emerge out of each members unique experiences. This approach allows teachers to participate in professional development activities that are tailored to their specific needs and interests and that provide teachers with a way to use their classrooms as a site for their own learning. Such professional development opportunities strengthen the collegial bonds that exist between teachers as they make their work public while seeking answers to tough questions that they are unable to solve on their own.

What is a CFG?
It is a model of professional development that involves groups of teachers meeting on a regular basis to identify, present and reflect on questions that are inherent to a particular teachers classroom and practice. Group members are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning.

Critical Friends Groups


The concept of Critical Friends Groups is relatively new. It was created in 1994, at the Annenberg Institute, and has grown significantly since then. The goal of the program was to identify student learning goals that make sense in their schools, look reflectively at practices intended to achieve these goals, and collaboratively examine teacher and student work in order to meet that objective.
As with other collaborative models of professional development, CFG is not meant to be an evaluative tool, but rather a means for teachers to direct their own learning and reflection. Teachers publicly state their goals for both their students and themselves as they present their dilemmas of practice to the group.

Research Question
How can a Vygotskian theoretical framework contribute to our understanding of teacher learning within the context of CFGs?

The Describing the Student Work Protocol

All conversations within CFGs are structured around specific protocols (procedural steps and guidelines) that are both time- and topic-driven.

Methodology
This study is one of the first attempts to look at Critical Friends Groups (CFG) from a SCT perspective. The CFGs formed where the data were collected were named Conversation as Inquiry Groups (CIG) Participants

The data collected were narrative in nature and portray various sides of the presenting teachers experience as she grappled with her

Methodology
The focus is not on discovering what is going on in these teachers classrooms, but on how these teachers are interpreting and explaining their experiences through their orientation to the dilemma to which they are presented in the group. Data Collection: 1) direct observation and videotaping of parts of the CFG process; 2) numerous in-depth and open-ended interviews with presenters; and 3) written documents that include reflections and student work.

The Dilemma
Annas dilemma was selected for further analysis, because it was really impacting in the self-reported growth of the group as a whole. Her dilemma regarded the performance of one of her students during a Writers Workshop.

The Describing Student Work Protocol


The parts of the text that were written in red ink during Annas conference with Kayla are indicated by italicized font with the red writing representing the changes that Anna had made to the initial writing.

The Describing Student Work Protocol


The state the obvious round

The debriefing round

Transforming Practice
It was possible to verify three immediate changes to Annas Writers Workshop, which were due to her reconceptualized notion of the dilemma: 1) she allowed students to continue working on their small moment writings;

2) she presented some strategies to the students, regarding how to use the time more efficiently while writing;
3) she restructured her Writers Workshop, incorporating more student-student interaction into the program.

Recontextualization
The CFG experience helped Anna to successfully create a greater classroom environment and transform her material activity. However, according to a Vygotskian perspective, these improvements alone do not guarantee that development has taken place, because development must transcend the original situation and be transferred to different activities and contexts. Anna actually transcended her dilemma by adapting and using a CIG protocol in a context that was not the one it was created for (with her students), reveling that she indeed learned and developed as a teacher,

Recontextualization
Anna described some of the modifications in her inquiry paper as follows:

Conclusion
The chapter emphasizes the importance of identifying and creating connections between student learning and teacher practice. It also highlights the importance of collaborative learning for professional development, especially trough CFGs. Not only teachers benefit from professional development initiatives, but also students, as far as the teacher is able to transfer what he/she has learned to classroom practices.