PLCs on RTI… Do I see UD?

The MLTI staff has been delivering leadership meetings across several regions of the state for the last two weeks (remaining destinations are Farmington tomorrow and Aroostook County in early November). A running joke has been the continuous spewing of 2-, 3- and 4-letter abbreviations during these sessions (we’ve even come to debate whether any given combination of letters technically constitutes an abbreviation or acronym…or is it an initialization??).

A PLC (I believe that’s an abbreviation) has been called upon as a model of how leadership teams might continue their work beyond the regional meeting. PLC stands for “Professional Learning Community,” and we’re promoting it as a way for leadership teams to return to their schools with a structured approach for moving forward with effective and meaningful initiatives that impact student learning. The term PLC is often used to describe any number of ways that teams of educators come together to problem solve, but a true PLC differs from a committee, workgroup, and even a Community of Practice (CoP – I believe that’s an acronym).

A PLC is grounded in student learning. That may not sound profound, in fact it may appear downright obvious. But when we really think about the roads that we go down when we meet as groups of educators within a building, we realize how often the focus diverges from student learning and winds it way to more indirect topics and priorities. Those topics and priorities are important, but if your group’s work is not immersed in student learning, you’re not in a PLC. In fact, it can be argued that discussions of teacher practice, without being centered on an artifact of student learning, don’t belong in a PLC. Again, discussions of best practice are important, but the purpose of a PLC is to uncover how and why specific kids are or are not learning.

One last critical characteristic of PLCs that make them unique is the necessity of consensus-building. Members of traditional groups often agree to disagree in a way that stifles a compromise and disables progress. You know you’re in a PLC when – after all voices have been heard – the will of the group is recognized and each member, even those most opposed, agrees that the group move forward in a common direction.

In the MLTI’s leadership sessions, the TPCK and SAMR models have provided the context of the need for PLCs. Indeed, looking at student work (yet another abbreviation – LASW) through these lenses can be highly revealing – “Is there evidence that the student has learned what was intended? If so, what is the combination of Technology, Pedagogy and Content (TPCK model) that promoted it? At what level (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition – SAMR model) is technology being used to make this learning possible?”

Although not introduced in our MLTI meetings, I’d like to suggest that a broader framework for a PLC to adopt is RTI (that’s an abbreviation). RTI stands for “Response to Intervention.” I’ll continue a discussion of RTI in my next post, but I’ll say here that the RTI framework is a perfect complement for a PLC because, in and of itself, it forces the focus on student learning. The determination of whether or not students are learning is the paramount purpose. Please understand that “students are learning” refers to the outcomes of general education – content area – teaching. RTI is rooted in student learning within general education. So, the second question becomes, “What is or is not working in the core instructional practices in the classroom?” This brings us full circle to UD (that’s an abbreviation, too): Is the disability within the learner or is it within the curriculum?

2 comments so far

  1. Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain on

    You are throwing an awful lot into the pie here! I have viewed the podcast from the latest Leadership training session, and agree that TPCK and SAMR are useful frameworks for the discussion of technology integration in a school. And I believe that this discussion is important and should be ongoing in every MLTI school. But I do not find them helpful models in the context of PLC’s in the same school – which are equally important and should be ongoing. In fact, their use might muddy the waters (or gum up the pie, in this case) by suggesting that student learning is not happening as result of how technology is or is not being used. It would be wonderful if an outcome of a PLC focusing on, say, writing in middle school would have a finding related to improved – or different – use of laptops and social networking technologies. But it would also be wonderful if it had a finding related to improving the UD of writing lessons, or the scaffolding of process, or the appropriateness of topics, or the development of different essay formats. It is hard enough for teachers to hear that student learning is best measured by mandated testing without them also being told that technology integration needs to be examined in the context of this learning measurement as well. If that is not what you mean to suggest, then perhaps you need to separate PLC from TPCK and SAMR. I think they have more value viewed, and used, separately.

  2. Cynthia Curry on

    Thanks for sharing these concerns, Elizabeth. I agree with your comments and thank you for posting them. TPCK and SAMR are complicated models for identifying a specific contributing factor as to why a student has or has not learned what was intended. That is, an examination of the alignment of the components (content, pedagogy, and learning technology) will not by itself reveal why or why not learning has occurred.

    What I meant to stress is that the process introduced at the leadership meetings must be grounded in student learning. When TPCK and SAMR are used in a process by which a team considers a common artifact of student learning or instructional practice, they become more than separate models for discussion if the focus is the impact on student learning. You’re absolutely right – a PLC will need to go beyond the process and determine a specific method, strategy, or skill to delve more deeply into. Or perhaps it will inform an existing focus of the PLC. Again, thank you for setting this straight.

    A little bit about the background of the process and why the PLC model is referenced in the leadership meetings: When reviewing 2007-08 school NoteShare notebooks, MLTI staff realized that we needed a common and practical lens for interpreting how teachers were using technology to support student learning. To accomplish that, we used a concrete template to “dissect” an example of student work (if submitted) or a teacher’s instructional practice (more often). The template helped to separate out – first and foremost – the specific content under study and the related pedagogical practices being used (C and P). Lastly, how technology was applied to leverage the content and pedagogical relationship was determined. Looking at the student work or teacher instructional practice through this TPCK/SAMR approach enabled us to examine each component separately – content, pedagogy, and lastly technology – for an assessment of how robustly they were aligned. It also contributed to deeper thinking about how student learning might be improved (whether through different pedagogy or technology application).

    What we ultimately decided to deliver at the regional meetings was this process. We found the school notebooks to be hugely helpful to our understanding of the range of ways that teaching and learning with technology are occurring across the state, and recognized the need for school teams to have a practical and coherent way of processing the samples in their own school notebook as part of their initiative to move forward. To do that, we unpacked TPCK and SAMR into a process. The misconception that we want to avoid is that the process is about the technology. If teams model after and discipline themselves as PLCs, the focus of the process will be student learning. But I agree with you – the results of the process are indirect when it comes to why or why not learning has occurred. To achieve that, the group will need to use the process to inform a more specific focus of curriculum, instruction, or assessment.

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