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Applegarth Middle School
Professional Development Period
Applegarth Middle School utilizes a Professional Development Period (PDP) for all staff members to make collaborative discussion systemic and reform effective. This program began eight years ago and has evolved into a differentiated program designed to give staff members the support they need to improve their instruction in the classroom and to ensure that we collectively deliver the best in middle level education. Each teacher has an assigned professional development class period during two of the school year’s four marking periods.
New teachers to our building meet in small discussion groups with our assistant principal to discuss these books and maintain journals to reflect on their instruction. Veteran teachers are offered a differentiated professional development curriculum, where they select a path to further their understanding of effective middle level practices. They often work collaboratively with other staff to complete their readings and activities and meet at the end of the quarter with the principal to debrief what they have learned and implemented. Teachers are encouraged to observe one another’s classes to see these practices in action. PDP was the means by which our school would achieve academic excellence and social equity for students in a developmentally responsive way.
PDP has been the catalyst for a number of the academically excellent programs at Applegarth. Through professional development, teachers have been able to create units of study based on backward design and drawing on the fundamentals of differentiation. Several units have been created as a result of our professional development:
- The Language Arts Literacy department has a unit devoted to culture, designed with essential questions and differentiated activities. In this unit of study, students examine the historic culture of the 1960s as they read The Outsiders. The project incorporates various modalities of learning, and in conjunction with the Social Studies, World Language, and Mathematics departments, they also research their own culture and explore diversity and community.
- The science teachers have also utilized the Understanding by Design via Differentiated Instruction methodology to develop various units of study on the universe, planets, Earth, rocks, and minerals. Students investigate and explore topics as they work to develop a deeper understanding of science while in mathematics students study the overarching idea that probability plays a role in daily life. Students explore the essential question, how are graphs like stories whereby they can be used to make inferences, predictions, comparisons, and draw conclusions?
PDP has continued to focus on providing staff the tools to meet the specific needs of middle level learners at Applegarth. The staff began last year, and are continuing this year, to focus on formative and summative assessment practices with the belief that data collection, when used to inform teaching, is the at the epicenter of a responsive, differentiated learning environment. In the first year of this ongoing study, the staff was charged with reading Classroom Assessments and Grading that Work, by Robert Marzano or Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli in order to better understand the research and ideals that support meaningful assessment. The staff will choose one of two assessment-related paths. In both paths, the staff may choose to continue their research by reading one of the aforementioned books or the new addition of A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor. The staff is then charged with reflecting not only on what was read but also its practicality for everyday use in the classroom in a weekly reflective journal. For the second half of the year, the path splits based on the readiness level of the faculty member. In the first path, the staff member develops specific formative and summative assessments using their newly acquired knowledge. In addition, the assessments are observed and critiqued by a colleague. In the second path, the staff are provided with advanced supplemental materials to provide a guided study in the development of further assessments.
Lessons learned in PDP have affected the physical landscape of the building. Because of the increased emphasis on flexible grouping and cooperative team activities, many teachers have forsaken their individual student desks for tables that are conducive for collaborative student work. Academic teams often are found using the cafeterias or gymnasium to conduct team-wide investigations and activities. This is a primary result of the school movement toward differentiated instruction.
Our professional development program distinguishes us from other middle schools and gives us an incredible opportunity to advance middle level education. This time enables us to reflect on our practices and maintain an ongoing discussion about academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, and social equity.