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March 4, 2021

So What Problem of Practice ARE You Focusing On?

The Big Tent #anewkindofPD

This important question was raised during a presentation last fall to share the work of our Reading Department through Teaching Channel. I’d raved about our becoming a Teaching Channel Team, shown evidence of our collegiality and resource sharing, and had glowed about our video analysis and participation online. But the answer to this question was, admittedly, we hadn’t really FOCUSED yet.

Our department, which I joined when I became an administrator and Elementary Curriculum Supervisor last year, had been suffering from a lack of time to meet. The Reading Team’s formerly monthly meetings had been restructured as building-level meetings. The reading teachers were feeling like islands, spread across seven buildings, and with very little time to share with colleagues within their area of specialty.

Luckily, we were quickly supported by our principals with an hour’s worth of meeting time every other month, and, in addition, we formed a Reading Department Teaching Channel Team to share and collaborate. We were proud. We learned to post, to share resources, to share and add video notes, and to have discussions via Teams. Reading teams were spinning off to become a part of other Teaching Channel Teams to deepen their sharing and reflectiveness through video analysis. Things were going so well!

In retrospect, though, our department may have been losing a little steam with our online teamwork, perhaps for the very reason of not having an area of focus.

All that changed with last week’s completely “remote” and super-successful one-hour department meeting. To prepare to deepen our experience using Teaching Channel as a tool, we had picked, by popular vote, an area of focus — questioning.

At our in-person November meeting, we worked together to practice logging in, posting, and adding video notes. We worked out many technical kinks and looked forward to our January remote session, vowing to support one another. To communicate with twenty people across seven buildings for an hour-long department meeting would be an undertaking.

The online meeting was written into learning plan steps. We would begin with our usual sharing of “successes and celebrations.” We would write about our initial thinking about questioning, and then watch the excellent video “Writing Higher Order Questions,” with Ms. Thirstine Francisco. Finally, we would answer open-ended questions about the power and purpose of questioning.

Interested in Learning Plan Steps? I'm happy to share our experiences. Email me at 

Interested in Learning Plan Steps? I’m happy to share our experiences. Email me at [email protected]

How did it go? Well, we’re pretty proud of ourselves, and laugh and gush a bit when we see one another in passing, looking forward to our February meeting to regroup — in person — and to celebrate our success.

Our evidence of success? Quotes like these on questioning:

  • “I am keen to try and capture the moment when the student has a reaction to something they just read. That emotional response is a perfect time to show students how to turn that into a question and how that can lead to greater understanding… I also found that the students appeared to be more vested in finding the answers to their (own) questions than they usually are.” — SC
  • “I definitely will be creating a short list (of question stems) for my students to have in their folders to refer to when reading and creating questions.” — SM
  • “I tried this with my Kindergarteners. Some of them were able to create some amazing questions to share with a partner! We focused on the How and Why question words to start our questions. When you give them the tools, they will respond!” — MS

Were there difficult moments? Of course. One teacher’s account needed to be reset. Another desperately missed the usual chocolates, snacks, and collegiality we typically shared in our in-person meetings. Were we able to deepen our practice of questioning, though? Definitively, yes. The quotes and continuing feedback tell me so. I look forward to our next meeting to continue our work.

We’re going to celebrate success, but we’re also interested in staying focused on questioning. I want to hear more about how our online learning and sharing experience has affected teaching and learning with our students. Many of us revisit our learning steps, continuing to read, draw inspiration, and share. One teacher recently followed up by sending along another of Ms. Francisco’s videos, “Higher Order Questions: A Path to Deeper Learning.” This will surely inspire some of our work going forward.

I will also continue to revisit Teaching Channel’s Playbook and Theory of Professional Learning for routines and resources that will continue to help our department deepen our exploration of questioning and fine tune our instruction for our students. Ironically, there’s advice there about providing question starters for teachers to spur discussion — great idea!

The deepening is solidifying for our department — as the work grows in depth and importance, our teamwork continues to flourish for our students. That’s what we’re in it for, and for the collegiality and chocolate.


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