Conferences can be exciting and fun. While research clearly shows that extended professional development is more effective than single workshops (see Effective Teacher Professional Development and Standards for Professional Learning), conferences offer the opportunity to wander into a workshop you never knew you wanted, check out the exhibits and resources, see friends and acquaintances you might otherwise not see, meet new people, and talk shop with people from across the state or country.
But what sticks?
It takes extra effort to bring home and build on the learning from conferences and one-stop workshops. Do those great handouts and freebies sit in a bag? Are those good intentions to look up the web links ever realized? What survives the return to regular life?
Sometimes, something from a single workshop can become the seed of new learning and practice...if we take the time and attention to water it.
At the 2009 MCAE (MA Coalition for Adult Education) NETWORK conference, I was captivated by Akira Kamiya's "The Art of Presentation - Beyond Bullet Lists." Akira was the Regional Technology Coordinator for the Boston center in the old SABES system. Akira wrote:
At the 2014 ACLS conference on Implementing the College and Career Readiness Standards in the ABE and ESOL Classroom, a particular slide on a presentation by Amy Trawick struck home: it seemed to exactly describe the differing ways that my colleagues and I approached lesson and unit planning. It was a relief to realize that we were all correct, but alone we were incomplete. Together, the approaches combined to create strong curricula and learning experiences for our students. I spoke with Amy at the break, studied her materials, and later counted myself extremely lucky to get to work with her when I joined the SABES PD Center for ELA.
That same conference saw me sneaking in to Donna Curry's math session after lunch; after all, I reasoned, I taught ELA and Math and needed both sessions. It was fun! We played and learned at the same time. Donna let us struggle; she did not just model a math skill and have us copy her. We had to figure things out, but with lots of support. I was entranced, and immediately wanted to sign up for more of her PD.
The 2017 COABE (Coalition on Adult Basic Education) conference got me thinking about thinking and gave me some great seeds of learning, from a session with Eric Appleton and Mark Trushkowsky of the CUNY (City University of New York) Adult Literacy Program. Their session on Teaching Science Through Inquiry incorporated inquiry into reading and writing activities about evolution. It was eye-opening and a great affirmation of teaching through inquiry still being possible even with limited "hands-on" materials and limited-time students who are preparing for standardized tests. (See their session materials.) Later communication with the presenters also affirmed that inquiry teaching is not just for math or science; Mark wrote, "I really honed a lot of my inquiry instincts in a social studies context. I used a lot of photography and a lot of role-play/writing from different perspectives." In particular, two idea kernels I've been working with since are "push cards" and "Notice and Wonder".
This year (2018) at MCAE I attended sessions on the state's policy on College and Career Readiness, creating class websites, and dyslexia. I was gifted with free resources from Townsend Press, lunched with colleagues from across the state, and waited out the April snow fall.
And now, how to make the learning continue?
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Lakshmi Nayak is the coordinator of the SABES PD Center for English Language Arts. She taught adult education classes for six years in Boston, where she focused on bringing science and social studies to life for her students, as well as teaching writing, reading, math, "Health and Wellness," and "Science of Learning." She still teaches an evening ASE Science class in Cambridge. She has also taught, coached, and tutored people of various ages, on various topics (from singing to working in India to writing essays), and in various settings (including a boat).
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