by Terry Wilhelm
I frequently facilitate the work of school leadership teams that include teachers for whom English is a second language. After my first session with one group where I used professional group reading, an administrator asked on behalf of several of her teachers if I would please send out future material in advance. This served to reduce anxiety for those teachers in the remainder of our sessions.
As suggested in part one of this series on reading and discussing text as a part of staff development, you convey respect for your teachers’ professionalism by sending out the material in advance and informing the staff which pages will be addressed during the upcoming meeting or professional development session. Be very clear that pre-reading is an option, not a requirement. Those who are most interested or concerned about their own reading pace will then have the option of reading the material beforehand.
Another Great Alternative to the Jigsaw: Chunked and Timed
Now we’ll discuss a reading strategy I call “chunked and timed,” which is ideal for using with a selection, such as an article or book chapter, where you want every section read by each staff member and then discussed in small groups. This is in contrast to a jigsaw, where different group members read and share about different assigned sections, or a reading cascade, where each member individually selects what she or he wants to read. In this strategy, the slower readers may not read every single word, but they will have the opportunity to read the majority of the material and participate with their colleagues in the discussions of it. Here is how it works.
1. Divide the Material into Logical Sections or “Chunks.”
As you divide your material, estimate the word count for each section; use the Word Count tool if you have the document in Word format. I typically allot three minutes for sections of 450-700 words, four minutes for 700-900 words, five minutes for 900 to 1200 words, and six minutes for 1200-1400 words. All of these are rough guidelines and depend on the complexity of the material, and your staff.
2. Point Out Where Individual Readers Should Stop, and Provide a Reflective Question.
On the copies you distribute to teachers, make sure to indicate when readers should stop. Readers can then consider the reflective question until the time allotment for reading is up and discussion begins.
3. Make the Number of Minutes to Discuss Each Section the Same Throughout the Selection.
The optimum discussion vehicle for “chunked and timed” material is ordered sharing, where an object is passed to indicate whose turn it is to speak, and each speaker has a specific allotment of time (ideally, from 45 to 90 seconds). Larger groups will have shorter time frames per speaker. Each group’s timekeeper can divide the discussion minutes by the number of group members in order to inform the group how much time each person will have to speak.
In part three of this series, I described the use of an object representing a talking stick for each table group, which is very helpful for ordered sharing and other discussion protocols such as the Final Word Protocol, the topic of that post.
Here’s a sample article that has been divided in the manner described, with time allotments indicated, and a reflective/discussion question after each section. Click on the following link to download a PDF of Making a Difference, One Child at a Time.
4. Have Teachers Arrange Themselves (or Have Table Assignments in Place) into Groups as Equal in Size as Possible.
Same-sized groups will finish at approximately the same time, and groups are not so large that individual speaking times are too short. As a rule of thumb, I have found that groups of eight are a good maximum size, and five to six people is optimum.
Always respect copyright, and contact the publisher for permission to duplicate. I have never had an education publisher refuse to grant this permission for staff professional reading. If you have enough time in advance, it works well to retype the selection, breaking it into parts with time frames indicated as in the sample, and the reflection/discussion question printed at the end of each section.
5. End the Session with an Open-Ended Discussion Opportunity for Each Group.
After each group members finish their discussion, open the floor to individual or table group thoughts on the reading as well as on the process.
Continue reading: Principal as Staff Developer: Alternatives to the Jigsaw, Part Five
Terry Wilhelm has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office and area service agency administrator, and adjunct university instructor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the bimonthly magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.