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'LessonCasts': Flipped PD for Teachers

From the ASCD annual conference in Chicago

Here's a teacher professional development idea that I hadn't heard of before. And it comes in three-minute chunks called LessonCasts.

In a session on Saturday, Nicole Tucker-Smith, a former assistant principal in Baltimore County, described how she'd set out to solve one of the most challenging issues related to teacher PD: How do you provide PD that's neither overwhelming for new teachers nor repetitive for seasoned teachers? Is there a format that can be truly valuable for everyone?

She decided to use a form of teacher-led PD in which teachers record themselves explaining a teaching strategy that they are strong in to a colleague. The two- to three-minute voice recording is accompanied by a PowerPoint or a video and, Tucker-Smith explained, is meant to offer something the listener can put into practice right away. "It's not a lesson plan. It's more like a teacher-to-teacher conversation. As a teacher, when I wanted help, I never asked to see a lesson plan. I asked, 'What did you do?'"

Tucker-Smith's school began making LessonCasts (which she also calls teacher-created videos) to address the area in which students were struggling the most: reading comprehension. Each LessonCast addressed a smaller skill related to comprehension—for instance, visualizing, summarizing, synthesizing, making inferences. At first, Tucker-Smith chose the strategies and made the LessonCasts herself. "When you say to a teacher, 'You have two minutes to explain an idea, go!,' that's really tough." Eventually central-office staff members and teachers began making them as well.

Each LessonCast begins with an introduction explaining why the strategy is useful, followed by an explanation of the procedure, possible ideas for differentiation or interdisciplinary work, and a closing. In creating them, Tucker-Smith said, it's important to have a "storytelling element" and to figure out, "What's the uncommon insight that can help a teacher put this idea into practice? What are the key stumbling blocks you might be able to help somebody through?" She emphasized that it's "really important to keep it under three minutes. Beyond that is too much to expect somebody to implement the next day."

Her teachers would listen to a LessonCast at home and then meet to discuss how they planned to implement the strategy—in a sense, using the the flipped classroom model for PD. After implementing for a week, they would come back together to debrief and possibly make changes to implementation. After another week of using the strategy, they assessed their students on the skill.

In an extension of the PD model, the educators made a very quick "look for" cheat sheet for each strategy. The sheet tells a classroom observer what to look for when a teacher is implementing that strategy.

While the "normal school-improvement cycle takes a year" because it relies on standardized test scores, she said, these teacher-created videos and collaborative-planning sessions can help teachers implement change in just two weeks. Tucker-Smith said her school went from being restructured in 2010 to meeting expectations last year "in every subgroup, in every category, including special education." She cited the use of Lessoncasts as being among the factors that contributed to this growth.

Tucker-Smith has since left the district, branded her LessonCast idea, and made helping schools implement them a full-time job. While she's clearly a motivated and energetic educator, she's a bit apologetic as a businesswoman. She emphasized that the resources she mentioned are all free but that she charges a small fee ($45) for a course on how to make and use the teacher-created videos. You can find a short version of her her presentation, some sample Lessoncasts, and the "Look fors" here.

When asked why teachers would make LessonCasts for their own schools rather than simply pulling from the existing bank of free LessonCasts, Tucker-Smith said either can work. But "there is a power in having a voice from your community sharing these ideas," she said.

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