One Staff Developer's Perspective
By Lauren Ramers
I have been an AVID staff developer since 1999, and there is no doubt in my mind that our face-to-face training is outstanding from start to finish. I also realize that our teaching force is changing, which means that our audience’s expectations are different from they were a decade ago. The Net Generation (those born from 1980-1989) and the iGeneration (those born in the 1990s and beyond) will inevitably represent the bulk of our nation’s teaching force. They want to retrieve information from their computers or mobile smartphones, and they want it to be “on demand.” In his article, “Teaching the iGeneration,” Larry D. Rosen claims the iGeneration believes WWW stands for “Whatever, Whenever, Wherever.” If this is the case, those of us who design professional development for teachers must respond to this shift towards e-learning if we are to remain relevant and engaging.
The advantages of face-to-face staff development are obvious. Learning is a social endeavor, and AVID’s staff developers build community with and among participants as a strategy to increase training outcomes. We additionally believe that by actively engaging the participants in AVID’s instructional strategies, such as Socratic Seminar, Philosophical Chairs, and Cornell note-taking, they are more likely to take those strategies back into their classrooms and try them out. Furthermore, in a face-to-face setting, there is nothing more valuable than to have an AVID expert in the room with you to answer questions, provide advice, and share actual examples from their own classroom experience.
However, by adding online support to AVID’s exemplary face-to-face training, educators will become even more adept at employing AVID’s WICR strategies, changing the teaching practice and the cultures of their campuses.
The flexibility of online learning cannot be matched. AVID educators will invariably forget some of the information they gain during their 3-day training. Upon returning to school, they will now be able to access online interactions, which serve to reinforce what they may have forgotten, to be completed on their own time and at their own pace. Designed to support and extend the learning objectives from Summer Institute, the online interactions reflect the most current research on effective instruction within the e-learning environment. For example, Socratic Seminar is a hallmark strategy that AVID classes use to help students explore complex text more deeply through critical questioning and thoughtful discussion. Some of our participants are familiar with Socratic Seminar, but few describe themselves as skilled in facilitating these seminars within their classrooms. In most strands, staff developers lead the participants through a Socratic Seminar using a challenging text by modeling the activities that prepare students for the discussion. Participants then actively engage in a rich discussion of the text, which is followed by an in-depth debrief of the successes and challenges of the seminar. Through active engagement, our participants report that they feel more confident in trying out this strategy with their students. Nevertheless, a significant amount of time passes between Summer Institute, the start of school, and a teacher’s first planned Socratic Seminar. Educators who are uncertain of their ability to pull off a stellar first Socratic Seminar may resort back to a traditional teacher-led class discussion, which unfortunately leads to decreased student engagement.
AVID’s online interactions will help support these teachers. The interactions on Socratic Seminar remind teachers of the techniques they will use in facilitation, challenge them to improve poorly-facilitated Socratic Seminars by applying new approaches, and provide them with easy-to-download performance support tools, such as activity guidelines, rubrics, and helpful tips. Some interactions are challenging, designed to assist the learner in applying information they need to review. However, within the safety and comfort of a classroom, home, or favorite internet café, educators will receive constructive feedback when they make mistakes. Having botched many a Socratic Seminar in front of 30 less-than-forgiving teenagers, I can honestly say that I would have appreciated the chance to practice my skills online before going live.
In 2011, AVID Center will adapt a traditional staff development delivery model to the demands of audiences who are accustomed to an increasingly digitized world. The teaching force of our future will be adults who have never lived in a world without technology, electronic communication, social networking, and e-learning. In order to remain the leading college readiness organization in the world, we recognize the need to ensure the training we provide is as engaging online as it is offline.
Bio: Lauren Ramers has been an AVID educator for 14 years. She has served as a high school AVID elective teacher, coordinator, Summer Institute staff developer, English Language Arts Write Path trainer, and a trainer-of-trainers. Currently, she develops online interactions for the Blended Learning initiative and assists the Director of Professional Development in preparing staff developers for the transition to Blended Learning.
 Rosen, Larry D. “Teaching the iGeneration.” Educational Leadership Feb. 2011: 10-15.