EDI works with schools to turn their initiatives into implemented programs through the professional learning of their educators. We collaboratively support school leadership teams in using data to frame the learning outcomes for the specific learning communities within your school, including leaders, teachers and students. We design professional learning programs to move teams of teachers’ in their knowledge, skills and dispositions to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Collection and analysis of data takes place throughout the program. In collaboration with the leadership team, next steps are determined and agreed in achieving the outcomes. All of our in-school inquiries align with research-based, professional learning standards to ensure quality of each professional learning program.
Developing Phonological Awareness in Young Children - a teacher’s perspective
Qatar Academy Doha (QAD) takes language learning very seriously. It is evident in their program of inquiry, planning meetings, school wide goals and leadership discussions. Language learning is unique in QAD preschool; we have an integrated model of instruction where an Arabic teacher and an English teacher co-teach within the same classroom. It is not a side-by-side translation, but authentic learning and teaching where the languages support and build on each other. Children are able to naturally code-switch within the classroom and go deeper into inquiry in both languages. We found the need to create a deeper understanding for both teachers and students of how language works and felt that the focus needed to be shifted to phonological awareness before introducing print to young children. Through the professional development providers in QF, EDI, the team developed a tailor-made module, a series of short workshops which focused on phonological and phonemic awareness. The module planning team consisted of preschool lead teachers, the pedagogical leadership team of PYP and curriculum coordinators, assistant principal and spear-headed by Natalie Croome, the lead trainer at EDI. It was broken up into five separate 2-hour sessions which were spread out over the course of 5 months throughout the academic year. We also had an invited guest, James Hall, who is a linguistics expert. James provided us with the developmental milestones of sound progression from babies to 7-year olds. The objective of this module was to create a phonological awareness curriculum document that would be used for planning and assessment.
The Arabic and English teachers, facilitated by the planning team, worked side by side, explored the current research and came up with a continuum of what is expected of young children in terms of language learning. We watched videos of how language must be scaffolded, we learned strategies which were applied on specific groups of children within the classroom during the course of the module, and we reported back on our findings. We consulted the PYP language scope and sequence, world-wide phonological awareness documentation, read research on how language works, and looked at the acquisition of sound progression through the developmental stages from babies to 7-year olds. All of this was done in order to form a comprehensive understanding of sound manipulation in young children. Our approach to the module was inquiry-based, with constant questioning and reflecting where teachers built and developed their knowledge base and classroom implementation. We wanted to hone down on what was working and what areas needed our further attention through micro and macro-scaffolding.
The end product of the module was a bilingual understanding, Arabic and English, of how language learning works in the child’s brain. We put the emphasis on sound and silence, words in a sentence, sounds in the words, rhyming, alliteration, syllabication and onset-rime blending strategies.
This was all evident in our phonological awareness continuum which was then developed and adapted as one of the main sources of curriculum documentation for language, in both Arabic and English. Children are now getting authentic sound instruction before print is introduced. The powerful thing about this module was that it wasn’t a generic blanketed professional development but was customized specifically to QAD to include voices from the teachers by involving the teacher leaders in planning and by collecting teacher feedback forms. It considered the struggles of the teachers within the context of the school. It was based on research that tells us that introducing print too quickly to young children will actually have an adverse effect on reading later on in life. It brought the focus back to sound manipulation and created a curriculum document that the teachers developed themselves which was previously missing. This, in and of itself, was powerful for teachers as they became the drivers of learning in their classroom and were able to have an impact on what and how they teach language based on current research.
Qatar Academy Doha
From Inquiry to Impact: Reimagining In-school Professional Learning
Who would’ve thought that a simple idea written on a sticky note in a workshop would result in significant changes in teacher practices and student learning outcomes throughout the early years section of Qatar Academy Doha (QAD).
In December 2016, leadership teams from Qatar Foundation (QF) Schools attended a Simon Breakspear workshop; Empowered Leaders of Learning, hosted by the Education Development Institute (EDI). The workshop revolved around the idea of maximising the impact of a professional learning design using short action cycles, which Breakspear coined “Improvement Sprints”. Through this professional learning experience, new concepts and ideas were being contextualized in participants’ minds. Specifically, Joanna Mathison, Assistant Principal and Wendy Egan, Curriculum Coordinator at QAD, who were intrigued by the potential of a whole-school professional learning program that was agile enough to evolve through continuous reflection.
During the session, Natalie Croome, who worked as a Lead Trainer at EDI, engaged in a discussion with Mathison, and the possibility for a collaborative pilot for in school professional learning between EDI and QAD emerged. A series of meetings followed to determine the direction and learning outcomes of this training and an in-school inquiry targeted at phonological awareness in English and Arabic was born.
Professional Learning Standards
The success of the program was due to the consideration and inclusion of professional learning standards from Learning Forward. These standards are designed to outline the characteristics of professional learning that lead to effective teaching practices, supportive leadership, and improved student results. Using the approach of whole-school professional learning at QAD, strengthened the learning community. The inclusive nature of the design of the modules allowed all those involved to take collective responsibility and contribute to shared goals around improving the phonological awareness of early childhood students.
The modules gave space for equitable participation and collaboration amongst Arabic and English teachers. The modules followed a Simon Breakspear approach of “innovate, incubate and amplify”. The innovation came from the school leaders in collaboration with EDI, the incubation stage started with early years teachers in 2017-2018 and it was later amplified to include a wider learning community across several grade levels. In 2018-2019, new and customized modules were designed and facilitated for instructional assistants, the Early Childhood Center and grades two and three. In addition, the learning community was constantly being reflected upon and consequently decisions were made to include librarians, instructional coaches and learning support specialists to ensure that the impact of this professional learning was optimized. Building and continuously growing the learning community was one key to the success of the professional learning program.
An Innovative Learning Design
As the identified learning outcome was ensuring a common understanding of phonological awareness, the theory of change was that a consistent and informed focus on phonological awareness would improve student outcomes in reading and writing in the future. According to Joanna Mathison, “spending time in early manipulation of sound and phonemic awareness is imperative to future success”. The learning design that aimed to achieve these outcomes was short after school workshops utilizing targeted modules, for Kindergarten, grade one, and preschool three and four.It was thought that by targeting these grade level groups, there would be an increased chance of improving the impact on phonological awareness for students, setting them up for future literacy success.
During the module, sessions were launched over several weeks, allowing time and space for teachers to research, experiment, implement and contextualize new learning in their classrooms. Every session provided space for reflections and feedback from colleagues thus strengthening and building the learning community. According to Croome, who was heavily involved in the planning and delivery of the modules, “all teachers learning at the same time had a big impact.'' The whole-school approach was key in bringing the learning community to the forefront and understanding the impact this can have on professional learning and student learning.
Following the success of the modules in building a common understanding and the creation of a phonological awareness playbook for teachers, additional modules ran for instructional assistants, preschool three and four and the Early Childhood Center (ECC). This helped share the learning from the first group and ensured traction of the new thinking and strategies.
Equity of access to professional learning
The first module was conducted solely in English. Through continuous reflection and prioritizing the importance of inclusivity across the learning community, the module was developed into a bilingual program, to include Arabic teachers more equitably and respectfully.
Implementing professional learning through an in-school, bilingual, whole-school approach did present its challenges. The module was inclusive of Arabic and English teachers yet it took some time to figure out the balance between the need for bilingual sessions and monolingual sessions. According to Yara Darwish, a former EDI Bilingual Coordinator involved in this project, “It couldn’t be completely and immersively bilingual as naturally people thrive in their own languages.” A system was created whereby sessions would start bilingually, then breakout into two monolingual groups to delve into the technical knowledge to empower all teachers, through the opportunity to discover this knowledge in their own language. Towards the end of the sessions, the whole group would reconvene to touch base in a bilingual setting. Darwish says that although this system worked, at times the discussions occurring in the English group differed from those occurring in the Arabic group which presented some challenges when reconnecting the groups.
Despite this, QAD persisted in strengthening the focus on a whole learning community through adopting a system for teacher observations. A model was created that allowed teachers to observe one another through an online sign-up platform where teachers would announce the date and time of their intended phonological awareness integrated class and other teachers in the school could sign up to attend those lessons. This was an attempt to continuously strengthen the learning community, allow for peer-feedback and share best practices.
The role of Leaders was extremely influential in the impact of the modules. Initially, leadership teams identified the key areas of desired improvement in student learning and what the teachers needed to know and be able to do to design the content to be explored in each session. Following this, members of the leadership team were involved in all planning meetings and were present in all the professional learning sessions. Their very presence and involvement highlighted the importance of the professional learning taking place for all participants. Lead teachers were integrated into the planning sessions which empowered them and added to the agility of the process. A collaborative learning design team that included Lead Teachers, EDI facilitators, the Principal, Assistant Principal and Curriculum Coordinators enhanced the professional learning. The learning designs in place were participant-focused with space for sharing new learning, reflecting and researching to ensure active engagement. The teachers as participants were applying and testing their new learning and recording what was working, when and for whom, within their specific QAD student body.
Data collection played a key role in the decisions and shifts of direction as the modules moved forward. Each new step in this process was driven by feedback from module sessions, the data leaders collected from planning meetings and classroom observations. Teachers were required to collect data in their classrooms to begin the implementation of new learning and determine what worked with their students in developing their phonological awareness skills. Sharing the data between colleagues allowed for constructive feedback which, in turn, supported the professional learning occurring in the sessions and made the teacher learning more effective. Collection of data helped teachers dissect and analyse areas of improvement. Analysis of data also provided insight into and an opportunity for improvement in the curriculum documents and assessment tools that were being used at the time. This was an unexpected outcome of the program suggesting that the impact went beyond teacher learning and changes in their practice to other areas of their work.
Three years on and the QAD team is still reflecting on their practice, curriculum and assessment tools related to the teaching and learning of phonological awareness. In fact, QAD is currently working on an Arabic phonological awareness assessment tool. According to Mathison, this process has “left us with more questions to explore than what we started with.”
A major factor in the success of the program is the fact that it was driven by leaders, supported by professional learning standards and the leaders took the role of leaders of learning. Designing the teachers' learning, by having continuous input across the academic year, collecting data on improvement sprints, sharing and analysing that data and using it to make decisions on what to do next, intensified the impact of the professional learning.
What started as a QAD phonological awareness project has cultivated a culture of continuous professional learning within the whole school, specifically, a bilingual learning community where everyone is working towards a common understanding and shared goal of improving students phonological awareness and therefore learning outcomes.