Deep Dive Workshops for Specific TRU Dimensions

There is no one “right way” for an individual teacher, a group of teachers, or a professional learning community to engage with TRU. What’s right depends on context – what are the teachers’ needs and goals? We know of at least a half dozen different ways to engage with TRU: see the links to our Partners for some examples. The paper Learning with and from TRU: Teacher Educators and the Teaching for Robust Understanding Framework describes a range of examples.

Our purpose here is to describe one model and a set of tools that support it. The basic idea is that after being introduced to TRU – with workshops such as the MathNIC Introduction to TRU workshop – a group of teachers or a PLC decides which of the TRU Dimensions 2 through 5 it wants to focus on for an extended period of time – typically for a semester or a year. (We don’t separate out Dimension 1, the math is one focus of every planning session. If the math we’re planning for students to engage with isn’t rich, there’s not much point in planning.)

Say the group has picked Dimension N for its focus. For a session or two, the TRU team (or more generally, the group facilitator) brings in relevant videos. Prior to watching the tape, the community discusses the math in the videos. After watching the tape, it discusses issues related to Dimension N (and possibly more issues that arise) and the relevance of those issues to their own teaching.

One main goal of the early sessions is to build up the feeling of trust in the community, so that participants feel safe in venturing comments and observations – they need to feel that when their tapes are discussed, the discussion will be respectful and supportive. (We have a set of norms for conversations that everyone agrees to.) A second is to establish the group’s modus operandi, raising questions related to the focal dimension working through them carefully. For each dimension, a set of slides tailored to that dimension frames the issues and raises questions for the group to discuss. These slides provide the structure for all sessions devoted to that dimension.

Once the community is established and it has worked through a tape or two, the facilitator asks, “Is there anyone working on a relevant problem in their classroom who is willing to bring it to the group?” There almost always is. The facilitator then works with that teacher to identify what the teacher would like to try. They arrange for the class in which it is tried to be taped. The teacher may select a segment of tape to discuss, or the facilitator may suggest one – but the teacher always gets to frame the issues discussed and has veto power over the artifacts the group will consider.

When the right norms have been established, the group really wants to be helpful – after all, they’ll want the group’s help when it’s their turn. When a teacher returns to the group and says “I tried what we talked about and it made a big difference!” it’s easy to find other volunteers.

The group continues working on the dimension of choice until it feels it has made substantial progress. At that point they vote on which dimension will be their next focus.

At this point we have slide decks to support group conversations of some of Dimensions 2 through 5. A major challenge is finding videotapes that support rich conversations and for which we could obtain permissions for annotation and distribution. For that reason the production timeline for the deep dives is uncertain.

Next page: Partners