If you had told me a year ago that I would think of online Reading Apprenticeship professional development as a good step, I would have thought you were crazy. A hybrid of face-to-face and online? Maybe. But online only? Never!
Last year, standing at a WestEd booth at the Title I Conference in Virginia where I’d just made a presentation, my colleague Mark Kerr said to me, “In 10 years there will be NO face-to-face professional development.” When I gasped (this being the core of what we do at the Strategic Literacy Initiative), he amended it a bit and said, “Well, there will be no professional development programs that don’t INCLUDE a web-based component.”
Fast forward to spring 2010. One of the most energetic faculty leaders of our far-flung network of community college teachers — Michele Lesmeister — calls me and says, essentially, “We MUST develop a course on Reading Apprenticeship for our faculty!” In response, I recite all the reasons why it can’t work: “People won’t have the personal and social connections that are crucial to the professional development we do.” “People won’t really be able to practice with and learn from each other.” “People won’t experience all the varied ways different readers make sense of varied disciplinary texts.” “People won’t….”
Michele patiently explains to me that on her campus, instructors are eager to learn more about supporting students with Reading Apprenticeship routines, but they don’t have time to come to workshops for more than an hour, maximum. And, as someone who has taught many online courses, she assures me the medium is more flexible than I imagine for learning. I remain skeptical but am persuaded that we should give it a try.
This Monday, April 25, 2011, almost a year after Michele’s insistent phone call, we launched a pilot version of the first Reading Apprenticeship online professional development course, and I have to say my mind is changing in a big way.
We’ll know more as the course goes on, but in just the first week, I’ve seen 25 community college faculty at Renton Technical College dive in and try Reading Apprenticeship practices in a way that doesn’t usually happen after people come to one workshop. I have been very impressed with the focused and rigorous text-based discussions people are having on the discussion board, and I am eager to see how they will interact with the streaming videos and models of metacognitive conversation routines that will be introduced during the 30 hours of this 3-unit course.
For now, Reading Apprenticeship online PD is available only at the Renton campus as a pilot for a community college course. In the summer of 2011, we will offer the course to other community college faculties on a first-come basis. Beyond that, plans for other courses are in development. Stay tuned.
Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach
Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cynthia Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.