George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Using Collaborative Content Curation for Professional Development

Having teachers work together to seek out and evaluate potential new teaching materials is a valuable PD opportunity.

April 12, 2022
Highwaystarz-Photography / iStock

In 2019, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) published the position statement “Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age,” which captures the ever-widening scope of how the world defines literacy. Gone are the days when literacy rested on the four pillars most teachers know well: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In NCTE’s updated definition, words like consume, share, curate, and create are used instead.

Working through the definition with teachers led me to thinking about curation and how to apply it to our work. We used to think of curation in terms of museums or music stores, but now most of our world is curated for us, sometimes without our knowledge.

Not so long ago, content for students was selected, packaged, and delivered by textbook companies, and teachers had only to choose which textbook aligned with their needs. Now this job often falls to teachers, but curating from all of the available content is time-consuming, and without any parameters in place, a teacher’s choices may not be the best fit for the learning goal.

Effective Professional Development

Building a facilitated professional development (PD) opportunity for teachers to work together curating content is a way to provide collaborative learning while also collecting viable, aligned materials.

Research shows that effective PD provides teachers “an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students.” In professional development built around content curation, teachers practice some of the critical thinking skills they teach in the classroom, and they leave with a list of lesson ideas to model for students along with the texts they need for their lessons.

Experiential PD also creates camaraderie and clarity around a shared purpose, providing teachers the time for collaboration with colleagues (ideally between six and 12), which they often seek.

Purposeful Curation

First, evaluate current needs and define parameters. Teachers have a detailed understanding of their students’ identities, abilities, and cultures, so evaluating current curriculum through their contextual lens is a necessary first step.

A trained facilitator can guide conversation with key questions:

  • What kinds of texts seem to be speaking to students right now?
  • What texts are we using that no longer interest students?
  • What qualities do we need texts to have to match our student needs, learning goals, and standards?
  • What opportunities to match students and texts have we missed?
  • Are there options for expanding the types of texts we’re sharing with students, such as infographics, charts, images, and podcasts?

Once teachers have evaluated their current texts, they can create guidelines for choosing new texts. Resources such as this tool kit can provide a starting place, but collaborative conversations help teachers refine their own beliefs and knowledge, which they can draw on long past the PD day. Teachers and districts are often asked to defend their text choices, and a locally generated set of guidelines can help.

Leverage the agreed-upon parameters to guide time for curation. With lists of needs and clear guidelines in place, ask teachers to pair up or work individually to find texts. Post the guidelines so that teachers can refresh their focus periodically. It’s easy to get pulled into a spiral when looking for content. Set a manageable scope, such as in one hour, find one best text for one learning goal. At the end of the hour, take a break and move on to the next learning goal and repeat as time allows.

Use a protocol to share, evaluate, and select discoveries. Come back together as a group when discovery time is over, and set norms or community agreements. Spending the time to put norms or community agreements in place takes some of the awkwardness out of sharing, discussing, and choosing, so this is a necessary step.

Once agreements are set, put a structure for sharing into place. For example, deliver elevator speeches about favorite finds; use the “rose, bud, thorn” protocol to collect feedback; or create a bracket to guide text selection. For more structure, the Tunette protocol can be helpful. If the teachers prefer quiet thinking time, a silent gallery walk to leave feedback on sticky notes might be a better approach.

Wrap with reflection. Set aside at least 45 minutes at the end of the day to focus on the process. Ask teachers to spend some time writing (5 to 10 minutes) about the day. Keep the invitation to write open-ended. Then ask everyone to read back through their writing to surface key words, phrases, or ideas, and invite everyone to share. Researchers have found that writing helps learners of all ages construct knowledge, a key element of transfer in the conceptual model of learning. Providing time and space to construct personal meaning out of the PD experience will ensure that the findings are not immediately lost.

Then ask everyone to discuss what from this experience could be helpful to model for students. Invite the teachers to think about the following:

  • Critical thinking that guided curriculum evaluation, writing guidelines, and text selection
  • Using norms or community agreements
  • Sharing ideas and providing meaningful feedback
  • Efficiently choosing worthy texts
  • Reflecting on processes

From this discussion, ask teachers to create actionable lesson ideas and to find places in their curriculum where the ideas might fit best. Walking away with actionable ideas from the PD is another way to ensure implementation.

As with any good PD, be sure to schedule follow-up conversations to share feedback, to name and track successes, and to update curated content.

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