Using the Page Turner for Professional Development
Afterschool programs run on limited everythinglimited funds, limited staff, limited time. However, the fact remains that a quality program needs staff members that are not only caring but also well trained. Skilled afterschool practitioners are developed, not born. Since you probably can't afford to bring in an "expert" to facilitate in-service training, you need other optionssuch as study circles, collaborative teams, individual projects, peer observations, demonstrations, apprenticeships, research projects, and observations and feedback from senior staff. Study circles are among the simplest and most cost effective choices. Research has shown that groups that feature collective participation over time yield better training than do short-lived professional development events such as workshops.
A study circle is a groupyour entire staff, if possiblethat meets regularlysay once a monthto talk about an issue. In a study circle, everyone has an equal voice, and people try to understand each other's views. They do not have to agree with each other. The idea is to share concerns and look for ways to make things better. A facilitator helps the group focus on the topic at hand and keeps the discussion moving. A study circle can give your staff opportunities to read an article, discuss it, and engage in activities that can help them think of ways to improve their practice. The Page Turner feature The Wire, focusing as it does on theory and research on literacy in afterschool programs, provides good material for study circle sessions.
Four steps constitute a study circle session:
Pre-reading activities warm participants up to the article they're about to encounter, giving them a chance to think about what they already know (prior knowledge) and building interest in the article's subject. Good pre-reading activities relate participants' experience to the topic of the article. For instance, if I were running a study circle on this issue's The Wire, "When Too Easy Is Just Right", I might start by asking participants to close their eyes and visualize a situation in which they have observed a child selecting a book or helped a child to do so. What does the child say and do? What, if any, assistance do they offer the child? I would give staff members about ten minutes to describe the situation in writing. After each person has come to a logical stopping point, I would ask people to share what they have written.
Depending on the length of the article, I might opt to read the article first silently and then aloud. Reading aloud is useful when an article is particularly dense.
Next, I'd invite staff members to share their initial impressions of the article. If I have at least five or six participants, I'll divide them into small groups of two to four people apiece. Each group should appoint a scribe to record the group's comments and a reporter to explain the comments to the other groups. When they've shared these initial reactions with the other groups, I'd ask each group to delve deeper and discuss the actual content of the article. Here are some general questions that work for most articles:
I'd include at least one question specific to the article at hand that focuses on how the article might help us improve our practice. For "When Too Easy Is Just Right," the question would be something like this:
Once again, groups report back to each other. If all goes well, groups' different perspectives will spark more discussion.
Finally, I would have the whole group briefly evaluate the experience of reading and discussing this article. I might use the use the following discussion prompts.
What I outlined is a basic script; you should feel free to use what I have offered or to develop your own questions. As each afterschool program is unique, you have to structure a study circle to meet your needs. Just make sure to ask open-ended questions, ones that don't have "yes" or "no" answers.
Where to get materials for study-circle reading? While the scholarship about afterschool education is growing, the number of articles and books available is still limited. Besides The Page Turner, the Robert Bowne Foundation also publishes Afterschool Matters and the Occasional Paper Series, both of which offer wonderful articles for discussion.