Sunday, July 22, 2012

Inference PLC guide

Inference: Teaching Students to Develop Hypotheses, Evaluate Evidence, and Draw Logical Conclusions by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing and Matthew J. Perini is the fourth book in the Strategic Teacher PLC Guide series that I have read. It is designed to be used as part of a collaborative professional learning community (PLC) to guide a team toward learning and utilizing an instructional strategy. It follows the same structure as the others: opening section explains the rationale and strategy; section 2 has the group evaluate examples of the strategy and plan a lesson on their own, between 2 and 3 the teacher is expected to teach the lesson, hopefully with an observer and observe another teaching a lesson with the strategy; section 3 is a debrief, then the teacher goes off and designs another lesson with the strategy, bringing student work back to section 4 for further evaluation.

As a departure from the standard one shot staff development, the approach is valuable. By utilizing collaborative groups, modeling, metacognitive questions and opening and summarizing statements, the authors practice what they preach in terms of sound instructional strategies. If a group were to engage in the activity, they would benefit from the experience. While I reflected and responded to the thought questions, simply reading through the book is not adequate to truly add this to your repertoire. Engaging in the application step is essential. There are very comprehensive planning and evaluative worksheets included. Although a teacher would not spend the time completing the forms every time, doing it at the beginning to practice is important. Keeping the community together for only 4 or 5 sessions, seems both viable and valuable. People could commit to one day a week for a month and the narrow time frame would enable people to maintain their focus and not lose interest.

The book differs from the others in that rather than focusing on a single strategy as Reading for Meaning and Compare and Contrast do, it identifies four closely related strategies: inductive learning, mystery, main idea and investigation. While this broadens the scope of application, it does mean that each one receives less attention and section 2 is a long part (56 out of the 113 pages are here). Practically that means that a PLC would need to either acknowledge the length and plan to meet for longer than the other days or break it into two sections.

The idea of providing students with small chunks of information and asking them to draw conclusions is the essence of the group of strategies. Inference strategies can be utilized across the curriculum. Although examples focus at the middle and secondary levels, it could be easily adapted to early grades. If teachers were to consciously teach inference at the early primary levels, it would not be such a big deal at the upper levels.

As the Common Core rolls out and we are asking students to use more higher level thinking, inferences will become more important. Using the strategy family this book provides will help students become successful. Using the approach to staff development will facilitate successful learning of the teacher's part as well.

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