Professional Development and Authentic Intellectual Work

Posted by Lynn Evans on 1/28/2019

In our annual Master Calendar, time is set aside for "professional development."  So, what goes on during those early dismissal hours? Or the hours spent during days of no school for professional development?

We want the best-trained staff possible working with our students. We want teachers knowledgeable on the current best practices in education that will improve student achievement.  Research-based methods are continually evolving and emerging as new research becomes available.  

To help teachers keep up on those best practices and research-based methods, we take time to learn about these practices and how to implement them effectively in our classrooms.  This is why locally delivered professional development is important for the continual improvement of our school.  Data supports learning that is embedded in the teachers work over taking classes or attending workshops away from the local district (although we do still support some of that individual learning as well). 

The District Leadership Team, which is comprised of principals, teacher leaders and the superintendent (18 members) work together to design professional development plans for the year.  Feedback from previous professional development activities is reviewed, along with student achievement data (both annual data and data trends over time). District and building level goals are reviewed and professional development is planned with the purpose of helping the district meet student achievement goals.  Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) was brought in for a few specific reasons.  

The research supports that student achievement in all academic disciplines should improve when the AIW framework is implemented.  The research also supports that the AIW framework can be implemented at all grade levels.  Implementing across disciplines and across grade levels develops a more consistent and unified approach to lesson design throughout the district and it involves the entire teaching staff in working toward achieving our academic goals.  One of the most difficult things in designing a professional development plan is making it meaningful and relevant for all teachers.  Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) helps in that regard.

The body of research on AIW spans over 20 years and includes studies of schools from across the U.S. The Iowa Department of Education conducted its own evaluation from 20070-2011 and its findings were similar to the research conducted at the AIW Institute in Wisconsin.  As this body of research has consistently demonstrated, the achievement benefits occurred on both assessments of authentic intellectual performance and conventional standardized tests of basic skills across all grades and all subjects studied.  In other words, when the AIW framework is used with fidelity, student achievement improves in all disciplines.  

The AIW framework is not discipline or grade level specific, and its not a "teaching methodology."  AIW focuses on design "tasks" or student work that helps students construct knowledge, apply past learning to new problems or situations, gain a deeper understanding of the material. This makes the lessons more engaging and relevant for the students.

Implementing the AIW framework requires that teachers work collaboratively in professional learning committees or PLC's.  We know from past research that professional learning is more meaningful and more effective when adults have an opportunity to collaborate.  

Teachers are beginning to review more deeply student work based on lessons designed using the AIW framework in their PLC's. The intent is to get feedback from members of their PLC to improve lesson design using the AIW framework.  Additionally, the PLC allows teachers to work with others that they may not get a chance to work with on a daily basis (i.e. teachers from other buildings or other grade levels).

The results have been a marked increase in student achievement in the areas of elementary and middle school math, and steady growth over time in all other areas (science and reading) at all grade levels with the exception of one.  

AIW is not the sole reason for this improvement. We have also implemented additional research-based teaching strategies in reading and math at the elementary and middle school levels.  We have updated textbooks and teaching materials in reading, English/Language Arts, math, science, and social studies over the past 4 years. This is in addition to the discipline-specific workshops and training that teachers have been attending during the summer months. But AIW is the overarching piece.