Recall the last conference session, or professional development opportunity you attended. Were all attendees present and attentive when the session began? Look around the room: was anyone texting or checking a last e-mail? Observe the participant’s faces: were they turned toward the speaker, with expressions of attentive focus? Consider your own thoughts during the session: did they wander to an unrelated issue from home or work?
It is likely that most people will consider the above questions, and arrive at the conclusion that at least a portion of conference or professional development participants spends some of their time distracted. What is the effect on the participant’s overall understanding of the topic being presented if the missed information is the defining of the foundational terminology used to discuss the subject?
Having a common, unambiguous set of foundational terminology is vitally important to professional discourse. When a key term has differing meaning between two colleagues engaged in discussion, clear and productive communication is derailed. If the situation is expanded to a professional development experience in a large group setting, cognitive chaos ensues. If a professional development experience is designed to minimize confusions and the resulting disengagement, and maximize the opportunity for meaningful discussion and learning, it must first provide the opportunity for participants to have a common, unambiguous set of foundational terminology.
The Problem: Assessment conversations can be hampered when the participants do not have a shared, unambiguous understanding of the foundational terminology used to discuss it. Ensuring all participants have this unambiguous understanding is not a feasible activity within synchronous professional development sessions.
If the above assumptions of the introduction are agreed to, it follows that every professional development experience should begin with a review of key foundational terminology germane to the subject of the session. Research in behavioural psychology suggests such a structure would be either counter-productive, or ineffective.
It is reasonable to assume that a group of teachers engaged in professional development (Pd) in assessment, would have a wide range of attitudes and experience with the subject. A portion may assume they are fluent in the language of assessment. Regardless of the accuracy of this assumption, this group will likely disengage from what they may perceive as a remedial activity. The more thoroughly the foundational content is covered, the more likely it is this disengagement will occur, and begin to visibly manifest itself as distracted behaviours, such as were described in the introduction. Distracted behaviour can become contagious in this setting. Cialdini (1990) calls this tendency “social proof, or “the social influence effect”. Pd is, for at least a portion of participants, an ambiguous social situation....