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Cycles of Learning


If you want to be a master teacher, you have to be a master learner. George Couros



Teachers Need to Study and Practice New Teaching Moves

Teachers need sustained time to learn about — and then practice — new instructional moves in the context of PD. Providing teachers a meaningful opportunity to practice a new teaching move is not typical of most PD, so requires some real planning on the part of PD leaders.

First, in order to improve their practices, teachers need a really clear vision of what they are going for. For example, teachers who have seen many examples of master teachers setting up writing conferences in their classrooms are more likely to adopt that model of writing conferences with their students. We need to help teachers understand both the nature of the new practice and why enacting that practice matters for student learning.

There are a variety of ways to help teachers develop more sophisticated visions:

  • Reading detailed descriptions of new practices (articles);
  • Sharing videos or transcripts of effective practice;
  • Modeling new instructional routines.

Teachers Need to Try Out New Practices

In order to enact more challenging practices, teachers need to:
- Study models of effective practice;
- Break those examples down into their constituent parts;
- Rehearse those new practices in situations of reduced complexity.

The Cycle of Learning


The cycle of learning is a framework to think about the necessary steps teachers engage in as they learn new teaching practices. Once teachers have a clear vision of the new practice, and a chance to investigate why that new practice matters, teachers need to try it out with support from a more expert colleague.

Identify learning goal: Teachers decide they want to get better at improving small group discussions in the response process.

Investigate model: Teachers analyze a video of a master teacher setting up small group discussions, and then listen to students discuss a text in small groups.

Plan: Teachers develop criteria for what constitutes effective small group discussion based on the video.

Enact: Teachers write questions for small group discussion based on the text currently being studied in their class.

Feedback: Teachers videotape their students discussing texts in small groups to analyze collectively in the next PD workshop.

Note that by working through the cycle of learning focused on setting up small group discussions, teachers develop more than just one skill; they simultaneously develop a host of related practices such as:

  • Listening carefully to students;
  • Checking for student understanding;
  • Pressing students for elaboration or clarification;
  • Orienting students towards clear goals for learning.


Grossman, P., Compton, C., Igra, D., Ronfeldt, M., Shahan, E., & Williamson, P. (2009). Teaching practice: A cross-professional perspective. Teachers College Record, 111(9), 2055-2100.

Webster, Megan. A Decomposition of the practices of high quality professional development facilitation for teachers. (2016). Doctoral Dissertation. McGill University, Montreal.