In recent weeks I had several opportunities to work with school leaders, teachers and administrators, who wanted to examine the current level of learning present in their schools. We created teams of two to five who observed in classrooms for 5-10 minutes and then discussed their insights. Our first goal was the learning of the leaders: increasing skills at analyzing teaching and learning. As the teams reached consensus about current practices, areas for continuous improvement and professional development emerged. Staff could join these observation teams, gaining quality professional development.
I found the following provided a structure for the observers’ conversations regarding the learning impact.
First, observers highlighted the student learning behaviors they observed and ranked the behaviors as off task, low, medium or high. Initially we identified the overall student behaviors and then individual students or groups of students.
Examples- Students at learning centers not completing the tasks of the center would be considered off, students answering recall questions from teacher when called upon might be rated low.
Next we described the learning tasks the students were given to do. These were rated from low to high.
Example- Students copying the class objective into their notebook rated low, pairs of students designing an experiment to prove a hypothesis was rated high.
We then looked at the teacher behaviors and identified things the teacher did that increased or decreased the learning impact.
Example: As students worked in groups the teacher asked questions that challenged a decision the group was making and walked away. Student discussion and learning levels were raised. In comparison, another teacher provided students an independent task of high challenge but provided no scaffolding for students who were lost. Those students quickly withdrew from learning and the teacher allowed the non-engagement for the rest of the period.
I found that as the participants explained what they observed and where the observations fell on the continuum, ideas emerged that provided suggestions for teachers to increase the learning impact. Looking back at the low areas in the examples above, the teacher might build an accountability element into center time or the lost students might be pulled into a group for “getting started support”.
In two cases I held a coaching session with teachers after the leaders had discussed their observations with me. I found that the thinking from the discussion enhanced my coaching. I think, mostly, by focusing the reflection of the teachers on the level of learning that was present and how it might be increased.
This strategy is new for me. I will be trying it again. If you experiment with the continuums let me know what you find. Especially when you discover how to improve its impact on learning!