Coaching and Assessment for Learning

After observing a high school science class this week for the purpose of modeling a coaching conference, I was wrestling with an approach to my post conference that would have the teacher reflect on the need to increase the percentage of students actively engaged (thinking) with the material.My observations identified some students who were thinking about the material and asking questions that sought application to their experiences. Other students were watching and listening, filling in a worksheet as the answers were provided by other students or (too often it seemed to me) by the teacher. Still other students were doing homework from another class or reading a different book.

I began the post conference with a few open-ended questions that asked the teacher to share his thinking regarding his approach to the instruction I observed and what indicators he had that he gained his desired outcomes.

He immediately pointed out the questions that students had asked,connecting the lesson content with their personal experiences. (Electromagnetism — Is that like the junkyard magnet? Does that have anything to do with an MRI?)

I agreed that the questions provided the evidence he was seeking and shared several other indicators (comments and questions from students) that I had observed and recorded. I then asked about what he knew about the non responsive students. The teacher felt that a quiz the next day was probably his best indicator.

We then discussed strategies that would have allowed the teacher to assess more of the students understanding…
Paired conversations where he could listen in
Calling on non participants with questions
Asking students to answer questions raised by classmates
Having students rate their understanding 1-10

The teacher’s review, presentation, and discussion were followed by a “hands on” (groups of three) activity. With broader assessment prior to this activity the teacher would have identified students needing additional support and could have provided it either as a small group pull aside or one on one as he moved among the groups during the activity.

I’m currently reading ASCD’s Advancing Formative Assessment In Every Classroom…a Guide for Instructional Leaders and identifying how to build more formative assessment questions into my coaching.

“In too many classrooms, teachers and their students are flying blind. Teachers cannot point to strong evidence of exactly what their students know and exactly where their students are in relation to daily classroom learning goals. The lack of detailed and current evidence makes it particularly difficult for teachers to provide effective feedback that describes for students the next steps they should take to improve. Students are operating in the dark as well. Without the benefit of knowing how to assess and regulate their own learning, they try to perform well on assignments without knowing exactly where they are headed, what they need to do to get there, and how they will tell when they have arrived.” (pg 9)

After coaching the science teacher, I observed a math class where a new teacher had students in groups of three working on problems she modeled on the Smart Board and presented on a worksheet. As the groups went to work, the teacher prepared her next step on the Smart Board….missing the opportunity to observe the group conversations and assess student understanding. She will be planning the next instructional period without important knowledge about where students are in the learning process. My observation was that most students understood the concept at the beginning of the lesson and did not need to invest the time in the lesson’s activity.

I have been building questions about teachers’ observations of student learning behaviors into my coaching conferences. I’ll be adding more specific questions about what assessment decisions teachers are making during and immediately following instruction. I’m thinking that these questions in a pre-conference may have the teacher direct my coaching observation to assist in or confirm her assessment decisions.
I’ll be reporting what I find.

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5 Responses to “ Coaching and Assessment for Learning ”

  1. gabrielle Says:

    This is really interesting, Steve. It seems more coaches are getting on the bandwagon of using formative assessments as a way of determining student understanding. I am so glad we are done with the type of mentoring that goes something like, “I really like your lesson. It was great.”
    One thing I am also really intrigued by in terms of using formative data is the whole idea of ways to give students feedback. Often, we talk about how to assess and even what the assessment shows us about students, but we never actually talk about the next step–how do teachers communicate/provide feedback to students? How/when do you fit that in to your coaching conversations? Is that a post or pre-conference item or something you talk about during a later follow up?

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    gabrielle… the conversation re assessments/feedback fits in both pre and post… In pre it could be raised when ever the teacher mentions assessment,,”How will you share that information with your students?” “What do you want your students to do with the information?
    In a post “What will you be doing with the assessment information you gathered today?” Or,”I notice that when you passed back the papers students……..”
    Today I was coaching teaching teams. We discussed how they needed to share the assessment data that they observe during class with each other as part of deciding “whats next” Involving their students in that conversation is the next step.

  3. JB Says:

    Susan Brookhart (the co-author) has also written the book “How to Give Effective Feedback.” This is a well-written book that describes the characteristics of quality feedback and how to apply them. Unfortunately, her examples don’t always recognize the need to take the “I” out of the feedback in order to keep the focus on the students. This is very similar to coaching teachers, in my opinion. By keeping the focus on the teacher and the teaching and removing the coach as a focal point, the teacher can self-assess and seek resources (internal & external) for improvement.

  4. Stephen G. Barkley Says:


    an earlier blog on the feedback book

  5. Matt Guthrie Says:

    The teacher who continued with the activity that no one needed raises the point of always being able to call an audible and have something else ready to go. Sadly, even the best of us are not always prepared for this.

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