In the past month I have worked with several schools, conducting classroom walk-throughs with teams of teachers and administrators as well as studying the results of tabulated e-walk data with school leadership teams.
I am convinced that this process can have great value when it leads to questions for further investigation, study, or reflection.
When I organized and facilitated the walk-throughs, I focused the observers in each case on identifying student actions. ”What are the students doing and experiencing?”…both collectively and individually. We observed about six minutes at a time and looked to see where we would place students’ observable behaviors on a continuum that ranged from BORED…to…COMFORTABLE…to…ATTENTION…to…HIGH ANXIETY.
Just before leaving the classrooms, observers considered the teacher’s design and facilitation of the learning activity. How did design and facilitation impact student engagement?
Here are some findings:
*When teachers observed in each other’s classrooms with the focus on students they tended to report much more comfortable or bored behavior than they would want to find in their own classrooms. Several teachers later in the day shared that they returned to their own classroom with increased awareness and spotted similar behaviors in their students. They stated that they had been missing these signs and now realized they needed to respond with modifications in instruction.
*The time “cost” of an activity verses the learning value of the activity is frequently overlooked in many teachers’ planning process. As they observed their colleagues, the time it took for students to prepare the materials or organize for the learning event became much more obvious than when one was busy as the teacher.
*In one school teachers on the walk-throughs quickly noticed that teacher talk filled much of the time. In a 5th grade classroom a teacher placed a problem on the board suggesting students would do it. He then went through how to do it point by point. As he spoke I observed students doing the problem incorrectly as they went straight to work from his initial request.
*Middle school teachers who had students copying notes from a board or power point often talked during the time that students were writing. The more interesting the teacher’s comments the harder it was to take the notes. The students who focused on getting the notes frequently tuned out the teacher. (Consider the time students spent writing the notes…What’s the cost against gain?)
*Very little technology was in the hands of students. When students were on computers individually they were consistently completing a “program” rather than exploring, searching, or problem solving.
I found that working with e-walk data school-wide often pointed to unclear or uncommon terms for describing observed characteristics. One report showed sufficient use of differentiation and high use of whole class instruction at the same time. However, having examined the forms with at least 5 school leadership teams, conversations quickly raised questions that would lead to focused continued observation and reflection…a great opportunity for growth.
Another school asked me to examine their classroom walk-through form. Here are just some of the items they had.
Receiving Direct Instruction
Participating in collaborative activity
Using higher order thinking
Engaging in appropriate-differentiated activities
Notice that the first four items would be fairly easy to record as yes or no on a data tool. Higher order thinking would probably take a substantially longer observation to assess for both level and the percentage of the students engaged in it. When you place the word appropriate into the last item it starts feeling an awful lot like an evaluation.
My insight from these experiences is that turning the walk-through experience into questions and conversation and away from data and evaluation can lead to growth for both the observing and the observed which can have payoff for the students.