I had a wonderful opportunity yesterday at Tahoma Middle School where Amy and the staff allowed a group of superintendents and central office staff to visit classrooms. Dawn and I are part of a group working with U.W. staff from the Center for Educational Leadership on learning walks using the instructional model developed at CEL. The intent of the program is to assist superintendents in developing a common understanding of instruction around the five components of the model and identifying support structures necessary for teachers to create classrooms driven by the model.
For our work, we asked our colleagues to provide us with feedback on implementation of three characteristics of Classroom 10; key content, active learning, and checks for understanding. The theory of action that we shared was that a focus on these characteristics will influence increased student achievement as identified in the research. The learning walks process we use is intentionally designed to not make judgments since the purpose of the work is calibration, not assessment. This is difficult to do, but the facilitators from CEL keep this focus and force the participants to discuss what was observed with supporting evidence.
The process calls for us to divide into two groups with each group visiting the same classroom for twenty minutes back-to-back. Our task is to script what we see and hear teachers and students doing as it relates to the focus. Following the classroom visits, members share what they noticed with the group and an overall picture begins to emerge of what took place in the classroom. This is followed by members sharing what they are wondering about from their noticing. These are questions that emerge from the noticing that are not judgmental and are intended to promote thinking by the host district.
We were then given an opportunity to share our thinking based upon the noticing and wondering process. This was valuable to me as I was forced to be reflective about our instructional model and the support structures that we must put in place. Three questions or areas of focus emerged for me from this work.
1. One of the components of the CEL instructional model is the balance between teacher and student talk and the level of thinking embedded in student talk. Our model has student behaviors identified, but I don’t see the clear connection to the balance issue that has a strong research base. How can we make this clearer using the format and components already identified in our model?
2. Much of our current effort is on creating documents to support implementation of the model. I am wondering if we have spent enough time focused on the research base so that teachers have an understanding of the importance of these three characteristics. It also forces me to consider how to differentiate support for teachers on this journey.
3. Should we be focused on fewer Classroom 10 characteristics at one time?
Once again thanks to Amy and the TMS staff for this learning opportunity.