Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A learning walk . . .

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.


Ethan Smith said...

I'd like to provide my answer to all three questions:
3) No and YES. I think it depends on the focus. The three that have been selected fit quite well together. And collectively they are the heart of what teachers do. It makes sense to me to "focus" on them as a group. Were we to pick Relevance, Technology, and Thinking Skills as our "focus" I'd say we didn't have one. But these three together feel like a focus.
2) I doubt most teachers need to hear about the research to know that attending to Key Content, engaging students brains through Active Learning, and Checking for Understanding are critical.
1) When I first heard the phrase Classroom 10 used in the context we use it now I thought, "This isn't Classroom 10, it's Curriculum 10." Classroom 10 arose out of our vision for what good curriculum should look like and then what a classroom would look like where that curriculum was being implemented well. We didn't start with eyes on students, we started with eyes on curriculum. I don't think that is bad thing, per se, but it isn't surprising that now it might be difficult to figure out where things like students make sense of intended ideas and concepts and reflect on their new understanding of the ideas and concepts fit. If we had started with eyes on kids we likely would have ended up with at least a couple of different Classroom 10 components. But that doesn't make the components we did end up with the wrong ones, they just aren't completely comprehensive in describing every component of the condidtions that need to exist for learning to happen.

I don't believe any one model can ever be perfect for all purposes. Maybe we can tweak things here and there along the way as we run across new ideas and observations. But no one wants to work in a world where the target is forever moving! When we have data to tell us that we are accomplishing our Classroom 10 goals in classrooms, let's then think about things that aren't at the refining level but rather at the refocusing level.

Stacy said...

While most of us, I think, understand what Classroom 10 is, it still seems very ambiguous. Something that is driving education, but is still being defined, how can it drive instruction? I agree Mike, there are SO many components, and it is hard to really delve deep into it. We are again, a skipping stone and many people are wondering when this too shall pass.
Interestingly enough Katherine Fosnot, Math in the City, is working on such a model in mathematics .I am quite a fan of this amazing woman. Using the term, "I have a mathematical disagreement," when one student does not agree with an answer another has given, really sets the stage to have the kind of dialogue you want our children to have. Yet it has to be modeled and practiced. In my room the kids feel it is ok to make mistakes and talk about math because of this one statement.
I have urged you before to research Fosnot. Please... when we finally decide GAP lessons and EDM is not a viable product, please look into her programs and ideas, she is Classroom 10 ready!