I am working with a group of elementary principals who have begun using a literacy observation form to focus their feedback to teachers on the implementation of instructional strategies that have been part of their professional development efforts. I was asked to assist in their plans for using their observations for coaching teachers.
Their observation tool focused on four areas; room arrangement, instruction, management, and conversation patterns. I selected the conversation patterns as the area for practicing the building of coaching conversations. These four criteria were listed for the observer’s attention.
Students talk about their reading and writing and about what they are learning about themselves as readers and writers.
Student comments reflect deep thinking.
Class discussions are punctuated by partner talk rather than calling on one student at a time.
During one-on-one coaching, the teacher is often seen listening rather than talking.
The first conversations I built asked folks to take each of the four criteria and describe what student behaviors would look like and sound like at spots on a continuum ranging from low to high development.
Example: In a second grade class what’s “deep thinking? “
Next I asked them to take each of the criteria and describe the teacher behaviors most likely to move students from one step on the continuum to the next step.
For many of these criteria, participants identified that the teacher behaviors needed if students were on the low end of the continuum were questioning, probing, paraphrasing, and encouraging. As students progressed toward the higher end the teacher needed to hold back more and more, empowering the students to initiate and direct the conversations. Sometimes teachers would need to carefully select discussion partners to generate the desired behaviors from each individual student.
These types of teacher conversations occurring in PLC’s increase teachers’ conscious observation of students’ learning behaviors and provide focus for peer or instructional coaching.
Here are two role plays I provided for principals to practice their coaching conversations around this observation tool.
You observed a fifth grade teacher’s class on several occasions and identified the student to student conversations to be few and surface level /factual. Coach this teacher to move toward the middle level of proficiency continuum.
During classroom visits and walk- throughs you notice several students waiting, stretching, and fake reading in independent time when this teacher is working with a group.
After we debriefed the practice sessions, I suggested a thinking structure I would use in these coaching scenarios.
First begin by having the teacher identify what important student behaviors are needed to gain desired achievement. (If this aligns with your thinking, proceed. If not getting those behaviors identified is crucial.)
Next ask the teacher what student behaviors are currently occurring. (If his/her perception matches your observations, proceed. If not, present data and additional observations to achieve awareness)
Now gain a commitment from the teacher to implement effort and change to gain these desired student behaviors. (Provide needed professional learning, modeling, or coaching to support the teacher’s plan)