Friday, November 20, 2009

A Day of Learning

One of the things I admire most about our school is the focused attention taken on learning from others. We are a school community who embraces the culture of making teaching transparent and learning visible. We are not afraid of observing others, or inviting them to observe us. We welcome the opportunity to get and give honest feedback, and reflect on our classroom practice. Because of this unmistakable culture of observation, dialogue, and reflection, we move instruction and student learning forward each year.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a day of learning with the Second Grade Math & Science Team. The agenda focused on Math in the morning and Science in the afternoon, and the greatest portion of our day was set aside to observe in classrooms and then meet to debrief and have conversation about what we observed. We asked questions, compared what we saw to our own practice, and then brainstormed as a team how to move the instruction forward.
We began with a 15 minute observation of EveryDay Counts Calendar Math in Karen Morris' classroom, and then stayed for her 60 minute Math Workshop. Teachers observed Karen going about her regular classroom instruction and jotted notes as they observed. They saw how impeccable Karen's rituals and routines were established, how flawlessly her students transitioned, and they commented on her incredible wait time. They also remarked, in debrief, about how Karen never was satisfied with an answer, but always asked why, and how strategically she pulled students during Work Period for small group instruction.
Interestingly, some of the teachers had already taught the lesson they were observing and others had not. This made for interesting conversation in debrief, not only about the content of the lesson, but also about the little nuisances of teaching, like the fact that Karen had cut out the geometric shapes and had them on the board making it easy for the shapes to move as she explained the game rather than having to introduce the lesson from her document camera.
The 2nd Grade teachers were very interested in watching Karen, in particular, because Mrs. Morris' is a math teacher with experience in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade at Chets, and her insight as a 2nd grade teacher related to preparing kids for future years, is of great interest to this group of teachers.
After Mrs. Morris' lesson and debrief, we went out to lunch. We had conversation about our families, our interests, and about school. We strengthened our relationships and spent quality time in fellowship.

In the afternoon, we dedicated our time to learning in Science. The team decided to observe in Patricia Wallace's classroom because last year Patricia was a Grade 5 Science teacher, and once again, the Second Grade teachers are intrigued by the similarities and differences across grade levels. We observed Mrs. Wallace teach the first two E's of the 5 E model, Engage and Explore using a Sink or Float Science lab. Teachers noted how well her students transitioned from the lesson to lab stations, the organization on the part of the teacher to have everything prepared in advance for the lab, how independently students moved through the lab sheet, and how well the student's teams worked together. They commented about Mrs. Wallace's facilitation of the lesson during Work Period and her depth of questioning without giving away the answers. In debriefing, the team inquired about Mrs. Wallace's process for planning for this lesson and others, and asked whether she would change anything the next time she did this lab.
I observed teachers jotting notes, asking for a copy of the lab sheet, and discussing how they were going to tweak the lab to meet the needs of their students. The watched, reflected on their practice, and pilfered new ideas for to improve their own instruction.

The rest of the day was spent on Science content learning in the Administrative Conference Room.

No matter how many of these days I participate in, and it has been too many to count, I always leave thinking that the day was productive and the learning taken away valuable. I also know that practice changes exactly where it needs to in order to move student learning forward--in the classroom at the instructional level.

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