On the Three Great Questions: A Guide, Part 1

Here are the three most important questions a teacher needs to inform their instructional practice:

Closing the gap
Sparks by avl42 (2011) modified by Philip Bruce

Where are we now? 

This is your ship’s radar, the pulses that allow you insights, however imperfect, as to the direction in which each of the independent young minds in the room are moving. In the classroom, this can be most powerfully addressed by on-going formative assessment techniques.

Dylan Wiliam is one of the leading experts in formative assessment, and though he offers many strategies that have a significant positive impact on learning, for me, the best starting place is to institute a no-hands up questioning policy. Immediately, it achieves two things:

  1. Everyone must remain involved in the classroom discussion. Why? You could be called on.
  2. You don’t just hear from a self-selecting students who “get it”. You hear the thoughts of any student, anywhere along the learning journey, misconceptions and all.

Additionally, the long-term benefit is that it is a wonderful way of challenging your students to value learning, which is messy and imperfect, over a desire to be seen to “be right”, which is often little more than a Pyrrhic victory for teacher and student.

More tips here

 

What are the insights for school leadership?

There are a number of equivalents to no hands up questions in an institutional context, not least applying a similar policy in staff meetings. The most powerful conceptual equivalent, however, is in conducting unscheduled routine observations of classrooms and team meetings. Instead of relying on teachers to voluntarily be observed, or it happening as part of a high(er)-stake appraisal process, observations should become an unfeared, welcomed routine. Undertaken regularly and intentionally, they would contribute to:

  1. Formatively assessing anything from school goals to the outcomes of recent professional development.
  2. “Pre-assessing” the school culture for more informed goal setting.
  3. Cultivating a climate in which teachers are encouraged to innovate; de-privatising practice erodes the fear of being seen to need to professionally grow.

Sometimes, we take for granted where we are – it seems too obvious – and yet surprising insights can be found when we remember to:

recite-1kyeds0

 

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On Thought Experiments and Russian Dolls

Planning instruction for twenty or thirty learners in one room, for one hour, on one day, is a challenge. And, when we talk about planning instruction for in-service days or professional development sessions in which schools invest considerable time and money, we might be talking about hundreds of participants, in various venues, from distinctly heterogeneous teaching backgrounds and many hours of instruction. It’s a significant challenge. However, as I have written about here, it’s a challenge that we must overcome.

Many of my thoughts about school leadership revolve around applying the same practices that make classroom instruction effective. Imagine it as a series of Russian Dolls – the practices at the classroom teacher-learner level a nested microcosm of the interactions at the professional teacher-teacher level. At my school, we have adapted Charlotte Danielson’s teacher evaluation rubric as part of our teacher appraisal process. However, what if something similar were created for professional development sessions or in-service days?

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The purpose of the adaptation would be as follows:

  1. As a planning checklist for organising professional development sessions.
  2. As an in-depth reflection tool to rigorously assess the quality of any professional development session and for facilitators to adjust their practices accordingly.
  3. To articulate a shared understanding of the components of high quality professional development sessions.

I’d remove the evaluative aspect of a rubric, replacing it with a series of standards and guiding questions to encourage professional growth. Though there are a variety of schools of thought on the effectiveness of coaching versus supervision models for driving positive change, assuming you have the people in place willing to improve, it’s the feedback, not the ranking of progress, that will drive improvement. Now, I’m not saying you couldn’t construct an evaluative rubric, it’s just that a simpler, more professionally respectful starting point is to use standards as a supportive coaching tool, not an evaluative one.

And, if you followed my thinking, you might be left with something like this.

I wonder what insights are revealed by reflecting on the last professional development you facilitated ,or participated in, by examining it through this new lens?

Infographic summary