In an effort to model the “instructional leader” and life long learner philosophy of the Board, the Principal at the school put out the offer for any teacher wanted to, to let him co-teach with them. His Grade 3/4 Teacher took him up on his offer, and now they periodically teach 3-part lessons together in math.
Here are a few of the things I noticed and/or wondered about during our visit to this lovely classroom…
Principal and Teacher seemed to interact very seamlessly and comfortably with one another and the children. It made for a very pleasant learning environment, and I suspect it postively shapes the climate of the school in other ways as well. (This collegality is mirrored in the easy-going yet professional relationships apparent between Principal and Math Coach, and Teacher and Math Coach, too. The latter was present both at our pre-visit meeting and in the classroom during the lesson, and the kids seemed totally unphased by the presence of so many adults in the room! :-) It was nice that the coach was able to join us for lunch afterwards, too, and we all had a chance to enjoy some professional and personal dialogue.)
The tracking sheet the Principal and Teacher used while observing students working seemed effective because it included very specific strategies and observable errors, coded by number and letter for easy recording. It seems like this would be valuable to use for reporting purposes because it can provide language specific comments describing student strengths and suggested next steps, and is efficient enough to be used “on the fly” while wandering amongst the students and listening in as they work, questioning them here and there as needed to clarify understanding.
The Principal noted the important role “descriptive feedback” played in the lesson; they defined this as oral, based on success criteria, evaluative in nature (this is different than my previous understanding of DF), and based on achievement chart categories. In addition to criteria that the principal and teacher constructed together with the children, the teacher later added pre-constructed criteria; she noted that according to the MEP (more on that later, once I figure out what it is!!!), Grade 3s were to be given pre-constructed success criteria. But thanks to the large group conversation prior to the lesson with the grade 4s, the 3s still benefitted from the process of co-constructing with their older peers.
I noticed that in some of the large group parts of the lesson, the same few students were contributing all the time. I wonder if building in a think-pair-share as students are brainstorming success criteria might enable more students to engage.
I’m wondering about the learning goals. I like the idea of sharing learning goals with the students ahead of time (“Why are we doing this?”), but I wonder if we tell them “today you will add and subtract two digit numbers”, for example, aren’t we directing them too much in what we want them to do? Isn’t the point of problem based learning for students to construct their own strategies and learning? This is something I want to think more about as I move more into this way of teaching.
One thing that struck me during the “Active” part of the lesson was that the students were all engaged. Even those who didn’t “get it” were working on the problem, rather than just giving up, remarkbly different from what Dale and I often experience in our own classes.
Although the idea of students practising descriptive feedback appeals to me, I do wonder about the value of such “formal” assessment as part of this kind of a lesson… I guess it depends on ones purpose for teaching this way. In my mind this sort of a constructivist approach is meant to “uncover” learning and foster a collaborative knowledge-building learning environment. Although assessment (focussed observation by me and/or perhaps other adults in the room, as students work through the problem) is necessary to guide next instructional steps and also for evaluation/reporting purposes, I worry that too much time spent on peer assessment by students in this case would detract from the “real” learning in the lesson, i.e. uncovering the particular skill or other focus of the problem in question. On the other hand, we know that metacognition plays and important role in moving learners forward, and when better to teach them to assess their work and that of peers than during an authentic math task? Again, something I need to think more about in the weeks/months ahead.
At the end of the debrief, a practice question was shared for students to work on. I was quite tired at that point, and I wondered if the students might be, too. Perhaps when we are doing this in our own classes, we will assign the “practice” questions for homework or as a follow up task the next day, rather than continue on in the same class.
All in all, our visit to this classroom was a great success. Although the “bansho” we saw was modified from the original Japanese Board Writing we have been reading about, we were treated to a wide variety of assessment and instructional strategies, and have much to consider as we move ahead with our own version of “non-textbook math” in the year ahead. It was also rather refreshing to see a "real" classroom that looked a lot like ours, rather than the perfect, shiney, everything is new style classrooms often seen in professionally produced videos!! Makes the goal a little more attainable, lol!
For anyone looking to expand their instructional repertoire, I highly recommend visiting other classrooms, especially if you have the opportunity to debrief the visit with colleagues. It is indeed a very rich experience, and I am very grateful to the teacher and her students who opened their classroom to us for this opportunity.