One of my absolute favorite things about ISB is the regular availability of excellent professional development (can you tell?). Not only do I have the opportunity to attend lots of great conferences and workshops, but our embedded, school-based PD is always learning-focused and practical. This year I’ve had the opportunity to go through Looking for Learning training with our regular “critical friends” Fieldwork Education.
Basically, in my understanding, Looking for Learning is the practice of working together with colleagues to see what learning is happening in your classroom. Teachers visit each others’ classroom and spend around 10 – 20 minutes speaking with students about their learning. There is a specific protocol for the type of questions to be asked along with the order you ask them, and student feedback is recorded for later sharing with the teacher. I’ve only done it a few times (and I’m not really sure what I’m doing yet), but I have found the experience to be extremely powerful in every instance for a few key reasons:
- It is simply amazing to hear what students can say about their learning. Not only is it an eye-opener about what they’re actually learning (regardless of what you think you might be teaching), but the way they can articulate it, and the way they can connect it to their personal growth is just fascinating.
- It’s real. I try to write down everything students say – not an impression of the lesson or their perspective, but the actual words they say. You really can’t beat quotes.
- It’s easy to start a conversation about learning once you have the evidence. Hearing what students actually think is a great way to prompt deep reflection about what’s actually happening in the classroom.
- It’s fun. I like talking to students, that’s why I’m a teacher. I come back from every session grinning from ear to ear no matter what the students said. It’s just wonderful.
Looking for learning is not intended to be a method for evaluating teachers, simply as a process to really uncover exactly what learning is going on in your own classroom, whether it’s appropriate (interesting) to your students, if it’s sufficient (have they had enough time), and if it’s engaging to them. Because I’m just starting out (and because I have absolutely no supervisory capacity at the school), I’m also using it to guide my conversations with our CoETaIL teachers as they begin to implement their projects for our fifth and final course: Alive in the Classroom: Applied Web 2.0 Technology for Learning.
One aspect of this course is an in-class observation by the course instructors (me, Jeff and Dennis), preceded by a pre-observation meeting and followed by a post-observation meeting. Based on the 4 previous certificate courses, we (Dennis, Jeff and I) created a specific rubric to assess our teachers and give them feedback about how they are progressing along the path to transformational learning experiences in the classroom.
Combining this rubric with Looking for Learning conversations has been absolutely fantastic. For starters, the rubric clearly highlights exactly what we’re looking for in the classroom, based on Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle:
which makes it very easy to see where each classroom experience falls: substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition. In addition to the rubric, the Looking for Learning conversations with the students give an authentic voice for their experiences and a longer-term perspective than the one-off classroom visit.
A few weeks ago, I observed one of our middle school Modern Language teachers’ lesson on planning for a digital story telling project. It was absolutely fantastic to see how much Gaby has been able to implement after just a year of our CoETaIL classes. With her permission, I’m sharing a few things I was excited to see during the lesson:
- Gaby utilized class “experts” to help those students that missed the lesson (or needed a refresher) on finding Creative Commons images. (Along those lines, it was pretty awesome just to see the kids using Creative Commons images in the first place!)
- The applicable Technology and Information Literacy (TaIL) standards were clearly stated and embedded into the assessment rubric. Love this!
- During technical difficulties, Gaby didn’t break a sweat, she just used an alternate method to get her point across without letting her frustration show. (Often a challenge for anyone working with technology).
- In the sample completed project, all images and resourced were cited (sounds simple, but how often do you actually see teachers citing their sources?).
- Students were engaged and actively working on their project the entire lesson, but when Gaby needed their attention she asked them to lower their lids to pay attention. A project-based learning experience with a direction and purpose!
Here are a few comments from students when I spoke to them during the lesson:
- “We are working on our project today to practice using the imperative tense. A natural next learning for me would be the past tense because now we know the present, future and commands. We have most of the basics down so we’ll be ready for High School Spanish next year.”
- “We’ve done a project like this before and now I’m doing it even better, easier and faster because I’ve learned from my mistakes. When we build on what we learned before it makes projects like this easier.”
- “I like what we’re learning and doing because you can be creative and show your own perspective.”
- “I’m using my skills from Humanities to peer-edit my friends’ storyboard. Peer editing is helpful because I know that if I make a mistake my friends will catch it. They’re like my back-up.”
Combining the power of authentic student voices with a clearly defined rubric for expectations really helped me get the most out of this visit. When it was time for me to have my post-observation conference with Gaby, it was so great to be able to share with her what students actually said about their experiences during the lesson. I could see that she was pleased that they were learning what she wanted them to learn and were able to articulate it. There really is nothing better than knowing that students are really understanding what you’re teaching.
Our post-observation meeting really solidified the power of the Looking for Learning concept for me and was a great intro to going through the observation rubric because our conversation started with the students. When we discussed the rubric, our conversation was richer, because rather than just reflecting the “tunnel vision” of one outside observer, I felt I had a more well-rounded perspective after speaking with the students.
Do you use Looking for Learning in your school? What do you think of the process? When you observe or visit other teachers’ classrooms, what kinds of questions do you ask students?