Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Flipping Teacher Observation

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Flipping Teacher Observation

Article excerpt

"Hey Martin, how are things?" asks Kathleen as she stirs her coffee in the faculty room.

"Going pretty well," Martin answers, looking up from his phone. "Wait, you had your classroom observation this morning, right? How'd it go?"

"Well, the observers were encouraging," Kathleen responds, "but I came away wishing they could have provided perspective on a new method that I've been implementing in my classroom, rather than simply doing an evaluation."

"What are you working on?" Martin smiles, "I thought you had everything figured out by now."

"Right!" Kathleen laughs. "Lately I've been using a gradual release method to help my students support their answers with the text, but it's not going quite like I'd hoped. I wish I could see into whatever blind spots I have, you know?"

"I hear what you're saying," Martin agrees. "There are times when it sure would be helpful to have another set of eyes and ears in my room to help me problem solve."

Flipping Traditional Observation

In traditional observation models, the observers direct the focus of the observation; they are watching "best practice" in action or evaluating teacher performance (hence the nail biting associated with such observations). These models certainly have a purpose within school systems, but they fall short of effectively supporting the unique challenges teachers face each day in their classrooms.

As a result, teachers often feel isolated or, even worse, stalled. They are leftto problem solve outside their classrooms, in professional learning communities and faculty meetings. Unfortunately, an instructional strategy that makes sense when it's discussed at a professional development session doesn't always work as planned in individual classrooms.

Having extra eyes and ears can help teachers see what is really going on in their classrooms. This is where teacher-driven observation (TDO) comes into play. By flipping the traditional observation model, TDO enables the observed teacher to lead the observation process. The observed teacher actively identifies a focus for the observation, selects data collection methods, and receives the observation data. While the teacher is busy teaching, observers can script questions and dialogue, track movements, and count questions. In short, observers collect information that helps the teacher successfully transfer methods from meeting to classroom.

This shift-putting the observed teacher as leader of the process-transforms observations from a formality to a process that truly drives instructional improvements.

After her conversation with Martin, Kathleen decides to do a bit of research into observation techniques to see if there is one that will support her implementation of gradual release. She discovers teacher-driven observation as a simple means of customized professional development and decides to test it in her seventh grade ELA classroom.

Setting a Focus

Teacher-driven observation is designed to address the observed teacher's focus question with classroom data. In this case, Kathleen's focus question is grounded in the new gradual release method she is implementing. Her students struggle to use the text to respond to questions; instead, they tend to pull from their own experiences as source material. For a while now, she has been modeling the intentional gradual release method to show how to use the text to respond to questions, but she sees that her students are still unable to apply this skill independently.

Trying to pinpoint a specific blind spot, Kathleen formulates this focus question: "How is my use of gradual release supporting my students' ability to draw from the text?" She then asks two of her colleagues to visit her classroom and gather data that will provide new perspective on this issue.

To Kathleen, TDO feels different from a traditional observation because she gets to direct the focus- in essence, she becomes the primary learner. …

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