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What is your problem? Part II

Posted on November 23rd, 2011 by David Coffey

In this series of posts, I want to share an approach we use with student teachers to support their development as reflective practitioners. The first post introduced the idea of using an action plan as a way for teachers to identify an area of challenge and seek out support. In subsequent posts, I plan to share examples of this approach in action.

After reading a teacher’s action plan, I assemble any resources that might come in handy and then head to the observation. During the lesson, I keep notes on what is going on and ideas, questions, and concerns related to the challenge identified by the teacher. In the example given below, the teacher asked me to focus on formative assessment.

More specifically, she asked, “What types of formative assessments would be beneficial to student learning and how can I use these assessments?”

The notes are a combination artifact of what I saw and stream-of-consciousness of what I thought. I try to keep everything related to the focus provided by the teacher. (Unsolicited advice is an insult.) All of this is shared with the teacher during the debriefing after the observation but I try to attend to a few important points – highlighted in pink.

When I sat down with the student teacher after this particular observation, she started by saying that she felt there was very little formative assessment in her lesson. She was frustrated that because there was so much material to cover there was little opportunity to check for understanding. This seems to be a common challenge this semester.

I responded by pointing out a particular question she asked early in the lesson. The class was discussing issues with story problems on the homework. The teacher asked, “Is your problem the set up or the solving?” There was a resounding “set up” from the students. So the teacher focused on setting up several problems, leaving the students to do the solving on their own. This was a significant moment where the teacher used formative assessment to make an effective instructional decision but she had not recognized it as such.

Part of my responsibility as a coach is to help teachers to recognize things that they do intuitively and make them more intentional. We spent the rest of the debriefing time identifying places during the lesson where using formative assessment could focus instruction. This would provide more time for the formative assessment.

Finally, the teacher is asked to reflect on the experience. Here is part of what this teacher wrote after the observation and debriefing:

For the in-class observation, I was most concerned about assessing my students informally during class. After the debriefing, I feel I was able to recognize moments in my lesson that could have been altered to include more assessment. I feel that I have learned to consider the one or two important question within the lesson. If I recognize the few points that I really want my students to focus on, I can be sure to form my lesson around those specific ideas. Plus, if they are learning new material that progresses from previously learned mathematics (as it almost always does), I can ‘skip’ the information that they may already be very comfortable with to focus on the more difficult material. … I feel this observation was very helpful in giving me ideas to use within my classroom to assess my students, as well as learning to focus more on the ‘big picture’, rather than material they may already be comfortable with.

These reflections often support teachers in developing their next action plan

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