Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monitoring Student Learning

Teaching and learning looks quite a bit different than it did when you and I went to school. We have spoken of this before here, and the most common illustration of this change in learning is the infusion of technology into instruction. Here in Hudson we refer to this as Connected Learning. While a great example, it only scratches the surface of how education has changed in our school district since the time we used chalkboards and overhead projectors. I would like to take the next couple of weeks and give you an idea of how much education has changed on the inside, and what you don't see from your vantage point, or even what you might hear from your youngsters at home. And one of the biggest changes you probably don't know about: the collaborative nature of teaching.

Third Grade team discussing an upcoming assessment,
Principal Schlatter asking about alignment.
The art of teaching used to be a very isolating and sometimes lonely occupation. You wouldn't think that would you; in fact it seems preposterous doesn't it? But think about it. The bell would ring at 8:05 and teachers would retreat to their classrooms, close the door and proceed to teach group after group of students for the next several hours without having any outside interference or adult interaction. Left to their own resources, teachers could pretty much cover they content they wanted, how they wanted, when they wanted, and assess it how they wanted. They could count on not being bothered by the principal (who was isolated in his or her own office as well) for the duration of the school year. They had responsibility for 'their' students and 'their' students alone. The trouble with this model of education is that when a teacher would run into a snag with instruction, they had to figure it out on their own. Sure, there might be an opportunity to grab some informal advice during a lunch break, but deep and meaningful conversations about instructional practice and solving 'problems of practice' were, for the most part left to research and study at the local university.

My how the times have changed! For starters, I cringe when I hear teachers (from other school districts mind you) say the principal has never been in their classroom, or they can't remember the last time they saw the principal. For the record, supervising the teaching staff is a primary responsibility of the building principal, and done well, this supervisory role puts the principal squarely in the middle of knowing about instructional practice in their school. In Hudson you should (and will) see building principals roaming the halls and visiting classrooms on a pretty regular and consistent basis.

The isolating nature of the work has changed dramatically as well. No longer do teachers refer to 'their' students; but rather 'our' students. A problem of practice is formally shared within a teaching group where they can collaborate to form a solution. At the elementary, our teachers meet weekly with the building principal in grade level meetings to discuss matters of instruction. In those meeting, student achievement data is shared across sections. If one teacher's scores are higher than their colleagues, the discussion isn't about how great that teacher did, but rather what they did, and how it can be replicated across the sections. On the other hand, if scores in a teacher's classroom aren't at the level they should be, it is an opportunity to lift one another up and work collectively for a solution.

Third Grade team discussing assessment questions while
Principal Schlatter looks on.
About two week ago I had an opportunity to sit in for a brief time with one of our grade level team meetings. In addition to the grade level teachers, was an instructional coach and the principal. The conversation around the table was about the assessment instrument that was going to be administered the next day. The principal was asking which content standards would be covered by the questions. The teachers were wondering which questions might trip the students up. The instructional coach was discussing what would happen after they collected the data.

Then last week, after the data was collected the conversation shifted to, 'now what do we do about it?' Were the teachers right about the questions that tripped up the students? Did the students meet the standards for maturation they had anticipated? And then most important: What do we do about the students that haven't mastered the content? How about those that are ready to move on?

For those of you that have been following our conversation the last couple of years this should sound somewhat familiar because this is known as the PLC (Professional Learning Community) process where our instructors answer four key questions about instruction:
  1. What is is we want our students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know if we are successful?
  3. What will we do if students met our target?
  4. What will we do for those who haven't?
In our PLC work we have continued to focus on three key ideas that have been discussed by Richard DuFour in his book, "Learning by Doing". Our purpose is to ensure that all students learn at high levels; success requires a collaborative effort; and we must focus on the results of our students. This means that teachers have to work outside their comfort zone!

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