Saturday, October 13, 2012

Inspired by KIPP to push BVP to the next level

This week I had a fantastic experience visiting schools and classrooms as part of the KIPP: Leadership Design Fellowship.  I learned many things over the week, among them that BVP has already adopted and is implementing some great practices that will help push our scholars "to and through college."  As we all know, however, there are a many opportunities for BVP to continuously improve....

During the sessions, I divided my notebook pages in half: the right side was intended to capture the notes of the session to help me keep focused; the left side was for my ideas and inspirations to bring back to BVP.  I found myself writing on the left side non-stop.  Jumping to the top of my pages are two highly related actions that I am convinced will propel BVP to the next level:

  • Every teacher, every week is observed for fifteen minutes after which there is a fifteen minute face-to-face feedback session.  
  • The focus of the classroom visit is almost exclusively on the actions of the scholars.

The idea behind the first is that there is no better professional development than a one-on-one, highly focused conversation between educators.  The observation provides a platform for a focused and powerful conversation about what teacher actions can be improved to enhance student learning.  According to Paul Bambrick-Santoyo by keeping the ratio of teachers:observer at 15:1, these actions will become the most powerful 7.5 hours a week in a leaders calendar. This sounds eminently doable.

Focusing classroom visits on the actions of scholars is a little less intuitive. Jeff Rutel of 102 Group asked us how many of us use video to help teachers improve instruction - most hands quickly shot up. He then asked how many deliberately and almost exclusively point the camera at scholars - most hands shot back down.  He pressed us to really think about the "so what?" question.  Rather than give feedback on teacher actions, focus on the results of those actions. 

He asked us to complete the following statement in each classroom:
The teacher action was ____________, and as a result the scholars did ____________.
School and teacher leaders then use the weekly check-in to focus on the scholars' doing (often to ensure rigorous use of higher order thinking skills (HOTS) to engage 100% of the class).  Consider these examples where small changes in the teacher actions lead to much more significant engagement and potential for rigor:

An elementary example

The teacher action was to enthusiastically and charismatically read a picture book, and as a result 26/26 scholars demonstrated that they could sit in STAR.
vs. 
The teacher action was to enthusiastically and charismatically read a picture book and ask questions, and as a result 26/26 scholars demonstrated that they could sit in STAR, and six scholars could answer a range of questions including recall questions and prediction questions.
vs.
The teacher action was to enthusiastically and charismatically read a picture book and ask questions, as a result the scholars demonstrated that all could sit in STAR, 22 of 26 scholars actively engaged in a turn-and-talk and appeared on task, and then 25 of 26 scholars wrote in their journal an alternative ending to the story.
A middle level example
The teacher action was to use an overhead (or PowerPoint) to deliver guided notes, and as a result 25/26 scholars demonstrated that they could transcribe notes.
vs.
The teacher action was to use an overhead (or PowerPoint) to deliver guided notes while "asking for hands" 8 times scholars to read the notes aloud and answer questions, and as a result 25/26 scholars demonstrated that they could transcribe notes, 5/26 showed that they could read aloud, and 2/3 called on could successfully answer questions.
vs. 
The teacher action was to use an overhead (or PowerPoint) to deliver guided notes while "asking for hands" for scholars to read the notes aloud and use whiteboards both in pairs and individually to answer questions, and as a result 25/26 scholars demonstrated that they could transcribe notes, 5/26 could read aloud, 22/26 could answer the questions while working in pairs and 20/26 could answer the questions individually.
Clearly there is a ton more to cover than what is already too long of a blog entry, but get ready for a push in two areas:

  1. Far more and regular observation and feedback, and
  2. Looking closely at the actions of scholars to ensure that they are engaged in rigorous thinking.

If, however, you don't believe in HOTS, you aren't alone - check out this report about Texas via Valerie Strauss and the Washington Post! (Pretty ironic to cite Valerie in blog commending KIPP, but sometimes she's right on!).

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