Instructional Rounds practitioner sharing and support.
Instructional rounds in the primary school (in this example, a PreK - 2 school in Passaic, New Jersey) presents a range of grade levels and age appropriate teaching and learning elements unique in many ways. From grade level standards, teacher skill and knowledge, and the young student as a learner, the challenges to improving instruction are different than in other schools. The network of educators who conducted instructional rounds in this early childhood school was carefully constructed to ensure that the membership was composed of a variety of expertise necessary to help the school improve. The efforts of the network and the school are showing results.
We had an eye-opening instructional rounds session last week in a small high school in New York City. The staff's change efforts are paying off. Improving the interactions between the academic content, students and teachers requires a concerted and persistent effort. Significant change is hard work, and the staff has been buoyed by what is taking place.
The integrity of rounds work is based on objective and specific observation notes, free of personal judgment and full of specific description - low inference. But what content should these notes include to allow for useful analysis in the debriefing? The first qualifier is covering all aspects of the school's Problem of Practice (POP). Some of these aspects are connected directly to the stated POP while others may be no more than contributing factors, but all are useful. For example, if the POP is about the nature of feedback students and teachers exchange with each other about student learning, examples observed of the various types/forms of feedback would be of special interest in the notes, but so too would descriptions of interactions between the teacher, student, and content that discouraged feedback from taking place. Notes on the structure of the lesson, teacher assessment techniques, student investment in the content, etc. would be among worthwhile evidence. Useful notes reveal interactions that encourage and discourage or block progress on resolving the POP. A well-chosen POP is about help the school wants to attack a problem of student learning, so it stands to reason that productive notes address an inquiry into all aspects of the question raised.
Conceptual understanding of math is rarely found in American classrooms. Math is most often taught (regardless of the level of technology used) as content over which students are expected to gain command by applying the correct procedures to get the right answers. Too many students graduate by scoring well enough to pass tests but with little understanding of math concepts. Students leave us with a fear of taking math in college because they know they do not understand the content.
Students are being asked more often in the classroom to work in pairs and small groups. But how often is the student discussion that takes place simply cooperative versus truly collaborative? Cooperative discussion occurs when students help each other to get their individual work done by telling one another the answer, showing each other how to do the work, explaining what needs to be done, taking turns or parts in the assignment, or doing the work for each other. One student often acquiesces or simply accepts what another offers. Assignments at the recalling or understanding levels of Bloom's Taxonomy make collaborative discussion impossible to achieve. Collaborative discussion becomes more likely when students are applying knowledge or skills to solve a problem, jointly analyzing or evaluating each other's work (perhaps using a rubric), or creating a product. Collaborative discussions are characterized by students exchanging points of view, persisting to question each other and understand versus acquiescing, contributing original ideas while knowing their ideas are valued by their peers, extending learning, and completing assignments that reflect the thinking and ownership of all discussants. Collaborative discussion enables conceptual understanding, deeper learning, and engagement of the mind.