Friday, April 21, 2017

Time Tracker Tool

Part of the problem with instructional coaching is just getting the opportunity to begin working with teachers.  Early on, at the suggestion of an administrator, I asked a team if I could visit each teacher's classroom for one full class period to observe and get a feel for the content, class structure, and instructional strategies being used.  

To let teachers know what to expect, I informed them in advance of when I would visit, that I would share a script of the lesson, and that I would be glad to have a follow-up feedback conversation with them afterward if they would like.  During these observations, I loosely scripted the lessons and recorded my thoughts and questions at the bottom of the script.  I told teachers at the conclusion of the lesson that I would send them the script only (not my feedback) and that I would be glad to follow up with them, per their request, to offer feedback.  Every teacher during that round of this work did engage in a feedback conversation with me.

I learned as I went along that if I were able to visit during their class just before planning or the end of the day, teachers were especially eager to have the feedback conversations.

This strategy worked well, but I knew I would be joining the team at their next PLC meeting, and I wanted some sort of compiled data to share with the team.  This is how the Time Tracker idea was born.  Because this particular team has placed high emphasis on collaboration, all classes consisted of the same openers, class notes, homework, etc.  

As I reviewed the scripts of all classroom visits, it was easy to determine appropriate categories for what I observed. Then I determined how many minutes each teacher spent on each category and represented it on a chart.  I also added pie chart to show the amounts of time spent on each category.

During the meeting, I displayed the group data (keeping teacher names/data anonymous by labeling Teacher #1).  I led discussion among the group to discuss their noticings and wonderings about the data as well as shared trends that were not displayed on the graph that I noticed among the classrooms.

The team's conversation revolved around interest in things like, "I notice that I spent twice as much time as other people on the homework. How are you keeping that time down in your classes?"

Overall, this was a good tool that I have used with other teams as well as vertically across different teams.  A difference that I've noticed with other teams, however, is that if they are less collaborative, it can take more thought to create categories.

Another thing I learned with the first team was that right away everyone really wanted to know what number they were on the graph.  So after that, I changed my protocol a bit so that now I email individual teachers the Time Tracker chart the day before the data conversation meeting, and I tell them what number they are on the graph.  This way, teachers can come in ready to discuss what they feel is the most pertinent information.

This process could also be valuable to administrators or teacher leaders.

If you are interested, you can purchase my Time Tracker from our TeachersPayTeachers store, available in Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Only Thing Constant ...

Each year brings change.  This past year is no exception.  Clint traded the classroom for an assistant principal office.  I left a job teaching 3rd grade math in one district for a job as instructional coach at a high school in another district.  The change for me has been great both in magnitude and in attitude.

Initially, I wasn't sure how receptive high school teachers would be of my elementary background.  However, I've been pleasantly surprised that they welcomed me with open arms (and doors).  I attribute this to approaching teachers in almost every initial meeting with appreciation of their strengths and recognition of their incredible content knowledge.  After all, they spent almost their entire undergraduate careers focused on building content knowledge, and they are the experts.  What I quickly discovered though is that these content masters got little to no training in instructional strategies and pedagogy.  They are well aware of this fact and most of these secondary teachers are hungry to learn more.

It has been a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us as we venture through this together!  I look forward to sharing some of the strategies and processes I am finding successful in this work.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Personalized Learning - Part 2: Time to Rethink Time

Before getting too far along, I need to explain what personalized learning is in a nutshell.

Disclaimer:  Please note that there are entire books written to explain personalized learning.  I have read several.  Wonderful books.  Looooong books.  This is a condensed version in my own words.

Personalized learning is student-centered learning.  I say again, STUDENT-centered.  It takes into account each child's abilities, interests, and learning styles.  It is mastery-based.  And have I mentioned yet that it is student-centered?

It differs from differentiation because in differentiated learning the entire class is working on the same skill or standard just at different levels.  In a personalized learning environment, students will be working on different skills at different levels at different times.

So are you starting to get an idea?  When I started teaching 5th grade math 11 years ago, I stood at the front of the room every day and lectured the whole class because lecturing is what you do in 5th grade.  I knew all of my kids weren't getting it, but that didn't stop me.  I just charged right through.  Still, I was a good teacher with good lessons.  There are lots of lecturers that are good teachers with good lessons.

This was NOT personalized learning though.  It was not student-centered.  It was teacher-centered.  ME-centered.

When I moved to Kindergarten 3 years later, I started using stations along with whole group instruction because stations are what you do in Kindergarten.  I had dabbled in stations a bit in 5th grade, but I was afraid to relinquish too much control because, after all, how would my students learn without ME telling them directly? Again, ME-centered.  By my last year in Kindergarten, I had a problem.  My kids were either way up here (please imagine my hand showing you the levels) or way down here.  Only a couple in between.  I discovered that whole group instruction just wasn't going to work with this group, so I took it out and my kids just rotated between small group time with me, a.k.a. "Dates with Mrs. Dowda", and 3 other stations.

In studying personalized learning, I now know I was doing a station rotation model without ever hearing the term or knowing anything about it.  I've since met dozens of teachers who have personalized learning for years without know technical terms.  How?  Because they are good teachers who take into account the needs of their students.

Personalized learning began for me by looking at what my class offered through the eyes of my high-achievers, on-levelers, and strugglers.  It only took me a second to realize that during whole-group instruction time even with differentiation my above level students were bored because they either already knew the material or picked it up quickly.  My below-level students were bored because I was speaking over their heads.  My on-level students were doing fine.

To make this long story a little shorter, here's what I do now ... One day per week I teach math whole group.  I introduce the new unit as a quick and dirty overview and conclude with a pre-test exit ticket.  Based on the pre-test, I make 4 performance groups for the rest of the week.  I meet with my highest students in a small group one day per week.  Just one day per week for 40 minutes and we move at an accelerated pace through the entire week's content on the new topic.  I meet with my lowest group every day (except my overview day) for 20 minutes at a slower pace and just try to get them working the skill at its lowest levels.  I meet with the middle groups together 3 days per week to work at a "normal" pace.

Some teachers' first response is "but that's not fair because you have to meet with all your groups the same."  Says who?!?  My lowest kiddos need me the most.  My highest kiddos need me in bursts to help get them started.  The image below is not my creation, but it drives home the idea that fair doesn't have to mean equal.  Personalized learning is about giving kids what they need to succeed.

The natural question that follows this is, "So what do you do to personalize learning for your other kids while you're working in small groups?"  The one-word answer, which I will go into detail about in my next post is ... playlists.

Ooooh!  I can hardly wait to share about playlists!

Other posts in this Personalized Learning series ...
Part 1: Freedom to Fail