Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Critical Issues in School Reform


R E F L E C T I N G  O N  T E A C H I N G  P R A C T I C E
Student Work and Teacher Work,
Part II-Science

I. About the Program | II. On-Line Activities | III. Viewer Activities | IV. Resources


An Introductory Workshop

This session is most appropriate for a group with little to no experience in peer observation and reflective dialogue.

Part 1: Preparing to Watch the Video (15 minutes)

Brainstorm ways that teachers usually interact with one another in schools. Make note of comments on a board or chart paper. Ask the group to think about how many of these ways are connected to student learning, and how many involve time spent in one another's classrooms. Ask the group to think about what traditional purposes for classroom observation are.

Introduce the tape as a different approach to observation: a tool in improving teaching practice.

Part 2: Watching the Video (45 minutes)

Ask participants to think about both the comments group members make and the process they use in their conversation.

Part 3: Discussing the Issues Raised in the Video (30 minutes)

Use questions such as the following to facilitate a conversation about the video:

1. What was most interesting to you about the conversation that you saw?

2. What do you think of the process for the conversation? In what ways were the questions used to guide the discussion helpful? What are the benefits of using such a process? What concerns would it raise for you?

3. If you were the presenting teacher, what would be most valuable to you about this experience? What would be most frustrating?

4. What purposes might reflective dialogue around classroom observation serve in your school? What would get in the way of such dialogue happening?

5. What kind of relationship would you have to establish with colleagues to make this kind of conversation possible?

6. Imagine that a trusted colleague offers to spend a class period in your classroom. What would you like him or her to focus on? What question about your own teaching, or a particular lesson, would you like her input in thinking about?

An Intermediate Workshop

This session is most appropriate for a group with some experience in using these processes and interest in further developing their abilities to engage in and respond to classroom observations.

Part 1: Preparing to Watch the Video (15 minutes)

Discuss ways that you and your colleagues have used peer observation. What kinds of reflective dialogues has it prompted? What has been particularly rewarding? What has been particularly hard? If you were to make progress in this work, what would be different in six months? In a year?

Part 2: Watching the Video and Discussing the Issues It Raises (90 minutes)

Use the video as an example of a reflective dialogue that you are able to both participate in and critique. Stop the tape at key points and consider the following:

1. Watch the opening eight minutes of the program (the introduction, the norms, and the roles).

Stop the tape before the classroom segment begins. In this setting, the teacher whose classroom is being "observed" via videotape is not present. What are the purposes for reflecting on teaching practice when the teacher is not present? What are the limits on such a conversation?

Before you resume watching the tape, ask one-third of your group to pay particular attention to the students in the classroom, one-third to watch and listen to Sarah in her classroom, and one-third to watch and listen to Sarah as she talks about her teaching. Watch the video of Sarah and the students in her classroom.

a. Stop the tape after Fran, the moderator, introduces the first question for discussion: "What did you see? What did you hear?"

b. In small groups (of no more than eight participants each), with representatives of each of the three roles assigned above, take ten minutes to share what you saw and heard in the classroom. Be as descriptive as possible in your comments; stay away from interpretation as much as possible.

c. Now watch the tape for the group's response.

d. Stop the tape, and take no more than 5 minutes to ask how the comments of the videotaped group differed from those in your groups locally, or what comments you thought were particularly helpful.

To further the discussion, consider the following:

What is the value of describing what you see in an observation before moving on to "feedback"? How might you use this step in your peer observing and debriefing structures?

How does what a teacher "sees" or "hears" in an observation reflect his or her own assumptions about teaching?

3. Move on to the next question: "What questions do you have about this observation?" Follow the steps in the box. To take your discussion further, consider these questions:

What have your experiences been in giving feedback on a lesson that did not go well? What kinds of learning can take place in debriefing such a lesson that may not be possible in a lesson that was successful?

How is observing and debriefing different in a context in which teachers share responsibility for lesson planning and implementation? How is giving feedback on such a lesson different than if the teacher is "all alone" in planning a lesson?

4. Move on to the next question: What were the students working on as learners? What was Sarah working on as the teacher? Follow the steps in the box. To take your discussion further, consider these questions:

How are peer observations shaped by the observers' understanding of what the teacher is "working on"? In what ways can an observer learn about the teachers' goals for the lesson, both for the students and for the development of her own practice?

Many teachers encounter subject areas in which their knowledge is less strong than they would like. How can teachers work together within their schools, as well as with external resources, to strengthen their subject knowledge? How can collaborative work, such as peer observation and debriefing, relate to such an effort?

5. Move on to the next question: What implications does this raise for your teaching practice? Follow the steps in the box. To take your discussion further, consider these questions:

Bob Lisch tells a story about students needing to articulate their preconceptions before moving on to a new experiment in science. How can teachers articulate their own preconceptions to help them move forward in their own practice? Preconceptions also become apparent in observers' comments. What preconceptions do you think the videotaped group members hold? How can you, as an observer, identify your own preconceptions and the ways they influence your observation?

During an observation, how can you get a sense of "what the students are thinking"? Is there a role for examining student work, in conjunction with classroom observation? What kinds of evidence would student work provide that might be useful to the teacher being observed?

6. Watch the remainder of the tape. Then consider the following questions:

  • As you commented on how the videotaped groups' comments were different than your own, what did you learn about your own work in using peer observation to improve teaching practice? If you thought that your comments were similar to the videotaped groups', what comments were especially helpful? How can you work to support these kinds of comments in your work?

  • If you had been a member of the videotaped group, what would you have learned?

  • What changes, if any, would you make to the ways you use peer observation and debriefing as prompts for reflective dialogue?

  • Given your experience in your school, what do you think are key elements of effective structures for peer observation and debriefing?


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