I began planning my classroom observations after our school created the requirements for our first round of Focus Walks. I chose classes that were within the scope of my own certification so that I did not get bogged down in the content being taught, but more on the teaching strategies being employed. I varied the contents and times of day as best fit my planning schedule. I based my observations on the Focus Walk “walk-through” requirements that our school, through the Building Leadership Team (BLT), had put into place. Of course, a walk-through is a short visit that requires very little assessment, but these observations would be more in-depth, looking for the same four areas in each classroom: Standards Posted; Exemplary Student Work Displayed; Teacher Interaction; and Students Are Actively Engaged.
The first area, Standards Posted, was very readily seen. The standards were visible in all three of the classrooms that I visited at my school and also in the classroom that I visited at the high school level. The standards at our school were posted not only in the specific standard, but had been paraphrased into student-friendly terms as had been suggested by our principal. The high school classroom, especially since it was a twelfth grade class, was based on the standard. In two of the three classrooms, in addition to the standard, the elements were listed, as well. Since our county adopted the Learning Focused School model six years ago, all classrooms have been required to post an essential question. These EQ’s were posted in the classroom and were based on the standard for the day. For all three of the classrooms at my school, in addition to the standards and essential questions, the “word walls” were utilized so that content specific terms were readily accessible for the students. Therefore, all four of the classrooms met the basic requirement of the posting of the standards.
For some reason, posting student work seems to be more difficult for many of the teachers at my school. As the year went on, the teachers became more comfortable with posting student work. Therefore, the two observations that I completed in the first semester had some student work posted, but there were few comments on them. During the second semester, the teachers that I observed seemed to have a wider variety of work posted and the comments that were provided on the “exemplary work” were comments that would help guide the students toward better work on the next assignment. In the classroom that I observed at the high school, she had information about the graduation test posted and a few student assignments, but with such a wide variety of classes (she teaches one Algebra I Basic, one Algebra I Advanced, one Geometry Basic, one Geometry Advanced, and two Algebra III classes), so she was struggling with the best way to display the work that wouldn’t detract from the other classes. For the most part, all the teachers that were observed were meeting the criteria of posting student work.
During the course of my observations, I observed the teachers in a variety of settings. In all four of the settings, the teachers were up and moving around the room throughout the majority of the class. In both collaborative classes, one teacher was moving throughout the room at all times, including during the time that the other teacher was taking roll. All three teachers at my school were utilizing the whole classroom. In two of the classrooms, Activboards were being utilized in the instruction. Both teachers in the math class “discovering” surface area were moving from table to table to help the groups of students as they were wrapping the paper around the rectangular shape and then using the rules to actually measure and calculate the area. As the class time came to a close, the teachers collected the wrapping paper to place in a cabinet for safekeeping for use the next day. In the language arts class, both teachers were walking around the room as the students were reading the chapter aloud. They continued to walk around the room, questioning students further as they wrote their summary for the chapter. During this time, they not only questioned the students about the content, but also about the writing process and grammar. The seventh grade math teacher had used the Activboard for the lecture, allowing him to go back and re-play parts of the lesson as questions arose during the practice portion of the lesson. He continued walking throughout the room to monitor the students when he wasn’t utilizing the Activboard. The high school teacher kept the student focus at the front of the room for the first part of the class and then had students come to her in a central location of the room if they had specific questions as they worked through the practice problems. In my observations, I felt that all of the teachers that I observed were actively monitoring the students and their progress in the lesson.
The final aspect that I was looking for was if the students were actively engaged. As you can imagine, the students who were wrapping the rectangles were very excited about wrapping their shape, carefully unfolding it, and then making accurate measurements. They were in groups of four, so every student, especially those with special needs, was given hands-on experience in learning about surface area. The seventh grade math class, through the use of the Activboard, helped keep the students on task. By being able to go over the same method several times, step-by-step, the students were able to work through several problems with the teacher and then move on to work them on their own as they understood the process. The language arts teachers kept all the students involved by allowing each student to read a section, including the special needs students in the class. While they didn’t read as long, they did read a portion, allowing them to feel connected, yet not responsible for all of the “work”. They also kept the students engaged during the writing portion with questions, suggestions, references to their own experiences and asking students to write about theirs. Students were also reminded several times during the course of the class that they would be watching the video of the book AFTER they have finished it and been tested on it. The reminders asked the students to visualize certain scenes so that they would be able to compare them to the video. The high school math teacher kept the students engaged through constant reminders of not only the graduation test, but about how they might use this in every day life. She made several attempts to get the students to understand slope in ways they might use in the future. In fact, one reference was made with a student who enjoyed skateboarding and asked them to think about slope in terms of creating a “quarter-pipe” on which they might like to skateboard. In using relevant activities, students are better able to relate what they are learning and it makes it easier to retain when it is important to them.
I enjoyed my observations not only as a potential administrator, but as a current teacher, as well. All of the teachers, based on my observations, would have scored well on my “walk-through” and would have helped bring the school into line with what is expected by a Standards Based School. These teachers were given specific areas to address in their classroom and have met those areas, and in some instances, exceeded the expectations. The focus of my observations, the first four areas of my school’s Focus Walks, seemed to be bringing us well within our goal!