Monday, January 27, 2014

Formal Observations and Student Led Teaching

Hi, all!  I am SO happy to tell you all that I had my (one and only!) formal observation for this year!  In NYC, we have two options for our evals: 1 formal and 3 informal or 6 informal.  Like my entire grade, I took the first option.  Our evaluations are based on the Danielson Framework, so for my formal obersvation, I needed to incorporate all 22 strands. Yikes!

Long, long, long agonizing story short, my observation went really well. I've been working with my class on having them take the lead all year and it really paid off during this observation.  My students were totally on point and engaged for the whole lesson (and my AP stayed for all of focused reading instruction and scaffolded instruction - two full periods!). In particular, my students sustained an awesome "Team Talk" conversation without me stepping in at all.  During this portion of the morning, the students discussed whether it was right for a character to eavesdrop on another character.  My student leader called on classmates who responded directly to claims made by other students. They were supporting with evidence, they were clarifying for each other (!) and they asking each other questions.  This conversation went so well that my AP asked if I could deliver some PD and have my class video taped for others to watch!  :-O

As part of my reflection for our post observation conference, I wanted to write a little bit about how I encouraged my students to really take ownership of class discussions this year.

1.) Establish a culture of respect early on. You may have students who need to see that disagreement can be civil and they need to understand that when someone disagrees with them it isn't personal.  I can't tell you how many times I had to repeat that phrase throughout September and October.  It isn't personal when someone sees another side of things. I'm fortunate to have a co-teacher in my room during the "Team Talk" portion of ReadyGen (our literacy program).  He and I modeled how to disagree but stay friendly.

2.) Respond directly to other students.  A few months ago I posted about how I gave my students prompts to help them direct the questioning.  Their favorite was "Who would like to agree or disagree?" but too often when they called on a classmate to agree or disagree the student would use the sentence stem but never actually respond directly to the idea they were agreeing with or disagreeing with!  Students need to understand they can take a minute to think about what's been said and then speak directly to that rather than sit, listen and wait their turn to say something new.

3.) Remind students frequently to speak to each other. I will interrupt students to remind them to speak to the previous speaker. This keeps the conversation focused and avoids the pattern of student speaks, teacher/student teacher speaks, new student speaks.

4.) Force yourself to step back.  Allow a little bit of silence in the room while students think and train student leaders to be able to identify students how have burning questions.  As much as we do not want our students to call out, sometimes a student may blurt out the exact questions you were about to pose to the class to keep the conversation rolling.  Student generated questions are essential to student led conversations!

5.) Debrief the class after they have a conversation. Take quick notes and highlight the things the class does well.  Do they look at each other when they speak? Did the student leader do a great job calling on many voices?  Was everyone using respectful body language?  Did you refer directly to text? Did anyone ask a great question?  Find those positives and praise the heck out of them!  Then determine the next course of action and tell them how they will improve their conversation for the next discussion.  You might do a mini lesson on what to do if a conversation seems to die out.  This lesson isn't just for the student leading the discussion but all students, because eventually you want all students to take turns leading the conversation.

My next step is to move these student led teaching strategies into math!

Tell me, how do you have your students take the lead in your classroom?


  1. It's really cool that you can choose which option you want for your evals! My principal does lots of informal evals and it is nerve-wracking every time she walks in! Surprise!! Lol! I'm glad that yours went well! I am scheduled for my formal eval soon! :-)

    Life As I Know It

  2. I'd LOVE to see your video if you do end up making one. I'd for sure want to see your class in action after reading your post. It sounds like you have a great group of kids this year that are flourishing with you! Awesome! So glad that your formal observation went so well. This year I got to choose 4 walk throughs...2 announced and 2 unannounced. We have only had to show evidence so far for the 4th domain with a bulleted list. So thankful we had this option!!!
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'