George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers and administrators all over are trying to figure out how to support English Learners (ELs). One of the schools that I work with, United for Success Academy (UFSA), in Oakland, CA, has launched a concerted effort in the last year to address the needs of their ELs who comprise some 90 percent of the student body.

Teachers at this middle school have engaged in professional development on a range of instructional approaches including explicit academic vocabulary instruction, the use of sentence stems, and various structures for small group discussion.

This staff has been working diligently, but it's been hard to measure the impact of their efforts. Written assessments don't give us a complete picture of what students can verbally express -- of course, the intention is that spoken language will translate into high written performance, but these are also two separate things.

Instructional Rounds

Enter Instructional Rounds: a process adapted from the medical rounds model that doctors use in hospitals. Instructional Rounds help educators look closely at what is happening in classrooms in a systematic, purposeful and focused way. Given where United for Success Academy was this winter -- well into implementation of a number of strategies to support ELs -- it seemed worth trying.

The first step in an Instructional Rounds process is determining a "problem of practice." This is often framed as a question around which a site wants to gather some data. UFSA's instructional leadership team proposed the question, "What are our students saying?" Almost all of the teachers, as well as the administrators and a site-coach, participated in the rounds that took place over three days. In small groups, teachers visited four of their colleague's classrooms for 20 minutes each, looking for evidence related to the problem of practice.

One of the most challenging aspects with Rounds is that the evidence must be observational and non-judgmental. When visiting classes, UFSA's teachers took notes on anything related to the question, "What are our students saying?" This included direct quotes from students, teacher-directions related to discussion and dialogue, and quantitative data on how many students responded to a teacher's question or engaged in a group discussion. Noted were pieces of evidence such as: "teacher asked a question and called on a student," "student glanced down at the sentence stems that were taped to his desk before responding," and "student said... ."

The Results

After visiting classrooms participants engaged in lengthy reflection and debrief protocols. They tried to make sense of the data they'd gathered without jumping to conclusions or solutions. They discovered that there were many ways that students were engaged in discussion, (whole group, small group, partner-talk) that some students demonstrated developing usage of "academic vocabulary," and that teachers were using a number of effective strategies such as, "equity sticks," sentence stems, and modeling by using academic language. Teachers felt good; they saw evidence that they were on the right track.

A Big Question Emerges

Looking at the data, one teacher posed a question that caused much reflection: Is it possible for one of our students to come to school on Monday morning and not speak for the entire week? Could they actually travel through all their classes and never speak?

Most teachers nodded their heads. One thing they'd all noticed was that there was less student-talk than they'd expected, assumed, and hoped. There were invitations to speak, some structures established, but there still wasn't as much talk as they wanted. And then as they thought about specific kids in their classes, they reflected that, yes, it was possible that some students could go for a week, or two, or maybe even a month without speaking. Teachers began to think and talk about how to address and change this.

The Research

As a school improvement coach, I've been in dozens, perhaps hundreds of classrooms where ELs predominate. Over and over I notice that kids aren't talking much. The research also says this. It seems as if every other week there's an article saying that ELs need to speak more, need structure and support and a bank of words to choose from, and more than anything, they need to speak to each other more. I often want to tell teachers, "Just let them talk!," but I know how that might be received.

Instructional Rounds was a powerful process at UFSA for teachers to get in to each other's classrooms and see what students are saying, doing, and learning. After Rounds, many teachers reflected, "We need to get our kids talking more, every single one of them." I'm excited to see what happens in the next few of months as they implement more refined strategies for ELs. And in mid-April, they'll engage in Instructional Rounds again.

Suggested resources:

Improving Teaching and Learning through Instructional Rounds

Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning

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Alan Berthelot's picture
Alan Berthelot
6th grade Social Studies/6th-8th grade Pre Law

We have been conducting these types of observations at my school for several years. We have found it to be very beneficial. For this program to work teachers must understand that any criticisms are meant in a constructive manner. There has to be an established trust among the faculty. If you don't have this, then don't try this. As teachers we get to have a new set of eyes and ears in the classroom and know what it is to be a teachers in today's schools. A different perspective in the classroom also helps to bring out things that we may have grown accustomed to and didn't know or realize that it was harming our instructional practices.

Con Morris's picture
Con Morris
Professional learning adviser, Scottish Government

Here in Scotland, the National CPD Team have been using 'learning rounds' for a number of years. This is modelled on instructional rounds. See this Times Ed article for more details

We would be happy to provide more details to Edutopia members if of value

Rebecca's picture
Grade 5 teacher in Curitiba, Brazil

I learned about this type of observation and feedback during my student teaching. As a student teacher, I visited my classmates' various schools to observe their teaching and provide them with feedback. The school that I was student teaching in, did the same with their teachers. Most of the teachers (and all of my fellow student teachers) saw the observations as incredibly helpful, refreshing, and eyeopening. I would love to set these observations up in my school as well!

Faisal's picture

Hello All, I am proud to say that I have created this idea in one of the schools that I have been teaching ten years ago, it was a trial and not welcomed by many of my colleagues. But lately, when each one was involved with it, they all loved it and we learned from each others too many things and that reflected on our students learning.

Erin's picture

I remember doing this when I was a student teacher with my mentor. I thought it was a great because you get to see how others teach the material and it offers a lot of insight and you can pick out things that you would want to start trying in your own classroom.
Unfortunately where I currently teach there is only time given to new teachers to observe other teachers. I would love to see how my colleagues teach because I know I could learn a lot from them.

Ms. Lopez's picture

We had this idea years ago, but due to other work priorities we did not have time to do it. Now, I am thinking of encouraging my colleagues to put this on priority, for this is a good way of learning from others and an opportunity to reflect on teaching practices and develop professionally.

Ms. Castillo's picture

The school I used to teach at used a similar approach called, "Teacher-to-Teacher Reflection"
The reflection process consisted of a three-step process. First, you and your colleague would meet, and they would ask your lesson objective and what things you wanted them to look for to create a checklist (sometimes checklist items were mandated by the principal's school initiatives). Second, they would come and observe your lesson, and you would objectively annotate what was happening in the classroom in accordance to the checklist. Third, you would meet to go over your lesson, and they would give you their notes for you to reflect on. During that time, four questions were asked.
-What worked?
-What didn't? / What could have worked better?
-What are your next steps?
-What do you need from the observer/coach?
Your colleague served as a guide and a soundboard.
Since the process was non-evaluative and focused on data, as you mentioned, it helped maintain a positive and professional work environment. The school I currently teach at, has an approach that comes off evaluative and it does not allow the teacher to reflect as much about what their lesson. I will raise this issue and hopefully it is acknowledged.

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