Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Observing Student Behaviors in Walk Through Observations

As a short follow up to my recent post, it is worth sharing the great work of Stephen Barkley.
He blogs at http://blogs.plsweb.com/ and I was lucky enough to hear him at our EARCOS Conference in Lisbon earlier this year.

Steve's a very dynamic presenter, but his message struck a chord in me that caused me to re-think the way we at the American International School of Budapest were conducting our Walk-Through observations for professional growth by principals in addition to the criteria that we're trying to develop to help guide our Peer Observation process.

In short, he shared the following diagram and highlighted a missing piece in our process - and I would think in other schools' processes as well.

 Steve walked us through a simple process which I believe could be repeated in many schools.

1. Examine your mission and/or vision statement for learning, and ask staff to list student behaviors that would exemplify the statements in these documents.

2. List a few, our quick list included actions such as "Students who..."
  • respectfully question each other and the teacher
  • naturally self-assess
  • take academic risks
  • pose their own challenging questions about content
  • collaborate and come away with deeper understanding
  • make predictions
  • connect content and construct personal meaning
As he pointed out, a group of educators could quite easily develop a list of 20 student-actions similar to these in about 30 minutes.

3. Put these characteristics into the "look-fors" for any observation tool.

His main point: These student behaviors should be the basis for our observation and follow up discussions. 

If we want to change student achievement, and we want to change it in regards to the criteria that are stated in our mission/vision statements (as opposed to simply our test scores), then we need to be examining the opportunities when we could engage students in this type of learning.

We need to be having discussions about how to increase their frequency.
We need to be talking about whether these opportunities are having an impact on student achievement.

At AISB, our current walk-through model was developed last year and we are looking to evaluate its effectiveness. It does include "Student Behaviors" such as:
- listening
- listening with notes/worksheet
- group work
(and many more)

But a limitation of this is that these student actions are based on general activities without trying to be more specific with the types of learning and thinking that are taking place for the students.  For example, group work can consist of a wide variety of tasks and it is a rather limiting piece of data to say that students are "working in groups."  It gives a snapshot of the classroom activity, but not a good snapshot of what type of thinking students are engaged in.

Are there models out there which have already been developed that look at these types of aspects?
If anyone out there currently utilizes a similar system, what the benefits and potential pitfalls?

Before signing off, there is one other element I love about the way the diagram is depicted. It is neither top-down nor bottom up.
Each of us has a role and can have an influence. But the adoption-flow of this process can start with an individual in the classroom and expand outward to others who wish to be involved, or it can start from the furthest point from student achievement (leadership behaviors) and work its way towards influencing individual student behaviors, and eventual student achievement.