Day 28: Instructional Coaching

Monday, 22 September 2014

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I was observed a little more than a week ago — my class was filmed and the Dean of Faculty sat in to take notes on the lesson. For a lecture, it was pretty darned awesome. My problem was the “for a lecture” part of that sentence. Today, we sat to do some coaching on the lesson. Amazing experience. Below is the summary of our coaching session from my Dean of Faculty.

Meg–Thanks for meeting with me and Anita [a math teacher with previous coaching experience] on Monday to reflect on your videotaped class. You were pleased with the level of engagement with your students–they were asking clarifying questions, taking notes, etc. You also noted that you had “created need” for the formulas you were putting on the board by having students already engaged in building musical instruments based on the properties of waves. You, Anita, and I agreed that opening with the video “hooks” (of Zamfir, master of the pan flute, no less!) was very effective.

I was proud of this lesson because of its timing. I was ashamed of this lesson because it was way too much sit-and-get. On the positive side, my students needed to know how to calculate resonator lengths to build their musical instruments. This lesson showed them how to do it. Every kid in the room wanted to learn this stuff.

Though you felt that the lesson was “really good direct instruction”, you saw this strategy as inherently limited; therefore, you rated the lesson at a a 7/10. You noted that many students emailed you after class with questions on the material that indicated that the direct instruction didn’t embed the learning the way you wanted to. As the three of us discussed ideas of how you might move the class closer to a “10”, we focused on the idea of limiting direct instruction at the opening of class–5 or 10 minutes vs. the roughly 20 minutes of instruction that I saw–and then putting the kids in situations where they had to apply newly-acquired knowledge to their specific instrument.

This was the point in the coaching session I think I most enjoyed. Anita, Thad, and I brainstormed ways the kids could get the most bang-for-their-buck practice. We talked about how I could first ask them to answer some short questions (such as “how long should an open-pipe resonator be to play a 440 Hz note?”) then move on to calculate an entire octave for the particular type of instrument they’re building. Since I had a great experience with the kids writing their research paper in class, the concept of giving them time to do the calculations in class seems wise. Plus, as the kids learned, the instrument calculations helped them learn to do problems on our quiz and test, so this wouldn’t be “lost” time.

We also talked of how I might group the kids by instrument type for the final calculations. That way they could check each others’ work.

You noted that there would be trial-and-error, but that you could float as facilitator to help guide students through the process. At least one indicator of learning would be if students weren’t emailing you afterwards with so many questions. You committed to trying this method of shortened direct instruction followed by exploration to see what the learning outcomes will be.

Meg, strong teachers reflect on their practice, and that’s just what you’ve done here–and what you’ve done your entire career. I want to particularly encourage your thoughtful balance of direct instruction alongside student discovery so that there is enough content for students to be efficient in the given time-constraints, but enough exploration and application for the learning to “stick.”

Please you invite me back for a time when you try this new balance in the future so I can watch it in action.

At the close of our conversation, I told you what I’ll reiterate here–having observed you during your first year at Westminster, I can clearly see a growth in your confidence as an instructor. You interact with your students with an infectious curiosity supported by expertise in content. Your continued involvement in so many aspects of the school–from affinity groups to robotics to advisement–makes you so valuable to this community. Thanks for all you do.

After reading the Dean of Faculty’s writeup of our meeting, I’m not sure the value I felt shines through. Both Thad and Anita pushed me to think of how this lesson could be better. I think I appreciated the concreteness and immediate applicability for my own class were why I liked it so much.

Some folks on Twitter asked if we used some particular framework for the coaching. I don’t know about that but have asked the folks at my school in the know if we did. I’ll let you know soon as I find out.

This day last year: Day 28: Quizzes

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