Lab Sites Showcase Examples of Good Teaching

My principal in New York City engaged our staff in a few video studies every year.  A teacher and his/her class would be videotaped doing a minilesson, independent work session, and a share.  Then, a few weeks later, the faculty would gather to watch the video twice.  We’d watch it a couple of times, following a specific protocol.  The teacher, whose class was videotaped, would speak.  As a faculty, we could ask him/her questions.  Then, we’d discuss what we saw in small groups and as a large group.  My principal used to remind us that the video studies were “an example, not an exemplar.”  That stuck in my mind, both as someone who was the teacher whose lesson was studied twice in a video study and as someone who studied other teachers’ videos.  Having one’s teaching viewed as one way to go about teaching rather than the only way to teach successfully took a lot of the pressure off!

Today I’m consulting about an hour south of my home with fifth grade teachers.  The lab site will be with students who are immersed in opinion writing.  The teacher and I have worked together on his minilesson.  He will engage his students in a full writing workshop (i.e., minilesson, independent writing with conferring, and a share session).  While he is a skilled teacher of writing, I will remember the words of my former principal when I begin the debrief session since all teachers must remember that what they see today are “examples, not exemplars.”  I will repeat those words because I believe it takes the pressure off of the teacher who will open up his classroom and the teachers who are observing (since they, too, are good teachers of writing).

Here are some of the questions I bring to a debrief session.  Not all will be addressed.  However, I like to have a breadth of questions in front of me help me keep the conversation focused and moving:

  • What did the minilesson look like during the connection, the teaching/demonstration, active involvement, and the link (e.g., pacing, repetition of teaching point throughout the lesson, think-aloud during demonstration)?
  • How did the teacher support student engagement?
  • How did the teacher support students who…
    • Struggled?
    • Were off-task?
    • Finished early?
    • Worked on different parts of the writing process?
  • How did the teacher help writers establish a purpose for writing?
  • How did the teacher manage the classroom during the minilesson, transition times, independent writing time, the share session?
  • How did the teacher demonstrate the teaching point?
  • How did the students share in making meaning out of the lesson?
  • How were the students trying out the writing strategy in their independent writing?  How will they be able to transfer what they learned today (i.e., in the minilesson, during a writing conference, and/or in a strategy lesson) to another piece of writing?
  • How did the teacher help writers engage in conversation (during a writing conference) to help them as writers rather than just help the piece of writing the student was working on today?
  • How did the teacher provide opportunities for young writers to make reading-writing connections?
  • What’s something new you learned today?
  • How was today’s lab site helpful?
  • How will today’s session impact the writing workshop you lead?

Just like the video studies we did in New York, debriefs of lab sites also provide the classroom teacher with ample time to talk about and reflect on his/her practice.

If you’d like to take a look at the note-taking and reflection form I use attendees, click here to view it.