Making the Invisible, Visible: 5 Ways to Illuminate Learning in Our Classrooms

By Paula Bourque, Literacy Coach/Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Paula Bourque

  • A student returns to class after pull-out support, looks around, and asks, “What are we doing?”
  • I’ve finished my mini-lesson and call on a student with a raised hand. “I don’t get it.” he says.
  • I conference with a student who holds out her paper and asks, “Is this good?”

These interactions remind me there is often a mismatch between teaching and learning.  Learning is that “in the head” process only perceptible through the work, behavior, or conversations of our students. So I need to keenly observe their words and actions to get inside their heads, see my teaching through their eyes, and better align pedagogy to student need. I need to find ways to make my intentions and expectations more visible and accessible to them. If I have any hope of cultivating self-directed learners they truly need to see the direction we are headed! Here are a few approaches I have found to be helpful.

Give them the box to the puzzle! For some of our students, school is a big puzzle. Routines and structure can be like the box to that puzzle for students; the big picture for how all the pieces fit together. Frameworks that use a workshop model, mentor texts, exemplars, anchor charts, and posted learning targets give a visible structure to the expectations. This predictability can free up working memory from what are we doing to focus more on how are we doing it.

For students who are pulled from our classroom for supports, it is critical that consistent structures are in place as they come and go. They should see assignments, anchor charts, exemplars, and/or learning targets posted so they can join in with minimal difficulty. They should have an idea of what the class was doing while they were away so they can continue to make connections to their learning. If students seem disoriented, confused, or disconnected, we need to find ways to take the mystery out of how school (or at least our classroom) works for them.

You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Unless students clearly understand the intended learning, it is difficult to meet the expectations. Students are shooting blind when the teacher is the only one who knows the exact location of the bulls eye. They may be aiming in the right direction, but their accuracy is severely compromised.  When we create ‘kid-friendly’ learning targets that address ‘bite-sized’ amounts of learning, it removes the blinders and allows for greater self-direction from students.  It makes the intention of the lesson visible and accessible to everyone, not just the teacher.

Try to see our expectations through our students’ eyes.  What would “right” look like? What would comprehension/understanding sound like? How will I know when I’ve “hit” the target? Many teachers use a framework for targets using this stem to increase visibility:  Today I will____, So I can____. I’ll know I have it when____. Students need to see how the activity they are engaged in moves their learning and skills forward. Time is too precious of a commodity in schools for students to engage in activities that do not explicitly advance their learning or understanding.  Making our expectations clear and visible can eliminate wasted time and energy for students trying to figure out what we want from them.

Learning Target                  LT w SC

Post Look-Fors. Anytime we hang student work in the hallways or publish it to an audience, we can’t be sure what others will notice. I encourage teachers to post Look-Fors that direct attention to the learning that happened while completing a piece of work.  If word choice was a focus for a writing project, a Look-For that illuminates this for the audience will give equal time to process as well as product. Ex: “We’d like you to notice our 4th graders worked hard on using more precise and descriptive words in this writing.”  Look-Fors invite others to appreciate the learning and encourages other students to try out those skills and ideas as well.

Student Look Fors          Look Fors

Good demonstration is good communication. Think alouds and demonstrations are nothing new, but I think they are often underutilized in classrooms that feel time-compelled to fit more and more into a busy day, but they are one of the best ways to make the invisible (thinking) more visible (words and actions).  They require us to slow down and accurately recreate the thinking and behaviors that go into successfully completing a task or understanding a concept.

However, I would encourage us to reflect on our demonstrations and consider how closely they mirror the thoughts and behaviors of all the students in our classrooms. Frequently we model or think aloud the right way to do something, yet we have students who don’t grasp what we are doing. Our modeling is outside their zone of proximal development. If we asked ourselves, “How might a struggling student approach this task?” and offer a demonstration with this in mind, we may provide a more accessible model. What are some typical misconceptions we are seeing with students? How can we offer demonstrations to address and support them? What if our think alouds walked students through common confusions?

The best demonstrations offer our students a visible path from where they are to where we want them to be. Modeling expectations without contemplating the starting point of our learners may end up leaving many behind.

Create/document a learning history.  Sometimes it takes visible proof to help students see their learning and foster a growth mindset. Because it happens so incrementally, students often don’t believe they are growing. Keeping samples of student work in portfolios (either digitally or on paper) can be a powerful visual documentation of their learning history.

Students who keep writer’s notebooks are often amazed near the end of the year when they look back at their early work. (“I never even used to paragraph!”) Students who keep reading logs/lists are frequently stunned at how much they read. (“Oh wow, I forgot I read all those Flat Stanleys!”) Keeping samples of math work can demonstrate the increasing complexity and variety of math work students worked on during the year. (“That’s so easy now.”)

Opportunities to reflect on learning over time is a powerful way to develop a growth mindset that can sustain students when they encounter new challenges. Invite them to reflect with stems like: I used to ________ but now I ______.   Some things that used to be hard for me were: _____.  Then encourage students to lean on those revelations to buoy them in the future: “When I have assignments that are hard next year, I’m going to remember_____.”

In the same way, we make physical growth visible with lines drawn on door frames, and we can make their cognitive growth more visible as well. For many of our students, seeing is believing. We need to make the invisible, more visible.

Moving Beyond Modeling with Student-Centered Coaching

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by Guest Blogger Diane Sweeney, author of Student-Centered Coaching and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Imagine you hired a tennis coach to help you improve your game. Then you showed up for the first lesson and he suggested that you observe as he played for the next hour. You’d probably ask for your money back. What if he suggested that he spend the hour observing you? He’ll take some notes and then the two of you will go through it later. Again, you’d be wondering why you are paying this guy. What if he suggested that you focus on your game and, since you are so busy, he will help you out by picking up your balls? You would be wondering when this guy actually planned to provide you with some coaching. By now you may have recognized some of the most common practices used by literacy coaches; modeling, observing, and serving as a resource provider. While each of these methods offers some value to teachers, there are other ways we can take coaching to the next level.

Most of us would define a good coach as someone who helps you get better at your game. Someone who is on the court, by your side, making sure you reach your goals. When we model an entire lesson, it assumes that transfer is as easy as watching and doing. This can lead to an uneven relationship that puts the teacher in a passive role. On the other hand, observing teachers may feel more like evaluation than coaching. If my tennis coach took this approach, I’d be anxiously wondering what he really thought, if I looked silly, or if I was on the right track in my game. Then again, when we serve as resource providers, we are being helpful at the expense of coaching. There is no question that teachers are overwhelmed and busy. But this is all the more reason to get in there and coach the teachers towards their goals for teaching and learning.

Four Strategies for Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is an untapped strategy that provides coachable moments throughout a lesson. It is a dynamic process in which the teacher and coach work together to move student learning forward. In a classroom where co-teaching is occurring, it’s hard to tell who the teacher is and who the coach is, because both are engaged and involved partners in the delivery of the lesson. To get there, the teacher and coach develop a shared vision through co-planning and then work side-by-side to ensure that they get the results they are looking for. The following strategies for co-teaching create partnerships that are the hallmark of student-centered coaching.

#1: Noticing and Naming

Noticing happens when a teacher and coach are actively tuned in and looking for evidence of student learning. Naming happens in the explicit use of this information, either on the spot or planning after the lesson, to make decisions about what the students need next. For example, the coach and teacher may engage in discussions with a group of students to uncover their thinking, listen in as students discuss their learning with peers, note what the students are independently reading and writing, or all of the above. The key is for the coach and teacher to collect evidence that will inform future instructional decision-making. Evidence may include observational data, conference notes, short assignments, exit slips, notes from student-led discussions, student reflections on their own learning, or a myriad of other ways wherein we monitor student learning as it happens.

#2: Micro Modeling

While we haven’t banished modeling from our coaching practice, we like to use it in targeted and strategic ways. A good tennis coach models certain aspects of the game, such as how to serve the ball or play backhand. The key is to model what’s needed in the moment, rather than the whole game. When planning the lesson, the coach may ask, “What would you like to do? And what would you like me to do?” For example, a coach may model the send off at the end of a mini lesson, demonstrate a few reading conferences, or teach a think aloud. The objective is for the modeling to directly connect to the goal the teacher has set. This ensures that the coach is supporting the teacher in a way that will have an impact on future lessons.

#3: Thinking Aloud

We can’t underestimate how much decision-making occurs throughout a lesson. When a coach or teacher thinks aloud, they make their thinking visible by sharing their thoughts and instructional decisions as they happen. Many teachers are comfortable using think aloud to share their thinking with the students. We suggest for coaches and teachers to use the same practice when they are co-teaching. Thinking aloud also provides opportunities to address coachable moments rather than waiting until a future planning conversation. Examples of thinking aloud include; real-time problem-solving, clarifying vocabulary, supporting student engagement, or adjusting the pacing of the lesson to better align with the needs of the students.

#4: Teaching in Tandem

With this move, the coach and teacher deliver a lesson as partners rather than as individuals. Like the others, this strategy requires co-planning so that the teacher and coach are clear about the instructional practices that will be used to move student learning forward. When co-planning, the teacher and coach think about how they will maintain high levels of engagement, how they will differentiate and formatively assess, and strategies for managing behavior. When you think about all the factors that go into a successful lesson, teaching in tandem starts sounding like a great idea.

In Closing

I’ve modeled a lot of lessons over the years. In fact, when I started as a coach, I did little else. I’d teach what I thought was a fabulous lesson and then wonder why I didn’t see it transfer to what teachers did in their classrooms. Needless to say, this is a bit embarrassing to admit now. Using a variety of strategies for co-teaching has helped me create more coachable moments with teachers. We are on the court together, working through all of the details that add up to high-quality teaching and learning.

A short video on co-teaching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a8em_wVPo8

Diane Sweeney is the author of Student-Centered Coaching, Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level, and Learning Along the Way (Stenhouse, 2003) has been an educator for over twenty years. Diane holds a longstanding interest in how adult learning translates to learning in the classroom. Currently she is a consultant serving schools and districts throughout the US and abroad. For more information, please visit www.dianesweeney.com.

Diane is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI:

Monday, November 16, 2015:

  • Student-Centered Learning Labs

Tuesday, November 17, 2015:

  • Building a Culture for Student-Centered Coaching and Collaboration  
  • What is Student-Centered Coaching?

So How Are Your Reading Interventions Working?

toni's photo for blogby Toni Czekanski, Assistant Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Schools and school districts spend a lot of money on interventions designed to help students who have difficulty learning to read or write become more proficient in a short amount of time. This is the goal: to close the achievement gap. But how well are you implementing your interventions, and how often are you monitoring data on these students to be sure that what you are doing works for them?

LITERACY COLLABORATIVE

364In Literacy Collaborative we talk about Fidelity of Implementation. Usually it is in terms of your implementation of the LC model: leadership team, effective classroom teaching supported by ongoing professional development and coaching, shared leadership, data monitoring, and then…intervention. On the Fidelity of Implementation document we ask you to consider what you are doing for reading and writing interventions and how those interventions are working. What is the payoff for your students?

READING RECOVERY

Teacher and studentIf you have Reading Recovery in your school as your Tier 3 intervention, there are already built-in processes to help Reading Recovery teachers monitor their work with students. Each day they review what happened in the lesson, take a running record of a book that was introduced the day before, and make plans for where to take the student next. These teachers keep track of each student’s performance on a daily basis, and enter it annually into the national IDEC database. Each year these statistics are reviewed and an annual report is published on the successes and challenges related to Reading Recovery student achievement.

It is incumbent on each school to scrutinize their Reading Recovery teaching and data with the same rigor. In this way, the school is ensuring that students get targeted instruction that conforms to the national standards. That is the only way students who are in the bottom 20-25% of their class can possibly hope to not only catch up to the average students in their grade, but sometimes surpass them…and continue to thrive as they move up through the grades.

LEVELED LITERACY INTERVENTION (LLI)

LLI group photoWhat about Leveled Literacy Intervention? In order to implement this small group intervention with fidelity, lessons should be thirty to forty-five minutes long (depending on the level), and the LLI teacher should meet with students daily. Just as in Reading Recovery, frequent assessment assures that the students are working at their growing edge, and that the time spent on this intensive intervention has pay-offs when students meet or exceed the reading performance of their on-grade-level peers.

Schools that have invested in training LLI teachers and in materials to support the intervention then need to insure that the intervention is administered with fidelity. LLI students have been identified as needing help to succeed with reading and writing. If they do not receive the intervention as designed, then schools are compromising the ability of these students to make the big gains necessary to close the gap between them and their on-grade-level peers. Intervention is about hard, targeted teaching designed to make swift achievement gains. What can your school leadership team do to insure that interventions are administered as designed?

Whatever interventions your school uses, here are some things you might consider:

  • Time: is the time you have allotted for your interventionists to work with students adequate? Can they meet with students five days a week for the prescribed amount of time? Do they have adequate time between lessons to reflect on their teaching and record data? If time is tight, how might you stretch it?
  • Training and Monitoring: Have interventionists received adequate training in how to use materials and monitor data? Do they engage with ongoing professional development to keep their teaching skills sharp? Do they meet with other interventionists in the district to share experiences and problem-solve dilemmas?
  • Data analysis: Do interventionists have time to analyze data and meet with literacy teams to problem-solve when students are not making adequate progress? How frequently does this happen? Reading Recovery and LLI are short-term interventions. If students are not progressing after ten to fifteen lessons, another pair of eyes and ears might help to make shifts in the teaching that will help students be more successful. What procedures are in place to re-evaluate instruction that is not working and support interventionists who might need help in analyzing their work?
  • Team work: Do the administrators, classroom teachers, interventionists, and literacy coaches work as a team to develop intervention plans and monitor them for success? Does the administrator support the interventionists with time, space, materials, and ongoing professional development opportunities? Does the team meet periodically to review the progress of students taking part in interventions to determine whether those interventions are successful? What are the criteria you use to determine success?

These are all hard questions, but they can help you with the bottom line. And that bottom line is working toward student achievement through the diligent planning and implementation of effective interventions. An intervention can only be successful when done with rigor and fidelity, and when it is supported by close examination of assessment data and teaching practices.

Literacy for All: Professional Development for Administrators

by Eva Konstantellou, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University

Have you heard Andy Hargreaves talk about how to transform your school into a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility?

3d598a1d2c73ee18837641ad059fbc41_400x400Join Andy Hargreaves to hear his keynote and breakout sessions at the Literacy for All conference, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  Professor Hargreaves’s keynote address on “Collective Responsibility for the Success of All Teachers and Students” will present the case for collective professional responsibility as the key to school improvement.  In his first breakout session, “Collective responsibility in action,” Professor Hargreaves will discuss ways of schools working together to improve performance. In his second breakout session, “Collective Responsibility in Business, Sports, and Education,” Professor Hargreaves will highlight school communities in which the role of school leaders is to nurture the teachers’ passions and inspire and uplift their teams’ performance.

Past participants have embraced the Literacy for All Conference as the premier professional development event in the northeast.  This year’s sessions and pre-conference workshops offer a wide range of topics that will support and lift the learning of all participants.  Administrators and school leaders are invited to attend a number of sessions that have been designed with their needs in mind.  

In addition to Andy Hargreaves’s sessions, the sessions listed below explore various powerful themes and will help school leaders think deeply about comprehensive literacy, systemic change, and the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.  Here’s a sample of themes explored in administrators’ sessions:

  • Fostering strong teacher-coach-principal relationships
  • Implementing powerful, research-based models of authentic literacy
  • Helping schools or districts monitor and improve their literacy implementation
  • Building understandings of best practices
  • Sharing the nuts and bolts about making RTI a reality
  • Supporting and sustaining systemic change
  • Developing and implementing a comprehensive literacy plan paying special attention to the role of interventions
  • Principals and coaches working together to improve student achievement and meet the Common Core Standards

LFA Brochure CoverThe following eight sessions will address the above themes:

PC-2- From Reading Specialist to Literacy Coach: Examining Essential Shifts (Grades K–8) Irene Fountas, Author and Professor, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University and Gay Su Pinnell, Author and Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

In many school districts across the nation, reading teachers are spending increasing amounts of time in the role of coach to support the professional learning of peers and improve whole school achievement. What will it take to grow professionally, from previously providing direct service to students, to supporting collegial learning? Topics in this institute will include: re-envisioning your role, building relationships with colleagues, anticipating challenges, using language that fosters teacher reflection and teamwork, developing systematic observation skills, identifying essential areas of new learning, helping colleagues re-envision their roles as team members, and working with your school principal to improve student achievement and meet the Common Core State Standards.

LCB-11- Triangulated Literacy Coaching: Fostering the Teacher-Coach-Principal Relationship (Grades 3–6)
Jennifer Felt, Literacy Coach, Oxford Hills School District
Margaret Emery, Principal, Oxford Hills School District
Haley Saurman, Classroom Teacher, Oxford Hills School District

Relationships are the foundation of successful literacy coaching; however, for student progress to be accelerated and continual, it’s imperative that the teacher-coach-principal relationship is strong and maintained. In this session, you will learn ways to develop and strengthen the relationship of key stakeholders in their schools through a systematic coaching model. We will provide examples of scheduling, data collection, and staff development, which has led to seamless coaching experiences and increased student achievement.

LCB-15- Improving Student Achievement and Elevating Teacher Expertise through Literacy Collaborative (Grades PreK–8)
Jess Sherman, Primary Literacy Collaborative Trainer, Lesley University
Heather Morris, Intermediate and Middle School Literacy Collaborative Trainer, Lesley University

Learn about a partnership between your school or district to implement a powerful, research-based comprehensive model of authentic literacy that demonstrated 32% improvement in student achievement in three years. Establish coherent instruction through the teamwork of classroom teachers, specialists, content area teachers, the principals, and the training of literacy coaches.

LCD-9- Using Inquiry As a Tool For Continuous Improvement (Grades K–2)
Alice L. Ensley, Primary District Trainer for Literacy Collaborative, Dalton Public Schools
In this session, we will explore a model that can be used to help schools or districts monitor and improve their literacy implementation. You will learn how to propose a hypothesis, gather soft and hard data to examine the hypothesis, set goals based on this data, and design and implement a plan for meeting these goals. We will use an actual case study from a Literacy Collaborative school district as a model for this session. You will have time to explore the needs of your school or district, and receive feedback about the kinds of data you could collect to begin your own inquiry study.

LCE-4 In-Depth- What Principals and Literacy Leaders Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Writing (Grades K–8)
Ruth Culham, Author/Consultant, The Culham Writing Company
As we enter the era of the Common Core State Standards, writing has never been more important. Teachers are hungry for leadership and support in making their writing classrooms places where important learning takes place every single day. In order to provide this support, principals and literacy leaders need an understanding of the best writing practices so they can be active participants in discussion about how to improve writing instruction. This workshop will address the four Ws– Writing Process, Writing Traits, Writing Modes, and Writing Workshop– and how to organize the school year around them.  It will provide hands-on experiences with tools to use in collaboration with teachers that promote discussion, track improvement, provide feedback, and inspire the changes that the Common Core State Standards are challenging educators to meet in today’s writing classrooms. This workshop is sponsored by Scholastic, Inc.

LCF-15- Meeting the Needs of All Readers: Making Response to Intervention a Reality (Grades K–6)
Clare Landrigan, Staff Developer, Teachers for Teachers
Tammy Mulligan, Staff Developer, Teachers for Teachers
Tom Morris, Principal, Franklin Public Schools
Jodi Fortuna, Assistant Superintendent, Hudson Public Schools
Marcia Uretsky, Principal, Newton Public Schools

Very few people disagree with the premise of Response to Intervention, but how do we make it work effectively in schools? Join our roundtable discussion as several administrators and staff developers share the nuts and bolts of how they make RTI a reality. Hear ways different schools create effective schedules and coordinate instruction between classrooms and interventionists. Learn more about designing small group and individualized lessons, monitoring student progress, and enhancing professional learning.

LCG-6- Systemic Change: A Literacy Journey in Rural Maine (Grades K–8)
Kelly Burns, PreK–8 Literacy Coach, Regional School District #19, Maine
Mary Graybill, Classroom Teacher, Regional School District #19, Maine
Jan Morse, Director of Instructional Improvement, Regional School District #19, Maine
Jane Stork, Principal, Regional School District #19, Maine

Systemic change occurs when all stakeholders are committed to student learning, student achievement, best practices in Tier 1, and professional growth. We will highlight the benefits of whole school collaboration, instructional coaching, common language, and common practices. We will discuss and explore our literacy journey within the Maine Partnerships in Comprehensive Literacy, and each presenter will discuss her role in supporting and sustaining systemic change. Small group activities, video clips, and discussions will be used to engage participants.

LCG-14- Implementing Comprehensive Literacy (Grades K–2)
Wendy Vaulton, Senior Researcher, Lesley University
Carolynne Beless, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Dennis-Yarmouth Public Schools
Michael Buonaiuto, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Cambridge Public Schools
Kevin Depin, Principal, Dennis-Yarmouth Public Schools

Developing and implementing a comprehensive literacy plan can be challenging. This panel discussion will explore the factors associated with successful implementation of comprehensive literacy, paying special attention to the role of interventions in creating success for all students.

 

Developing Collegial Trust Through Character and Competence

by Irene Fountas, Author and Director of Lesley University’s Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

“WiCoaching photothout trust there can be no coaching” (Echeverria,and Olalla, 1993)
As a coach for many years, I learned that trust and competence are the most important factors in supporting my colleague’s willingness to allow me to observe and discuss teaching and they simply could not be taken for granted. Let’s think together about what trust means in our work and how we can develop and maintain a trusting relationship with colleagues.

The development of trust begins with our own self-awareness, in the way we communicate in every aspect of our professional role, and includes our own ability to develop and reflect on our growing expertise. Here are some factors related to trust that we can all think about:

  • The ways in which we conduct ourselves with colleagues and also the way we conduct ourselves when not with colleagues – both in words and in actions, both verbal and nonverbal
  • Our ability to maintain confidentiality in all contexts
  • Our ability to listen carefully and accept our colleague’s thinking at face value
  • Our ability to validate our colleague’s work at their practice
  • The transparency with which we communicate about our professional work
  • Our level of knowledge or expertise in teaching and in coaching that gives credibility to our work

As the school year closes and as you think about your professional goals, reflect back on the level of trust you have developed in your school. Set some specific goals for investing in your own competence.

  • What are ways you have developed and maintained trust with your colleagues?
  • Are there examples of relationships with colleagues in which you may need to work to regain trust?

We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post about what you have found to be important in creating a partnership with your colleagues that nourishes and supports the journey of change. The level of trust you have developed will lead to improved literacy achievement for children who depend on us for our expertise.

Targeted Literacy Coaching

a guest blog post by Laurie Elish-Piper and Susan K. L’Allier, 2013 Literacy for All Conference Speakers

Erin, an elementary literacy coach described her frustration with too much to do and no clear way to prioritize and focus her coaching work. “I feel like I’m running as fast as I can, and at the end of the day, I ask myself, ‘What have I accomplished?’  Most days, I don’t really have a good answer.”    She went on to explain, “I feel like I’m just doing random acts of coaching here and there without any rhyme or reason to what I’m doing!”  We were working in Erin’s school district to provide professional development for the literacy coaches, and we responded by sharing the Targeted Coaching Model to help Erin focus her coaching work.

Coaching graphic

The Targeted Coaching model focuses on student achievement and is based on over six years of research.  The outer ring shows that the expertise and certification of the literacy coach matter.  Coaches, like Erin, who hold certification in reading have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to work with teachers to produce greater student gains.  In addition, the amount of time spent working directly with teachers is another key aspect of the model.  When we shared this part of the model with Erin, she responded by asking, “Does this mean that the time I spend sorting assessment materials or the time I spend re-shelving books in the book room each week are not good uses of my time?”  We smiled and nodded our heads.  Yes, those are important tasks that need to be done in schools, but they are not activities that will lead to improved student achievement in reading!  We then explained to Erin that how she spends her time with teachers is another important aspect of the model.  The four coaching activities that produce the greatest student gains are:  conferencing with individual teachers about curriculum, instruction, and/or students; assessing students and talking with teachers about assessment results; modeling lessons; and observing.

Once we had shared the Targeted Coaching Model with Erin, she asked the most important question, “How do I do this in my day-to-day work as a literacy coach?”

We offered a four-step process to implement the Targeted Coaching Model.

  1. Meet with your building administrator to discuss the Targeted Coaching Model and to reduce time-consuming activities from your duties that do not directly support teachers and students.  Develop a plan to explain to teachers how and why the Targeted Coaching Model will be used.  Be sure the “roll out” of the Targeted Coaching Model comes from the building administrator to ensure that all teachers understand what the literacy coach will be doing, and more importantly, not doing!
  2. Determine an initial focus for coaching such as a specific grade level, a group of newer teachers, or teachers implementing a new approach or initiative.  By focusing your coaching on a smaller number of teachers for a specific amount of time such as a grading period or month, you will be able to work more intensively and productively with these teachers to produce greater gains.  At the end of the time frame, you can reduce the amount of coaching time you are spending with these teachers so you can move on to provide more in-depth coaching to another group of teachers.
  3. Log your coaching work so you can make sure that you are spending at least 1/3 of your time working directly with teachers and that the bulk of that time focuses on the four research-based coaching activities from the Targeted Coaching Model.  Review your log at least monthly and make changes so that you are continually increasing the amount of time you spend working directly with teachers.
  4. Work with your building administrator and teachers to monitor how well the Targeted Coaching Model is working in your school.  Make adjustments to ensure that you are spending your time in the most effective and productive ways possible.

We are happy to report that Erin used this approach during the spring semester, and she immediately found that she was able to spend more time working with teachers.  She reported that it was challenging to determine where to focus her efforts and which specific teachers to work with and for how long.  However, she found that by reviewing student assessment data, the school improvement plan, and the school and district goals, it was very clear where she needed to focus her coaching efforts.  She also reported that coaching went from “informal” where she was working mainly with teachers who came to her for help and with questions to “official” where coaching became a more intentional and public aspect of her school’s climate.

While no single approach to coaching will work in every school with every teacher every time, the Targeted Coaching Model provides a simple, research-based approach to focus on the ultimate goal of all coaching – improved student achievement in literacy!

Laurie and Susan are presenting at this year’s Literacy for All Conference in Providence, R.I., November 3–5, 2013 (Sunday–Tuesday), sharing coaching strategies that contribute to improved teacher practice and increased student achievement.  They will discuss ways to embed coaching into the literacy professional’s established responsibilities (e.g., data team meetings, RtI coordination, push-in instruction) as well as how coaching can support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  In addition, one of the sessions will focus on literacy coaching from the teacher’s point of view.

Coaching

by Dr. Emily Dexter, Researcher at the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Fill in the blanks: 

“I’ve been a  teacher   for eight years.  For the past couple of them, my performance in the ______ room has reached a plateau.  I’d like to think it’s a good thing—I’ve arrived at my professional peak.  But mainly it seems as if I’ve just stopped getting better….

During the first two or three years in _________, your skills seem to improve almost daily…. Mastery is about familiarity and judgment.  You learn the problems that can occur during a particular _________ or with a particular _____, and you learn how to either prevent or respond to those problems….

Say you’ve got a  student  who needs ________.  These days, teachers  will typically ________________________. …

Even before you start, you need to make some judgments.  Unusual ___________, severe ______________, or ___________ could make it difficult to  teach this student.  You have to decide which ___________ method to use—there’s a range of options—or whether to abandon the high-tech approach and _________ the  lesson   the traditional way….

Over time, you learn how to head off problems, and when you can’t, you arrive at solutions with less fumbling and more assurance.  After eight years, I’ve taught more than two thousand ________________.  I’ve gained confidence in my ability to handle a wide range of situations, and to improvise when necessary.

As I went along, I compared my results against state  data, and I began beating the averages.  My rates of students failing the state test   moved steadily lower and lower.  And then, a couple of years ago, they didn’t.  It started to seem that the only direction things could go from here was the wrong one.

Maybe this is what happens when you turn forty-five.  Teaching  is, at least, a relatively late-peaking career.  It’s not like mathematics or baseball or pop music, where your best work is often behind you by the time you’re thirty.  Jobs that involve the complexities of people or nature seem to take the longest to master: the average age at which S.&P. 500 chief executive officers are hired is fifty-two, and the age of maximum productivity for geologists, one study estimated, is around fifty-four.  Teaching   apparently falls somewhere in between the extremes, requiring both physical stamina and the judgment that comes with experience….”

As you might have guessed, the paragraphs above are not from an article about teaching, but rather from an article in The New Yorker by Atwul Gawande about his experiences as a surgeon.  The article is called, “Personal Best: Top Athletes and Singers Have Coaches. Should You?  In this article, Gawande describes how he found himself a surgery coach when he felt his surgery skills had stopped improving.

While some of the article is about coaches for athletes, singers, and surgeons, a good third of the article is about coaches for… guess who: classroom teachers.  Gawande finds a trainer of classroom coaches and the two of them visit schools to observe and interview coaches and teachers.   Gawande, polymath that he is, gets it right: “Novice teachers often struggle with basic behavioral issues… good coaches know how to break performance down into its critical individual components… elite performers, researchers say, must engage in ‘deliberative practice’—sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires.”  Here’s my favorite quote from his article:

“Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.  The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short.  This is tricky.  Human beings resist exposure and critique; our brains are well defended.  So coaches use a variety of approaches—showing what other, respected colleagues do, for instance, or reviewing videos of the subject’s performance.  The most common, however, is just conversation.”

So, if you want to learn more about classroom coaching or share a great essay about coaching with one of your colleagues, read Atwul Gawande’s  article in the October 3, 2011 volume of The New Yorker.