I recently attended the Literacy and Leadership Institute in Madison, WI. It was hosted by Regie Routman, creator of the Reading-Writing Connection professional development series (which my building uses). This may have been the best conference I have attended. Everything was connected to best practices. A lot of what the presenters at this conference shared is based on research and publications by Richard Allignton and Peter Johnston.
Summarizing all that I learned into one post would be like trying to stuff an elephant into a foot locker. Instead, I attempted to synthesize my thinking by creating a walkthrough checklist connected to best literacy practices. It is based on an article published by Richard Allington in Phi Delta Kappan in 2002, titled “What I've Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers” (a straightforward if not catchy title). I condensed his findings about what exemplary teachers do into twelve statements.
- Students are actually reading and writing around 50% of the time.
- Students are reading independently, meeting with the teacher for guided reading, and/or reading and writing in the content areas.
- Students are reading texts that allow for high levels of accuracy, fluency and comprehension.
- Classroom texts reflect a broad range of interests, diversity and levels.
- Teacher gives direct, explicit demonstrations of thinking strategies that good readers and writers use when they read and write.
- Teacher assigns work that is responsive to students' needs and fosters a transition of thinking strategies to independent use.
- Teacher facilitates lots of purposeful dialogue – both teacher/student and student/student.
- Classroom talk is more conversational than interrogational.
- Teacher assigns activities that are substantial, challenging and complex.
- Students are allowed some choice and autonomy in work to promote ownership and engagement.
- Teacher evaluates student work based on effort and growth rather than just achievement.
- Students take responsibility for their scores with the help of clear and visible academic expectations.
Using this checklist as a Google Form on my iPad, I could walk through classrooms and document how often best practices are occurring. Teachers are already used to me being in the classroom to read aloud or just observe. Is this a logical next step? It was suggested that if a checklist is used to document frequency of best practices, it needs to be sandwiched with positive feedback, probably in the form of a written note and verbal praise before leaving the classroom. I will defintiely need to reference Choice Words and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston often as I begin providing feedback. A hybrid of both a checklist and a written narrative may work best for my staff and me.
If I was the teacher, would this checklist along with a short observational narrative have the potential to help me improve my own practices? Would I feel defensive and nervous, or wonder what my principal's motivation is?
As the principal, will this type of walkthrough give me a reliable set of data to help determine where we are growing and where we need to grow? Could I eventually expect the teachers to use this process and observe each other, using a peer coaching format?
I need to sit on this draft of an idea and come back to it later. I would welcome any feedback!