Learning Walks to Set Building Goals – Part 1

While at Teacher’s College for an institute on the coaching of reading I had my first experience being part of a learning walk. A learning walk is a brief classroom visit utilizing tools that provide principals, literacy coaches, and teachers opportunities to reflect on learning strategies, learning environments, student interactions, and student engagement.

A group of literacy coaches and administrators from across the country and I were led by a very knowledgeable and inspiring staff developer Alissa Reicherter in this process. We were able to explore this technique in one of the public elementary school in NYC that we had the privilege of working in while we were at the institute. The members were divided into small groups who then visited multiple classrooms with each individual having a particular lens that they were focused on. After returning to our meeting area we discussed goals that the school could work on based on our observations. After experiencing the learning walk I knew it was a technique I would like to implement in my district.

Sharing Learning Walks with Teachers

Fortunately, one of my district building administrators was part of the institute and was eager to implement learning walks into her building. The district had implemented reading workshop three years prior and we wanted to look at what were the areas that teachers wanted support, in this district initiative.

At our initial planning meeting, the principal and I were in agreement that we wanted to make sure that we shared the information with staff in a way that made them feel comfortable and that they understood this process was meant to be reflective and collaborative not evaluative. The culture of the building is very positive but we were aware that teachers did not frequent colleagues rooms, especially in different grade levels, to learn from each other and they may feel nervous as the group entered their classrooms with clipboards in hand. At a staff meeting, the process was shared and teachers were invited to be part of the team. Two classroom teachers volunteered and the date was set for the walk.

The Day of the Learning Walk

There were many different lenses that we could have explored when looking at reading workshop. It was decided we would use five different lenses focused on classro

om environment; the classroom library, room set up & meeting area, schedule/daily routines & charts, independent reading bags, and talking & writing about reading. While meeting with the team each member chose a different lens and was given a chart with questions or statements to focus their thinking. Team members circled on the chart if the classroom was a K-2 or 3-5 room. They also had the opportunity to write their noticings and wonderings based on items that they observed but also on items that were not observed. The principal arranged a schedule so that most classrooms would be engaged in reading workshop when the team visited. Only 5 -10 minutes were needed in each classroom to gather information, especially once each member began to focus on their specific task. Individual students willingly discussed their reading habits, book bags, and practices for writing and thinking about reading.

Schedule/Daily Routines and Charts

  • Is there a schedule posted visibly to students?
  • Are there 50-60 minutes allotted for reading workshop and writing workshop?
    • 20-30 allocated for word study in K-2
  • Are there charts visible to students that identify:
    • partnerships
    • current unit of study (Teacher’s College charts)
    • student/teacher generated – based on student need

Room Set-Up Meeting Area

  • Is there a meeting area that comfortably seats all students?
  • Is there an easel/chart stand accessible during reading minilessons?
  • Are there small rugs, cushions, chairs or comfortable spots for independent reading or partner reading?
  • Is there a document camera available to share texts?
  • Are there small group areas for teaching and book clubs?

Library

  • Can all students access their own books independently?
  • Are book baskets clearly labeled and organized?
  • Is there a fiction and nonfiction section of the library?
  • Are there different sections of the library arranged in genres, authors, topic etc?
  • Do the baskets have plenty of books but room for students to browse?
  • Are there a substantial number of books for fiction and nonfiction?
  • Are the books at eye level for students?

Room Set-Up Meeting Area

  • Is there a meeting area that comfortably seats all students?
  • Is there an easel/chart stand with which to teach workshop minilessons?
  • Are there small rugs, cushions, chairs or comfortable spots for independent reading or partner reading?
  • Is there a document camera available to share texts?

Talking/Writing About Reading

  • Do students have sticky notes in their books to share their thinking?
  • What type of information do they share on their jots?
  • Do you notice students talking about their reading in partnerships or small groups?
  • Are their jots (sticky notes) added to their notebooks so they may write long about an idea?
  • How often are students sharing their thinking/writing about reading in their notebooks?
  • Is there evidence that students are using their writing/thinking to prepare for a book club?

Learning Walk Debrief

After completing the walk into each classroom we met to debrief. There was amazing energy as we shared and recorded our observations and wonderings. My biggest take away was there were many areas to celebrate! In three short years, all of our classrooms now contained inviting  libraries accessible to all students. Readers had comfortable spots for independent reading books of their choice. Each classroom had a meeting area to share mini-lessons, discuss learning strategies and for discussion around reading.

The teachers also discussed how enlightening it was to see how the work they were doing supports the work being done in subsequent classrooms. Seeing how the skills and strategies continue into the upper-grade levels was very meaningful. They also discussed ideas they wanted to implement in their classroom that they had observed in their colleague’s rooms. From the conversation 6 ideas we were still wondering about surfaced.

 

  • How are reading logs being utilized? How do students keep track of their reading?

 

  • How are students talking and writing about reading?

 

  • How are students share or recommend books?
  • How often do students choose new books and is it teacher or student-initiated?
  • What would we find in your student’s book bags or boxes?
  • How do students utilize teaching starts? How do you decide which charts stay up?

 

 

 

Sharing Results with Staff

At the next staff meeting, the wonderings were posted on chart paper and placed around the library. As staff entered they were greeted with refreshments and given an index card with a character to a sitcom or movie. These would be used to form groups for the upcoming activity. After everyone arrived the principal had a volunteer read a large sticky note that was on each table that included some of the celebrations we noticed. We wanted to give the teachers an opportunity to reflect on the many aspects of reading workshop that was going well. Next, the staff joined their group members around one of the posted charts. One group member volunteered to read the chart, another to scribe responses and another to share their final notes to the group. After 5 – 7 minutes the group carried their colored marker to the next chart repeating the process until all staff members had shared their thoughts to each chart. Once they arrived back at their initial chart they shared the comments with the group for a large group conversation.  At the end of the discussion it was clear that there were three areas that staff wanted to learn more about and collaborate with their colleagues on to move forward.

Sharing Feedback

The staff was able to share their feedback through a brief Google form. The questions included:

  1. What is your biggest take away from the “Learning Walk Conversation” at the faculty meeting?
  2. What is your personal goal, in regards to Reading Workshop, that you will set for yourself and your students?
  3. From the following building goals below which do you feel would be the most beneficial to focus on as a staff?
    1. Expanding upon writing about reading.
    2. Student/Teacher book talks
    3. Creating teaching charts based on student/class need

A large majority of the staff wanted to focus on expanding upon writing about reading. A smaller group wanted to focus on student and teacher book talks. Teachers not only shared what they would like for a building goal but also shared a variety of personal goals that they wanted to learn more about for their own classrooms. Those areas were documented and staff with similar goals will be able to have the opportunity to grow in those areas also. The next steps will include meeting as a staff to share the results and to start the conversation as to how students share their thinking about reading through conversation and writing currently and what the next steps will be. We are also excited about sharing a professional learning tech tool. Stay tuned for part 2 to learn about this new tool and to learn about how teachers will support each other on the building goal they created.

2019 SOL #3

 

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