Teacher Walkthroughs Focusing on Student Learning
Although there is great value in observing peers teaching, for some classroom walkthroughs, teachers strictly focus their observations on student learning. This focus perfectly aligns with the second tenet of ASCD's Whole Child Initiative, "Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults," and the third tenet, "Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community." Instead of focusing on teacher behavior, observers watch and interact with students to determine their comfort level in learning and what they know and can do as a result of instruction.
A number of schools use the student-centered UCLA Center X classroom walkthrough model for observations. In using this model, the teachers at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Calif., created this focus question for one of their classroom walkthroughs: "What evidence do we see that students are engaged in the process of challenging learning?" By focusing only on students' actions and words, the teachers recorded what students were doing, discussing, and producing in the classrooms they observed. This focus provided for them a schoolwide view of student engagement. In acquiring walkthrough data on this focus question, the staff and students explored what contributes to rigorous learning and redefined their work and roles within their learning community.
Another walkthrough model that emphasizes students as the central focus of teacher observation is the Instructional Practices Inventory (IPI) process. The IPI, used at the Belleville East and West High Schools in Belleville, Ill., is a way to systematically profile student engagement during a specified time frame, typically one school day. Here, faculty can study and interpret the observation data from their walkthroughs to determine needed improvements to future classroom instruction. Observation data are given to the school as a whole so that no teacher, department, or grade level is singled out. Focusing only on students and removing any threat of teacher evaluation from the process allows teachers to easily and widely accept and value this walkthrough strategy.
The staff at Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School in Beltsville, Md., uses the Learning Walk® Routine. Observers visit classrooms and ask students questions about their learning. They record what students tell them and what they see. Upon completion of the walk, the teams use descriptive, objective language to summarize their observations. They also provide fellow faculty members with a series of thought-provoking questions and ideas based on those observations. By sharing what they know about how students learn best, the staff can acquire a greater understanding of student data and identify and implement best practices that support student learning in their own classrooms.
South Junior High School in Boise, Idaho, and Burlington High School in Burlington, Mass., use the Look 2 Learning [PDF] walkthrough model. In this model, observers watch students and interact with them about what they are learning. During these walks, observers look for three things: clarity of the lesson objective to students; level of students' critical thinking based on Bloom's taxonomy; and levels of student engagement. The goal of Look 2 Learning, like the other models mentioned, is to provide the entire staff with schoolwide data on student learning trends and patterns.
In each of these walkthrough models, students were the primary focus of the observations. These observations can provide teachers a better picture of how effective instructional practices result in increased student learning. Collecting information about the learning environment and student engagement helps each teacher identify and implement strategies and structures that allow for individual readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles of each child. As teachers increase their understanding about the tenets of the whole child approach to learning, students benefit from these walkthroughs when they
- See teachers throughout the school working together to refine instruction and provide an engaging learning climate to meet students' needs;
- Notice adults across the school taking an interest in what and how well they are learning; and
- Have opportunities to articulate to observers what, why, and how they are learning.
Donald Kachur is an education consultant and Professor Emeritus of Education, Illinois State University, Normal, Ill., whose writings have focused on variations in use of classroom walk-throughs to improve teaching and learning. He is lead author of Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs, published by ASCD in July 2013. Extend your thinking through an archived webinar Kachur presented on how to create a teacher-led walk-through model and get teachers involved and actively participating. Connect with Kachur by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.