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Classroom Observation Tools

To assist literacy coaches in their work with secondary content-area teachers, we have designed a few observation and reflection tools. While there are many tools literacy coaches need to be successful, the majority of their work is in observation of and conversation with teachers. These tools provide coaches with protocols that will make observations and conversations uniform, thorough, engaging—and most importantly, research-based. The tools are intended to assist coaches in pinpointing for teachers the most effective techniques for helping students read and write more effectively in their classes. Although the literacy coach is useful for so much more on a campus (e.g., professional development, curriculum design, modeling lessons), working one-on-one with teachers is still a very powerful practice to improve teaching performance.

Intended Use of Tools

The core tool is the Teacher Observation Guide. We have broken the tool into two components: reading and writing. Content-area teachers who incorporate literacy strategies into their lesson planning typically only will have enough time to focus on either writing or reading in any one lesson. For example, a social sciences teacher may consider teaching a reading strategy before assigning a reading selection from the textbook. Or a science teacher may consider focusing on writing techniques as students develop lab reports. Therefore, the Teacher Observation Guide, selected according to the literacy focus in the teacher’s lesson, will guide the literacy coach in determining what strategies have been used by the teacher as well as the extent to which the strategies used by the teacher are effective.

To frame an observation, we have provided corresponding tools: one is a Preobservation Statement for both reading and writing. The purpose of this is to give teachers a chance to describe to the coach what to expect during the lesson. Potential problems with the lesson may be considered prior to delivery. And after the lesson, the Postobservation Reflection Guide gives the teacher a chance to reflect upon the effectiveness of his or her literacy strategies.

Preobservation Statement

Prior to an observation, teachers should have the opportunity to explain their lessons to the observer. Teachers should have a few days prior to observations to fill out the Preobservation Statement. With sufficient time for discussion, the observer should review the form and ask questions to clarify any confusing points. The purpose of this is twofold: (1) teachers need the opportunity to reflect on the design of their lessons that incorporate reading or writing activities; and (2) the observer needs to be clear about what the teacher intended to do so more specific feedback can be given about possible disconnects of intention to actual instruction. In addition, prior to the lesson, a coach may assist the teacher in the development of the lesson as it would be better for the teacher to practice only good instruction and not waste valuable coaching time on small design factors that can be fixed in discussion prior to lesson observation. One protocol is designed for reading in the content-area observation, and one is designed for writing in the content-area observation.

Teacher Observation Guides

The purpose of these guides is to provide a framework for examining a teacher's ability to teach literacy skills in the content-area classroom. The guides are not evaluative tools; rather, they provide a platform for discussion and reflection. Of all the tools, these guides should be used most often as teachers and coaches work together to improve instruction.

These tools will guide the observation of a full class period. For proper use, the observed teacher must be aware that reading instruction techniques will be examined. Each observation guide constitutes some of the most commonly referred to techniques to assist students as they read in content-area classrooms. There are many more techniques that can be used in a single lesson, and many of the techniques should not be used in some lessons. Accordingly, the observer will make a decision on techniques that are not part of the lesson: The checkboxes titled "Could Have Been Done" (i.e., Would the technique have made the lesson better?) or "Should Have Been Done" (i.e., Was the lesson impaired or somehow weakened because the technique was not used?) can be used in this manner.

Postobservation Reflection

To make sense of the completed guide, the observer and teacher should discuss the results together. Again, this guide is not intended for evaluative purposes. Furthermore, in using this guide, all participants should recognize that the observer does not necessarily have greater expertise. Instead, the observer is an objective set of eyes for providing useful feedback to the teacher.

The Postobservation Reflection allows the teacher to rate himself or herself in 10 areas on the lesson that was just observed. This gives the teacher an opportunity to express dissatisfaction with certain parts of the lesson (thereby allowing the teacher to “save face” regarding any embarrassing or unplanned moments).

The questions at the bottom are for discussion between the coach and teacher upon review of the Postobservation Reflection.

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