I witnessed a treat last Wednesday morning as I visited Glenview Middle School to see the shift to student-centered practices in action. I wasn’t prepared to see how quickly some of our teacher-leaders are moving on this continuum. This was high level instruction. Were the targets rigorous? Yes. Were our students working toward a standard? Check. What about student-centered? Absolutely. Glenview is moving. I was able to see a lesson in all four grades and what I saw our students doing was inspiring.
The first classroom I had the chance to visit was Mrs. DeLaRosa’s 6thgrade math. The class was seated in intentional groups and discussed their learning goal at the beginning of the lesson. The task for each group was to discuss which strategy they needed to use to solve specific problems. On a bulletin board was the scale for the standard the students were working toward. We have scales posted in our classrooms, but what this teaching professional was doing was new for me. Not only were Mrs. DeLaRosa's students interacting with the target in their groups, but once the teacher checked their understanding using a formative assessment, the students used the scale on the bulletin board to indicate if they met the target by placing a dot with their initials. Education meta-researcher John Hattie says that students who monitor their own progress toward success criteria have the third highest effect size on student achievement. Mrs. DeLaRosa understands the importance of not only student-centered, but she understands student empowerment.
The next classroom I visited was Mrs. Grace’s 5thgrade science. When I entered, the students were in groups working on standard around constellations. I was struck by the work the students were doing in this classroom. Each group had norms, success criteria was evident, and team talk was extremely rich. When I overheard one student say to another, “we need to look at our success criteria,” I decided to go over to the other side of the room and ask a question of two students about their success criteria and what it meant. The students told me they use it for their work to “help us know if we’ve done it right and to stay on track.” Without prompting, they told me they like using success criteria because they know what to do and what is coming next. The target was rigorous as each group had to research a constellation legend then rewrite it in a different way. Mrs. Grace has built a culture where the students are in charge of their own learning.
I was also able to visit Mrs. Comeaux’s 7thgrade ELA classroom. When I entered, the students were working in groups on a Venn diagram to provide textual evidence they would need for an upcoming writing assignment. The topic was “hero v. leader” and the book they were reading was Tangerine. Group roles were posted on the board, but it was clear that this was already a regular practice in Mrs. Comeaux’s classroom. Mrs. Comeaux then went from small group to whole group and took the risk of asking her students to move into a large circle and have a student-led discussion about their Venn diagrams and be prepared to provide textual evidence. The conversation was rich, students supported their claims with evidence from the book, and they were engaged – with each other. The accountable talk used by Mrs. Comeaux’s students was pervasive.
The last classroom I was treated to was Mr. Mueller’s 8thgrade social studies. Students were in intentional groups working on a jigsaw of writings from differing points of view on World War I. Students had to use textual evidence from their readings to support that point of view and share them with their classmates as part of a jigsaw. John Hattie’s research has usage of a jigsaw as the 7thmost powerful activity for teachers to use for achievement. Mr. Mueller has a rich classroom, full of artifacts and interesting information. At the front of the room, he had a scale the class refers back to at the end of the lesson to identify where the students are with their progression of learning. Mr. Mueller’s students were in charge of their own learning as they worked together toward the target.
I was motivated by what I saw from the four classrooms I was able to visit last week. We are on a continuum to move to rigorous, standards-based, student-centered instruction. The East Moline Schools are moving to a place where our students are truly in charge of their own learning. This work doesn’t happen by accident. It happens with careful planning in teams by our teaching professionals. It happens by taking risks, trial and error, and a lot of hard work. Thanks to that up-front work by our teacher-leaders, the level of empowerment I saw in our students at Glenview was inspiring.
I am excited to visit the Hillcrest Elementary classrooms on Tuesday morning.