This year as a new curriculum director I’ve visited more classrooms and observed more teaching than I’ve observed in my entire career! Having been an elementary teacher for more than 20 years, I’m at home in classrooms. Five-minute walkthroughs give me surprisingly accurate snapshots of what’s happening in individual classrooms as well as entire schools.
If your principal conducts regular walkthroughs, you're familiar with this observation model. You already know that frequent, short visits enhance your development as a teacher and learner. And walkthroughs are more manageable than longer, formal observations for teachers, administrators, and coaches.
Whether you’re familiar with walkthroughs or not, keep reading to learn what I (and your principal) might note during a walkthrough.
When I walk through classrooms, I’m looking less at teachers than students. I’m concentrating on students' facial expressions, body language, engagement, and questions/responses. My focus is on students and on how teachers facilitate their learning.
There are so many details to observe, from classroom management to bulletin boards, and from teaching with technology to teaching the Standards. It’s challenging to know where to start!
This bulletin board features student writing.
Below are three big things I look for, the aspects of teaching and learning your principal might observe on a walk through your classroom.
1. Evidence of Student Writing
I’m always interested to see what students are writing and drawing. Because writing develops after speaking and reading, it’s one of the most complex tasks we ask of students. So, I want to make sure I see writers and writing.
Specifics might include:
2. Content-rich lessons with a purpose, taught in context
It’s important that lessons be taught in context, with rich content. I hope to see teachers connect the day’s lesson to previous lessons and to standards and units of study. Simply saying, “We’re learning this so we can pass the statewide test,” is not a purpose.
Sometimes I check in with individual students and ask,
“What are you doing today? How's it going? Why are you studying this?”
Specifics I might listen for from teachers are:
3. Higher Order Thinking Questions
Literal comprehension questions are important, but when I observe teachers, I’m looking for more than bare bones questions. Among follow-up questions I’m hoping to hear are metacognition questions. I listen for questions that enrich and expand class conversations. I hope to hear students challenge one another with their questions.
Specific questions might include:
WHY questions: “Why does ___________ make sense?”
“Why did the author write this book?”
“What does _________ make you think of? It reminds me of __________."
“What were you thinking as you solved this problem? Come up and show us your thinking.”
“Who thought about this problem differently and has a different solution?”
EXTENSION questions: “Let's find out more about ___________. How can we find more, reliable information? Who can we ask for help?” "This sounds like a writing topic for later. Jot that idea down in your writing folder."
WHAT IF questions:
“What if the dog had been the main character instead of the boy? How would that have changed this story?”
“What if the story had ended differently? How might it have ended?”
“What if we solved this problem with multiplication instead of addition? Who can show us the equation?”
After a walkthrough, ask your administrator or coach for feedback if you don’t receive it right away!
To learn more about classroom walkthroughs, read the following articles:
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provides a list of resources for walkthroughs, and I particularly recommend the "Learning Walkthrough Organizer" and "Characteristics of Standards-Based Teaching and Learning: Continuum of Practice." Also check out Table IV, "Effective Instruction" in their "Conditions for School Effectiveness Self-Assessment."
And most importantly, post your experiences with walkthroughs!