January 28, 2020

Coaching and Assessment for Learning

After observing a high school science class this week for the purpose of modeling a coaching conference, I was wrestling with an approach to my post conference that would have the teacher reflect on the need to increase the percentage of students actively engaged (thinking) with the material.My observations identified some students who were thinking about the material and asking questions that sought application to their experiences. Other students were watching and listening, filling in a worksheet as the answers were provided by other students or (too often it seemed to me) by the teacher. Still other students were doing homework from another class or reading a different book.

I began the post conference with a few open-ended questions that asked the teacher to share his thinking regarding his approach to the instruction I observed and what indicators he had that he gained his desired outcomes.

He immediately pointed out the questions that students had asked,connecting the lesson content with their personal experiences. (Electromagnetism — Is that like the junkyard magnet? Does that have anything to do with an MRI?)

I agreed that the questions provided the evidence he was seeking and shared several other indicators (comments and questions from students) that I had observed and recorded. I then asked about what he knew about the non responsive students. The teacher felt that a quiz the next day was probably his best indicator.

We then discussed strategies that would have allowed the teacher to assess more of the students understanding…

Paired conversations where he could listen in

Calling on non participants with questions

Asking students to answer questions raised by classmates

Having students rate their understanding 1-10



The teacher’s review, presentation, and discussion were followed by a “hands on” (groups of three) activity. With broader assessment prior to this activity the teacher would have identified students needing additional support and could have provided it either as a small group pull aside or one on one as he moved among the groups during the activity.

I’m currently reading ASCD’s Advancing Formative Assessment In Every Classroom…a Guide for Instructional Leaders and identifying how to build more formative assessment questions into my coaching.

“In too many classrooms, teachers and their students are flying blind. Teachers cannot point to strong evidence of exactly what their students know and exactly where their students are in relation to daily classroom learning goals. The lack of detailed and current evidence makes it particularly difficult for teachers to provide effective feedback that describes for students the next steps they should take to improve. Students are operating in the dark as well. Without the benefit of knowing how to assess and regulate their own learning, they try to perform well on assignments without knowing exactly where they are headed, what they need to do to get there, and how they will tell when they have arrived.” (pg 9)

After coaching the science teacher, I observed a math class where a new teacher had students in groups of three working on problems she modeled on the Smart Board and presented on a worksheet. As the groups went to work, the teacher prepared her next step on the Smart Board….missing the opportunity to observe the group conversations and assess student understanding. She will be planning the next instructional period without important knowledge about where students are in the learning process. My observation was that most students understood the concept at the beginning of the lesson and did not need to invest the time in the lesson’s activity.

I have been building questions about teachers’ observations of student learning behaviors into my coaching conferences. I’ll be adding more specific questions about what assessment decisions teachers are making during and immediately following instruction. I’m thinking that these questions in a pre-conference may have the teacher direct my coaching observation to assist in or confirm her assessment decisions.

I’ll be reporting what I find.

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