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An Observation Challenge: What Do You See (Part Two)

August 14, 2014 / by Sarah Brown Wessling

Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part Observation Exercise. Each exercise is a stand alone experience -- do one or all three. 


What are the students doing? How are they doing it? What is the teacher doing? What isn't she doing? Ultimately, we want to uncover those deliberate teaching moves Ms. Brewer is making. Our learning purpose is to determine how the actions, movement, or physical space of a classroom gives us insight into student learning.

STEP 1: Watch this Uncut Classroom* Video.

This 5-minute segment is from the middle of Ms. Brewer's lesson, "Analyzing Texts." I'm sure you'll notice that even though our goal is to focus on what we see, you can't entirely divorce that from what we hear. That's OK.

Take Notes: While watching this Uncut Classroom video, post your observations in the comments section or download the Observational Worksheet What Do You See. Don't forget to include the time code in your comments.

STEP 2: Examine Your Observations

Take a few minutes to discuss your observations in the comments below. What struck you? What was interesting? What questions were raised for you? If you used the note-taking guide, talk about the third column -- what Ms. Brewer was doing to guide her students toward the learning purpose.

STEP 3: Analyze, Translate, and Adapt Your Observations

Let's move on to thinking about how our observations help us understand our own practices. If you completed the first Exercise, you will probably find yourself incorporating those insights here as well. Depending on time and your own learning purpose, you may decide to choose only a few of these questions instead of working through all of them.

  • What is the learning purpose of this portion of the lesson? How do you know? What did you see her students doing that tells you this?
  • Can you point to either student or teacher actions that show explicit learning? What do these actions tell us about how the learning is being constructed in this portion of the lesson?
  • Which actions from these students would you most want to see in your classroom? What do you think had to happen before and after this lesson in order to turn those actions into classroom habits and routines?
  • Sometimes we see the physical space of a classroom as something outside of our control, even a reason for why it's tough to be effective. How does Ms. Brewer maximize, change, or use her physical space to support the learning?
  • What does your analysis of this observation make you think about in terms of your own practice?

STEP 4: Get Someone Else's Perspective

In this Think Aloud, I'll share the patterns I noticed and how those observations triggered my analysis of the lesson. Here we go!

A few takeaway thoughts from Sarah...

  • This segment is all based on inquiry. When I watched the lesson a second time, I was surprised to find this entire segment was in response to a question posed by a student. Clearly, the students are engaged because it’s about their questions and their answers. They aren't playing what my students sometimes refer to as "guess what the teacher thinks." Instead, students are talking to each other, asking follow-up questions, and drawing conclusions about specific moments in the text.
  • They are all learners. Ms. Brewer is clearly deliberate about this discussion. They all, including her, sit in a circle. They all, including her, use hand signals. They all, including her, go back to their books to look at sticky notes, reread passages, or confirm information. At each turn, her actions are speaking loudly to students about how a learner inquires, builds upon the thinking of others, and asks further questions for clarification.
  • My observation and analysis of this lesson makes me think about the way I use hand signals in my own classroom. I'm drawn to the way all of the students are always engaged, because even if they aren't speaking with words, they are with movement. I've tried these in my classes before, but I need to go back to video footage of my own classroom to see if I'm modeling enough, the way Ms. Brewer does. (Watch how Sarah uses video to improve her practice.)

How did it go? Share your thoughts below. And stay tuned for "Part 3: Seeing the Invisible" tomorrow! 

Topics: Professional Learning, Coaching, Video Playlist

Sarah Brown Wessling

Written by Sarah Brown Wessling

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.

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