Walkthroughs put focus on 4-12 teachers’ literacy practices in the classroom

iStock_000016934184XSmallFirst introduced in the business world as “management by walking around,” walk-throughs  were intended to help managers develop management skills and make them more visible to employees.

Principals and other educational leaders have used walk-throughs to gather information about what is happening in the classroom to provide feedback and instructional support for teachers and make decisions about professional development and school improvement.

Principals who are concerned about adolescent literacy should consider the use of focused walk-throughs in grade 4-12 classes to look for classroom practices that support literacy for older students, says a recent Center on Instruction report, Adolescent Literacy Walk-Through jFor Principals, A Guide for Instructional Leaders.

“Frequent, short, unscheduled walk-throughs  can be used to gather information that will in turn be used to encourage focused, reflective, and collaborative adult learning,” says the report.

Walk-throughs are distinct from more formal evaluations of teachers, according to the report. Their purpose is to help maintain a consistent focus on improving instruction and to signal leadership for instructional change rather than to evaluate teacher performance for employment reasons.

“For a principal’s reading walk-through to be effective, teachers must understand that the process will not be used as an evaluation, but rather as a tool to help them improve their instructional practices,” write the authors from  the Florida Center for Reading Research.
The researchers describe 4 models of classroom walk-throughs:

1) The 3-minute walk-through–Carolyn Downey and co-authors of The Three-Minute Classroom Walk-Through: Changing School Supervisory Practice One Teacher at a Time, designed  a 2-3 minute walk-through so that principals could conduct short, focused, informal observations of curriculum and instruction.

“The goal of each brief observation is to prompt a useful suggestion or thought that might improve practice; each observation is an opportunity for feedback and teacher reflection,” the researchers write. Intermittent follow-up is recommended, with feedback given only when the principal knows it will prompt reflective inquiry on the part of the teacher.

2) Three Cs and an E–The Spokane School District developed a group walk-through by central office staff and building administrators to look for the 3 Cs and an E.  The 3 Cs and an E are: curriculum, cognitive ability level, classroom and lesson context and engagement.   Principals share their perceptions and reflective questions with the teachers.  The purpose of the walk-throughs is to provide a snapshot of a group of classrooms that will inform administrators of the demands and challenges in their schools.

3) Data Analysis by Walking Around–The Palisades School District in Philadelphia developed a biannual walk-through (fall and spring) conducted by a team of about 25 parents, teachers, administrators from in and outside of the school district. Each team member is assigned to specific classrooms and is responsible for interviewing about 20 students. After the interviews, the team compiles observations and comments in a presentation to the school faculty.  The focus is on district-wide expectations for learning and how classroom practice is linked to what students are expected to learn.

4)   Data in a Day (DiaD)–In California’s Central Union High School District, teams of 2, comprising a teacher and an administrator, visit classrooms with a scoresheet on 5 categories.   The 5 categories are: instructional practices, engagement, levels of thinking (using Bloom’s taxonomy), the connection between teaching and curriculum standards and the classroom climate.   The team members note evidence and frequency of practices in the 5 categories.  After the team agrees on what it observed, the counts are tallied and graphed and the results are shared in grade-level, content-area or schoolwide faculty meetings.  The team walk-throughs occur 4 times per year.

“One benefit of advancing to the use of more frequent walk-throughs is that principals become more familiar with the school’s curriculum and teachers’ instructional practices, teaching patterns, and decisions teachers are making,” the researchers report.

There are several challenges to implementing effective classroom walk-throughs:

Clearly communicating how walk-throughs are to be used–Teachers and other stakeholders need to know what to expect. There needs to be a predetermined focus or purpose, or superficial data will be collected.  Without attention to teacher buy-in, the process can produce hostility and distrust.

Union restrictions–Teacher evaluation is often an important bargaining issue between unions and districts.  One compromise is to conduct a walk-through without a written format.

Time constraints–Making time for instructional leadership activities such as conducting walk-throughs is a constant challenge for administrators.

Training–Teachers and administrators have typically not received training for walk-throughs.  It is important to be sure everyone is adequately prepared.

Teacher beliefs–Many secondary school teachers do not consider improving literacy to be part of their role.  Many have received little or no training in this area.

“As instructional leader, the principal must undertake the responsibility for ensuring that academic literacy instruction is provided in all classrooms in an accepting atmosphere,” the researchers write.

Principals must be familiar with what literacy instruction should include and how to assess the quality of classroom literacy instruction quickly and effectively. The report serves as a primer on evidence-based practices for improving 4-12 literacy.

“Adolescent Literacy Walk-Through For Principals, A Guide for Instructional Leaders,” by Lisa Rissman, Debra Miller and Joseph Torgesen, RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction, 2009.

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