At the heart of standards based school reform is change in classroom practices whereby the quality of student work is judged in relation to content and performance standards. This is a fundamental shift in focus for almost all classroom teachers, and means that they must understand what is quality work, diagnostically interpret the results, and use them to improve instruction.
Examining student work as a source of data is an essential part of ongoing school identification of what is working. Student work can tell rich and informative stories about the quality of student learning and, by inference, instruction in schools. Because of the versatility and value of using authentic student work, methods to examine it are being developed by many school reform organizations as professional development tools.
Classroom walkthroughs are one way to examine student work. Though principals have always walked through classrooms to see how things were going, their major focus was on how teachers were performing and how students were attending. However, they may learn much more from classroom walkthroughs when the process is collaborative and the focus is on examining student work to assess student and school progress and plan strategies for reaching all children more effectively.
In a National Staff Development Center article entitled, Seeing through new eyes:
Walkthroughs offer new way to view schools, Joan Richardson describes walkthroughs based on the work of Perry and Associates. Whether known as instructional walks, learning walks, or data in a day, the pattern of walkthroughs is roughly the same: a team of observers is dispatched to numerous classrooms where they spend about 10 minutes looking for very specific things. At the conclusion, the observers assemble their information and share what they have learned with the teachers whose rooms have been observed. Unlike a classroom observation which provides a view of a single classroom, a walkthrough creates a school wide picture made up of many small snapshots, Perry said. Its a strategy for providing a school, not an individual teacher, with feedback about what its doing or not doing. Walkthroughs provide an opportunity to:
- Reinforce attention to an instructional and learning focus in the schools improvement plan.
- Gather data about instructional practice and student learning to supplement other data about school and student performance.
- Stimulate collegial conversation about teaching and learning through asking questions about what evidence is and isnt observed.
- Learn from other participants through observations, questions, experiences and perspectives.
- Deepen understandings and practices by continuous feedback.
- Deepen understandings and practices related to continuous improvement.