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, there may be much more to be learned from walking through classrooms when your focus in on examining student work. This examination can reveal whether classroom work is focused on the Maryland Content Standard indicators, whether work between grade levels is an appropriate progression, and/or whether students are being asked to problem solve and apply knowledge. This is an excellent way to get a lot of data in a short period of time if you are very focused on what you are looking for.
You may want to listen to Gary Heath, Branch Chief of Arts and Sciences at MSDE, discuss his experiences in conducting classroom walk-throughs in a number of schools around the state. You may also find the protocol he developed for leading classroom walk-throughs useful. You can also listen to Donna Watts, Mathematics Coordinator at MSDE, discuss what she looks for in examining student work in mathematics on these classroom walk-throughs.
The Palisades School District in Pennsylvania has been showcased in numerous articles for the work they have done in conducting classroom walkthroughs as a strategy to assess the impact of teaching on student outcomes in their district. An April 2001 article in The School Administrator, Data Analysis by Walking Around by Francis Barnes and Marilyn Miller describes the districts vision for their walkthroughs. Our vision of data worth collecting extends beyond the traditional realm of scores on standardized tests. It embodies a cross-section of students voices that is both broad and deep, providing a window into how students approach learning and how well they think they have mastered material. Our task is unique, we believe, because we invite educators from other districts as well as our own staff to gather feedbackone student at a timein personal one-on-one conversations.
For example, during one school year, we focused on clear expectations for writing and math problem solving. Participants looked for evidence of how well the students could describe four key elements: (1) their work as it related to writing standards and math problem-solving standards; (2) the rubric or process used to score their work; (3) their understanding of what they needed to do to improve their work; and (4) their understanding of how their work related to what they had previously learned and/or would be learning in the future.
The process used by the Palisades School District involved the following:
- District identifies a focus for the walk-throughs
- District forms a team of stakeholders from the district and visitors from outside the district
- Teachers and administrators identify interview questions related to the focus. For example, In what ways are you asked to connect what you are reading in class to other things you have read? or Can you describe times in class in which you have been provided with opportunities to discuss and analyze your interpretation of reading with others?
- District holds an orientation meeting to review process, interview questions and classroom assignments
- Interviewers randomly select and interview about 20 students each
- Interview team shares observations with each other and then with school staff
- School teams review the data and develop action plans
- District repeats the walk-through process in the spring
- School teams evaluate their interventions
In another article on the Palisades School District written written by entitled, Face to Face in a Fall 2001 publication of the Journal of Staff Development (JSD), the district reports that their walk-throughs produced the following results. Paying attention to what children say and implementing related changes in professional development, curriculum, and instruction have led to increased standardized test scores; walk-throughs have led to improved teacher learning; and teachers have benefited from discussions of what works and what doesnt and an ongoing dialogue about changes in curriculum and instruction. Teachers have experienced a variety of professional development opportunities and opportunities to jointly create new assessments, analyze data in teams, and modify curriculum as needed. We also have fostered public involvement and communication by including volunteers from outside the district and educating others about the power of data-based decision making.