Journey of Discovery – Instructional Coaching

May 5, 2017 by     No Comments    Posted under: Classroom

Instructional Coaching is an idea I have heard a lot about over recent years and while I thought I had an “idea” of what it was I now realise I didn’t see the full potential. That all changed when I decided to take the leap and give it a go. Like all good learning experiences the true growth happens when you dive in head first. Instead of going into details about how it came to be (you can read about that here) I am going to share one of the experiences from my “coaching” journey.

I am currently working with the amazing Grade 3 teacher Mary Bellone (@marybellone) and her students. Mary is an expert teacher who is an experienced Teacher’s College Readers & Writers Workshop teacher and she had tried a number of strategies to help her students document their thinking whilst they were reading independently. “Post It” notes have worked well and bookmarks with a note taking section have also worked but she had a feeling that these techniques are not supporting the thinking of all her students. As well when student’s completed a book they didn’t know what to do with these notes – leave them in and the next person who gets that books has all the notes or remove them but where do you put them?

Using Diane Sweeney’s Student Centred Coaching model we developed a plan of how we would explore if Mary’s hunch was correct. We got the ball rolling as her class started their Information Text unit. Mary did a mini lesson with a “Places Worth Stopping” anchor chart and modelled how to use these strategies when documenting their thinking whilst reading.

Over the next few sessions we documented the number of notes, what strategy was used and the level of detail of the note. It was very interesting to observe the level of engagement over a series of sessions as student wrote notes furiously but as they got further into the unit the number of their notes declined.

We then introduced the app Padlet as an alternative way to note take. We gave an overview of how the app works and allowed the students some time to explore. We didn’t say to students that they had to use Padlet, instead we allowed them to use the tool that they felt most comfortable with.

During the next few sessions we recorded and observed how the students were taking notes. From a teacher’s perspective we had the feeling that making notes on the iPad might not be the most effective way to take notes. Some students had trouble maintaining their concentration when switching between the physical object of book and iPad. Others took a significant amount of time with the layout of their Padlet.

After a few sessions, Mary posed the question which tool for note taking the students preferred and interestingly enough most of them said they preferred using Padlet. They said it helped them to recall more information during their discussion and also allowed them to keep their notes organised when they started a new text. The students were then given the choice to use which tool they preferred for a session and then the following session they were asked to try the other tool. The discussions the students had showed the depth of their thinking and highlighted that they used each “tool” slightly differently.

As a final piece to the puzzle Mary dedicated some time to the art of writing effective notes and rating the quality of notes. Both Mary and I made the same connection during a PD session with Christy Curran (@christy_curran) and we discussed that this would be an obvious area for development. We wanted the students to develop their note taking skills to expand their conversations and providing them with a simple tool to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of their notes would give them a measure with which to improve their note taking. Once again the students were highly engaged during this activity and were able to highlight the features of an effective note.

This journey has been amazing. I have to admit I went in with an idea of what I thought would be the most effective note taking method but throughout the process I worked hard to suspend my judgement and let the students actions and data do the talking. Surprisingly enough when we conducted exit interviews with the students they unanimously preferred using Padlet. They found it easier to write more (spell check helped them out and they weren’t limited to a post it notes) and they found it easier to organise their thinking throughout a book. Both Mary and myself reflected that this might have been influenced by the fact the students were working with non-fiction texts where there was a lot of new information and wonderings about this information. So we will continue to track the development of the students note taking skills when they move back into a fiction unit.

I feel a little guilty as I reflect personally on this coaching cycle because I feel that I might have got more out of the process than the students and the teacher. The reflections from them doesn’t reflect this but it has been an amazing professional development opportunity for me. Seeing how the class was organised, the routines that the students moved so seamlessly through and the depth of their learning was amazing. But like Jim Knight says one of the features of an effective partnership is “reciprocity” – everyone needs to gain/develop from the experience.


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