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‘Instructional rounds’ approach flips classroom evaluations

New method from Harvard researchers analyzes school-wide trends by looking at how instruction is being received

“Generally, when you are working with teachers to improve instruction, you’re focused on the teacher. ... This approach is really just the opposite,” said Keyes Union School District Superintendent Karen Poppen.

As school leaders work to improve classroom teaching, a new way of evaluating instruction—one that shifts the focus from the teacher to the students—is emerging.

Called “instructional rounds,” the practice is based on the way doctors make their rounds in a teaching hospital, using facts rather than value judgments to determine the effectiveness of instruction.

Because it looks at how well kids are learning rather than how well the teacher is teaching, and because it includes fellow teachers on the evaluation team, this collaborative approach to classroom evaluation is less likely to meet with objections from educators, its advocates say.

Among the adopters of instructional rounds are the superintendents of five small, rural school districts in the California’s Central Valley. Those districts are the Keyes Union School District (KUSD), Livingston Union School District (LUSD), Corning Union Elementary School District, Corcoran Joint Unified School District, and Pleasant View School District.

“Generally, when you are working with teachers to improve instruction, you’re focused on the teacher—[and] you go into classrooms to observe what the teacher does. This approach is really just the opposite,” said KUSD Superintendent Karen Poppen. “We’re really looking at the task the students are asked to do. What’s on the student’s desk is really the focus.”

For more news about improving instruction:

Report: U.S. should model education system after other countries

What the U.S. can learn about improving teacher effectiveness

Should student test scores be used to evaluate teachers?

The superintendents banded together with two county offices of education in November, found a grant for training in December, and recently presented their progress to the California Department of Education.

Grant money sent the five superintendents plus seven others to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in December to study the instructional rounds model.

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Comments:

  1. gfbischoff

    June 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hi: instructional rounds are done in many places…we have been doing it here in parts of NC for several years. We follow a “I heard/I saw/I wonder” format that allows teachers much to reflect upon, and feel that this allows for teacher growth, while not having the students feel uncomfortable while observers are present.

    One thing that I have realized through this observation protocol is that there is always something going on in my classroom that I may not have picked up on…not necessarily bad, but just something that I don’t know about, which I might be able to really build on. This has been wonderful, as it gives me new input to work with.

    No matter how long one has been teaching, there is always room for growth. This is an extremely non-confrontational approach, if followed correctly.

  2. gfbischoff

    June 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hi: instructional rounds are done in many places…we have been doing it here in parts of NC for several years. We follow a “I heard/I saw/I wonder” format that allows teachers much to reflect upon, and feel that this allows for teacher growth, while not having the students feel uncomfortable while observers are present.

    One thing that I have realized through this observation protocol is that there is always something going on in my classroom that I may not have picked up on…not necessarily bad, but just something that I don’t know about, which I might be able to really build on. This has been wonderful, as it gives me new input to work with.

    No matter how long one has been teaching, there is always room for growth. This is an extremely non-confrontational approach, if followed correctly.

  3. nkrieger

    June 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    How is this so different from Critical Friends, Lesson Study, or the method that is used by Project Zero to examine the results of teaching?

  4. nkrieger

    June 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    How is this so different from Critical Friends, Lesson Study, or the method that is used by Project Zero to examine the results of teaching?

  5. anniadear

    June 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    As a former Principal I grappled many times with the strategies to use to enable teachers to see where improvement in their practice, not only gave them satisfaction but was imperative in being able to address the curriculum needs of our students.
    Our initial efforts were termed as ‘learning walks’ which were geared around classroom visits, observations and followup discussions. Although there was always a purpose, teachers still felt uncomfortable as this was still seen to be possibly being used as part of their performance appraisal. “Instructional Rounds” enabled us to really focus on the core – actual interactions between teachers, students and the content in the classroom.
    The biggest difference was developing the ability to make non-judgmental observations and collect meaningful data focusing on what the students were doing.
    Teachers were more comfortable with this process and it did lead to improvement in teacher practice and improved student outcomes.

  6. anniadear

    June 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    As a former Principal I grappled many times with the strategies to use to enable teachers to see where improvement in their practice, not only gave them satisfaction but was imperative in being able to address the curriculum needs of our students.
    Our initial efforts were termed as ‘learning walks’ which were geared around classroom visits, observations and followup discussions. Although there was always a purpose, teachers still felt uncomfortable as this was still seen to be possibly being used as part of their performance appraisal. “Instructional Rounds” enabled us to really focus on the core – actual interactions between teachers, students and the content in the classroom.
    The biggest difference was developing the ability to make non-judgmental observations and collect meaningful data focusing on what the students were doing.
    Teachers were more comfortable with this process and it did lead to improvement in teacher practice and improved student outcomes.

  7. oekosjoe

    July 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    One thing worthy of remarks is how well – or ill – Harvard talks within its own community. “Rounds” (which remind me more of songs than sayings) may be an interesting take on collaborative assessment, and worthy of some kind of funding, but don’t hold a candle to Harvard’s Ford Foundation planning grant, “OneVille,” in nearby Somerville. Building on the High School’s own suggestion of creating electronic portfolios of student work, that program (well documented here https://sites.google.com/site/shseportfolio/home) focused on helping students – and teachers, as it turned out – to assess themselves and each other on scales derived from the US Department of Labor’s SCANS project of the 1990′s. The portfolios (some of which are available through that portal, and others are described on the OneVille blog last March, here http://oneville.org/2011/03/) reveal what students learn about their own improvements in responsibility, teamwork, creativity, and other soft skills from the DOL taxonomy.

    What was particularly important about the OneVille process – and apparently the primary focus of the co-incidental “instructional rounds” model – was how these reflective assessments of both self, others, and of instruction itself provoked a kind of collegiality among and between students and teachers. Asking and getting – and using – feedback seems to have been the primary point of “rounds,” while the point of e-portfolios was to create a principle of documenting skills as they developed, across subjects and both in and out of school.

    It’s too bad that Harvard didn’t look at what Harvard was doing locally in deriving its national model. The problem reminds me of a story told by one of Marshall McLuhan’s partners from the 1960′s. When his child, who had been reading the NY Times every day in school and bringing it home for dad to share every evening, stopped bringing the paper back, the academic father asked why. “Teacher says that current events take too much time,” was his child’s answer, and, it would seem, has become the answer Harvard academics now give each other.

  8. oekosjoe

    July 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    One thing worthy of remarks is how well – or ill – Harvard talks within its own community. “Rounds” (which remind me more of songs than sayings) may be an interesting take on collaborative assessment, and worthy of some kind of funding, but don’t hold a candle to Harvard’s Ford Foundation planning grant, “OneVille,” in nearby Somerville. Building on the High School’s own suggestion of creating electronic portfolios of student work, that program (well documented here https://sites.google.com/site/shseportfolio/home) focused on helping students – and teachers, as it turned out – to assess themselves and each other on scales derived from the US Department of Labor’s SCANS project of the 1990′s. The portfolios (some of which are available through that portal, and others are described on the OneVille blog last March, here http://oneville.org/2011/03/) reveal what students learn about their own improvements in responsibility, teamwork, creativity, and other soft skills from the DOL taxonomy.

    What was particularly important about the OneVille process – and apparently the primary focus of the co-incidental “instructional rounds” model – was how these reflective assessments of both self, others, and of instruction itself provoked a kind of collegiality among and between students and teachers. Asking and getting – and using – feedback seems to have been the primary point of “rounds,” while the point of e-portfolios was to create a principle of documenting skills as they developed, across subjects and both in and out of school.

    It’s too bad that Harvard didn’t look at what Harvard was doing locally in deriving its national model. The problem reminds me of a story told by one of Marshall McLuhan’s partners from the 1960′s. When his child, who had been reading the NY Times every day in school and bringing it home for dad to share every evening, stopped bringing the paper back, the academic father asked why. “Teacher says that current events take too much time,” was his child’s answer, and, it would seem, has become the answer Harvard academics now give each other.