Make Lab Sites Meaningful

A few weeks ago, this Tweet showed up in my feed:

I searched the TWT archives and realized we didn’t have any posts about protocols for leading writing workshop observations. As a result, many of the co-authors will devote a blog post to different aspects of staff development (e.g., one-to-one classroom visits, collaborative planning, PLC book clubs, walk-throughs) in March. But March is three months away! Therefore, I’ve created some tips to help literacy coaches facilitate writing workshop lab sites:

  1. This post includes six tips for literacy coaches to use when facilitating writing workshop lab sites.Examples, not exemplars: I remind teachers we’re looking at an example, rather than exemplar, when we observe a colleague’s writing workshop. Of course the teacher we’re observing is adept at teaching writing workshop. However, I stress s/he is an example, rather than an exemplar, for a couple of reasons. First, it takes some pressure off the teacher who is being observed. Everyone is human. Everyone is bound to make mistakes. Second, it reminds observing teachers that there are many ways to teach writing. On a given day, we’re going to look at one teacher’s workshop together. They may find things they can bring back to their classroom. However, I’m not expecting them to replicate everything they see when they observe one of their colleagues.
  2. Ground rules: Share your expectations before entering a classroom. Lab sites are a time to learn from watching another teacher and the kids in action. Lab sites are not a time to talk with fellow teachers, grade assignments, or use one’s phone. The rules are up to you. Just be sure to set them, in advance, so everyone is on the same page before setting foot in a classroom.
  3. Note-taking sheets: In my work as a consultant, I provide guides for any lab site I lead. I believe it’s useful for everyone to have a focus when they’re observing another teacher’s writing workshop. Here is a general lab site note-taking form I’ve used when having teachers new to writing workshop study its components. You’ll see all times are accounted for, including transition times, so teachers are always observing what’s happening in the classroom.
  4. Focus on one thing: You might create a focus for the observation. For instance, if teachers are studying conferring, then your lab guide might focus on independent writing. (Click here for a more focused lab site guide for conferring/small group work.)
  5. Lenses: You might assign lenses (e.g., explicitness, independence, timing) to each teacher so every person is accountable for watching some aspect of instruction. The assignment of lenses can make debriefs more interactive. If you assign lenses, teachers will take notes with their lens in mind.
  6. Debrief: Make sure debrief time is interactive. Start with few open-ended questions for teachers to discuss. Next, make time for teachers to practice some of the work the kids are doing.
    1. For instance, if you’re working with teachers around conferring, a debrief session might look like this:
      1. Discussion Questions:
        1. What kind of conference structure did the teacher use most often? Why was it effective?
        2. Could you see the tracks of the writing goals the teacher has for his/her students based on the conferences s/he held today?
        3. What methods (e.g., demonstration, explanation with example, guided practice, inquiry) did the teacher use with students? How did the method help the students with the strategy?
      2. Partner Work Time: Pair teachers and have them practice conferring with one another. You might choose to have them role-play (i.e., one is the student while the other is the teacher). If teachers regularly write, you can have them confer with each other – using the same structures and principles they use with kids – around their own writing work.

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The eight of us will return to the topic of staff development in March. If there’s an aspect of staff development or teacher-led professional development you’d like us to explore, please leave a comment below.

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