It’s that time of year again. The time to look back, reflect, and think ahead to how you’ll do things differently next school year. Last year, I reflected on my coaching work and decided that I needed to switch up the way I approached coaching cycles. So this year, rather than trying to work with every teacher on a grade level, I worked in one class per grade. These rooms became our lab classes. I wanted to find ways to go deeper and one way I thought I could do that would be to spend more time in one place.
In many grade levels, the classroom teacher and I set out with things we wanted to figure out together. In kindergarten, we focused on establishing routines for guided reading. In grade one we worked to think about how to use writing checklists to grow independence. Then in fourth and fifth grade, we thought about using learning progressions in reading and how this tool could be used to get kids to think more deeply about their reading.
All of these ventures felt different, only related due to the fact that they all involved literacy. However, as I sit here reflecting on all that we have learned and watched kids learn, a clear connection can be made between all of this work. That connection is feedback.
In every grade level, our instruction involved small group work. Within these small groups, I hung onto a question Natalie Louis, our TCRWP staff developer had asked during a session early in the year, “are you helping or teaching?” So, we worked to coach kids, mindful of the language and strategies we were teaching them to use independently. In kindergarten, we promoted kids towards thinking about whether their reading made sense, sounded right, and looked right. In first grade, we taught kids how to mine their own writing for elements listed on their writing checklists and then we coached them towards setting goals to make their writing even stronger. The work in fourth and fifth grade was similar to the work in first. Again, we leaned on the tools of the reading learning progressions to have kids think about ways they could push their own thinking while reading. Then we encouraged them to dream up ways to keep track of their thinking while reading.
Kids came to expect that we would be checking back in, continuing to see what they were working on, and encouraging them to push further. With these checks and balances in place, we found that we didn’t have to push too hard. Kids came to know what the work could look like. They also started to see, on their own, how to grow themselves and the results were, most days, amazing to observe.
Most of our kindergarten students have comfortably met or exceeded our end of the year benchmark for reading, already, and we still have four weeks left of school. Our first graders own their writing checklists and their writing shows a deeper understanding of the structure, development, and conventions of multiple genres. More importantly, there are very few reluctant writers. They have found joy in knowing how to grow their writing. In fourth and fifth grade, kids understand the learning progressions better than they ever have before. We have seen this work pay off across the curriculum as kids have generalized this learning to think about using rubrics to assess their own work. We also saw great pay offs as kids prepared to take the SBA state testing. Their open ended responses required little practice because they knew how to answer questions and support their thinking with evidence from the text-skills we had been practicing all year. When asked to write about their reading, these kids never groan as they have done in the past. Instead, they are eager to share their thinking and in return, we are so excited to read the thoughtful responses they craft.
In each of these classrooms, I’ve noticed the impact that this work has had on relationships. Kids in these classrooms know that their teachers care about them and their learning. They take their learning seriously, but in a way that feels light and, most of the time, joyful. This makes me think that feedback not only grows kids academically, but strengthens the human connection as well. Poised as teacher researchers, I have noticed kids watch and pick up on the struggle we take on as teachers. We have made our learning public, often revising plans and practice in the moment. All of this important to the classroom environment.
Now, as I think ahead to next year, I think about how to spread this culture of feedback. How can I share what we have learned in these lab classes with other teachers? Can we find time for more lab sites or get the lab teachers to share with their teams and other teams? How can we get kids doing more of this coaching and feedback work through the use of partnerships and clubs? How can this feedback help to strengthen not just our culture of literacy, but our school community as well?