Last week I had the privilege of visiting a middle school to participate in instructional rounds. The school had identified students’ difficulty with critical thinking as its problem of practice. It is a wonderful school with very high student expectations, and a very structured, happy learning environment. Every teacher is skilled in delivering instruction according to a consistent structure that includes independent work, class discussion, and lots of small group learning. As our team of three educators visited each classroom, we divided the observation tasks. One person described on paper what students were doing, another looked at what the teachers were doing, and the third person looked at the content of the lessons. This allowed each of us to really focus and write down lots of details. After we visited each classroom we debriefed in a small conference room. This process was repeated through six classrooms. Then, we looked at the patterns across all of the classrooms.
We discovered that all of the higher level student questioning, which might lead to critical thinking, was contained in the quick, independent work that occurred at the beginning of each lesson. Kids did not have ample time to process these deep questions or to interact with their peers. Later, when kids worked collaboratively in groups, the tasks focused on lower level questions that simply involved listing or describing. This was truly an amazing discovery. The teachers would just need to flip the tasks in order to improve the development of critical thinking skills. Let the kids do independent warm ups with lower level questioning, and then allow the bulk of time, devoted to collaborative group work, focus on critical thinking tasks. The teachers at this school have been struggling for almost a year with this issue to determine what is preventing the kids from becoming stronger in critical thinking. In just a couple of hours, through the instructional rounds process, they were able to figure out what was wrong and fix it.
Teaching has traditionally been a very isolated profession. If you talk to career educators, they tend to say that they just want to close their classroom doors and be left alone. It is time to open the doors and allow teachers to learn from each other in a safe, meaningful way. They must make the rounds to improve learning.
To learn more about this process, click here.