Many other professions allow time for individuals to watch best practice and let the observation benefit their own craft. I have heard friends of mine who are physicians, technicians, salespeople, and winemakers all talk about continued opportunity to watch colleagues practice their craft and benefit by incorporating techniques into their own practices. Why in education do we tend to reserve this for practicum work and discontinue it once we are actually teaching? Well, when I heard last year my department would have the opportunity to engage in Studio, I was enthusiastic. Last week we concluded our Studio work and, looking forward to next year, discussed what our work together would look like. Knowing our consultant would not be available, we explored the possibility of running Studio ourselves with the absence of a coach and came up with a protocol of 4 general steps.
Studio is focused on teachers coming together to examine how best practice actualizes a specific domain of teaching. Usually it entails a coach leading a group in identifying specific areas of interest. This school year, our department focused mainly on student engagement and developing synthesis in student writing. Studio begins with an intensive study of the focus area(s). A lab classroom is then set up. Lab classrooms involve the coach or one of the teachers giving a lesson intently focused on exemplifying the domain(s) of teaching the group identified as an interest while others in the group observe and take notes on what the teacher and students did. Following the lab classroom, preferably the same day, the group then processes what was noticed about teacher and student action. Transferring all of this to a process sustainable within our own department originated the following steps.
- Select specific areas of practice in which your department wants to develop.
Defining specific areas of practice gives the lab classroom focus and purpose. Selecting specific Common Core State Standards is beneficial for establishing this focus as it connects best practice with student performance. This can even be done through PLC work, identifying problem areas in student ability or understanding. For example, an English department might notice through assessing student work that developing refutation in argumentation is a particular weakness. Studio work could then focus on instructional practices that foster effective refutation in student writing.
- Set a schedule
Preferably, before the school year even starts, the group sets an annual schedule when work around at least four lab classrooms will occur. Once a quarter is manageable. Part of the scheduling will involve one or more teachers volunteering their classrooms for the labs. Lab classrooms will only be a single period, but pull out time for all teachers involved for the whole day is necessary for study of the selected area of practice prior to the lab classroom and process time afterward.
- Research area of practice
With the absence of coach, one or more people in the group will have to volunteer to lead study of the selected teaching domains. This can be done as a book study in multiple sessions leading up to the lab classroom or as a single seminar prior to the lab on the same day.
- Run studio
This is going to require coordination with administration since all teachers involved will need coverage on Studio days. Ideally, Studio starts with a session in the morning prior to the lab classroom. This is time for the group to dive into study and conversation over the targeted area of practice. In the absence of a coach, this will be facilitated by the individuals who volunteered their expertise based on the targeted area of practice. The group will then move to a selected period to observe the lesson of the lab classroom. Just a single class period will suffice. Notes are taken on how specific actions of the teacher influenced student learning. After the lab classroom, the group reconvenes to discuss what was observed and how effective practice might be implemented into current units of study. Processing time after the lab classroom is vital to immediately transferring observed teaching practices into each participant’s own lessons.
What domains of teaching have you been wanting to grow in? How might a self-run studio model look like in your own department?
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.