Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Deasy observes training walks, tapes cable show

Lewisdale teacher participate in pilot program

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Prince George’s County Schools Superintendent John E. Deasy used the Jan. 24 taping of his monthly cable show to familiarize parents with a new program that will be used to improve teaching and learning in county schools.

Before taping ‘‘Children Come First With Dr. Deasy,” he participated in the LearningWalks program at Lewisdale Elementary School in Hyattsville.

More than 60 principals and teachers from the county’s fifth school region, which includes schools in the northern part of the county, visited Lewisdale to participate in a training walk, where administrators observed classrooms and student work posted in hallways, looking for evidence of one of the nine principles of learning created by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Learning. The LearningWalks, to be held in county elementary and middle schools, are training walks done in partnership with the institute and are designed to improve student performance and help teachers identify best practices.

The nine principles of learning—geared toward teachers to help them guide their instruction—are organizing for effort, clear expectations, fair and credible evaluations, recognition of accomplishment, academic rigor in a thinking curriculum, learning as apprenticeship, accountable talk, socializing intelligence and self-management of learning.

Cameras followed Deasy as he walked into a fifth-grade classroom to watch students learn the difference between a simulation and a dilemma as part of a reading lesson. After observing the class, Deasy and about six principals and administrators talked in the hallway about what they saw, making sure not to use judgmental language.

‘‘I wondered why youth had so much clarity about what a dilemma was and less clarity about what a simulation was,” Deasy said.

Schools are still in the pilot stage of the LearningWalk program. When training, which is conducted by representatives from the Institute for Learning, is complete, schools will be able to conduct LearningWalks as often as school administrators deem necessary.

William R. Hite, schools deputy superintendent, said once principals and teachers have the tools to identify the principles of learning in classroom instruction, how the LearningWalks will be used will be determined by the individual school’s administration.

‘‘This is not something that is done because it’s sent down from above. It’s done because everyone should be having these conversations about what good instruction is,” he said.

Hite said each school will determine which classes will be observed during LearningWalks and which teachers will go on them.

He also said that teachers are informed before the LearningWalks take place in their classrooms. If a teacher deems the walk would distract the students, their class may not be chosen for observation.

‘‘Typically there will only teams of four, five at the most, on the LearningWalk,” he said, adding students are not bothered if involved in an activity.

Hite said the partnership was started to create a common language about high-level instruction as well as to make instruction as transparent as possible.

Training for the LearningWalks, which began a few months ago at Lewisdale, require teachers to be observed by their colleagues, a practice some teachers were uncomfortable with at first but are warming up to, Lewisdale principal Melissa Glee-Woodard said. The walks are not an evaluation, but an opportunity for teachers to observe their colleagues’ techniques and practices.

‘‘The teachers are excited about improving their instruction,” Glee-Woodard said. ‘‘[Teachers] are very excited about continuing to learn how to incorporate the LearningWalks into improving our instructional program.”

Diana Dadds, a fourth-grade reading teacher, said she enjoys hearing feedback from her colleagues when they observe her classroom.

‘‘I like both the positive and negative feedback, because I always welcome the opportunity to learn ... especially from teachers who have been teaching for many years,” she said. ‘‘And it gives me a chance to show off my children. My children are wonderful.”

Glee-Woodard said having ‘‘Children Come First” taped at Lewisdale, and simply having Deasy visit the school, boosted teachers’ morale.

Glee-Woodard said the school made Adequate Yearly Progress, a state academic benchmark, but is still working on improving.

‘‘So hopefully [Deasy’s visit] will help improve the image of the school in the community,” he said.

The Maryland School Assessment test is given annually to students in grades 3 through 8. Schools that do not meet target scores in the same subject for two or more consecutive years are identified as needing improvement. Glee-Woodard said about eight parents chose to transfer their children to another school this academic year. Schools are removed from that list when they make AYP two years in a row.

Dadds said everyone at Lewisdale was excited about Deasy’s visit.

‘‘We’re extremely proud that all of these folks came to visit the building. We’re a terrific school with a great group of kids,” she said. ‘‘We were excited not only to have them interested in us and we were also excited to have them come and see what we we’ve done.”