Coaching often centers exclusively on the actions taken by the teacher in making the assumption that if we improve the teaching, then student learning will improve as well. It seems reasonable, but it has almost had the opposite effect because we’ve spent so much time thinking about what the teachers should be doing that we’ve lost touch with the most important people in our school—the students.
Embedding formative assessment data into coaching cycles is an easy way to put the students at the center of our coaching conversations vis-à-vis the teacher.
‘Know Thy Impact’ of a Coaching Cycle
We can’t gauge the impact of a coaching cycle based on teacher satisfaction alone. Instead we can take the following steps to use formative assessment data to understand how coaching has moved student learning forward.
Step 1: Set a Goal for Student Learning
At the beginning of the coaching cycle, the teacher and coach identify a standards-based goal for student learning. We use the language, ‘Students will…’ and work with teachers to understand that while we begin with a goal for students, we will also work towards their goals for instructional practice.
Step 2: Create Learning Targets Based on the Standard
I recently coached a 6th grade language arts team that set the goal, ‘Our students will use annotation to determine the central idea of a short piece of literature (R.L.6.2).’ While the goal was pretty straightforward, we still had to unpack it to ensure that we were operating from clearly defined criteria for student performance. We created the following learning targets as a collaborative group.
Our students will:
• Annotate to capture their thinking across a short text
• Use a variety of techniques for annotation, such as underlining, marginal notes, questions, inferences, identifying thinking related to vocabulary, noting thinking about characters
• Use the annotations to determine the central idea
• Provide evidence to back up their thinking about the central idea
With the learning targets in hand, we had developed a clearly articulated success criteria to formatively assess students, use as a vehicle for students to self-evaluate, and drive specific feedback to the students (Hattie, 2013).
Step 3: Pre-Assess Students Using a Common Formative Assessment
With a goal and success criteria in place, the teacher and coach work together to plan how they will pre- assess the students. We designed a preassessment in which the students read and annotated an excerpt from a novel and then responded with their thinking about the central idea.
Step 4: Analyze the Student Work to Identify Current Performance
The teacher and coach engage in a sorting session to identify trends they see in the student work. The work is typically sorted into three piles that are based on the learning targets. In this case, the coaching cycle was with the 6th grade team, and we identified students who were annotating and providing a clearly articulated central idea, others who were annotating but not quite landing on the central idea, and a few who weren’t annotating at all. It became apparent that differentiation was in order.
Step 5: Design and Deliver Differentiated Instruction that is Based on Formative Assessment Data
The teacher and coach design and deliver instruction that specifically targets the students’ needs. To do so, they work together to collect student evidence on a weekly basis over four to six weeks. Evidence serves as formative assessment data and may include common formative assessments, anecdotal notes, written responses, and observations of student learning. During a weekly planning session, the teacher and coach discuss the following questions:
1) What did we notice the students doing as learners?
2) How will we design differentiated instruction to address their needs?
3) How will we work together to deliver the instruction?
Step 6: Post Assess Students at the End of the Coaching Cycle
At the end of the coaching cycle, the teacher and coach post assess the students to measure student performance in relationship to the goal. They also identify the instructional practices that the teacher is using as a result of the coaching cycle. By focusing on both the student outcomes and changes in the instruction, we have a clear understanding of how the coaching cycle impacted both the student and teacher learning.
What About ‘Teacher Buy In’?
Coaches often wonder how they can get more teachers to buy in to coaching. They often face resistance to coaching and worry if their coaching is making the desired impact. By putting formative assessment data at the center of coaching conversations, we move coaching away from ‘fixing teachers’ and towards creating coaching conversations that are grounded, specific, and that propel student learning forward. Teachers no longer have to wonder if coaching was worth their time and energy. They’ll know.