Peer Classroom Observation Promotes Professional Growth
By Shannon O'Connor, communications coordinator
Lower School teachers observe writing workshops in colleagues’ classrooms.
The Lower School recently hosted its first-ever Write Fest, a multi-day event, where educators across the grade levels welcomed colleagues into their classrooms to observe writing workshops. The peer-to-peer professional growth opportunity encouraged teachers to visit each other’s classes to learn from different instruction styles.
“It was nice having an open-door policy,” says Kindergarten Educator Laura Tonini. “It became very natural for people to come in during lesson times, and the children were not distracted. It fostered many valuable conversations around the curriculum.”
Spearheaded by the Lower School Writing Committee, Write Fest was a continuation of the partnership formed last year with children’s literacy experts Carl Anderson and Matt Glover to improve the writing curriculum. During the professional development training, Carl and Matt introduced the components of writing workshops to the Lower School faculty. They emphasized the importance of using mentor texts—carefully chosen books that model different styles of good writing for students. They also suggested having more frequent conferences and one-on-one talks with students to assess their needs as a writer and provide meaningful individualized feedback to nurture their growth.
Each educator offers unique styles of teaching and techniques. “It was fun and informative to see the different structures teachers use in their classrooms. I observed everything from music playing quietly in the background while students wrote, to some of our youngest writers proudly standing to share their creations with their classmates,” shares Lower School Science Educator Molly Cleere, who led the planning and implementation of Write Fest along with Grade 3 Educator Kirsten Luongo.
“It was fun to see various strategies in action, such as color coding for planning ideas and having students share ideas with a partner before brainstorming,” adds Grade 2 Educator Jennifer Jung.
The focus of the writing workshops varied by grade level:
Kindergarteners learned procedural, “how-to” writing and worked through step-by-step instructions for simple daily activities, such as brushing their teeth, eating a snack and getting dressed. This helped students understand the importance of following instructions and the significance of incorporating every crucial step when giving instructions.
First graders learned how to write nonfiction with factual support. They were taught how to research and gather information on a topic and how to use evidence to support their writing, which helped develop critical thinking skills and literacy around the reliability of their sources.
Second graders learned opinion writing. They used OREO graphic organizers (opinion, reason, example, opinion/restated) to organize their thoughts and then crafted persuasive letters to their parents with rationale supporting their requests for puppies or a trip to Disneyland. The exercise taught students how to make a clear argument using evidence and examples to support it.
Third graders learned the art of narrative storytelling and worked in pairs to refine their stories. Partners helped by providing positive feedback, identifying the heart of the story, and flagging confusing parts, where more elaboration might be helpful to the story. Students explored the use of descriptive language to paint visual pictures with their words.
Fourth graders learned about fiction writing. They developed characters, settings, problems, and solutions and then put all of these elements together to compose a realistic or fantasy fiction story. The use of dialogue, paragraphing and transition words were explored as craft techniques to improve students’ writing skills.
During Write Fest, students saw firsthand that LJCDS teachers are lifelong learners who continuously develop their expertise. Upon attending the writing workshops, teachers provided feedback notes to each other and facilitated conversations about different teaching strategies. “I was nervous having others come in my classroom,” admits Grade 3 Educator Beth Levin. “But I loved getting the feedback as well. I liked that a teacher that normally wouldn't come to third grade got to see one of my lessons.”
Grade 2 Educator Alisa Ronis shares that the notes left by colleagues, “made my heart happy. I liked watching other teachers confer with their students. Seeing the progression of writing was powerful.”