Helping Your Teachers Use Data to Plan Instruction, Part Two: Fine-Tuning

Teachers work on computerPart one of this series addressed using data to plan instruction within a team that teaches the same course or grade level. This post will examine the process for a team of teachers who all teach something different. This might be a vertical team in a small elementary school, or a team of singletons at a secondary school.

Set a common goal for a disparate team

A critical element of being a team is having a common goal. Team goals should be written as SMART Goals (Strategic and Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented, and Time-bound). Teachers who all teach the same course or grade level can set goals around improving outcomes for their group of students from one common assignment or quiz to the next, from one chapter test to the next, or from one quarterly benchmark to the next.

A vertical team or team of singletons could set a goal around improving grades, reducing D or F grades, or improving specific elements of students’ nonfiction writing, which teachers in all subject areas should be instructing with the advent of the Common Core.

But what should the weekly discussion protocol consist of, since there will not be common assignments or assessments?

Using the tuning protocol to analyze data

A very effective alternative protocol is sometimes called a tuning protocol, because it helps professionals “fine tune” their practice.

Using a tuning protocol, a different team member each week comes prepared to share a recent lesson and the student work that resulted from the lesson. Using a document projector or simply by making copies, this teacher briefly shares the lesson objective and instructional strategies and sequence, and some student work samples that show attainment of the objective, as well as examples that slightly or grossly missed the boat.

The presenting teacher also has developed a focusing question, which is designed to focus team members’ suggestions on a specific issue that arose in the lesson, such as “What are some additional strategies for supporting my students who have poor written grammar skills?” The strategy discussion and idea sharing strongly benefits every team member, not just the presenting teacher. Team feedback includes compliments and accolades for the lesson, as well as suggestions.

Putting the tuning protocol into action

To see a team in action using this protocol:

Below is an example of a tuning protocol agenda.

Introduction (1 to 2 minutes)

Team facilitator reviews the team norms, reviews the protocol steps, and introduces the presenting teacher.

Lesson objective and instructional strategies (5 minutes)

Presenting teacher outlines lesson objective and strategies/sequence, as well as student work samples that exhibit both successes and problems.

Focusing question

Shared by facilitator.

Clarifying questions (5 minutes)

Team members ask any questions they need to clarify what the presenting teacher has shared.

Silent idea generating (5 minutes)

Team members silently write individual suggestions as well as compliments. 3×3 sticky notes work well for this, listing one idea per note.

Strategy discussion (10 minutes)

Team members discuss the lesson and share ideas using the third person, not addressing the presenting teacher directly. The presenting teacher slides his/her chair back slightly, away from the table, and takes notes but does not respond.

Presenting teacher response (5 minutes)

The presenting teacher rejoins the group and solely takes the floor for five minutes, responding to any parts of the feedback s/he chooses. Team members do not engage in conversation with the presenting teacher at this time.

Idea collection

All sticky notes are passed to the presenting teacher.

Process debrief (5  minutes)

Facilitator leads a discussion about how well norms were followed, and how useful the session’s process was for both the presenting teacher and team members. The lesson itself is not discussed any further at this time.

Parking lot

If any potentially-off-topic issues arose during the protocol, the facilitator leads a discussion on these as time allows.

Continue reading part three of this series: On-the-Fly Assessment

Terry Wilhelm has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office and area service agency administrator, and adjunct university instructor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the bimonthly magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.

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