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Literacy LookFors: An Observation Protocol to Guide K-6 Classroom Walkthroughs

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Through a unique seven-step process, administrators and literacy leaders will gain a solid understanding of how to assess and build instructional capacity, overcome roadblocks, develop professional growth opportunities, and create a balanced literacy program. Learn how to identify the look-fors that provide evidence of effective literacy instruction, and bring all students to grade level or well above.

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About the Author

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Elaine K. McEwan-Adkins, EdD, is a partner and educational consultant with the McEwan-Adkins Group, offering professional development in literacy and school leadership. A former teacher, librarian, principal, and assistant superintendent for instruction in several suburban Chicago school districts, Dr. McEwan-Adkins was honored by the Illinois Principals Association as an outstanding instructional leader, by the Illinois State Board of Education with an Award of Excellence in the Those Who Excel Program, and by the National Association of Elementary School Principals as the 1991 National Distinguished Principal from Illinois.

Dr. McEwan-Adkins is the author of more than thirty-five books for parents and educators. Her most recent titles include 40 Reading Intervention Strategies for K–6 Students: Research-Based Support for RTI, Teach Them All to Read, and Ten Traits of Highly Effective Schools.

She received an undergraduate degree in education from Wheaton College and a master’s degree in library science and a doctorate in educational administration from Northern Illinois University.

 

Introduction

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Ultimately, improving [the literacy attainment of] schools depends on working harder, increasing efficiency, and building capacity for more powerful instruction.

—Hatch (2009, p. 32)

Literacy Look-Fors: An Observation Protocol to Guide K–6 Classroom Walkthroughs is about increasing your school’s capacity for delivering more powerful literacy instruction. Delivering balanced literacy instruction encompasses selecting what to teach (such as phonemic awareness, word identification skills, or comprehension strategies), how to teach it (with direct teacher-managed instruction or indirect student-managed learning), and in what setting to teach it (whole group, small group, individually, or cooperatively), to create what Michael Pressley calls “instruction that is more than the sum of its parts” (Pressley, 1998, p. 1). Balanced literacy instruction enables all students to attain literacy standards that are at grade level or higher. Some students will need ongoing scaffolding from their classroom teachers during small-group interventions to keep up with grade-level instruction. Students with reading disabilities will need more intensive instruction in specialized curricula to become literate. Still other students will need enrichment that includes reading more difficult text, writing about it in more sophisticated ways, “teaching” their classmates about what they have learned, and becoming self-directed readers and writers.

 

Chapter 1 Understand the Literacy Look-Fors

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[The educator must] be a scholar, an intellectual, and a knowledge worker oriented toward the interpretation, communication, and construction of such knowledge in the interests of student learning.

—Shulman (1999, p. xiii)

1. Understand the literacy look-fors.

2. Understand the classroom walkthroughs.

3. Assess your instructional leadership capacity.

4. Orient your faculty to the look-fors and walkthroughs.

5. Collect and analyze look-for frequency data.

6. Develop, implement, and assess embedded professional development.

7. Use team walkthroughs to build school capacity.

The first step to a successful implementation of the look-fors and walk-throughs is to gain a solid understanding of the literacy look-fors. This chapter assumes that you are in a leadership capacity in an elementary school and that you are eager to become more knowledgeable about literacy instruction. Those who intend to use the literacy look-fors observation protocol to build capacity in their schools, such as administrators, literacy coaches, and instructional supervisors, will want to master the definitions and critical attributes of the look-fors so they can immediately recognize them during classroom walkthroughs. The ease with which you acquire the knowledge in this chapter will depend on your background knowledge, the time you have available to study and learn, and the degree to which you are able to process this information with administrative colleagues and learn from highly effective staff members. If you have no prior experience with elementary literacy instruction, little available time, and few knowledgeable colleagues, the process will take longer. However, nothing is impossible if you are motivated. Your first task is to acquire an understanding of the literacy look-fors.

 

Chapter 2 Understand the Classroom Walkthroughs

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Rather than being seen solely as a vehicle to provide teachers with feedback, walkthroughs should be viewed as a vehicle for the observers to learn how strategies manifest themselves in the classroom.

—Marzano (2009b, p. 36)

1. Understand the literacy look-fors.

2. Understand the classroom walkthroughs.

3. Assess your instructional leadership capacity.

4. Orient your faculty to the look-fors and walkthroughs.

5. Collect and analyze look-for frequency data.

6. Develop, implement, and assess embedded professional development.

7. Use team walkthroughs to build school capacity.

Despite the belief of some that the mere presence of a principal in a classroom automatically improves instruction (which thereby raises achievement), classroom walkthroughs are not necessarily magical. In actuality, classroom walk-throughs are a source of some frustration and even a little guilt for some administrators.

In preparation for writing this book, I queried a random sample of principals in my database about their walkthrough procedures. Many were conducting classroom walkthroughs because they felt an obligation to do so. Some of them expressed anxiety and even embarrassment because their walkthroughs were haphazard and unfocused. Others felt guilty because they were not getting to all of their classrooms every day. In some instances, principals were only inspecting the classroom for the presence of a district-mandated artifact or practice so they could fill out a form to be inspected by the superintendent. Feedback to teachers ranged from a formal meeting to reflect on instruction to a fast-food coupon in the teacher’s mailbox.

 

Chapter 3 Assess Your Instructional Leadership Capacity

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Don’t become mired in high-level thinking that is too broad. Follow through. Get things done. Don’t let the details bore you. Follow through. Expand people’s capabilities. Know thyself.

—Bossidy & Charan (2002, pp. 36, 57)

1. Understand the literacy look-fors.

2. Understand the classroom walkthroughs.

3. Assess your instructional leadership capacity.

4. Orient your faculty to the look-fors and walkthroughs.

5. Collect and analyze look-for frequency data.

6. Develop, implement, and assess embedded professional development.

7. Use team walkthroughs to build school capacity.

Your assignment for this chapter is to put yourself and your instructional leadership capacity under a microscope to determine whether you are ready to implement the look-fors and walkthroughs in your school. Specific to the issue of literacy attainment for all students is your personal instructional leadership capacity: the ability of a principal to provide leadership directly related to the intersection and interaction of literacy standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment that results in literacy achievement at or above grade level for all students.

 

Chapter 4 Orient Your Faculty to the Look-Fors and Walkthroughs

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If the school is the unit of improvement, then individual teachers have to work across classrooms to generate improvement. One classroom at a time won’t work.

—City et al. (2009, p. 162)

1. Understand the literacy look-fors.

2. Understand the classroom walkthroughs.

3. Assess your instructional leadership capacity.

4. Orient your faculty to the look-fors and walkthroughs.

5. Collect and analyze look-for frequency data.

6. Develop, implement, and assess embedded professional development.

7. Use team walkthroughs to build school capacity.

In this chapter you will find suggestions for orienting your teachers to the look-fors and walkthroughs. Take your time with the orientation process. Make sure your faculty thoroughly understands the look-fors and walkthroughs and begins to see the potential they have for connecting faculty professional growth to student learning.

The key to any successful improvement implementation depends on a combination of embedded professional development activities and total principal commitment. Even if you receive help from central office or a jump-start from out-of-district providers, your implementation is not likely to achieve its intended results unless you are leading the team, articulating your expectations, and taking risks alongside your teachers. Therefore, you are in charge of providing the orientation to the literacy look-fors and walkthroughs to your faculty.

 

Chapter 5 Collect and Analyze Look-For Frequency Data

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One of the most powerful aspects of walkthroughs is aggregating data across teachers and over time.

—Pitler & Goodwin (2008, p. 11)

1. Understand the literacy look-fors.

2. Understand the classroom walkthroughs.

3. Assess your instructional leadership capacity.

4. Orient your faculty to the look-fors and walkthroughs.

5. Collect and analyze look-for frequency data.

6. Develop, implement, and assess embedded professional development.

7. Use team walkthroughs to build school capacity.

You are ready to take a major step in your implementation of the look-fors and walkthroughs: collecting, aggregating, and analyzing frequency data from classroom walkthroughs. Remember, the purpose of classroom walk-throughs is to aggregate frequency data on various literacy look-fors across grade levels and over time to track the growth of your school’s instructional capacity. Just ahead we describe the steps for data collection, aggregation, and analysis. Then we will see how two principals use this process to arrive at a baseline snapshot of their school’s instructional capacity.

 

Chapter 6 Develop, Implement, and Assess Embedded Professional Development

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Changes in schools may be initiated from without, but the most important and lasting change will come from within.

—Barth (1990, p. 159)

1. Understand the literacy look-fors.

2. Understand the classroom walkthroughs.

3. Assess your instructional leadership capacity.

4. Orient your faculty to the look-fors and walkthroughs.

5. Collect and analyze look-for frequency data.

6. Develop, implement, and assess embedded professional development.

7. Use team walkthroughs to build school capacity.

If you have been diligently climbing the seven steps to a power-packed implementation of the literacy look-fors and walkthroughs, you have just finished collecting, aggregating, and analyzing the data from your first round of walkthroughs. Put the final data analysis in a safe place. You will want to compare your frequency counts from this baseline data collection with the frequency counts you obtain after your staff has engaged in the embedded professional development described in this chapter.

 

Chapter 7 Use Team Walkthroughs to Build School Capacity

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We have a plethora of seminars in which people [teachers] sit and listen to ideas and concepts. We human beings can learn some things those ways—mostly specific cognitive content. But many things about organizations [schools], operations [curriculum and instruction], and people [students] can only be learned by firsthand experience. The tangible, physical, material aspects of knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer, learning by doing, learning by coaching and teaching, are critical.

—Pfeffer & Sutton (2000, p. 250)

1. Understand the literacy look-fors.

2. Understand the classroom walkthroughs.

3. Assess your instructional leadership capacity.

4. Orient your faculty to the look-fors and walkthroughs.

5. Collect and analyze look-for frequency data.

6. Develop, implement, and assess embedded professional development.

7. Use team walkthroughs to build school capacity.

You have now reached the most exciting step in your school’s implementation of the literacy look-fors and walkthroughs: using grade-level team walkthroughs to build school capacity. In this chapter, you and your teachers will begin to simultaneously build instructional, academic, and leadership capacities, as you go on two- to three-minute walkthroughs searching for the literacy look-for your teachers unpacked in their grade-level teams. Immediately following the walkthroughs, you and the team will spend thirty minutes debriefing about what they saw and the implications of their observations for their own classroom instruction.

 

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