Collaborative Learning through Peer Observation

While we need to continue working with some of our learners on the essentials from first semester, we must begin the necessary work to learn the essentials of second semester too.  DD and I took about 30 minutes right after homeroom this morning to discuss the upcoming unit on exponential functions.  We actually over planned and had to back down from our original conversation to make time for our learners to have group work time to finish analyzing and correcting their December exam.

We decided that I would come team teach our collaboratively planned lesson during 7th period.  As it turns out, I actually had the opportunity to observe, participate, and reflect instead of team teaching.  It was incredibly valuable to me as a learner.  I knew the plan and had the opportunity to observe the lesson.  I could listen to the learners discuss their thinking and questions.  I could observe and take note of the successful inquiry method DD used to facilitate the discussion while her learners took charge and “drove” the experience.

Here is a copy of our email exchange during the day:

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:02:49 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Cc: BA
Subject: Intro to Exponents Lesson


Thank you for helping me think through this lesson and helping me teach it today; I thought it went well.  The kids were more engaged than usual.  Attached is the Notebook document.


From: Jill Gough
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:16:51 -0500
To: DD
Cc: BA, BC, WB, SM
Subject: Inquiry driven lesson on exponents today.

Wow, DD!  I loved your inquired based lesson on exponents today.  Your willingness and ability to let the learners lead the lesson is amazing!

You started with a think-pair-share to offer your learners an opportunity to reflect what they already knew about exponents.  We heard “I’m a genius” a lot, but was the tone sarcastic, confident, or some of each?  You then let groups share out what they knew which created that “dinner table conversation” in your classroom.  A+; you know how I love that. Their struggle to communicate because of a lack of vocabulary drove home the point that they needed a common language.  I love how you got them to tell you the vocab rather than telling them what they’ve forgotten. I thought your follow-up questions and prompting were excellent.

I loved that you recorded what each student said and then revised it with them when revision was needed.  Again, brava.

Then, you asked for a vote:  True or False?  Is –3^2 = (-3)^2.  And the results showed 7-True and 7-False.  Split right down the middle…interesting (and expected)!  You then challenged your learners to “prove” it and offered them two GREAT hints!  I love that you encouraged them to work in a group to “hash it out”, and you said that you learned something about Google today.  [FL] picked right up on the Google hint and used it as her justification.  [FL] also used the Googled information to explain why the answer was false.  It was fantastic that when you prompted your high schooler, who was working in isolation, to choose me as his partner, [CC] turned to him and offered to convince him that her group had the correct answer.  [CC]’s confidence to go to the SMARTBoard and use order of operations was so GREAT!  The longer she talked, the more students listened…and asked questions!  It was a GREAT “tangible moment of success” for [CC].

Then, you asked a deeper question which again caused amazing conversation between your learners…you asked them to evaluate x^2 when x = -4.  A GREAT formative assessment question to check for understanding while “leveling up.” Wasn’t it interesting that all of the boys thought the answer was –16 and all but one girl thought the answer was 16?  Your reiteration of “use order of operations” was perfect.

Finally, you asked another T/F:  Is –2^3 = (-2)^3.  While you asked for a vote, you didn’t bother to record the vote (they all had the right answer), because it was more important to ask why?  Show me why it is true.  And getting them to make a rule…GREAT idea.  You worked on their numeracy, fluency, and vocabulary with one problem.

The atmosphere and tone of your class was very comfortable and collaborative.  Students appeared confident and comfortable asking questions and saying that they need help.

Thank you for letting me join in the fun!

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:22:25 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Subject: Re: Inquiry driven lesson on exponents today.

Wow, you’re fast.  I didn’t realize all of that was accomplished.  Thank you for the email.  I am writing up lesson notes for future because just looking at the notebook document was not very helpful.

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 14:42:10 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Subject: Lesson Notes

I wrote today’s lesson up, so I could use it next year.  Will you see if I left anything out?

Here is an incomplete list of what I learned:

  • We are smarter than me.” The lesson we developed together was better than the lesson I planned in isolation.
  • Given enough wait time and a series of good leading questions, our students will recall and teach the vocabulary and the theory.
  • Student engagement is high when their questions drive the lesson.  DD’s delivery “covered” what we planned, but the children determined the order.  Their questions demonstrated their readiness to learn.
  • Recording what they say – even when not completely correct – and revising it in with them as the conversation improves the ideas and notes is awesome.
  • I should have captured snippets of the class with my video camera.
    • I was very impressed with CC’s confidence and leadership.  I regret not having captured it on video as evidence of her good work.  Don’t you think her Grade Chair and parents would love to see her in action in algebra?
    • FL also had impressive moments that should have been captured on video.  Her use of technology to determine the correct answer to the T/F question was good, but her description of how she learned was excellent!

Who are/were the learners during this peer observation?  What is the value of having a peer observe your lesson?  It is just difficult to “see” all that happens while you are facilitating a lesson.  What is the value of being the observer of a lesson?  Can you see the learning that occurred during this brief visit?

Peer observation….it’s about learning.

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