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pencil on notebook paperStudents are no longer the only ones planning, experimenting, and dissecting when engaging in lab experiences. Educators in my district have participated in the transformation of job embedded professional learning from a traditional “sit and get” professional learning time to Learning Labs, a dynamic method of collaborative planning and classroom observation, where teachers are actively involved and feel ownership in the learning. 

Knowledge gained in this type of learning adds richness to the discussions found in Collaborative Teaching Teams as we strive to develop a Professional Learning Community mindset in our district.  

With the implementation of the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation framework, collaboration in these labs with the assistance of instructional coaches helps teachers blend standards and create a clear vision for learning targets and instructional practices that guide learning.

The process toward quality learning begins with the standards and includes monitoring where students are in relation to where they need to be.  So what does this look like in our school district?  It begins with the teacher and instructional coach conferring about a lesson, crafting a focus question centered on standards and learning targets, and discussing how the standards will be assessed.  

Learning targets used to move students toward mastery of the standards are delineated and formative assessments are determined that will inform instructional practices and provide differentiation along the way.  A lesson is then co-planned, and teachers are invited into the classroom to observe, using a note-taking sheet to provide feedback to the teacher during a debriefing session later in the day.  The purpose of the task of the observing teachers? To note evidence of student learning and observations about practices used during instruction.

An example of this process in action is a science lesson our Learning Lab team observed that was focused on the question: How can I demonstrate science and engineering literacy?  Students designed and tested models, recorded their observations in their science journals and engaged in a student discussion protocol. The discussion was rich and filled with the vocabulary found in the student science notebooks which contained Newton’s Laws and corresponding notes. I heard one student say: “I hear what you are saying, but would you add more detail to your explanation?” It was interesting to hear them connect the concepts from their designs and Newton’s Law with real-world examples. 

The final step was the creation of an ABCDE paragraph – assertion, background, citation (data, text, and diagram), discussion, and end.  This writing organizer provides a connection to the ELA writing and speaking and listening standards embedded within the science classroom. The lesson was filled with student engagement, higher order thinking, and critical conversations, one where I gained a newfound respect for the power of student conversations focused on learning and application.

Our day ended with a debriefing session.  Each person who had been part of the observation gave reflective feedback to the teacher, asked questions, shared what they had learned, and the conversation ended with the teacher’s reflection on the lesson. The host teacher explained what she learned from the lesson, what changes she would make, and what her next steps were going to be based on the evidence of student learning.  

The choice of a student-centered learning lab was a good fit for our middle school science department team as teachers strive to use student evidence in daily decision making and possess a strong sense of collegiality and commitment to continuous improvement.  It was a powerful learning experience for the teacher, and observers and ultimately for the students – establishing a learning-centered culture for all. 



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