Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Clarifying Authentic Connections during H.E.A.T. Walkthroughs

The key to a successful informal walkthrough program is ensuring for a high level of reliability among observers relating to a pre-defined rubric or set of look-fors. In the H.E.A.T. Walkthrough model, each of the categories (Higher order thinking, Engaged learning, Authentic connections, Technology use) includes a specific rubric to gauge the level of H.E.A.T. applied to student learning.

One category in particular, Authentic Connections, includes a graduated set of statements that describes the degree of real world connections used during a lesson episode.  Since reliability is the “bread and butter” of informal classroom visits, let’s examine this element of H.E.A.T. in greater detail.

Authentic Connections
1  The learning experience is missing or too vague to determine relevance
Commentary:  There is no documented lesson plan and/or written/verbal objectives
to determine any degree of relevancy of the current lesson episode. Students are
unsure what they are learning or why they are learning the content.

2  The learning experience provides no real world application, or represents a group
of connected activities
Commentary:  Students are unable to make any practical or real world connections or
ascertain any common thread or theme linking one learning activity to the next.

3. The learning experience provides limited real world relevance
Commentary: The teacher as opposed to the students is the one making, sharing, or modeling how the learning experience(s) relates to the real world.
4. The learning experience provides extensive real world relevance
Commentary: Two way interactions among the students and/or the teacher and the students provide an open forum for all parties to make, share, or model how the learning experience(s) relates to the real world.
5. The learning experience provides real world relevance and opportunity for students to apply their learning to a real world situation
Commentary: Students are not just talking about real world connections, but are actively applying their learning to a real world context involving the transfer of skills and knowledge to a new and unique situation.
The learning experience is directly relevant to students and involves creating a product that has a purpose beyond the classroom that directly impacts the students
Commentary: Students are self-motivated to apply their learning to a real world problem or challenge that impacts them personally involving themselves, their family, their local neighborhood, and/or the larger global community.

Rating the category, Authentic Connections, accurately and consistently along with other elements of H.E.A.T. is critical to generating reliable data that directly impacts the quality of professional development planning system-wide leading to ongoing continuous improvement.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Student Choice: The Key to Designing Coherent Instruction

The Danielson Framework for Teaching includes Designing Coherent Instruction as one of the categories within Domain 1: Planning and Preparation.  Critical look-fors such as standards-based instruction, differentiation, interdisciplinary connections, and student choice collectively define coherent instruction.

In the H.E.A.T.®/Danielson Evaluation Rubric, the degree of student choice embedded in the curriculum planning process represents the line of demarcation between a teacher evaluation rating of Proficient and Distinguished. What precisely defines student choice? In the planning process, student choice refers to students assuming an active role in their own learning by providing them with increased control, decision-making, and personal responsibility of the content, process, and/or product in the curriculum decision-making cycle. 

How can teachers promote greater student choice or student-directed learning when planning “coherent instruction?” Provided below is a small sampling of strategies.

  • Providing students with sub-discussion topic options using Socratic seminars
  • Allowing students to self-select their own topics for discussion

  • Providing opportunities for students to arrive at self-drawn conclusions or generalizations within cooperative or collaborative learning groups
  • Emphasizing student-generated questions that enable the learners to analyze, synthesize, or evaluate
  • Providing opportunities for self-directed activities such as interest centers, learning contacts, and independent study

  • Self-selecting their own methods of assessment including self-assessments and peer reviews
  • Providing choices or options relating to the medium for final deliverables (e.g., formal papers, multi-media, blog post)

As with any formalized teacher evaluation system, performing at a higher level in one category frequently elevates the rating of other categories.  In the H.E.A.T.®/Danielson Evaluation Rubric, performing at the Distinguished level within the Domain 1 category, Designing Coherent Instruction, will also increase the rating level of the companion Domain 1 categories Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources and Designing Student Assessments; the Domain 2 category Establishing a Culture for Learning; and the Domain 3 categories Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques, Engaging Students in Learning, Using Assessment in Instruction, and Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Quantifying Your Professional Development Results

A 2011 article in Education Week ( provides a crisp summary of the current status of professional development among our nation’s schools. According to the article, one-shot workshops have gradually given way to more sustained professional development ranging from onsite peer observations and classroom-based coaches to inquiry teams (alias professional learning communities) and lesson studies.  Regrettably, the one variable determining the success or failure of most professional development efforts, student results, has offered little empirical evidence.

Using the H.E.A.T. (Higher order thinking, Engaged learning,Authentic connections, Technology use) Framework provides an alternative schema for evaluating the merits of professional development interventions impacting the teaching and learning process.  Each of the dimensions of H.E.A.T. yields an empirically-validated set of “look-fors” in which to gauge changes in instructional practices and their subsequent impact on student learning. Creating an action research study, for example, to assess changes in the amount of H.E.A.T. in student learning using data collected throughout the school year can provide a practical way of quantifying the impact of any professional development opportunity on the level of teaching innovation in the classroom.

As a conceptual model, H.E.A.T. represents Student Output while LoTi (Levels of Teaching Innovation) represents Teacher Input.  The LoTi framework has been the subject of over 100 research studies and dissertations worldwide primarily investigating the impact of professional development on teaching innovation in the classroom.  Using one or both of these matrices to quantify your professional development results can lead to systematic and sustained changes affecting continuous improvement at all levels of the curriculum decision-making ladder.