Monday, November 8, 2010

Breaking down H.E.A.T. Walkthroughs

Conducting classroom walkthroughs using the H.E.A.T. framework can serve as a powerful staff development intervention for your teachers if accompanied by targeted and timely feedback. It is also critical that your assessment of the amount of H.E.A.T. generated by students during a classroom visitation maintains a high level of reliability based on each of the H.E.A.T. dimensions. Provided below are some practical suggestions for gauging the amount of H.E.A.T. in the classroom.

Higher order thinking

There is often a tendency to score the Bloom level slightly higher than what actually is taking place in the classroom. If students are completing an endless stream of repetitive math exercises, gathering information from an outside source to summarize in a PowerPoint presentation, or identifying the story elements in a book, there is an excellent chance that the Bloom level is at Understanding level.

Applying is another Bloom level that is often incorrectly measured in H.E.A.T. Walkthrough summaries. Keep in mind that Applying represents students’ ability to transfer key concepts, skills, and/or strategies to new, but similar situations. Students applying information to produce some type of result, using facts, rules, and principles (e.g., using the conventions of persuasion to create a persuasive essay), or solving a problem (using mathematical problem solving to determine the different outcomes for a new board game) are examples of Applying.

Engaged learning

The difficulty with engaged learning is that the concept is often used interchangeably with “involved” learning. Keep in mind that students can be involved in the learning, but not necessarily “engaged.” Engaged learning represents (1) a purposeful cognitive process involving one or more complex thinking processes (e.g., problem-solving, decision-making, inductive reasoning) and (2) student empowerment in the learning process.

The lowest level of engaged learning involves students reporting back information to the teacher using one or more available formats (e.g., multimedia, voice recording, blog, wiki). This level represents students completing any type of worksheet, responding to a teacher-generated prompt, or submitting a summary of their work in a Powerpoint presentation where the teacher serves as the primary audience.

A mid-range level of engagement would involve giving students limited options for solving a problem such as analyzing data from a teacher-generated experiment, completing a Venn diagram comparing two characters from a short story, or students finding a solution to a teacher-generated problem.

Authentic connections

What may be real and relevant to the teacher is not necessarily authentic to students. When appraising the level of authentic connections, a critical question to ask is “Are students applying or transferring their learning to a real-world situation with possible consequences?” If the answer is “Yes,” then the learning event can be viewed as authentic and should be documented as such.

It is important to note that students watching or discussing real-world events (e.g., voter apathy, eating habits) is not necessarily applying their learning. At a high level of authentic connections, students are solving real-life problems or making decisions in a real world context.

Technology use

Believe or not, there is a tendency to rate technology use lower than what is actually happening in the classroom because the activity either involves a low level of Higher order thinking (e.g., Understanding) or a low level of Engaged learning (e.g., reporting back information to the teacher). The culprit in these situations is not the technology use, but the lower levels of thinking, engagement, and authenticity embedded in the student learning experience.

If you do mark Technology use at a level below the following: “Technology use is directly connected to task completion…”, be prepared to provide specific concrete examples on how the technology use could have been expanded to elevate the other areas of H.E.A.T.

The above suggestions will hopefully assist you in promoting reflective practice and professional growth based on walkthroughs that contain both valid and reliable observation data.