Well, I was really looking forward to being observed using the #ObserveMe rubric from Robert Kaplinsky. I’ve really been consciously aware of elements from the rubric and want to make sure that in every class I am allowing time for students to work together, to ask questions, use diagrams and discuss strategies. I want them to do partner work, individual work, and participate in full class discussions.

Today, I had a colleague scheduled to visit me and do an observation for 30 minutes. I was trying to accomplish two things today:

- Connect intercepts of a graph of polynomial functions to the factored form of the equation
- Teach how to factor after creating a desire to use factored form

I’ve noticed that most of my students struggle with factoring. This year it seems to be that more students struggle with it than in the past. So, I don’t think they struggle, really, I think they just haven’t practiced it enough. Maybe it’s just not as emphasized as it used to be. No problem. But, for polynomial functions, factored form is pretty nice.

I’ve seen that most of my students can factor using GCF really well and they can factor quadratics really well when a is 1 and some do well when a is something other than one. They are good with the box method and the diamond method. Some are using the box method to factor higher order polynomials too (third degree, mostly). But, most struggle if they are used to the diamond method and a isn’t 1. Many also have a hard time recognizing a difference of two squares. So, lots to review and lots to learn.

Because we just finished a grading period last Friday, I spent much of the weekend grading and planning. I had some trouble finding what I was looking for for today’s actual focus. Polynomials: graphing, factored form, factoring. There’s actually a lot out there, but I can be picky and I didn’t want to create my own. I ended up purchasing a bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers. There was a good assortment of problems, note templates and it was well organized, covering all of the concepts and factoring that I was looking for.

Anyhow, for the observation, I had thought to focus our class discussion and activities on multiple representations of polynomials – equations, tables and graphs. Then, with the help of Desmos, students worked together to complete an assortment of questions. Some were lower level fill in the blank, others were more big picture, “How do you know when you are done factoring?” I’m still thinking about that. I can’t wait to see what they say.

Well, in the last 30 minutes of our 90 minute class, it was time to focus on factoring rules and patterns. Using what I thought was a pretty nice set of sample problems and a nice set of practice problems, I projected my note sheet so that we could all go through the problems together. But, suddenly it’s was 9:05. I had 5 factoring concepts to get through in 25 minutes. So, I pretty much grabbed the reigns, led/dominated the conversation and worked through the examples (too quickly), with students mostly following my lead.

First set: Factoring with GCF, difference of two squares, then together. Ideally, those were review, right? So, going quickly through those is okay, right? (No, Laurie, not right. The whole reason I was doing it was because there some people who needed to learn/relearn that.)

Next: Hurry, gotta get to the sum and difference of cubes!

We got there, and I really just told them the rule, did a couple of sample problems (which weren’t super easy) and gave them the assignment. I didn’t get to the fifth concept, so cut the assignment short. No problem, we can go over that next time. Class ends…

Observation wise, my colleague was there for the last 30 minutes – the transition, then the ‘I lead, you follow’ method of instruction. Not my finest. She gave me all zeros.

Well, as much as it hurt my pride, it was really good feedback. I’m glad that I know I don’t usually teach like that. And, my students are actually doing really well this year. Things are generally really good. That is not meant to be a deflection or me trying to give myself a pass. I took that feedback to heart and immediately tried to find better ways to teach it.

To be honest, on some of the nuts and bolts stuff, I default to direct instruction. I would have been complacent about that and never changed had it not been for that rubric. I never expected to be an all zeros teacher. I know part of the problem was getting stressed about the time. Usually, I don’t care about that. But, overall, I feel like I am behind schedule, so I was feeling pressured to get that factoring happening.

As I’ve had the day to think about it, the direct instruction was okay, the notes and practice problems were all fine. It was the way I organized the discussion that left no room for student input, problem solving, strategy analysis, practice or interactions with each other, much less with me.

I might have run my next class the same as the first had it not been for that feedback. Instead, I gave more time for the factoring, and had students suggest first steps. We tried various methods. I had students talk to each other and work on a problems together.

Time was a factor today, certainly. However, my conscious decision to organize the conversation around student input and interactions in my second class, allowed students to have more time to think and express their reasoning. More time to ask questions of each other and answer questions. Those processes lead to better retention and interest.

On the upside, I’m glad that I know where my students are with factoring and was taking steps to improve what they know and expand on it at the Algebra 2 level. I look forward to seeing my first class again in two days, to better address those concepts and get some meaningful conversations and practice happening. That’s one of the great things about teaching. You get to see them again and fix what you did wrong.

Thanks, Robert Kaplinsky for that rubric. Thanks, my dear Colleague, for your time and feedback.

I appreciate you being willing to share this post! Your conclusion is why being a teacher is so amazing- you can edit and improve for the very next day. However, I feel like I so rarely receive feedback,that I appreciate the fact that someone happened to be visiting and saw you at a low point. In some ways, it makes it a harder moment for you to just accept and move on. Having someone witness that moment probably emphasizes the need to change even more. It will also be an observation that you won’t forget.

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Yes, without that, I wouldn’t have even thought about it. I think having regular observations amongst colleagues is a great opportunity for growth.

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First off, thanks for sharing this Laurie. I have many questions and my guess is that there is significant room for improving the process so that it is more beneficial for you and the observers. Here they are:

What are your feedback goals? I’m trying to figure out what goals result in getting a numerical score.

Assuming you must be using a rubric for your feedback goals, you should consider changing the way you ask for feedback from: “What score am I?” to “What suggestions do you have for moving to the next level on this rubric?” The first question is much more summative and unhelpful. The second question gives you actionable feedback and feels less judgmental.

What are your expectations for the observations. The way you describe the situation reminds me what I felt like when I would have an official evaluation. This should be far more informal. Whatever they happen to observe is whatever they happen to observe. You shouldn’t feel compelled to change anything for them. In fact, by doing that it may even give a false understanding of why you are using the problem (http://robertkaplinsky.com/why-are-you-using-that-problem/). It sounds like you went from productive struggle to problem completion mid-lesson.

Hope this helps and please let me know if the changes make a difference.

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Yes, Robert, I completely agree that it felt more formal than I was expecting. I hadn’t noticed that the observer entered the room. The observer sat in the back row quietly and also let me know about a student who was off task. So, yes, I would want to manage the expectations and process differently next time. She and I spoke/emailed and she thinks the same thing.

I was using the rubric from your #ObserveMe post. I actually like that and would use it again, but maybe just judge myself from it. However, maybe that would be better to use just the question prompts until this gets more frequent and comfortable.

I think it was fine for me to be observed and get the feedback I did. I think if it were 10 years earlier in my career, I would feel horrible for days and lose sleep. In this case, it’s like a friend stopped by before I could clean up and saw my sink full of dirty dishes. Even though I knew she was coming. She didn’t judge me, she just reported what she saw during that time.

Also, i think she was just using the rubric, not the questions, come to think of it. those were probably the most important part.

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