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Making Framework-Focused Observations

Observing in Colleagues’ Classrooms

This year we are deepening our practice by inviting each other into our classrooms and videotaping each other to bring to our monthly meetings.

—Adina Rubenstein, Berkley High School teacher leader

Not all schools offer teachers the opportunity to observe in one another’s classrooms. But many teachers wish they would. “We don’t get to see each other in our classrooms,” is a fairly common refrain. At schools where time is made available, however, peer observations and teacher labs can have an important impact in deepening teachers’ understanding of Reading Apprenticeship.

Making Framework‐Focused Observations

Kay Winter, the literacy coach and team leader at Anderson High School, is a strong proponent of getting teachers into other people’s classrooms, if only to let them start thinking about what students can do:

When you have staff who are using Reading Apprenticeship effectively, it’s a great professional development tool to be able to allow other staff to go in and observe that, especially if it’s in the same subject area. Maybe a social studies teacher who is struggling with primary sources can go into a room where kids are tackling some really hard primary documents and see them digging in and discussing them intelligently, instead of sitting there, “I didn’t get it.”

In community colleges, opportunities for faculty to observe in one another’s classrooms are rare. However, faculty leaders at Pasadena City College and Santa Rosa Junior College have discovered just how valuable those opportunities can be.

At Pasadena City College, instructors of the College 1 course meet in mentor pods to continue the Reading Apprenticeship learning introduced during the four‐day institute that prepares faculty and staff members to teach College 1. Shelagh Rose was one of several mentors who opened her classroom for observation:

We assigned six to eight instructors to a pod and each pod met on average every other week. A lot of the newer teachers requested to sit in on the classes of a more experienced teacher of the course. Of the six people in my pod, three came and sat in on my class in the first couple of weeks and observed what I was doing and took notes. We met afterward for a quick conversation and then we debriefed it more at our next regular mentor group. The feedback was that it was incredibly helpful.

Faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College have also been requesting to see Reading Apprenticeship in action. Accordingly, the Reading Apprenticeship team there is building from the appreciative observation model that has already been introduced on campus and is inviting faculty to observe in their classrooms. Lauren Servais hopes the observations will help to reassure her colleagues that Reading Apprenticeship is a boon, not a burden:

A lot of my colleagues are worried that Reading Apprenticeship takes so much time. My students don’t even know we do Reading Apprenticeship. It’s fully integrated. Everything we do in terms of the reading, that’s how we do it. I think if faculty came and saw how it can be integrated into a class, if they saw what it looks like, it would ease some of their fears.

Many teams use the observation and reflection tool What Does a Reading Apprenticeship Classroom Look Like? to structure visits to team members’ classrooms (see Team Tool 6.23). Appendix C includes another observation tool, NOT Reading Apprenticeship, that highlights some common ways implementation can fall short of what Reading Apprenticeship is.

At Titusville High School, the Reading Apprenticeship team initiated the school’s first foray into peer observation. Team members were good candidates for this experiment because they had established trust among themselves and were working with shared instructional goals and strategies. Principal Scott Davie describes a structured, nonevaluative process:

As part of their growth plans, Reading Apprenticeship teachers had another Reading Apprenticeship teacher come in and film them. Then the two of them sat down together and talked through the film with a set of questions—how did you plan this activity and how did it work, what questioning techniques, reading strategies were used? It’s something I would like to see expanded. I think there’s a lot of value in teachers seeing other teachers teach.

Responding to Colleague’s Questions

Berkley High School team leaders saw the promise of peer observations early in their thinking about how to spread Reading Apprenticeship across the campus. Over the course of three years, they first planted a seed with administrators about the value of what they term teacher labs, then they decided to use their own meeting time to try labs out—videotaping one another and using the tapes in their consultancy meetings. They now invite colleagues into teacher labs hosted in their classrooms. Kay Cole recalls how support for the teacher labs grew:

We talked a couple of years ago after seeing a presentation that it would be great if we could make teacher labs happen. So I had a chance to mention it in a conversation with someone in the district. Then we’ve had a couple of opportunities to see teacher labs in action, and do our own. Our principal is very on board with the idea, and by all of us allowing people into our classrooms, we’ve really fostered it.

The team members took turns being videotaped implementing Reading Apprenticeship lessons. They followed an observation protocol that can serve for either live or taped lessons. The preobservation portion of the protocol has the presenting teacher outline the content and Reading Apprenticeship goals for the lesson, clarify details about the class and lesson, and ask a framing question that the presenting teacher wants colleagues to pay attention to. When the Berkley team members were using their own lessons to learn from, whoever did the taping selected portions of the tape for the team to observe and discuss. Team Tool 6.24, Classroom Observation Protocol, helps teams prepare for, carry out, and debrief a classroom observation. Team Tool 6.25, Evaluating a Range of Framing Questions, can help teams think about what kinds of framing questions may be more or less valuable to explore as they plan for an observation. For the Berkley team, in addition to the professional learning the teacher labs promote, the labs have also been a boon in reaching teachers who were previously unengaged with Reading Apprenticeship. Adina Rubenstein thinks it’s the seeing is believing factor:

Where we are now with teacher labs, inviting people in, there’s a lot of momentum. I think we might see some real strides with some of our colleagues who aren’t entirely on board, when they can actually see it, hear it, taste it.


When teachers allow colleagues to watch them teach, an observation protocol makes the transaction safer for everyone. The teacher being observed sets the parameters of what observers should be watching for, and observers have a clear structure within which to respond.


Pre‐Observation Conference: Twenty minutes

In advance: The teacher being observed prepares copies of the information in step 1 for each observing teacher.

  1. The teacher being observed goes over the following information with observers:
    • Grade level and course, and in general what observers can expect to see during the lesson
    • Content goals for the lesson
    • Reading Apprenticeship goals
    • Anything unusual or special circumstances observers should be prepared to see
    • Framing question the teacher being observed would like observers to focus on, notice
  2. Observers ask any clarifying questions.
  3. Team members review “What Does a Reading Apprenticeship Classroom Look Like?”

During the Observation: Thirty minutes

  1. Observers take notes on an Evidence/Interpretation note taker.
  2. Observers focus on the framing question and ways the classroom represents a Reading Apprenticeship classroom.

Post‐Observation Debriefing: Twenty‐five minutes

  1. A team member restates the framing question.
  2. Observers ask and the teacher being observed answers clarifying questions—genuine factual questions to better understand what was observed. Observers must be careful not to ask questions that are or may be interpreted as thinly veiled criticisms (five minutes).
  3. Observers provide specific, detailed information related to the framing question. The teacher who was observed takes notes silently (five minutes).
  4. The teacher who was observed presents his or her impression of the lesson in relation to the framing question and has the option of opening comments beyond the framing question. These comments must focus on positive feedback and clarifying or probing questions (five minutes).
  5. All team members refer to “What Does a Reading Apprenticeship Classroom Look Like?” while discussing evidence of Reading Apprenticeship practices and routines in the observed classroom (five minutes).
  6. The team reflects on the observation process:
    • What could you take back from this observation and use?
    • What worked well about the protocol process?
    • What might you do differently next time to improve the process?

These framing questions were developed by teachers of different subject areas and with varying Reading Apprenticeship experience and varying experience using the observation protocol. Teams can consider which of these might yield the richest learning—for the teacher being observed and for the team as a whole—as preparation for writing their own framing questions.

  • What supports are evident in this English‐ESL classroom to help students comprehend text?
  • How can Reading Apprenticeship help students and teacher differentiate instruction/learning while maintaining high‐quality engagement with the text?
  • What opportunities do students have for reading, thinking, and talking?
  • In what ways and to what extent are students engaged with the text?
  • What do you notice about students’ interactions and discussions? In what ways do these affect student learning and engagement?
  • How well are students able to identify the author’s purpose in writing “The Ballad of Birmingham”?How well are students able to cite examples of irony, symbolism, and discrimination that support the author’s purpose? Capture specific examples, if possible.
  • How do the Reading Apprenticeship routines deepen students’ understanding and interactions with the chapter from Kindred, by Octavia Butler, called “The Fight”?
  • How are students building toward independence in their sense‐making?
  • What evidence of previous learning do you see as students attempt to answer this question: Who was primarily responsible for the Cold War—the United States or the Soviet Union?

DMU Timestamp: July 13, 2018 16:17

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