I was formally observed this week for the first time by administration. The principal decided not to tell me he would be visiting my class for an entire block and surprised me in the middle of my direct instruction and note taking portion of my lesson. We had just begun the unit on Exponential and Log Functions and were learning about the one to one property, reviewing a few exponent properties, and then working in groups on Kate Nowak‘s awesome awesome add em up activity. (On a side note, I will be using this activity again and again for many other concepts. It works GREAT! I had students write their name in the box of the problem they chose to do – then only their handwriting was allowed in that box. This way if they were the one that got it wrong the students in the group couldn’t just fix it for them. Plus, the rest of my department loved the idea and they also have instituted it in their classroom, thanks for sharing!)
My principal had a lot of great feedback to share with me – all of the students were engaged, my DI examples were scaffolded nicely, my transitions were excellent, students stayed on task (i.e. my pyscho evil Ms. P management style is starting to pay off). The students worked well together and the activity was clever and creative (Thanks Kate!).
The one piece of feedback that I found most valuable was the feedback on what I need to work on – assessment. Mainly during my lecture and direct instruction time. He indicated the questions that I am asking during this time are not meaningful and don’t lead to valuable feedback from the students. I am not getting a true indicator at any given moment whether the students are following or not. He said there are lots of ways to determine if students are understanding the examples and if I need to do more, to do less or to move on. He made me a copy of Madeline Hunter’s chapter on signaling for understanding and the four useless questions teachers ask – “Do you understand this – Any questions?” (whoops).
And I think he’s totally right. I don’t know how to gauge the temperature of my classroom at any given time as a group. I need a meaningful way (or multiple ways) to determine if I can pick up the pace or need to slow down. How do I know if they’re ready to go off and do individual or group work? How do I know if they learned this last year? What meaningful questions should I be asking to help them tell me what I really want to know? How can I get more feedback from the class rather than just the same three students who want to tell me they’re lost or they’re following along?
He told me about “thumb signalling” and I tried it and it sort of worked – but how do I determine how many side ways thumbs are enough to do another example? Is that just something as a teacher I have to decide for myself? How do I help those two students who always have a sideways thumb and yet we continue to move on – how do I make them feel like their feedback is valuable even though it might look like I’m ignoring it!?
So basically – what are the questions, signals, or other ways you get feedback from your students during direct instruction that allow you to determine the level of understanding as a big group? How do you use this feedback to alter your instruction?