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Formative Observation . Sharon Walpole University of Delaware. Michael C. McKenna University of Virginia.

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Formative Observation

Sharon Walpole

University of Delaware

Michael C. McKenna

University of Virginia

Formative observations are observations conducted by coaches or other teachers for the purpose of directing instructional improvements. They are in no sense evaluative. They are never used as part of principal evaluations of teachers.
today s goals
Today’s Goals
  • Revisit the role of observation in the work of a literacy coach
  • Understand the design of an innovation configuration
  • Construct a three-level innovation configuration for use in your school
back in school
Back in School . . .

Conduct a walk-through using the innovation configuration you’ve made

Revise your innovation configuration after its use

Prepare a reflection to share at our next meeting.

two types of observations
Two types of observations
  • Walk-through: brief visit to see whether a practice is being implemented or not
  • Full observation: extended visit to understand the full context and quality of the practice across the instructional block
formative observation is an important part of leadership
Formative Observation is an Important Part of Leadership
  • Formative observation is neither an invention nor a requirement of Reading First. It has a longer tradition.
    • Literacy coaches as leaders are very similar to department chairs in successful high school improvement efforts.
    • Teacher leaders (as opposed to the leadership of the principal) rely on formative observation as an integral part of their strategy for ongoing improvement

Gabriel, 2005

observations create school culture
Observations Create School Culture
  • Frequent observations create a climate of collaborative instruction and combat a climate of isolated professionalism
  • One school-wide strategy that you could adopt is the standards-based walkthrough
    • Teachers work in teams and walk through the whole school during a teacher work day.
    • They look for evidence that the curriculum is being implemented.

Roberts & Pruitt, 2003

setting the stage
Setting the Stage
  • If principals describe the role of literacy coach observation early in the school year, teachers will know that these observations are part of the principal’s overall plan for the school.
  • Literacy coaches can set the stage through individual conferences even before observations start
    • Individual student achievement profiles
    • Specific teaching practices
    • Goal setting for teaching and learning

Roberts & Pruitt, 2003

lc as clinical supervisor
LC as Clinical Supervisor
  • Observations of teaching provide data that the LC and teacher can use together to improve instruction
  • Three-part system: a planning conference, an observation, and a feedback conference

Roberts & Pruitt, 2003

some garf assumptions
Some GARF Assumptions
  • In our group of schools, there are different climates for observation
  • In our group of LCs, some are much more comfortable observing than others
  • In all schools, some teachers are more receptive to observations than others
  • We assume that all of us could do a more targeted job with observation!
observe to learn
Observe to learn


Observe for yourself, by walking through, so you can have a deeper understanding of teaching and learning in your building

  • In general, what do we do very well?
  • In general, what are we struggling with?
  • How can we build knowledge and practice in this area?
from a design standpoint
From a design standpoint

Literacy coaches are charged with supporting research-based reform efforts; they collect student data to measure the success of their programs

  • It does not make sense to measure program effects without measuring treatment fidelity
  • It does not make sense to measure treatment fidelity without observing the treatment
  • It does not make sense to document treatment fidelity without trying to improve it
before your observation
Before your observation


  • Give teachers a chance to use the instructional practices that you are observing
  • Give teachers a chance to create or edit an observation format
  • Give teachers a chance to create an observation timeline
    • Ask them how much time they need to practice before you come and observe
consider scheduled observations
Consider scheduled observations


  • Catching a teacher off-guard is a waste of your observation time
  • Consider observing all teachers once in each marking period
  • Walkthroughs will be unscheduled; observations, on the other hand, should catch teachers doing their very best work
establish a climate for observation
Establish a climate for observation


Be clear that you are a teacher, not a principal

  • Never link observation to evaluation
  • Never make your observations public

During your pre-observation meeting

  • Review your confidentiality agreement
  • Ask the teacher what s/he wants you to see
  • Tell exactly how the observation will be conducted, reviewing the format
be focused
Be focused!


  • Say what you will do and then do what you said you would!
  • Be unobtrusive; don’t disrupt instruction
  • Take or type notes on your observation form
  • Focus your attention on what is happening, not on your recommendations
  • Think of questions to ask the teacher to help you to understand his or her work better
analyze the observation
Analyze the observation


  • Reflect on what you learned about children, about teaching, and about reading from watching
  • Meet with the teacher to confer, letting the teacher take the lead
  • Make positive comments
    • But they have to be sincere
  • Include suggestions, especially if the teacher asks you
    • But they have to be specific
  • Offer to help
give feedback
Give feedback


  • Make the feedback specific to the target that you set beforehand and specific to the lesson that you observed
  • Be genuine about positive things that you learned by watching
  • Be specific about something that you’d like the teacher to consider improving, and offer choices about how you can help
coaches corner
Coaches’ Corner

Has anyone had an especially positive experience using observation to facilitate professional learning? What were the secrets to your success?

Roy, P., & Hord, S. M. (2004). Innovation configurations: Chart a measured course toward change. Journal of Staff Development, 25, 54-58.

Read this article. It introduces the procedure that our architects are using to develop an observation format for us.

innovation configuration
Innovation Configuration*

*Hall & Hord, 2001

How can any one observation form be

used in all of our schools? Aren’t there substantial differences in the

choices that districts are making?

Definitely! We want you to

design your own IC, one that is

fit exactly to the characteristics

of your instructional program.

We’ll start with the same


let s plan
Let’s Plan . . .

The architects have identified a set of general categories that they would like us to consider. We will give you a planning sheet with their “full implementation” descriptions included. Your job is to fill in a partial implementation and a “no implementation” descriptor.

back in school25
Back in School . . .

Conduct a walk-through using the innovation configuration you’ve made

Revise your innovation configuration after its use

Prepare a reflection to share at our next meeting.


Gabriel, J. G. (2005). How to thrive as a teacher leader. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hall, G., & Hord, S. (2001). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, and potholes. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Roberts, S. M., & Pruitt, E. Z. (2003). Schools as professional learning communities: Collaborative activities and strategies for professional development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.