Question Of The Week: Walk-Throughs -- Are They Worth-While, or A Waste-Of-Time?

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Longtime reader and frequent commenter Teachergrrl has been kind enough to share her thoughts and experiences with the procedure known as a "walk-through" that CPS instituted several years ago, in which area and sometimes central office officials visit schools and, well, walk through them. 

Take a look at what she says makes them work -- or not -- and,
whatever your role in the process, weigh in with your own experiences.

As you might guess, there's no clear or concrete benefit from the
practice, according to Teachergrrl and her colleagues.  And when you're done, whether you're a teacher, principal, or AIO, write in and let us know --  what do you think?

Teachergrrl writes: 

"So, for whom are AIO walkthroughs valuable?  Certainly it can be
difficult to tell from the individual teachers point of view. So Ive been comparing notesmy own past experience with recent
experiences of some friends and colleagues in different areas around
the cityand thought Id share our experiences.

Some of the folks I've talked to have have already experienced their first walk-through of 2006-07,  while others have worked themselves into an anxious fret only to have the event rescheduled to an unspecified future date. Some are newbies, a few have observed this process over the past few years.

In most cases, however, most of us receive a heads-up about what the AIOs team is looking for, usually in the form of an actual checklist of items to make sure our rooms look like were doing the "right" stuff and teaching the "right" way:  Classroom libraries organized by genre with a clearly demonstrable checkout system for kids, learning centers, word walls, and posted lesson plans aligned to standards are almost always on the list. 

Are all of these elements of a great classroom following best practices?  Sure! 

Does anyone seem to care if we actually utilize any of them,  or whether ALL of them are necessary or appropriate for each and every classroom?  That's not so clear.

Does anyone give much consideration to where all the materials are going to be kept, or who is supposed to purchase necessary materials?  Not much that weve noticed.

Many teachers have received helpful P.D. on how to incorporate word walls in their instruction, and enjoy doing so. Those who havent or dont still spend a day before a scheduled walk-through having students create something attractive for the wall that will never be referred to again.   That's sort of sad, or confusing for the kids.

The library requirement can also be a bit confusing for departmentalized upper grade classrooms,  where the math/science/social studies teachers dont necessarily implement of a lot of independent student reading (especially when administrators looking to meet the requirement  provide a box of youth fiction with no particular connection to the subject area).  But so many classrooms are self-contained that this probably isnt a particularly universal complaint. 

The learning centers question remains unresolved, from what I gather--  but the primary teachers are a lot less alarmed by the requirement than the intermediate or upper grades. Maybe because their students are smaller and take up less space in the room?  Or because its, ahem,  challenging to get thirty 14-year-olds to circulate between creative academic activities peacefully and with high levels of engagement?

From my own past experience, Im not sure that there is a best or most valuable aspect of the walk-through,  except that it gooses you to improve your classroom environment and post extremely recent student work.  Yes, we should all do this anyway,  but teachers get overwhelmed and exhausted and sometimes rooms suffer. 

Still, I cant really say I ever received any valuable or constructive feedback; what we teachers hear afterwards is so soft-pedaled and non-fingerpointing that it seems essentially meaningless.

I guess the worst aspect of the walk-throughs, for me,  was that the actual quality of teaching was never discussed (though maybe thats a good thing when a snap judgment would need to be made after 2-4 minutes of observation). 

Still, the fact that the AIOs team will rate your empty room by looking at the posters and centers and library, etc., seems to send a clear message that appearance is more important than the energy, devotion, preparation, and skill of the actual teacher.

And that makes me question whether the walk-throughs really help anyone keep any real fingers on any real pulses."

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  • When I was monitoring special education implementation for Corey H. I had two experiences where my team and the walk though process happened at the same time.

    Aside from the general criticism in the posts above about paper carnivals, class room libraries, etc., I thought there was a more profound problem. The actual student growth data was not utilized.

    Let me explain what I mean. The actual experience of students who either were academically achieving or not achieving was not examined. For example students who had been retained were not discussed at an individual level to see how a school had intervened with the child. The history of higher achievers was equally not examined.

    In my opinion, and it is highly driven by having looked at many, many students with disabilities in CPS schools and in western US schools,observations on a school have to be child driven not process driven. An observer must capture a reasonable sample of the academic and social experiences of students, then relate that to school level process.

    The reason for this is there will always be great teachers and weak teachers in the same school. But the reality of the effectiveness of a school is the process each child goes through as they advance in the school.

    To look at children and schools in this way costs far more than the CPS is paying for its walk through system. The cost for one of the site visits conducted by the Corey H. monitors office including writing up 25 to 30 page reports was easily four to five times that of the current CPS walk through system. The cost of my monitoring for native American tribal schools was even high given the remote location of some schools.

    In other words the CPS is getting what it pays for with the walk through system.

    Rod Estvan

    Access Living of Metro Chicago

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