Upcoming fifth- and sixth-grade students poured over a math problem June 20 at Foran High School as teachers stood nearby, taking copious notes, and video cameras recorded the students’ strategies and questions as a guest teacher sometimes intervened, guiding the students on their quest for the answer.
Milford Public Schools described this new teacher learning strategy, called High Quality Instruction, as “revolutionary,” one they think may become a model for the state.
School Supt. Dr. Anna Cutaia explained that in traditional professional development exercises, teachers may receive instruction on various teaching methods in a classroom setting. They are taught about new and innovative ways to help their students learn, but they don’t actually get to see those methods in action.
“You don’t see how or why you do it,” Dr. Cutaia said. “So we figured we’d make it live.”
Thursday started with teachers learning about teaching strategies. Then they moved into two large classrooms where they watched a guest teacher demonstrate those strategies with students.
The teachers watched as the guest teacher joined groups of students, guiding them with questions about how they came to their conclusion, sometimes suggesting other ways to tackle the math problem.
Deva Lapatas, a fifth grade teacher at Orange Avenue School, jotted notes in a notebook as the guest teacher demonstrated what had been discussed in the workshop that morning. She noted the way he asked the students to explain their strategy, sometimes asking them to use a different strategy, and she watched to see if the students were being guided to extend or advance their thinking.
Lapatas said she learned a lot about how to move students forward in the learning process.
“It’s totally changing the way I think about giving feedback,” Lapatas said. “I used to think of feedback as praise, but now I look at questioning as feedback, and letting them take ownership of their learning.”
After the lesson, the group of 70 teachers and administrators from the Milford Public Schools gathered to debrief for two hours and discuss what they had learned from the day’s activities.
Dr. Cutaia said she used this model with colleagues at a former school district but this is the first time it has been used in Milford. The workshops took place all week, and Cutaia said this model will be used each year. Members of the Connecticut Center for School Change collaborated with Milford Public Schools on the professional development.
Foran High School Assistant Principal Christianne Golesky said the model really helps teachers see how the students are learning and demonstrates how various strategies can move the students along.
“This is amazing. It’s the most valuable learning experience we can offer,” Golesky said, adding that the teachers can actually see the strategies they have learned being put to work in front of them.
With video recordings of the learning exercise, teachers will be able to go back and watch the interaction between teacher and students and see close up the use of different teaching strategies and how the students grow from them.
School Spokesperson Kathy Bonetti said High Quality Instruction is a major key in the improvement of education in America. “It is a part of the Portrait of a Graduate concept that is driving change in our educational system here in Connecticut,” Bonetti said.