Had a discussion with another math teacher here the other day. We were both in favor of increased observations in our classrooms, both by administrators, and by other teachers. We both think that having more feedback would allow us to focus our efforts at growth.
Where we differed was in how we’d like to have observers behave. I was in favor of straight observation – primarily empirical evidence, along with possible suggestions of roots or paths to follow.
The other teacher was in favor of spontaneous coteaching. I’ve certainly been in situations (especially early on) where having another teacher jump in provided strong learning opportunities, and It’s not that I don’t think I can’t learn anything from anyone else.
It’s just that my teaching style has drifted towards being less helpful. As long as a kid is working something through, I don’t want to give them the answer. I want them to figure it out.
I’ve spent the past 5 years learning to be really patient – I can sit for minutes with an attentive observing look on my face, without giving away anything about whether what they’re doing is right or wrong. I’ve also gotten pretty good at jumping in with a question whenever progress seems to slow down, anything from “What do you need to do next?” to “Why did you do these last three steps?” All of which serve to focus, without actually giving anything away.
I’ve had an administrator come into a room and try to help out the kids in this situation. It seemed to me that it was almost more a display of the administrator being able to solve a problem than it was of them being able to teach it. Sure, the answer got on the paper faster, but they’d done just about everything except tear the pencil out of the students hands and write the answer down themselves.
I had to let them be proud of their assistance, but then I had to work up a new problem for the kids to do, and let them go through exactly the same struggles they would have before.