Content Coaching: Preconference, Lesson Enactment and Postconference

License: CC0 Public Domain

License: CC0 Public Domain

The authors present content coaching as an inquiry undertaken jointly by the teacher and the coach. One of the steps is the preconference which clarifies what the goals of the lessons are, the instructional strategies that will be used and the assessment strategies to determine student progress and understanding. It is up to the coach to elicit ideas that the teacher has, checking for understanding and supporting the teacher’s needs. The teacher has an active role in the preconference. The preconference should be free of judgement so that the conversation allows exploration and discovery together, so that both participants become smarter from their collaboration.

Although the preconference and the debrief (postconference) are both important, Lucy West suggests that the preconference is the more important of the two as it builds “habits of planning” (Kinight, 2008, p. 127) so that the teacher internalize the planning strategies that will allow her to independently plan effective lessons in the future. The teacher makes the final decision about the lesson when she is the one who will teach it; the coach may make the final decision if leading the lesson.

The goal of lesson planning is to make sure that the content being taught is appropriate for the students, and that every child can learn from the lesson. In planning the lesson, the teacher and the coach decide the concepts and ideas that they can illuminate in the lesson. They need to take into consideration students’ prior knowledge as well as the environmental variables and context in lesson design. There are several core issues that can be used to design the lesson so that students understand the concepts better,  teachers learn how to plan for student learning and modify teaching and assessment strategies to support learning.

Some approaches to lesson planning consider that anyone can teach the content if the curriculum, textbooks and other tools are detailed enough. This is a mechanistic view of teaching which does not take the students and context into consideration. Mechanistic teaching can be reassuring for teachers who do not have the content knowledge of an area that they need to teach but it doesn’t work within an inquiry model where the teacher may be worried about her ability to answer students’ questions or to assess students development of understanding in the subject area. Effective lesson planning considers the how, what and why of the lesson, thinking about teaching holistically. This engages teachers and coaches into inquiry of the content, pedagogy and tools being used to think critically about the choices being made, and analyze the results to dynamically respond to student needs. The choice of tools should be well aligned with the why, what, how and who of teaching. The tool should fit the goal, not the other way around.

Successful lesson design meets the needs of all students. In assessing the success of content coaching, teachers and coaches consider whether all children are learning the content. If the answer is no, it is up to the coach and teacher to come up with strategies and practices that ensure all children in the classroom are building understanding of the content and are able to share their understanding. In meeting the needs of every child, teachers and coaches need to consider what tools are suited to which student for building and assessing understanding.

As in other types of coaching, observation and modelling are used in Content Coaching. The teacher and coach may also co-teach or teach in tandem. Occasionally, a coach may intervene in a lesson when the teacher is leading, but only with pre-determined agreement from the teacher and in specific cases. The three cases for intervention are to give the teacher an opportunity to pick up on a relevant idea that a student has raised, to highlight student thinking that can help the teacher refine her instruction, and to highlight a student’s idea for later debrief and follow-up. It’s important to note that in content coaching, the coach and teacher work together throughout the lesson, even when helping individual students or small groups. This is an apprenticeship model of coaching.

After the lesson, it’s important for the coach and teacher to analyze student data, especially verbatim notes of discourse from a range of students, to determine what worked and what needs to be revised or discarded. The most important thing that will allow teachers to grow professionally is specific feedback combined with reflection and new interventions as a result of the reflection. The goal of the post conference is to determine any changes needed to the next lesson to ensure that all students understand the content. Careful planning, including understanding of lesson goals, gives teachers the freedom to modify the lesson to meet the needs of particular students.

As a technology coach, I do some content coaching if you can call tech skills content coaching. Beyond that, the process of lesson design is crucial for illuminating opportunities to integrate technology into the lesson for greater student understanding, and to allow students to demonstrate their understanding. With existing structure and time constraints, I think I will have greater success in working with teachers to identify authentic opportunities for technology integration in the unit plans as opposed to lesson plans. While it is important to identify the lessons within the unit, I haven’t encountered any models in schools where teachers regularly have time for thorough lesson planning during the school day. If your school has such a model, I’d be interested to hear more about it.

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. This post is based on sections of Chapter 6: Content Coaching. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.

Issues in Lesson Design

Lucy West presents the complexity of lesson design in her chapter on Content Coaching. She shares her exploration of her own successful coaching practice, and her work with colleagues, university researchers and a visiting scholar from Switzerland, Fritz Staub, in creating a “Guide to Core Issues in Lesson Design” (Knight, 2008, p. 133). The guide is not prescriptive but rather presents questions about content, student response, and teacher planning that can help map the variables that affect instructional practices. The guide is meant to help teachers and coaches define the “what, why, how, and who” (Knight, 2008, p. 136) of instructional design and lesson enactment. There are 29 questions in the guide, which would make it difficult to use all the questions in each pre-conference. The coach has to select the appropriate questions to ask at various occasions of working with the teacher.

This mind map of the ideas shows the complexity of lesson design by the sheer number of factors/issues to consider.

West & Staub, 2003 as cited in Knight, 2008, p. 135.

West & Staub, 2003 as cited in Knight, 2008, p. 135.

This model is new to me, and I’m curious about the relationship between the theory and practice. Have you use this model or a similar one in content coaching? What was your experience of using the model? I’d love to hear your ideas/reflections.

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. This post is based on sections of Chapter 6: Content Coaching. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.

The Environment of Content Coaching

The goal of content coaching is to improve student learning, by making instruction more effective. This is done though the mindful consideration of lesson design, teaching and assessment. There are many tools that teachers can use; they need to decide which tools are appropriate for use at what time. They may have to select a variety of tools to meet a variety of needs, in a way that makes sense to them. “It is possible to build coherence and also provide for individual freedom when everyone keeps an eye on student learning as the bottom line” (Knight, 2008, p. 120). However, this is a challenge in education with the push for standardized testing which is in opposition to the idea of differentiation for each student to meet high standards.

To implement learning for every child, teachers need to have strong understanding of their content area, the curriculum and the tools available to them. Tools that are well-designed and well-understood can be useful in assisting student learning. One challenge in schools is to provide adequate support and time for teachers to explore a tool and understand how it aligns with their beliefs and the context of the school. This understanding would allow teaching to be a mindful exercise as opposed to a mechanical one, with mass produced content being seen as an example instead of a recipe. It’s a challenge for teachers and schools to think holistically about subjects and about meeting the needs of each student when they have to follow pre-defined curricula and pacing guides.

The standards movement has raised questions as to what should be learned, when, how, and why. Most schools operate within the factory model with little flexibility of scheduling and instruction. It’s important for teachers to think about lessons, being mindful about the resources that they use, and the assessment of student learning.

TPACKOne of the tools available for training teachers for technology integration is TPACK. The idea of pedagogical content knowledge has come up earlier in this chapter; this section adds in the technological component of TPACK. The integration of technology is not just about the tools but knowing the affordances and limitations of different (available) tools in lesson planning helps teachers design lessons that take advantage of technology. On the flip side, having a good understand of the content and pedagogy associated with the content points to technology tools that can add value to teaching and learning. One of the effects of TPACK has been the development of activity types for different content areas. I will be exploring the site further for sharing with teachers. The SAMR model is also useful for considering the value of the technology integration to teaching and learning.

The factory model applies to teacher education. Concerns about accountability and equality make the provision of individualized professional development a challenge for schools. Many educational stakeholders still see conferences as being a major component of professional development. Research shows that effective professional development is needs-based, specific, content-based, and ongoing. I think that conference workshops can be a good opportunity to gather information, but is only a starting point (platform) rather than a vehicle (train) for professional growth. The advent of unconferences and cohorts of study, with opportunities for individualization through application and blogging provide examples of disruptive teacher education practices.

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. This post is based on sections of Chapter 6: Content Coaching. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.

Content Coaching: Principles of Learning

Habits of mind by Langwiches License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Habits of mind by Langwiches License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Content coaching recognizes that teaching can be improved with effort, and applies principles of learning in building professional capacity. The four principles presented in this chapter are accountable talk, self-management of learning, socializing intelligence and learning as apprenticeship (Knight, 2008, pp. 117-118). This principles are useful for teachers working with students, and also for coaches working with teachers. By engaging in the practices presented, coaches and teaches can model different strategies for students, which is the best reflection of lifelong learning.

Coaches can use verbal discourse to explore the accountability that teachers feel to professional standards, content standards and student learning. Listening to what teachers say, both explicitly and implicitly, can provide valuable insight into their understanding.

Self management of learning is concerned with reflection and awareness to recognize what aids and hinders your own learning. By being able to identify when we need assistance, seeking assistance including information when needed, and being able to determine the appropriate times to persevere or to give up are strategies for lifelong learning. Learning isn’t only about content but also about the habits of mind that assist in learning the content. Coaches can help teachers develop their habits of mind in a content area, and teachers can incorporate habits of mind into their teaching.

Socializing intelligence is related to Vygotsky’s concept of learning as a social activity. It is possible in schools for teachers to become isolated or in competition to each other rather than collaborators. Teachers and coaches can model the creation of shared knowledge and understanding for students by engaging in public conversations that explore possibilities, including taking risks together. The principle of socializing intelligence is reflected in a school that has scheduled shared periods for teachers to work together on designing lessons, assessing student work, and problem solving issues that they encounter in their classrooms which impede student learning.

We learn from each other, through apprenticeship. This happens in coaching or co-teaching situations where teachers work together dynamically to implement best practices, recognizing that best practice evolves over time.

In one of my schools, I remember colleagues complaining about the fact that we never had time to talk together as professionals who could help and support each other. They wanted more opportunities for social discourse and socializing intelligence to developing their understanding of some of the programs of the school. At another school, we had a system which used a modified version of critical friends in assisting teachers in professional development (apprenticeship). I’ve had conversations with many language teachers who explain the importance of students knowing how to learn a new language. My experience confirms the importance of these principles of learning in the process of teaching and learning.

I use the principles of learning in my work. Dialogue is important for understanding peoples needs, the beliefs, their assumptions. It also reveals their self-management. I have the best results when working with people who are self managers. Interesting, this is one of the attitudes that we have adopted in the elementary school. There is a feeling of mutual respect and partnership when working with someone who is a self manager. I think that self managers are also aware of when they can contribute to social learning experiences and to apprenticeship. In addition to knowing when to ask for help, they also recognize what they have to contribute to the collective. In working with teams, we learn from each other, creating shared knowledge and teaching skills to each other so that we can better support our students.

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. This post is based on sections of Chapter 6: Content Coaching. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.

Content Coaching

In the last chapter of Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight, the authors explored Classroom Management Coaching. Chapter 6 by Lucy West presents Content Coaching.

I started off the chapter with a clear idea of what content coaching is. I’ve heard the term Math Coach or Social Studies Coach. My idea is consistent with the definition in this chapter that a Content Coach has skills and understanding in the content area, knows the depth of content which is appropriate for a particular grade level, can break the content down into it’s key concepts, knows current learning theories, and has a toolbox of instructional strategies that complement the learning theories. The new component to the definition in this chapter is is that content coaches have “an understanding of organizations as living, dynamic systems” (Knight, 2008, p. 115). Content coaches build skills and understanding in teachers, so that teachers can in turn pass on the leveled skills unnamedand understanding to their children. As I was reading, I thought about the TPACK model which considers the importance of Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge. It seems that content coaches should be knowledgeable of Pedagogy and Content, as well as Technology. Technological knowledge must be connected to knowledge of instructional strategies tied to current learning theories.

A new idea in this chapter to me is “the theory of incremental intelligence” (Knight, 2008, p. 115). This theory is in direct opposition to the idea of innate intelligence; it posits that a person can use metacognition to focus their effort on strategies and processes that will help them develop their intelligence in any given area. This is directly related to the idea that every child can learn. However, educational policy and practices in school still seem to value intelligence over effort. This is the case for students as well as teachers. Schools can advocate for the theory of incremental intelligence by providing coaching to teachers so that they can develop their knowledge and skills for improved teaching, resulting is greater student learning.

An interesting example was presented about Japanese Lesson Study. I remember seeing a video about this some time ago. Take a look:

As I keep reading these chapters, I wonder how a system of coaches can be implemented in schools. I’m wondering about the similarities between teaching adults and teaching children, and whether a coach would benefit from teaching both groups. I think that it’s important not to have too many coaching roles (to minimize overlap), so I’m wondering what is the minimal number of roles for the maximal benefit. I’m curious as to whether coaching needs to be a job or a role or both. In what areas is it possible for a coach to work within a whole school versus specific grades? I imagine that it would depend on the intervention.

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. This post is based on sections of Chapter 5: Classroom Management Coaching. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.