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.