Case Study

Leveraging new teaching techniques to build nuanced language skills

Using data and new techniques to create impactful teaching strategies - Carol's story

The students in Carol’s class are the picture of eager learners – they are third graders with the reading, writing, and thinking skills to really dig in and express themselves. Their relationship with their teacher is strong and they feel safe to try new things, make mistakes, and try again. In many ways the classroom environment was a strong model for other teachers to follow. However, Carol’s students weren’t growing the way they had in past years. She was puzzled as she was using the same curriculum, she had for five years, and felt she was stronger at planning and implementation than she’s been previously. She had authentic relationships with her students and their families. She’d secured a classroom library that she’d been planning for years. She was confused.

Carol and her Class Measures coach, Liz, talked generally about math and literacy data and then Liz asked her to get more specific. A deeper dive showed the most growth in math and reading fluency, the least growth in reading comprehension and vocabulary. Liz noted she had seen similar trends in the past and asked to see her WIDA data – sure enough, Carol’s students were nearly all English language learners, and most were categorized as “Developing” while EL students she had in the past were “Expanding or Bridging”. In some ways the positive learning environment she’s created was keeping her from seeing the language needs of students, which were one to two levels lower than years past according to their WIDA data. Though they were invited to write, talk and read, they struggled to understand the nuanced messages within the reading (a significant shift in literacy expectations between second and third grade) and therefore their discussion remained surface level and didn’t help them uncover the subtle details in the text. They also shared insightful, creative ideas about their reading, but lacked the academic vocabulary to build on one another’s ideas – they spoke predominantly to the teacher, but rarely to one another.

Liz invited Carol to continue their collaboration on data, while inviting Amy in as an English language (EL) specialist. Carol and Amy looked closely at her planning processes – her planning was strong and she had solid experience using the EL tools embedded in the curriculum. Amy and Liz made a plan to observe her teaching a vocabulary lesson to see how the planning was implemented. Throughout the lesson they captured data on the students that were learning best and which could be learning better – nearly all of the best learners were from English-only households. Carol’s lesson pacing, visuals, and sentence frames were not offering enough time or support for language learners. Though she noted that she used the pictures in the textbook, through her conversation with her coach she noted that none of the vocabulary they focused on was featured in those pictures. Also, though she was conscious of wait time, she did not know the research recommendations for wait time with English learners (at least twice the wait time). The shifts her coach was suggesting were subtle; they weren’t about the basics of teaching because Carol had mastered those; they were about the subtleties of working with ELs, which Carol, despite years of teacher training, had never been taught. Carol agreed to film her next lesson and by watching herself teach she noted the ways the new visuals impacted her teaching and students’ learning. She also heard her own voice as she transitioned and noted her wait time was not nearly as long as her students needed when she looked carefully at each of them to look for signs of comprehension or confusion. She established a practice where she looked at each students’ face before transitioning and found that it gave her good data, a moment to connect, and a meaningful practice while she held space for students to process and prepare.

Carol also noted she needed more help with sentence frames and agreed to co-observe Sara, a highly effective reading specialist, with her coach. Coaches have insight into where best practices can be found within the school and across the district and can coordinate to create opportunities for teachers to observe colleagues that they may not know. Carol and Amy co-observed two reading interventionists that were leveraging the tools and approaches that Carol had been working on. Seeing it in practice and working for students gave Carol a view of what was possible. Though the approaches weren’t yet having this high-level impact with Carol’s students, she could see that having these practices in place over time would get her the results she was after.

The individual coaching was so valuable to me. I was able to reflect on my professionalism in the moment and then make plans that I could put into practice immediately. This impacted the quality of my teaching and interactions with my coworkers far greater than a traditional PD would as it was personalized and inspired me to be a leader. 

 - Sara Cano, Reading Intervention Lead.

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