While at the Coaching Institute in New York recently, our cohort leader, Shanna, led us through classroom walk-throughs after hours. The kids had left and so had most of the teachers, and so we walked the halls like little ducklings behind our mother duck, mainly looking at what we saw on the walls.
Shanna modeled thinking through a two-column note headed “I notice” and “I wonder”. Out loud she’d think, “I notice that…bulletin boards are set up so that each student in the class has their own area. I wonder…why some boards don’t display any work at the moment? I notice…these two bulletin boards have a poster describing the process the students went through to create the work. I wonder… is that something they’re working on as a school?”
She encouraged us to be as specific as possible in our noticings – use numbers instead of generalities (no “some” or “lots of” allowed) and to remove all value statements from what we noticed.
For instance, I noticed that on one 1st grade bulletin board most of the student writing was written in pen and kids had scratched out their revisions and written over them. But when I phrased it that way she had me re-word it to, “I notice…all but one student wrote their letters in pen instead of pencil. I wonder… did the teacher ask the kids to write in pen in order to see evidence of their revisions?” Another coach said, “I notice… all the students’ letters are three pages long. I wonder… were children given choice about the length of their writing and was variance allowed?”
By the time we’d finished, the tone of our noticings created a very data-oriented feel to our observations. By withholding all value judgments and instead framing what we saw as specific observations with related wonderings, the result was very professional and impartial. We didn’t discuss answers to any of the questions we raised, but the questions remained nonetheless, floating in the air awaiting another day to find answers.