A day in the ‘lab’: Lapeer Community Schools lab classroom model in focus

Several K-5 teachers observed Nicole Jezdimir's ELA lab classroom at Maple Grove on Wednesday. The students were taking part in a writing workshop.

This week, Lapeer Community Schools Superintendent Matt Wandrie sat in on a lab classroom at Maple Grove Elementary. The Title II-funded lab classroom model was piloted during the 2008-09 school and implemented across the District the following year. Last school year, buildings partnered to continue exploring reading and writing workshops. The results have been very positive for this mutually-beneficial professional development model.

In short, lab classrooms allow teachers to witness various practices in action to gauge student response and retention.

Lisa Madden, the K–12 supervisor for English language arts and social studies for LCS, describes the model this way:

Rather than just read how to implement an educational practice (or watch one of those professional videos where the “classroom” consists of 12 perfect kids), teachers see the nuances of practice up close. I see it like the observation of any fine-tuned skill — whether it’s a sport, an art, or a specialized profession, observation of and collaboration with peers improves the skills and practices of those who participate.

(Madden wrote extensively about the model in June 2010 issue of Educational Leadership. Read the full piece here).

Nicole Jezdimir, teaching in an ELA lab classroom at Maple Grove.

This year’s initiative includes 16 k-5 grade level teams of 6-8 educators each, including a facilitator who will lead each team through three full-day sessions throughout the school year. Over 100 educators are involved.

On Wednesday morning, for example, several teachers sat in on a lesson given to third graders by Nicole Jezdimir at Maple Grove. The experience not only provides the teachers with an in-class view of a writing workshop, it makes them aware of the culture and layout of another school building.

A lab classroom day, for an observer, includes the following:

  • Pre-briefing with the facilitator, who provides background on the classroom and teacher that will be observed.
  • A reviews norms and note-taking expectations, and works with the team to share successes and challenges in their current practices.
  • Selection of a goal for what they hope to get out of the observation.

The group then moves to observe the classroom, taking observation notes, writing down questions and thinking through the experience.

Following the observation, the team goes to lunch followed by a “debriefing,” where each shares “noticings” with the host teacher, who then talks briefly about the class, her students, and the instructional decisions she made that day.

Individuals go on to question the host teacher, and the facilitator nudges the discussion at times, moving teachers to deeper questions and thinking about intentional teaching practices. The team then spends some time with a book study that is related to the overall focus of professional learning.

Finally, the day ends with written reflections, and individual goals that each shares with the team. When they meet again, the facilitator will start the next session having each talk about what they’ve been trying and how it’s been working.

This is only a snapshot of the model; it will continue to evolve as it expands and more data are collected.

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