Professional Development

PLCs for Analyzing Student Work

By Liana Loewus — December 06, 2010 2 min read
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Live from the Learning Forward annual conference in Atlanta.

I sat in on a couple intimate morning sessions—quite a difference from the enormous several-hundred-person breakfast and keynote this morning.

The first one was called “Teacher-Led Collaboration: Using Protocols to Facilitate Conversations,” and of course the words “teacher-led” guided me through the door. A group of special education teachers from Cobb County School District in Kennesaw, Ga., spoke about how to implement professional learning communities that meet specifically to analyze student work. They laid out the protocol for the meetings, which they do monthly in groups of four or more. Patricia Jackson, one of the presenters, said the process at her school was adapted from research by Blyth, Allen, and Powell.

The best part of the presentation was when the teachers conducted a live and unrehearsed demonstration of such a PLC meeting, using authentic student work. The members stuck to the agenda during the 20-minute demo—the teacher whose students’ essays were being evaluated presented the lesson and materials, the evaluators asked clarifying questions, they all looked at the student work, the evaluators gave “warm and cool” feedback, the teacher-presenter reflected on what he had learned, and then they all debriefed.

As Jackson explained, the heart of the process was the reflection by the teacher. George Morgan, a 5th year teacher, did an impressive job of synthesizing what he had learned from his peers—in this case, that he had failed to check for understanding while modeling and had projected his stress about time-management and pacing onto his students. Morgan went through the process with laudable grace, admitting afterward that he had been worried about what the audience thought of his lesson. He embodied the self-analytical nature and drive for self-improvement found in great teachers.

The teachers involved in the demo had been working together for four years, and it was clear they’d figured out how to interact with trust, sensitivity, and candor. I was intrigued by this process, which to me was reminiscent of a writing class in which students critique each other’s writing. And the protocol reminded me of a lesson plan (with an I, we, you organization).

Is this something that can work at every school? Will teachers buck at the formality of the process?

More on the second session later. Now, lunch!

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.