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Learning Labs as a Way to Approach the Incoming Math Curriculum

By Rachel Jenner
Learning Labs as a Way to Approach the Incoming Math Curriculum

Administrators and teachers participate in a Learning Lab in a third-grade classroom at the Pan American School of Porto Alegre, Brazil (photo: PAS). ________________________________________________________________________ Learning Labs are a type of professional development that provides opportunities for teachers to gain knowledge about teaching and learning through structured, facilitated observations in the classroom (Sweeney 2011 & 2014). Student-centered Learning Labs are one specific type, designated as such because observers (teachers) focus on collecting student evidence as related to learning outcomes identified by the hosting teacher. The primary division at the Pan American School of Porto Alegre, Brazil recently utilized Learning Labs as part of a two-month process to build understanding around the incoming Eureka Math program. In the first month, teachers engaged in two processes: studying the curriculum itself and developing knowledge of the Learning Labs structure. Unlike typical learning labs (which tend to be “opt in”), each grade level was required to host a lab that would be attended by their grade-level partner and the instructional coach. However, teachers could choose any lesson from their Eureka Math grade-level curriculum, determine the cycle day/time for teaching, and were given the choice to open or close their lab to additional guests. During this month, coaching meetings were utilized for exploration and discussion, followed up by a two-hour session on a curriculum half-day. Teachers examined the main components of the lesson structure, identified a lesson to teach, studied the lesson, and co-planned with their grade-level partner. They also developed a common understanding of the protocol that would be utilized during the Learning Labs, including norms for observation, the note-taking tool, and their specific role during that time. In the second month, teachers hosted and attended the Learning Labs. Labs were composed of three distinct portions—pre-brief, observation, and debrief—all facilitated by a strict protocol. The pre-brief provided background for the observers, including information about prior instruction, the identified learning outcomes, and observation look-fors. During the observation, guests used a note-taking tool to collect student evidence (what students say, do, and write) in relation to the look-fors and learning outcomes. They also recorded questions/wonderings raised by the student evidence. The debrief included opportunities to share student evidence, practices that supported learning, and questions/wonderings. Finally, each participant identified an individual next step related to teaching and learning. All teachers reflected over the process as a whole, including how the Learning Labs structure impacted their professional learning, understanding of the curriculum, and next steps for instructional leadership. As a whole, teachers reported the lab structure was an asset to their learning because they were able to see components in action, discuss challenges with peers in a supportive environment, and identify difficulties across grade levels. Additionally, 79 percent of teachers supported the continuation of labs to build continued understanding around math, while 86 percent supported the idea to study other areas of the curriculum. One teacher reported, “I would be open to [additional labs] even though I was very stressed out about it at first. It was a good chance to see how other teachers deliver lessons to their grades.” Another noted it was a “very low pressure and supportive environment.” This in-school, job-embedded professional development opportunity resulted in a total of 114.5 hours of staff development: 30 hours in lesson study, 76.5 hours in Learning Labs, and 8 in reflection. While initially intended as a means of building understanding around math, leadership anticipates expanding the effort next year, hoping to develop knowledge in all content areas, perhaps even holding quarterly events. References: Sweeney, D. (2014, March). Student-Centered Learning Labs[PDF]. — (2011). Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K–8 Coaches and Principals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Rachel Jenner served as Instructional Coach for the Primary Division of the Pan American School of Porto Alegre, Brazil from 2015–2018.

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