We Are Westridge

A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests


Mrs. Tuck Sports a Backpack: Reflections on Teaching and Learning from a Day Shadowing Students

Two decades ago when I was a full-time teacher, my division director recommended I spend a day shadowing a student. My two major takeaways from that experience were that it was exhausting switching to a new subject seven times in a day at 45-minute intervals, and that, even as an experienced teacher closely focused on a single student all day, I was unaware of the strategies the student used to learn and demonstrate his knowledge.  This is because teaching 20 years ago was about the delivery of content and it was the teacher who my student and I focused on that day, not the student learning.

Last spring, in preparation for my expanded role at Westridge working with the Middle School, I shadowed girls in both the 7th and 8th grades and my experience was very different: I witnessed our girls as thinkers in the classroom assuming active roles in their learning.

My goals last spring were simple. I wanted to determine if:

  • I could identify strategies the teachers used to get students to demonstrate their thinking and learning, and 
  • The pace (time for class/schedule) of Middle School allocate sufficient time for true thinking and learning.

What I discovered in our Middle School was a group of teachers dedicated to helping their students develop an awareness of the role that their thinking plays in cultivating their own understanding.  Classes blended instruction and lecture, and devoted significant time to strategies designed to get girls to ask critical questions, problem solve, make decisions, and use their judgement.  For example, in 7th grade history/English, Gigi Bizar and John Cross challenged their students with a design-based project that required them to discuss how they would build and eventually evaluate the construction of a city.  In 8th grade history, Jennifer Irish had the girls collaborating on an interdisciplinary computer-based project that required them to hear the ideas of others before writing their thoughts.   In Latin, Dr. Pintabone asked her students to share their thoughts on a collaborative assignment so that they would gain insight from each other.  In 7th grade science, Barbra Chabot team taught a genetics lesson with Dr. Stephen Gruber, Director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. She had her students use knowledge-retrieval strategies to make connections to learning and then generate hypotheses which revealed their thinking.  In Kelly Koch’s 8th grade math class students worked on homework (equations of linear functions) and classroom assignments, and then engaged in discussion strategies that had the girls sharing their thinking and asking clarifying questions.  All of this was possible because each class is 75-minutes long, allowing time for students to demonstrate their understanding.

Posted by in middle school, reflections on Tuesday October, 20, 2015


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