May 15, 2023 -- “It’s a lot harder to get where you’re going if you don’t know the target.” That’s what Gearity Professional Development School’s Instructional Coach Karlene Sa’ad had to say about her building’s approach to teacher clarity and visible learning. The two interconnected concepts have been at the core of the school’s teacher development work over the past several years and were the focus of a recent multi-day training by educational consultant Kara Vandas.
Ms. Vandas’ work centers on teachers and students being able to explicitly identify the steps necessary to learn a concept and where they are in the process. This allows teachers to scaffold, or support, students as they move from one rung to another on their way up the ladder of mastery. “Our work with visible learning and clarity helps empower students so they can take ownership over their learning,” said Ms. Vandas, who co-facilitated the training.
Gearity uses departmentalization in its grades 1-5 classrooms, meaning that one teacher in each grade teaches math and science to both groups, while the other teaches English Language Arts and social studies. This allows teachers to focus greater attention on creating lessons and to really become experts in their subject areas.
It also allows teachers in a single subject area to meet weekly with those from other grade levels to create long-term instructional plans and ensure that what is taught in one grade level builds upon what was taught in the last, using common language and strategies.
According to Ms. Sa’ad, students have become adept at understanding and communicating where they are in the learning process. They have portfolios to showcase their work over time and are able to identify both how much they have learned and what they need to do to continue that progress in both math and literacy.
“It also gives us the chance to celebrate all that students have accomplished,” said Ms. Sa’ad, which is a key part of their learning plan.
The three-day training with Ms. Vandas, who works for the Core Collaborative and has written several books on this educational approach, was well-timed for teachers to begin thinking about next school year. It gave them the chance to look back at what’s worked – including by viewing videos of both 1st and 5th grade ELA teachers at Gearity using strategies of clarity and visible learning in their classrooms.
“It helps us level up the work moving forward, figuring out what questions need to be asked, what products need to be developed as they set goals for themselves and their students,” said Ms. Sa’ad. “The mindset is on next year. The greatest gift you can give teachers is time and planning.”