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Read About Best Practices in How to Effectively Observe Best Practices in the Classroom


As a literacy coach or mentor, your role is to work with teachers to plan, implement, reflect on, and refine their literacy lessons and procedures. Within this process, you’ll:

  • Actively listen in order to develop relationships with teachers and support their decision-making processes related to teaching and learning.
  • Offer customized support to help teachers develop problem-solving abilities.
  • Challenge teachers to try new strategies, explore new ideas in existing lessons, and make positive changes in their teaching styles.
  • Guide teachers in their practices—help them set professional goals in instruction and encourage them to reflect on the development of their lesson designs.
  • Provide motivation—remind teachers of their goals and support their efforts toward achieving them.
  • Collaborate with teachers—develop a give-and-take relationship where each person has input in the professional conversation.
  • Help teachers strategize and find effective ways to accomplish or change an instructional practice.
  • Provide ideas for overcoming obstacles in instruction.

Your knowledge of instruction and experience in education allow you to help with the “nuts and bolts” of everyday teaching life:

  • Help with organizational skills
  • Assist in the development of classroom management plans
  • Collaborate on lesson development and design
  • Procure resources for specific needs
  • Inform teachers about upcoming educational opportunities

Coaches and mentors often present demonstration lessons in the classroom. They model how to use new materials or implement new techniques so that teachers are able to observe specific instructional skills or strategies being used with their students. A demonstration lesson is preceded by a brief conference in which teachers are informed of the lesson design developed by the coach. It is followed by another brief conference in which teachers are asked to reflect on the lesson and plan ways to begin revising their own teaching.

Appropriate opportunities for demonstrations or modeled lessons include:

  • Request from a teacher
  • Suggestion by the coach/mentor following an observation of the teacher
  • Agreed-upon professional development focus
  • Introduction of a new skill or strategy
  • Regularly scheduled professional development activity

In this module, you’ll learn what to look for in the classroom in order to help teachers align their instruction with best practice and how to support each area with targeted dialogue. According to research, best practice is the ability to:

  • Demonstrate instructional balance in learning
  • Involve students in high-density reading and writing instruction
  • Provide effective scaffolding for student learning
  • Produce self-directed learners
  • Maintain effective classroom management
  • Teach with high expectations that all students will learn
  • Know and state the purpose for all literacy experiences
  • Interact in the classroom as students’ model, coach, and mentor

Effective coaches understand that each component overlaps the others and that these skills, or the lack of them, are observable in the classroom. In order to gain a clear vision of best practice, let’s explore each attribute one by one.

Instructional Balance in Literacy Learning

Balance in literacy instruction involves integrating explicit, direct skill and strategy instruction with authentic reading and writing texts and tasks throughout the day. According to Carlisle & Rice, effective teachers provide rationale, well-crafted lessons, modeling, and demonstrations before actively involving students in practice and application opportunities:

1. The teacher announces the lesson focus and discusses when or why it is important.

2. The teacher explains the steps in using the skill or strategy.

3. The teacher models and demonstrates the skill or strategy.

4. The teacher provides guided practice.

5. The students independently apply the skill or strategy to text.

6. The teacher and students discuss and reflect on the use of the skill or strategy.

7. The teacher discusses transference to other curriculum areas and provides opportunities to apply the skill or strategy to other contexts.

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. How did you determine the lesson focus? Why is this focus important?

2. How did explaining the steps in using the skill or strategy help scaffold instruction for students?

3. How effectively did your model or demonstration capture students’ attention and give them the confidence to try the skill or strategy?

4. How well did the guided practice opportunity meet the needs of all levels of learners?

5. In what ways did the students independently apply the skill or strategy to text?

6. What insights did students share when asked to reflect on the use of the skill or strategy?

7. How could you incorporate this skill or strategy into other curriculum areas?

8. What changes might occur as a result of our discussion?

High-Density Reading and Writing Instruction

Best practice in literacy instruction focuses on devoting more of the school day to reading and writing—including a dedicated literacy block and applications to all curriculum areas so students connect lessons to real-world experiences. Instruction is meaningful, purposeful, clear, and concise as teachers weave previously taught skills and strategies into new lessons. Using best-practice techniques, teachers are also able to integrate numerous goals into single lessons (McDonald, Pressley, Rankin, Mistretta, & Ettenberger).

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. How do you protect your daily time from outside intrusions?

2. How do students use reading and writing in the curriculum areas?

3. How are previously taught lessons revisited in new reading and writing instruction?

4. What is an example of a lesson that addresses several reading and writing goals?

5. What options are available for integrating more reading and writing instruction into the school day?

6. What changes might occur as a result of our discussion?

Scaffolded Instruction

Best practice requires teachers to support students with concentrated instructional assistance when needed, allowing each individual to experience success in learning. Scaffolding includes mini-lessons, individual coaching, prompts, and open-ended question stems. Students progress and move ahead with the correct amount of scaffolding accompanied by a gradual release of responsibility, as follows (Morrow, Gambrell, and Pressley):

The teacher is responsible for a selected task.

The teacher shares responsibility for the task with students.

Students take responsibility for the task with teacher support.

Students assume responsibility for applying the task to new situations.

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. What planning is required so that a lesson ensures success for all learners?

2. What is an example of ways you scaffolded or supported individual learners within one particular lesson?

3. What prompts or open-ended question stems do you use to scaffold learners?

4. How do you make time for small-group mini-lessons and individual coaching in your daily schedule?

5. How can you move your students toward more responsibility in their learning?

6. How effectively is the gradual release of responsibility working in your classroom?

7. What changes might occur as a result of our discussion?

Self-Directed Learning

Teachers using best practices enable students to become self-directed in their learning. Through modeling and demonstration, teachers show students how to become problem solvers. Through guided practice, teachers help students learn to select the appropriate problem-solving strategy for the appropriate occasion. Once students can self-regulate problem-solving behaviors, they are able to continue to learn and progress on their own.

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. In what ways are your students involved in self-directed learning?

2. How have you modeled or demonstrated problem solving within a particular lesson?

3. What problem-solving strategies have you observed students using during guided practice?

4. When have you observed a student transferring learned problem-solving behaviors to a new situation? In what ways did he or she achieve success in this situation?

5. What changes might occur as a result of our discussion?

Effective Classroom Management

Effective classroom management is one of the most visible examples of best practice:

  • Organize time, classroom environment, and space for literacy needs
  • Implement structure and routines for productive learning experiences
  • Conduct a daily literacy block
  • Provide a combination of whole-group and small-group instruction
  • Utilize paired activities, team projects, and independent work
  • Select appropriate materials for effective lessons
  • Collaborate with students and in-class support staff
  • Share responsibility and choice with students
  • Model mutual respect
  • Create a community of learners
  • Demonstrate positive expectations for quality student behavior
  • Plan for conflict resolution

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. In what ways would a visitor to your classroom perceive your focus on literacy?

2. What specific structures and routines do you implement to facilitate productive learning experiences?

3. How do you organize your daily literacy block?

4. What classroom groupings are available for your students?

5. Where and how do you find needed materials for lessons?

6. What does collaboration look like in your classroom?

7. In what ways are students given responsibility and choice in your classroom?

8. How do you support a classroom community of learners who maintain a mutual respect for one another?

9. How do you transmit behavioral expectations to your students?

10. How are conflicts handled in your classroom?

11. If time and money were no object, how would you change your classroom schedule and environment?

12. What changes might occur as a result of our discussion?

High Expectations

Displaying confidence in students’ abilities has positive effects on their behavior and academic achievement. Best practice includes teacher expectations that all students will learn. With high expectations, appropriate scaffolding, and the ability to motivate, teachers encourage all students to believe in themselves and reach their potential. Expectations correlate with self-esteem in students, which carries over into their literacy learning.

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. In what ways do you work to motivate students of all levels? How is this reflected in your lesson design?

2. How can teachers display confidence in students in nonverbal ways?

3. What is the basis of your belief that all students will learn?

4. How are students encouraged to meet their potential?

5. What is one particular experience you remember when your high expectations helped a student succeed?

6. What is the relation of scaffolding to expectations? How can we prevent incorrect perceptions about scaffolding by students, parents, and the general public?

7. What changes might occur as a result of our discussion?

Knowledge of Purpose

Effective teachers have extensive background knowledge and a well-developed belief system about literacy learning and are familiar with mandated district curriculum and state standards. Since best practice includes understanding the purpose of literacy experiences, teachers clearly inform students of the rationale for each lesson. Teachers pull from a variety of literacy perspectives and teaching techniques that support students in all content areas and make a clear connection between reading and writing experiences and the real world.

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. How extensive is your background in the areas of reading and writing instruction?

2. In what ways do you want or need to expand your literacy knowledge?

3. What are your basic beliefs about literacy learning?

4. How often do you refer to mandated standards in your lesson scheduling and preparation?

5. How do you make students aware of the rationale for each lesson?

6. How do students use reading and writing to learn in the content areas?

7. How would your students explain the importance of reading and writing in the world outside of school?

8. What changes might occur as a result of this conversation?

Classroom Interaction Style

Best practice is characterized by an instructional approach based on modeling, demonstration, and mentoring as opposed to telling or giving information to others. Teachers give students opportunities to become problem solvers who take responsibility for their own thinking. As teachers shift their practices toward a coaching model of interaction, they engage students in high-level questioning and responding through the use of active learning strategies.

Suggested coaching/mentoring dialogue:

1. In what ways do modeling and demonstrations surpass explaining when presenting new information to students?

2. What changes might make the modeling portion of your lessons more effective?

3. How is learning affected when students perceive teachers as coaches or mentors?

4. How are students asked to take responsibility for their own thinking?

5. How can purposeful questioning influence the outcome of a lesson?

6. What changes might occur as a result of this conversation?