Friday, May 18, 2007

First impressions and 'thin slicing'!

The concept of 'thin slicing' comes from Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Blink'. Those with expertise in any field, he writes, can gather a lot of accurate information in a 'blink'. Without expertise 'thin slicing' can also get you into trouble by letting you jump to wrong conclusions.

I visited a school recently where the principal asked his senior team to imagine they were visiting their school for the first time, or to look through the eyes of a prospective parent, or new teacher, or as a parent themselves looking for a school for their own children.

All too often we take our own school for granted and we need to take a fresh look at it every now and then. As it is said, 'fish are the last to discover water'.

What would be their impressions?

They were to start at the front gate and tour all classrooms starting with the office area.

They were asked to quickly record their impressions, good, bad, anything, and any suggestions for improvement, and be prepared to share, in confidence, with the others in the team.

What does the outside reflect? How does it relate to learning? How 'student friendly' is the school environment?

The school foyer. Is it welcoming? How does it celebrate student learning or what the school values?

The classrooms ( teachers were told there would be quick visits to their rooms). What is the overall tone/relationships/behaviour of the room? What did the wall displays feature? Did the room reflect the school vision? Was there evidence of the personal lives of the students as seen by personal language, student questions, their research, or their particular talents?

Was there evidence of an interactive inquiry approach, or evidence of integrated learning themes? Is the current study obvious with clear headings and key questions? How well is ICT being integrated into learning pr grammes?

What evidence of thinking skills, or multiple intelligences, could be seen in the room - and could you see evidence of them being used?

What evidence of quality work is to be seen -beyond what would be normally expected for the level? Did any bookwork show qualitative improvement since the beginning of the year? What was the quality of chart work on display - did it reflect student thinking?

Is there evidence of the teachers skill in modelling a strong scaffolding role as seen by students, self correcting and doing less better.

Is there evidence of predictable class management structures to allow students to work independently? Do students seem to know what they are supposed to be doing - and why?

This was probably too much to ask teachers to attend too but the discussion that followed indicated that in their brief visits their 'slin slicing' came up with a lot of positive things noted and ideas to improve what was seen.

Before a similar staff 'walk and talk ' visit with the whole staff after school it was agreed that a simple criteria needs to be drawn up and agreed to to help teachers focus their thinking and to self assess their own rooms.

It needs to be made clear that what is wanted is not clone like consistency but enough consistency to show that there was a pattern to be seen in every room.As well each room ought to reflect the creativity of the individual teacher and the students in his, or her, care.

A few digital photos of each room taken before the push for improvement and after would indicate the qualitative growth of each teacher and the whole school.

Diversity within consistency is the theme

The above is a simple process but one that will make a powerful difference to any school and in turn will create a climate of sharing of good ideas and recognition of teachers talents.

As teachers get at more expert they will become better 'slin slicers'.

For ideas to develop a criteria for your rooms see article on our site


Anonymous said...

You visit a lot of classrooms Bruce - what is your overall impression from your 'thin slicing'?

Lyn said...

Great idea. Best practice, reflection, honesty and self improvement. This should be happening in every school. I'll share this post with Principals in my ICT Cluster. Thanks, Bruce.

Bruce said...

Greetings Lyn

The idea worked well at the school I was visiting. See also my article on the website linked on the blog

Another good( but not new idea) is a 'walk and talk' staff meeting spending a few minutes in each room for the teacher to show what is new.

Teachers need a few weeks notice in advance to feel comfortable with sharing in this way - but it only what many teachers do on wet weather duty!

Lyn said...

I enjoy reading your blog. Your posts are always so thought- provoking. Thanks for the time you put into it - which must be considerable. The Internet is beginning to have an impact on education, through the quality of blogs such as yours.
I’ve noticed that you don’t have a ‘blogroll’. I would like to see the blogs that you’re reading and enjoying. On my blog I call this links section ‘Entertainers and Inspirers’. I, (and probably others) would find your blogroll interesting. Please consider adding one to your blog.