Teachers Have A Heroic Amount Of Work

Learning Lab Aims to Help Educators, Students

Washington Learning Lab: Washington Middle School eighth graders, Anthony Mohney and Taitum Mabee, participate in a Rally Coach session during Rachel Frisbee's math class. Submitted photo

“I want you to find a partner, move to a desk next to each other, pick a pencil to share. Partner A will solve the problem first by talking through it with Partner B helping them, checking work and praising. Then, the roles switch with Partner B solving the problem while partner A checks and praises.”

Washington Middle School math teacher, Rachel Frisbee, reminded her 8th grade students how to do “Rally Coach” during class. Once partnered up, students worked together to talk through their math problem on writing linear equations. If a student did not know how to proceed or just needed a bit of help their partner jumped in with advice and praise. Mrs. Frisbee learned how to do Rally Coach through Washington Middle School’s Learning Lab with Building Coach Priscilla Menzies. The school’s Learning Lab is a place where teachers, and their students, can learn new teaching strategies.

“From a teacher’s viewpoint, the Learning Lab is warm and welcoming,” said Mrs. Frisbee. “It gives me the opportunity to learn a new teaching strategy in a stress-free environment. Mrs. Menzies is teaching the class and I am able to fully concentrate on watching and observing how the strategy works and, how my students are reacting to it. We also have the opportunity after the Learning Lab to debrief and discuss how to modify it for my classroom.”

Mrs. Frisbee’s Rally Coach training is just one of the many ways the Washington Learning Lab is helping the school’s teachers and students. Mrs. Menzies modeled the school’s lab after Fletcher Elementary School’s successful Learning Lab with Stephanie David. The Learning Lab is a safe zone where teachers can learn new strategies that makes sense for their students’ specific needs. Mrs. Menzies prepares for, and teaches, the strategy and lets the teachers know that they are only there to learn.

“It is a classroom space but a neutral turf. I want teachers to be passive observers and if they are in their own classroom, sometimes they feel like they have to manage the class. In the Learning Lab that is my job,” said Mrs. Menzies. “I feel teachers have a heroic amount of work in just their everyday instruction. My job is to help them in the easiest way possible to learn new teaching strategies that will directly benefit their students.”

Another teaching strategies that Mrs. Menzies has provided for Washington teachers was offering all fifth grade teachers an introduction to fractions and numbers talk. Both of the strategies are designed to help students talk about solving problems with fractions. The teachers had an opportunity to observe what their students knew about fractions prior to beginning the unit and learn new strategies to help them understand fractions easier.

“Part of the Learning Lab experience is giving teachers the ability to re-set their thinking around kids and their learning abilities and capitalize on that,” said Mrs. Menzies. “Sometimes, teachers will be surprised by what students say about themselves and their learning. It allows teachers to really think about what is best for their class as that might be different from another class they are teaching.”

Mrs. Menzies also provided training to better prepare sixth through eighth graders at Washington for their Global Studies exam, which they will take in high school. She had help from JPS Social Studies Instructional Coach Jeff Kresge.

“Mr. Kresge’s knowledge of the Global Studies exam has helped our social studies teachers. Something the students will have to do is write an essay on an enduring issue like power or conflict. We worked with social studies teacher Jen Lachajczyk to help her kids read and think about that issue, and give middle school students an opportunity to write about it and defend their position. In addition to just making our student better thinkers and writers, it will better prepare them for JHS.”

Mrs. Menzies also worked with Spanish teacher Laura Penhollow and her students to learn how to use “talking chips” to help her students talk more in Spanish during class time. It’s a great, low-stress teaching strategy that helps increase student participation and teaches students to listen and be respectful of others.

“I am constantly learning myself and finding new strategies based on what is going to best help not only our teachers, but ultimately our students. My goal with the Learning Lab is to give teachers a safe space to add to their teaching toolkit.”