Learning Lab Promotes New Skills
“Your job was to determine if Mrs. Marsh was a loyalist or a patriot,” said JPS Social Studies Instructional Coach Jeff Kresge to fourth graders in the Fletcher Elementary School Learning Lab. “Raise your hand if you think if she was a loyalist. We can’t just have an opinion without backing it up. Why do you think she was a loyalist?”
“Often they were businessmen and her husband was a businessman,” said a student.
“Yes, a very good clue,” said Kresge.
Kresge explained that students needed to have numerous clues to make an educated guess, or a hypothesis. In this Fletcher learning lab experience, Kresge supported the teachers by providing a foundation for the start of a new English Language Arts module on the American Revolution. In his visit, he cycled all fourth grade classes through the lab to do an interactive lesson to develop knowledge of loyalists and patriots by watching short videos to analyze the opinions of characters to determine if they were most likely loyalists or patriots.
In 2017, Fletcher Principal, Maria DeJoy, passed on an educational article about designing a teacher’s learning lab within a school to Instructional Coach Stephanie David. A teacher’s learning lab is a classroom within the school that is devoted to trying out instructional activities with students. The lab helps educators to grow their craft in collaboration with one another inside of the school day.
“At the beginning of the school year, I begin sketching out a plan of what to spotlight in the lab,” said David. “I gather interests and needs requested by the teachers, as well as consider the most recent professional development teachers have received.”
Communication, and the support of DeJoy, makes the learning lab a success. “Whenever anyone is trying something new out, it is a bit uncomfortable and clunky in the beginning,” said David. “The lab offers a safe area to try things out together.”
Before the learning lab, the instructional coach and teacher discuss the lesson. “We often co-plan together, identifying state standards, learning targets and student success criteria,” said David. “We establish ‘the moves’ of the lesson so there is clarity and focus about how it will be carried out.” During the lab lesson, David models lessons for teachers, while teachers are able to focus on capturing the thinking of their students through close observation. As the lesson is taught, teachers capture student learning as well as any questions. In a post conversation, the coach and teacher reflect together on the lesson and discuss next steps.
“The Fletcher Learning Lab is a fabulous place,” said first grade teacher Johnna Conti. “Every time my students and I visit, we are embarking on a journey of exploration filled with fresh ideas about learning. I acquire new strategies for teaching my students. The children practice working together, communication skills, taking turns, and building on the skills that they already have to make them better thinkers and doers.”
Throughout the year, lab hosts, like Kresge, are invited to work with the staff at Fletcher Elementary. District Instructional coaches Christina Spontaneo and Andrea Marsh have all visited Fletcher this year to work with the students.