Student-Centered Labs



Today, as I prepared for a student-centered lab at our junior high, I felt a sense of accomplishment as I thought back to our beginnings in this new adventure. Last year, the instructional coaches read Student-Centered Coaching by Diane Sweeney. After reading about the labs, I decided I wanted to implement this wonderful vessel for collaboration and learning in the two schools where I work.


The student-centered lab begins with a teacher who has a new idea to share. I meet with the teacher to determine the time and date for the lab and to develop a focus question. The focus question might be something like, “How does working in small groups enhance students’ learning of new concepts?” Once teachers sign up to observe the lesson, we are in business.

On the day of the lesson, the host and observers participate in a prebrief. The host teacher shares the focus question, the lesson, any helpful materials, and other information the observers might need. The group develops a list of “Look For’s”. These are the student behaviors the group would expect to see if the lesson goes as plans. The group reads the observation norms, then heads into the classroom for the lesson.

With the notetaking device, observers take notes on the list of “Look For’s”. Teachers are watching the students, listening to their conversations, and looking at their work. This is one of the things I love about this type of observation. The focus is on the students. Now, of course, we are teachers. And we are going to notice what another teacher is doing in her classroom. The great thing is, we can SEE that those strategies are working, because we notice the student engagement, the enthusiasm, the understanding, the collaboration.

Following the observation, we participate in the debrief. Four rounds of questions help us focus on what we witnessed and how we will use it in our classrooms. We’ve all been to workshops that created excitement that motivated us to speed back to our classrooms and implement what we learned. Student-centered labs create that same energy in the room. Teachers gain new respect for their fellow educators. The buy-in for new strategies is huge because of the evidence of learning.

Whether we are learning how students create a “WOW” project in art, watching a teacher engage students by creatively asking questions, or listening to students in groups work together to understand a primary text, we are all growing as educators and as a group of collaborators.


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