So you may be thinking what is the CoLab? The Cultural Landscapes Collaboratory was founded by Dr. Ralph Cordova in 2003. It’s an informal and nonthreatening opportunity to gain insight into a lesson you plan to teach students. The process has three parts: Prebrief, Lesson Enactment, and Debrief. Now that you have some background knowledge come revisit my CoLab experience with me.
The Prebrief set the tone of the meeting for me. The “thinking partner” was warm and friendly making me feel relaxed. Her job was to interview us, and it was our first chance to talk about the Close Reading lesson to be presented to fourth grade students. Yes, I did intend to use the plural “us”. A fellow teacher, Matt Weld, attended with me. We collaborated on this lesson which was part of a project based learning unit merged with Daily 5 and Cafe. The “thinking partner” asked three questions:
- What do you want to explore in this lesson?
- What do you envision happening in this lesson?
- Once the lesson has been enacted, what do you want your students to know, your objectives?
As we answered each question, I noticed that she was restating our responses to confirm and clarify our words. No judgements were made about the lesson. It was as though we were just three educators having a conversation over a cup of tea.
It’s show time! The Lesson Enactment provides the opportunity to teach the lesson to attending teachers who participate as students would participate in the classroom. This diverse group of middle school teachers taught language arts, social studies, and band. Through this process, I did see something that I might consider changing during the lesson presentation. It was the perfect venue for determining which parts of the lesson to keep or eliminate, and which parts to improve. Participating teachers were taking notes on specific forms. This practice would give us more precise feedback, rather than random comments.
Talk about a win win! That’s the Debrief. The “thinking partner” began the discussion by asking us to revisit the lesson to determine if our objectives were met. All of the comments from the “thinking partner” and the other attending teachers were articulated in a positive and supportive manner. They used phrases such as, “I noticed….” “I would keep…, because…” ” I wonder if…” Our discussion lead to a beneficial and productive take away for us. The second “win” is for them. In addition to the debrief protocol for inquiry looking into our lesson, the enacting teachers are to envision how they could use our lesson or an included activity for an upcoming lesson in their classrooms. They are further stretched to consider what modifications would need to be made to fit their curriculum or teaching style.
This professional collaboration model is a powerful tool for fostering communication; teachers are actually sharing and articulating their thoughts in a nonthreatening environment. Think of the mentoring relationships that could form as the result of presenting a lesson. The professional growth from observing something new, taking ownership, adapting it to fit your classroom, while assisting a colleague in gaining insights into their lesson and teaching practices cannot be understated. Is it time for you to step out of the box, take some risk, and add a new dimension and energy to the instruction in your classroom?