LAFAYETTE — Educator Aimee Barber sat atop the color-blocked floor mat with some 10 kindergartners from J.W. Faulk Elementary as one of the young students led the class through consonant and vowel sounds and rhyming words.
“Can you tell me a word that rhymes with cook?” one young girl asked as she stood in front of her seated classmates. A chorus of words followed, “Book!” “Look!” “Took!”
The kindergartners’ teacher, Mary Graham, stood to the side, watching and affirming her students’ responses.
“What she is doing is putting the kids in charge,” said Barber, who teaches elementary and early education majors at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Education.
Student-led learning is a skill teachers are evaluated on and a concept Barber teaches her own students. The landscape of education has changed for teachers in the past few years with the state’s adoption of Common Core State Standards and a new evaluation system known as Compass. Graham’s instructional exercises — empowering students to lead their peers — is an example of a highly effective teacher, Barber said.
“That’s Level 4 — the highest level of effectiveness of Compass,” Barber said. “Seeing her do that gives me context to share with my students. I can tell them, ‘This is how that teacher fell into that highly effective category because she did this.’ ”
Barber and other UL-Lafayette faculty who teach aspiring teachers visited classes at Faulk, Northside High and Acadian Middle schools Tuesday to observe teachers’ lessons as a way to help refine their own.
“It helps us stay current on best practices, and it’s a good time for us to ask teachers about any problems they’re facing and about the great things happening in schools,” she said.
“We know theoretically what a highly effective teacher looks like and we convey that to our students. To see those things in action better informs our faculty for their course assignments and course work,” said Peter Sheppard, head of UL-Lafayette’s department of curriculum and instruction.
The visits are as much about observing the classroom teachers as their students, he said.
“They really value listening to students’ thinking. They come up with such amazing explanations for very practical kinds of problems,” Sheppard said.
Barber credited the teachers and principals for allowing the visit, especially the week before students leave for the holiday break.
“They have full plates right now, so to let us come in around the holidays, we’re really appreciative of that,” she said.
In a third-grade classroom, teacher Chandra Traxler began a math lesson. Students worked problems on small, dry-erase boards at their desks. Traxler walked the room, checking their answers before returning to the large, interactive SmartBoard at the front of the room.
Together, the class checked the problem and solved it using three different methods. In the back of the room, Mary Jane Ford, who teaches UL-Lafayette students math education methods, was taking notes.
“Today, she is using some of the strategies we teach our future teachers — the use of compensation to make a problem easier to subtract,” Ford said. “If they know some of the facts for nine, they can break it into two parts that they do know. It’s a thinking strategy. She’s showing them good strategies to think through the problem.”
Sheppard said in the future, he’d like the partnership with the sites to grow, with faculty co-teaching with the classroom teachers they visit each semester.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills. Contact her by phone at (337) 534-4975.