Chapter 82: ATR Life
Advisory Coverage Observation Advisory:
When the Premise Is Faulty, All That Follows Is Nonsense
Response to Observation
To: Annelisse Falzone
From: Walter David Haverstock
CC: Amy Arundell, UFT Representative
Re: Formal Observation of W.D. Haverstock (file #7-----)
Date: Nov. 29, 2014
On Oct. 17, 2014 Annelisse Falzone, an ATR field supervisor, observed me in a classroom at Mott Hall Bronx H.S. and wrote a Formal Observation Report . This report is entirely arbitrary, subjective and omits key facts about the class in question.
Circumstances of the Observation
Nowhere does Ms. Falzone’s report state that this observation took place during a coverage. Although she describes the class as “your class” (1st paragraph), I had never taught these students before. I did not know any of them. Although Ms. Falzone’s report states that this class was “Grades: 10 and 11,” I was under the impression that these were 10th grade students.
Principal Kathryn Malloy refused Ms. Falzone’s attempts to arrange an observation in an ELA class. On the last day of my assignment at Mott Hall Bronx, this observation took place. I was covering a first period “advisory” class. The teacher and most of the students were out of the building on a college trip. I was not provided a list of the students who were going on the trip. Therefore I asked the students to sign an Attendance Sheet.
Three students were in the room at the start of the class (8:55 a.m.). I informed them that I was there to teach them an English lesson. They initially objected, saying that this was their “advisory” period during which they didn’t do any work. I told them that I thought they would enjoy the lesson and asked them to participate. All three of these students did participate in the lesson although there was no obligation to do so.
I don’t know if students at Mott Hall Bronx receive grades for their “advisory” period or, if so, what those grades are based on. It was clear that this lesson from this unknown teacher would not impact any of their grades. Nevertheless, these 3 students participated although I repeatedly had to refocus their attention, particularly after the 4th student showed up at 9:08 a.m., 12 minutes into the period. (See Attendance Sheet.)
Note that a fifth student entered at 9:25 a.m. This student turned out not to be on the official roster for this “advisory” class although I had no way of knowing that.
To further highlight the absurdity of this situation, I would note that principal Malloy entered the classroom at about 9:15 a.m. I won’t speculate on her purpose or motive but will only make the non-judgmental and low inference observation that she entered the room, looked around, and left after 30-45 seconds. I will draw the conclusion that she was fully aware of the fact that she had sent me into an “advisory” class with students left off a class trip for my formal observation.
In spite of the absurdity of the situation to which I was subjected by Ms. Falzone and Ms. Malloy, Ms. Falzone witnessed an effective lesson, as I will detail below. In spite of the sheen of objectivity implied by Ms. Falzone’s log of events during the class and in spite of the pretense that observations can be non-judgmental and low inference, all of her conclusions are entirely subjective.
Effective Instructional Strategies
Near the top of page 3 Ms. Falzone devotes one short paragraph to the positive elements of the lesson which include the use of “different modalities” and graphic organizers. Both of these are clearly evident in the student work, which I will attach below. She omits much, however, which I will supply in detail here.
Engages Students in Learning
Ms Falzone states that the lesson “lacked rigor and did not challenge the students to analyze or discuss the poems ….” (p. 3) She quotes me as admitting that there wasn’t as much analysis as I intended with the lesson. (She fails to indicate where this quotation ends.) Common core lessons, of course, are open ended to allow students to probe as deeply as their ability allows. I would ask Ms. Falzone how she is able to make such a judgement concerning students she had never seen before. How could anyone make such a judgement in those circumstances?
The lesson plan included 3 questions meant to engage students in analysis. These questions span the Depth of Knowledge levels - who, what and why. The level of rigor is self-evident.
I have found that copying short poems word for word and paying attention to spelling and punctuation is a useful activity for 10th grade students. It focuses them on the details of the written language at the same time as they are reading the poem for content.
Ms. Falzone suggests that I should have read the poem and should have asked the students to “write or draw a description of the images ….” Such a vague instruction would have been meaningless to the students.
Instead I attempted to engage them in the idea of sensory images by using their own prior knowledge. As noted on p. 2 of Ms. Falzone’s report, I asked them to close their eyes and visualize sensory images with which they were all very familiar - the sights and sounds and smells of a deli. I would argue that this was a far more effective way of engaging students in the aim of the lesson.
Ms. Falzone’s judgement is entirely subjective.
Promotes Positive Student Learning Outcomes
Ms. Falzone devotes a lengthy paragraph on page 3 of her report to the alleged lack of a “formative and summative assessment.” The lesson centered around the academic language of imagery. The notes taken by Student 1 clearly show the focus on the terms “visual,” “olfactory,” “auditory,” “gustatory,” and “tactile. He copied the William Carlos Williams poem that I displayed at the start of the lesson as I instructed. He then made his own drawing of a face. I instructed the students to sketch a face in order to associate images in the form of words on the page with their actual physical senses. This they did. These are the different modalities mentioned earlier, meant to engage students visually. The relationship between words on a page and physical senses was further reinforced with the graphic organizer I asked them to make. (See class notes of Student 1, Student 2 and Student 3.)
Note: Student 4 came in 12 minutes late and spent much of the period distracting the other three students with social conversation. He only took a few class notes and yet was able to orally recite 4 of the 5 academic terms at the end of the lesson.
Ms. Falzone felt that asking the students to use the academic terms orally was insufficient as an assessment tool. She acknowledges that I asked them, “Who thinks they know the five words?” at 9:33 a.m. She describes this question as “vague.” In fact, all four students could recite 4 or 5 of the words by the end of the lesson. Oral assessments are commonly used and are valuable teaching tools. In fact, in many ways oral assessments are superior to written ones because they force the student to rely on their own learning.
Ms. Falzone’s judgement is entirely arbitrary and subjective.
Demonstrates Classroom Management Skills
Ms. Falzone states that the “pace of the lesson was slow and lagging resulting in students not having enough time to complete and review the learning activity.” (p. 3)
Neither Ms. Falzone nor I had ever seen these students before. I knew nothing about their work habits, skill levels, or their ability to focus in the classroom. All I knew about them was that these were the students who were not going on the college trip. I won’t speculate on the reasons for that.
The lesson as written and taught was deliberately open ended in order to allow students to work at their own pace. This is differentiation. By the end of the class Student 1 was working on the second of the 4 poems on the green handout (“A Drinking Song” by W.B. Yeats). Student 2 was working on the first (“The Red Wheelbarrow”). Student 2 was working on the second poem. Student 4 was working on the first. This was done during the small group portion of the lesson, which I monitored to see that they were relating the images in written form to their drawings of the physical senses. They were not meant to finish all four poems. Part of the homework for the lesson was to complete all four poems in this fashion.
Ms. Falzone’s description of the pacing of this lesson is purely speculative. As I said, neither she nor I knew anything about these students. This was not an ELA class but an “advisory” period. To pretend to know how quickly these students might have worked through the activity is at best disingenuous.
Ms. Falzone’s judgement is entirely arbitrary, subjective and does not accurately reflect what happened in the classroom.
A Curious Question
During the post-observation discussion that took place that same day, Ms. Falzone asked why I hadn’t left the student work with the students. I told her that I’d collected it because I thought it would be useful to her in writing her report on the lesson. This was my last day at Mott Hall Bronx. I was never going to see these students again. The lesson was taught in an “advisory” period with no impact on student grades. Had I been their actual teacher, they would have filed their work in their folder, a system that I use to ensure the creation of a portfolio. Knowing nothing of how their English class was conducted, I determined that their work was of more value to Ms. Falzone than to them.
Now it seems to be of most value to me.
The student work is the best evidence of what actually happened during the lesson. I include it here as evidence to support my assertion that this was an effective lesson taught under very difficult circumstances and that Ms. Falzone grossly misrepresents the effectiveness of the lesson in her “Formal Observation Report.”
Could it be that Ms. Falzone didn’t want any evidence to contradict her subjective and arbitrary evaluation of my performance? Could it be that her “unsatisfactory” rating of my lesson was pre-determined? Could this be the reason for her lack of objectivity? I simply ask the questions. I know as little about these matters as I did about the students I taught for this “observation.” Nothing at all.
Signed: Date: Nov 29, 2014
EpilogueWhen the premise is fauty, all that follows is nonsense. The various plans for improvement that Ms. Falzone has given me are based on a faulty premise, the rating of an effective lesson as "unsatisfactory." But when a bureaucrat is handed a formula, that formula has to be followed, no matter how absurd.
Unlike Ms. Falzone, however, I'm no bureaucrat.