Instructional coaches know that if teachers have strong content knowledge, they’re better equipped to approach new state standards and topics. When teachers work through and understand content in a comprehensive way, they can better respond to student questions and manage class challenges. In many ways, a strong foundation in content can improve overall instruction.
But even with a strong intent to expand teachers’ content knowledge, you can run into time constraints that hinder this goal. There's so much content to cover in a short amount of time. That’s why it’s helpful to organize a cycle that makes the most out of this limited amount of time.
With the following steps, you can strategically deepen teacher content knowledge during your coaching cycles.
Step 1: Preview the lesson
By previewing activities and assessments with teachers, you can quickly figure out which pieces of content need the most attention.
Mary Kay Rendock, an instructional math coach for Bloomfield School District in Bloomfield, Connecticut, previews lessons with her teachers when she wants to learn more about their current content knowledge.
“Looking at lessons as a group is helpful: talking about what we see, what was unexpected, what kind of surprised [the teachers], those kinds of things. Previewing lessons can help, because then it’s not just me [figuring out what content needs to be worked on]. The teachers see it too,” said Rendock.
Step 2: Focus on specific pieces of content
Coaching cycles don’t always build in enough time to fully support teachers across subjects, so focusing on specific content pieces within lessons can help deepen teachers’ content knowledge in a shorter amount of time.
Shannon Cadden, an elementary ELA specialist for Seminole County Public Schools in Florida, hones in on specific content to strategize her time during coaching cycles and to help other instructional coaches do the same.
“During my experience working with coaches and teachers, there can be so many different things that you can coach around,” said Cadden "You definitely need to narrow your focus, because you can’t do everything at once.”
Step 3: Practice anticipating student responses
Once the content has been discussed, teachers and coaches can work together to prepare for various student responses. Answering practice student questions and anticipating common misconceptions will help teachers apply their expanded content knowledge to their instruction, and making use of lessons that have anticipated responses built in can make this step even easier to manage.
“This is a very important step and is sometimes easy to overlook,” said Cadden. “When a teacher really sits down and thinks about how their students are going to respond to the content … One of the great things about anticipating responses in this way is that it will affect their instruction.
“You can ask yourself: ‘If I know that a quarter of my kids are going to do this, is there anything that I can change on the front end of my teaching?’”
Emily Priborkin is the Marketing Communications Associate at LearnZillion. A musical theatre nerd at heart, she'll gladly recite and perform all of the music from Les Misérables on command.