Cognitive Daily

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink — and the real research it was based on — made quite a splash when it was unveiled: the idea that a teacher evaluation made in just 30 seconds could actually reliably predict teacher performance over an entire semester was certainly surprising.

The Charlotte Observer has an excellent article about how the methods pioneered by Ambady and Rosenthal are being applied in real high school classrooms. Rather than 30 seconds, principals take 3 minutes to assess each teacher’s performance, to catch problems early and intervene before they adversely affect the classroom:

The three-minute technique builds on what many principals do naturally — pop into classes, praise what’s working and talk about what’s not.”The principal is perceived as a partner, rather than an inspector,” said retired Iowa State professor William Poston, one of the creators of the program.

The book, published about five years ago, spells out what principals should look for and argues for making regular pop-ins a top priority.

Interim Superintendent Frances Haithcock brought the technique to CMS in 2005, as a judge cranked up pressure to improve teaching in low-scoring high schools.

Several studies have found the walk-throughs improve student achievement and behavior, as well as teachers’ relationship with their supervisors, Poston says. Researchers found the technique encourages teachers to trade low-level classroom strategies, such as worksheets and lectures, for more effective approaches, such as one-on-one contact and helping students discover information on their own.

If walk-throughs reveal consistent problems — out-of-control behavior, tuned-out students or teachers who aren’t covering required material, for instance — the principal can step in quickly. A teacher might get extra training in classroom management, for instance, or on how to create more stimulating lessons.

“If one day the principal is in there and it’s awful, that’s not a problem,” says Harrill. “If every day it’s awful, that’s a trend.”

The key, of course, isn’t the three-minute walkthrough. It’s clear that’s plenty of evidence for a principal to use to determine if a teacher is doing his job. The hard part is making ineffective teachers better, once it’s known that what they’re doing isn’t working.

In other news: