December 2007/January 2008 | Volume 65 | Number 4 
Informative Assessment    Pages 81-82 

Classroom Walk-Throughs

Jane L. David

Jane L. David, director of the Bay Area Research Group, begins a new research column for Educational Leadershipthis month. Coauthor with Larry Cuban of Cutting Through the Hype: A Taxpayer's Guide to School Reform, David will share with readers what research says about the effectiveness of current education reforms.

In the coming months, David will examine the research behind such approaches as project-based learning, incentives to attract teachers to high-poverty schools, and small learning communities. In framing the issues and drawing conclusions, she will draw on articles from peer-reviewed journals and reports from research institutions as well as her own 35 years of experience studying schools and districts.

We welcome readers' comments at

Touted as a systematic and efficient way to gather helpful data on instructional practices, classroom walk-throughs (also called learning walks, quick visits, and data walks) are showing up everywhere.

What's the Idea?

The idea behind walk-throughs is that firsthand classroom observations can paint a picture to inform improvement efforts. These observations typically involve looking at how well teachers are implementing a particular program or set of practices that the district or school has adopted. For example, a school principal might want to know whether teachers are able to put into practice their recent training on quick-writes and pair-shares.

In theory, before visiting classrooms, observers decide what they will focus on, what evidence they will collect, and how they will make sense of it. Afterward, they report their findings formally or informally to one or more audiences.

Walk-throughs are not intended to evaluate individual teachers or principals or even to identify them by name in postobservation reports. Rather, the goals of walk-throughs are to help administrators and teachers learn more about instruction and to identify what training and support teachers need.

What's the Reality?

The sheer variety of walk-throughs is breathtaking. They can last from 2 to 45 minutes. The group observing may range from 2 to 12 people and may include teachers, administrators, community members, and students. Walk-throughs can focus on one teacher, all teachers, or a subset of teachers and schools.

Observers sometimes question students to find out whether they understand what they are doing in the lesson and why. In other cases, observers focus on a particular instructional challenge raised by the teachers under observation: for example, use of questioning techniques and wait time. Or, in a version of walk-throughs verging on compliance monitoring, observers are armed with a checklist on which to record how the classroom furniture is arranged and whether the teacher has posted state standards targeted by the lesson.

Sometimes observers huddle in the hall to discuss what they saw and later send a written report to the school. In other cases, they meet with the faculty to share their findings and then shred their notes at the end of the day to reinforce the point that their purpose is not to evaluate teachers.

What's the Research?

Although research on walk-throughs is limited, available studies reveal wide variation in their usefulness and effects. According to an in-depth study of three urban districts conducted by the Rand Corporation, administrators find walkthroughs more useful than do teachers ...

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