Looking Together at Student Work, Second Edition by Tina Blythe, David Allen, and Barbara Shieffelin Powell (Teachers College Press, 96 pages, $15.95)
Looking Together at Student Work is a succinct, polished, and valuable guide to the practice and outcomes of educators reviewing, thinking about, and gaining understanding from student performances and other artifacts of intellectual endeavor. The authors distill the essential ways that educators can structure their always-limited time for collaboration. Protocols, or “facilitated conversations about student work that involve multiple steps and guidelines for participation,” are key components, and Looking Together zooms in on three protocols – the Collaborative Assessment Conference, the Tuning Protocol, and the Consultancy Protocol – while acknowledging that aren’t the only useful protocols by including three case studies from schools that developed their own protocols and an extensive resource section.
Nearly any school serving nearly any range of students can benefit from Looking Together. But to use the recommended practices to improve capacity to look together at student work, schools have to change their schedules and modes of professional interaction. I read wearing a couple of hats; in one favorite hat, I’m the editor of Horace, connected to CES schools that have pioneered the use of protocols and other professional learning community-enhancing habits and practices. But in another, newer, less comfortable hat, I’m on the design team of a new public middle school soon to be opening in my city. I am eager for evidence that supports my advocacy of teacher-led professional development and schedules that support such work. In this context, Looking Together is a terrific resource, providing a specific vision of and plan for what professional learning communities do and the conditions they require.
Within schools that have well-established cycles of collaborative inquiry, experienced educators and school leaders can use Looking Together to show new colleagues snapshots of a professional learning community at work, and those new colleagues will greatly benefit from the overview. Looking Together builds reassuringly on time-honored ways that teachers interact with the results of students’ intellectual efforts, reminding us “Schools never start from scratch in collaboratively examining student work.” This attitude goes a long way to helping teachers and school leaders for whom this might be new to see the value in collaboration.