Core Observation Guide

Understanding the Rubric

Are all students engaged in the work of the lesson from start to finish?

Culture of Learning looks at whether students are doing what the teacher has asked of them in an orderly and efficient manner. Observers should look for evidence of students completing lesson activities, following behavioral expectations, and executing routines and transitions efficiently. Pacing should ensure that instructional time is not wasted, either by students sitting idle or through inefficient procedures.

Culture of Learning Examples

Watch the lesson excerpts below to see what strong evidence of Culture of Learning looks like.

Ms. Ruano, 5th Grade Math

Smooth Transitions Between Tasks

Ms. Ruano’s students are working in math centers designed to target key standards they need to review before a cumulative exam. As they approach the time to rotate stations, the teacher gives a quick command to the center table to stack up their white boards while one student rings the transition bell. With no direction from the teacher, students transition quickly and efficiently to their next stations, starting immediately on their next task. Students clearly understand and follow behavioral expectations in this class, allowing the lesson to move at an efficient pace—this full-class transition requires just two minutes to complete.

Mr. Towne, 10th-12th Grade AP Physics

Clear Classroom Routines and Procedures

Near the beginning of his lesson on temperature, we observe Michael Towne’s students follow classroom routines and procedures in an orderly and efficient manner: They move from their seats so that they can observe a demonstration, discuss observations with a partner, move back to their seats, and begin a group discussion. All of this was done with minimal direction from the teacher.

Mr. Delay, 7th Grade Social Studies

Expectations for Classroom Discussions

Mr. Delay’s students are learning about the women’s suffrage movement by reading Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Immediately prior to this clip, a fellow student has read a paragraph from Truth’s speech and the teacher has posed the question “Why is she discussing her life as a slave at this point in her monologue?” Mr. Delay signals the students to turn and talk with a neighbor, which they do quickly and enthusiastically. Students transition efficiently back to the group discussion on the teacher’s cue, and throughout the subsequent conversation, students adhere to clear expectations for contributing to the discussion—raising hands, calling on peers, attending to the speaker, etc.

Are all students working with content aligned to the appropriate standards for their subject and grade?

Essential Content requires observers to identify and analyze how well the lesson content aligns with appropriate grade-level standards. Observers should look closely at all lesson activities and materials to determine whether students are working with the right content at the right level of challenge.

Essential Content Examples

Watch the lesson excerpts below to see what strong evidence of Essential Content looks like.

Mr. Martinez, 4th Grade Math

Multiple Strategies for Solving Problems

In this segment, Mr. Martinez introduced the problem of the day—he reads “Brian ran 6 and 3/10 laps. Sebastian ran 5 and 9/10 laps. How many more laps did Brian run than Sebastian?” Adding and subtracting mixed numbers with like denominators fits squarely in the major work for fourth grade as outlined in the CCSS (4.NF.B.3C and D), and students are expected to choose one of multiple strategies (comparison on a number line, visual fraction models, etc.) to solve the problem. This type of word problem and the flexibility to use multiple strategies in solving it helps students develop a conceptual understanding of fractions and how they can be combined or decomposed rather than simply learning a rule or formula for manipulating fractions.

Ms. Hurley, 2nd Grade English Language Arts

Identifying Key Details in a Text

Ms. Hurley introduces the main work of the lesson—pulling key details from a text. This is aligned to the major work for second grade as outlined in the CCSS (RL.2.1: Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text). Ms. Hurley clearly outlines what students will be reading (a non-fiction text about the Underground Railroad, Lexile reading level 980L—at or above an appropriately challenging level for second grade) and what they should be able to know/do by the end of the lesson. Students will first work independently to identify the key details in their assigned paragraph, then work with a group to refine their thoughts, and lastly, share out with the class. These activities are all aligned to help students successfully identify key details in a non-fiction text.

Ms. Sears, 11th Grade English Language Arts

Literary Device Analysis

In this segment, Ms. Sears introduces the objective for the day: Students will be able to analyze literary devices’ literal meanings and their impact on the reader’s understanding of the themes of a text. This type of analysis connects to several grade-level-appropriate standards related to craft and structure outlined in the CCSS (RL.11.12.1, 12.3, 12.5), and the teacher guides students through naming key features of a strong discussion that hold students accountable for using text-based evidence to support their claims. While the text, Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour, falls at Lexile level 970L (generally recommended for seventh and eighth grades), the themes and literary devices woven through this text make it qualitatively appropriately challenging for these 11th-grade students.

Are all students responsible for doing the thinking in this classroom?

Academic Ownership tells us whether students are doing the cognitive heavy lifting in the lesson—in other words, are they “minds-on” or simply compliant? We look for evidence of students consistently and persistently solving problems, citing evidence to support claims, discussing, writing, and providing feedback to one another. Students in classrooms with strong Academic Ownership persist through challenging work.

Academic Ownership Examples

Watch the lesson excerpts below to see what strong evidence of Academic Ownership looks like.

Mr. Vasquez, 6th Grade Math

Multiple Avenues for Participation

Mr. Vasquez and his students are reviewing the concepts of area, perimeter, and volume by analyzing short story problems. In this segment, Mr. Vasquez leads a whole-group conversation to determine whether word problems are asking students to identify area, perimeter, or volume. All students contribute to the discussion (carry the cognitive work) by sharing their answers privately with the teacher using fingers against their chests, discussing with their seat partners through turn and talks (responding to peers), and some share by volunteering answers to the whole group. Mr. Vasquez also prompts students to cite evidence to support their conclusion that the last story problem is asking them to compute area.

Ms. Sears, 11th Grade English Language Arts

Student-Led Discussion

Ms. Sears students’ are discussing why Chopin chose to introduce the main character’s heart issues so early in the text and what this tells us about the character in the context of the time (late 1800’s). In this segment we see students sharing claims supported by textual evidence, asking clarifying questions of one another, and responding to and building on one another’s assertions. The discussion is almost entirely student-led, and students not actively contributing to the conversation are updating their notes—we see all students actively talking or typing.

Ms. Collins, 2nd Grade English Language Arts

Small Group Work

Students have been reading an informational text about firefighters. In the second half of the class, students work in small groups to respond to a series of text-based questions. We see the teacher, Ms. Collins, facilitate a discussion within one small group, during which the teacher encourages students to agree or disagree with each other, and to provide evidence from the text to support their answer.

Do all students demonstrate that they are learning?

Demonstration of Learning looks at two critical pieces—checking for understanding and student mastery. The first three descriptors ask how and how frequently students are able to demonstrate their understanding of lesson content, as well as how the teacher uses this data to inform instruction in the moment. The last descriptor asks the critical question: Are students actually on track to master grade-level content?

Demonstration of Learning Examples

Watch the lesson excerpts below to see what strong evidence of Demonstration of Learning looks like.

Ms. Hurley, 2nd Grade English Language Arts

Checking for Understanding

Students in Ms. Hurley’s ELA class are analyzing a non-fiction text about the Underground Railroad in order to pull out key details from the text. Students start by independently reading their assigned paragraph and writing the key detail they identify on a sticky note (an authentic task that gives the teacher data on how students are mastering the task); Ms. Hurley circulates to ensure that all students can write a key detail (checking for understanding). She pauses to help a struggling student and scaffolds his work rather than simply giving him the answer, pinpointing where his understanding breaks down and helping him dig in with a sentence starter.

Mr. Paulsen, 10th Grade Geometry

Common Mistakes and Misconceptions

Students in Mr. Paulsen’s geometry class are working in teams to generate a geometric proof using the givens of the problem and their knowledge of geometric rules. Mr. Paulsen has been circulating the room to check for understanding and he’s noticed a few common mistakes/misconceptions. He stops the class to point out these common mistakes and asks a student to share her evidence clarifying the first step of the problem.

Mr. Towne, 10th-12th Grade AP Physics

Discussion, Writing, and Cold Call Strategies

This clip occurs at the end of a lesson about temperature. Mr. Towne first conducted a demonstration and had students write and discuss in their groups to determine a precise definition of temperature, using academic vocabulary. In this clip, as he wraps up the lesson, he asks students to summarize in their group what they learned about temperature. All students briefly discuss, Mr. Towne clarifies the answer, and then he uses a cold-call technique: Each student is assigned the A, B, C or D person in their group and Michael calls out a letter and either has that person share with their group (as in this clip) or calls on a letter and a specific group and asks that student to share with the whole class. Finally, Mr. Towne asks each student to write the definition of temperature independently in their own words. The group discussion, writing, and cold call give all students opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the lesson objective, and Mr. Towne can use this information to assess progress.

The Core Rubric has five performance levels, ranging from Ineffective to Skillful.

A key part of assigning accurate, consistent ratings is correctly distinguishing between different levels of performance. Below we offer specific guidance on the differences between all five performance levels. The three lowest performance levels—Developing, Minimally Effective, Ineffective—tend to be the most difficult to differentiate between. When assigning ratings, use the concept of preponderance of evidence: select the performance level where the majority of the evidence aligns.

1 – Ineffective

A teacher performing at the Ineffective level shows more missed opportunities and negative evidence than they do positive evidence. They see positive evidence of the expected student outcomes less than 50 percent of the time.

2 – Minimally Effective

A teacher performing at the Minimally Effective level sees the expected student outcomes some of the time and in some instances. At this level, teachers demonstrate some novice skills, but there is clear room for improvement. On the Core Rubric, “some” means “often,” or 51-75 percent of the time.

3 – Developing

A teacher performing at the Developing level is not perfect, but clearly on the right track: They see the expected student outcomes most of the time, with most students, and in most instances. On the Core Rubric, “most” means “nearly always,” or 76-90 percent of the time.

4 – Proficient

A teacher performing at the Proficient level is seeing expected student outcomes nearly all of the time with nearly all students. On the Core Rubric, “all or almost all” means generally 90 percent of the time or higher. We believe that the best teachers—those capable of closing achievement gaps and helping all students reach their academic potential—consistently perform at the Proficient level.

5 – Skillful

The Skillful level on all five performance areas starts with “All descriptors for Level 4 are met and at least one of the following types of evidence is demonstrated.” This is because we don’t expect all teachers to perform consistently at the Skillful level; rather, Skillful performance as described by the Core Rubric highlights “north star” practices, like students self-assessing or synthesizing diverse perspectives, that may not be reasonable to expect in every lesson. Across performance areas, Skillful descriptors are characterized by strong student ownership and connections to academic and real-life goals.


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Meet Mr. Towne: a 2014 Fishman Prize winner whose classroom is Proficient or Skillful on every performance area of the TNTP Core Rubric.

To see what exemplar teaching in action looks like, spend 30 minutes watching a lesson from Michael Towne, an AP physics teacher and 2014 Fishman Prize winner.

Mr. Towne, 10th-12th Grade AP Physics Exemplar Lesson

As you watch, consider the following guiding questions:

  • Where do I see evidence of proficiency in all four performance areas?
  • What strategies does Mr. Towne use to create the classroom environment that he has created?

Take notes in whatever format is most helpful to you, whether that be a running record or taking notes by performance area. After you’ve watched the video and taken notes, take 10 minutes to compare your observations with observations and evidence collected in the Master Rater Report.


Download the Master Report

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