Recently I was asked to join a district committee in our school system and attend OTISS Observation Training. Honestly, when I first heard about it, I wasn’t sure what (or who) OTISS was and not really sure what I would be doing at the training. OTISS stands for Observation Tool for Instructional Supports and Systems. It is a data collection protocol that rates the quality of systems and supports which in turn assists teachers in their use of best practices for instruction. The tool is a rubric that looks at the instructor’s behaviors and defines those behaviors we should see in the classroom. For example, the tool rates how a teacher provides instruction, demonstrates instruction, engages students in instruction, provides feedback, and several other best practices. This tool is a “walkthrough” tool and is used for a ten-minute observation in the classroom.
After the training, all of the participants were asked to sign up to use the observation tool at three schools in our district. At each school, we were asked to use the walkthrough tool in ten different classrooms. Today was my first day to do the walkthroughs with the tool and I was so excited to be able to observe in classrooms. I was able to spend time in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade classes. Most of the classrooms I observed were involved in Literacy instruction. There were so many engaging and exciting things going on in these classrooms that it made me want to be a student again.
In Kindergarten, I observed students rocking out to a music video while practicing their sight words. They were working on three sight words in particular, “who”, “come” and “how”. I couldn’t help but smile as these little ones all knew the hand motions for each of the songs for these sight words. They were very engaged in the music video and intent on practicing their sight words.
In First Grade, I watched a small group of students work with the teacher as they read aloud from a reader. Each time a student would miss a word, the teacher would write it down. When they finished reading, she gave each of the students their own individual “practice list”. These were the words they needed to practice during their seat work time over the next few days. Each student had to pick a strategy they would use to figure out the words they didn’t know. I enjoyed listening to them decide on a strategy to use to help them decode the words. They talked about “Lips the Fish” (saying the first sounds of the word), “Eagle Eye” (look at the picture), “Chunky Monkey” (chunk the word), and “Skippy Frog” (skip the word, read on and come back to it). All of these little ones had strategies to help them decode the unfamiliar words.
As I walked through the upper grades, I saw posters of the Daily Cafe (Café -Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary) in the classrooms. I saw teachers using the framework and providing strategies for students.
Each of the classrooms I entered had their literacy objectives and essential questions posted on the White Board or on the Smart Board. Teachers were providing explicit and clear instructions, modeling instructional tasks and keeping students engaged during literacy instruction. I now understand OTISS or the Observation Tool for Instructional Supports and Systems and see how this data collection tool will help to improve literacy instruction in our district. I spent ten minutes in ten classrooms today and at the end of the day I was excited. I was excited for the students who have the opportunity to be engaged in great literacy instruction, excited for the teachers to have strategies and tools at their fingertips and excited for the future of the readers in our school district.