Strategies In Teaching

Strategies In Teaching

July 2nd, 2014

Teacher-Student Conferencing

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Teacher-student conferencing, whether it’s a student showing mastery of evidence or a teacher refocusing a student, is the best way for the teacher and student to get on the same page and move forward together. 
Conferencing for the younger students is less scheduled than for the older students, but the students still know where they are, what they need to know, and what they’re working on.
Watch elementary and intermediate teachers map out strategies for conferencing, discuss students’ standards-based education, and more in the following video segment.

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June 26th, 2014

Establishing Daily Rituals and Routines

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Students need a foundation of classroom behavior. This is created early in a student’s education experience. With the proper consistency and application of these rules, windows begin to open for a heightened learning experience down the road.
To open these windows the Kansas City Missouri School District relies on a student-centered learning system. This is a system where “learning is the constant, time is the variable, and students are the focus.” Teachers and staff received extensive training for this new initiative. One school relays the importance of establishing structure and routine as taught in their training.
Watch educators at Troost Elementary and Faxon Elementary:
  • Convey to students the appropriate behaviors in the classroom
  • Teach students to work individually, in pairs, and in small groups
  • Revisit rules and expectations on a continual basis

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June 18th, 2014

Making Accommodations for English Language Learners

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Helping English language learners to excel in a classroom full of fluent English students comes with its extra set of challenges, but if additional time and tools are set aside, the reward far outweighs those challenges.
Jo Gusman, president and founder of New Horizons in Education, assured, “If we make our decisions based on foundation, frameworks, and tools, then we will be successful.” Specifically, the tools used should use visual, oral, auditory, and kinesthetic adaptations to modify instructional delivery.
Watch Gusman provide examples for elementary and secondary classrooms.

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June 12th, 2014

Learning Goals: Sound Assessment and Goal Clarity

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Creating a vision for the future is the foundation for motivation. Setting specific learning goals with students prior to the actual learning gives students the foundation they need to approach learning and allows teachers to effectively assess each student.
Education expert and noted author Jay McTighe encourages his mantra that the primary purpose of assessment should be to promote student learning. He prioritized five key learning goals that range from short-term factual goals to long-term application goals. Watch him explain this list that includes:
  • Knowledge
  • Skills & Processes
  • Understanding
  • Habits of Mind
  • Long-Term Transfer Goals

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June 5th, 2014

College and Career Readiness: Project-Based Learning

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As the school year comes to a close, students’ futures come to mind. Are students prepared to enter college? How can we prepare them in the most effective way possible? 
Through a focus on project-based learning, Kentucky schools prepare students for college and careers by shifting focus from training students for one individual test to training them for life beyond the classroom. 
Watch Kentucky’s project-based learning and aligned formative assessments that have shown student improvement with:
  • Engagement and behavior
  • Development of leadership skills
  • Problem-solving techniques

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May 29th, 2014

Classroom Management: Teaching Critical Thinking Through Errors

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Teachers make mistakes in the classroom. That’s inevitable. But, if the teacher intentionally makes mistakes, students who attempt to identify those errors increase their critical thinking in the classroom while learning to critique others’ reasoning.

Evan Stoudt, a secondary teacher from New Orleans, demonstrates how to make the classroom more conducive for critical thinking by making intentional errors. Error analysis is a strategy that allows the teacher to consciously make an error during board work that widens the students’ focus during discussion and learning.

Watch Stoudt’s errors that are:

  • Readily identifiable
  • Require critical thinking
  • Have a solution

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May 16th, 2014

Common Core Lesson: Analyzing Primary and Secondary Sources About Pocahontas

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Did Pocahontas save John Smith’s life? That’s the question of the hour in Mr. Joshua Blanchfield’s 8th grade US History class.
In this PD 360 video segment, Mr. Blanchfield helps his students come to their own conclusions by reading and analyzing both primary sources (John Smith’s own writings) and secondary sources written by historians.
Watch the video and see how:
  • The students identify aspects of the text that reveal the author’s purpose
  • Working together, students determine the central ideas of a primary source
  • Students cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary sources
  • The students cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of secondary sources

This video segment aligns to ELA Literacy standards RH.6-8 1, 2, and 6.

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May 8th, 2014

Common Core Lesson: Mental Strategies for Adding Two-Digit Numbers

Video ImageIn this PD 360 video segment, Ms. Melissa Gordon, a 2nd grade teacher at Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, guides her students as they practice adding two-digit numbers using mental math strategies.

Watch the video above, and learn about some of the specifics:
  • The learning goal for this lesson is students will be able to add 10s and 20s on an open number line.
  • Standards Focus: Working together, students fluently add and subtract within 100 using strategies.
  • Standards Focus: Students make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Standards Focus: The 2nd graders are able to count within 1000, skip-count by 5s, 10s, and 100s.
  • Standards Focus: Students look for and make use of structure.
  • Students work in various math stations that include DreamBox, small group work with Ms. Gordon, writing in math, and application station, and a book station.
This video segment aligns with Math Standards 2.NBT.A.2, 2.NBT.B.5, and MP.1 & 7.
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May 5th, 2014

Formal Debate About Bullying

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In this segment, the students in Ms. Melissa Yennie’s 5th grade health class at Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan School in Hartford, Connecticut, engage in a formal debate about whether or not parents should be held responsible when their children bully others.
Within the debate process, students:
  • Analyze pieces of evidence and sources to support points of debate
  • Assess peers based on outlined criteria
  • Participate in a post-debate discussion of things that went well and things that could’ve gone better
This lesson aligns to standards L.5.6, SL.5.1a-d, 4 & 6.
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April 29th, 2014

Supporting Students After Reported Child Maltreatment

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and each week, we will be featuring a video from our new PD 360 program, "Child Abuse and Neglect."
In regards to child maltreatment, the role of schools and educators has traditionally been limited to detecting and reporting. Increasingly; however, educators are becoming involved in prevention efforts and in providing support services to children and their families.
To help support students and their families after abuse has been reported, educators can:
  • Model supportive and caring behavior for children
  • Be sensitive to children’s need for consistency
  • Provide positive experiences to help offset negative self-concept and feelings of isolation
  • Encourage children to participate in extracurricular activities
Learn more about resources available to children being served by child welfare agencies
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April 17th, 2014

Laws and Policies for Reporting Child Maltreatment

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and each week, we will be featuring a video from our new PD 360 program, "Child Abuse and Neglect."

In all states, when a teacher suspects abuse he or she is required to report the suspicion to proper authorities. Because of this, educators must know their school system’s policy based on federal and state laws for reporting suspected child maltreatment.

Watch the video above and learn about some of the specifics:

  • Each state specifies what constitutes child maltreatment in its own jurisdiction. This information can be found at
  • School districts provide guidance for filing the report.
  • Educators should maintain confidentiality and share their report only with authorized school and government agency officials.

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April 11th, 2014

Preventing Child Maltreatment

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and each week, we will be featuring a video from our new PD 360 program, "Child Abuse and Neglect."
Schools play a critical role not only in identifying and reporting child maltreatment, but also in preventing it. Schools can do this by instituting a curriculum that emphasizes social development, supporting school-community programs, and encouraging the individual initiatives of educators. This video segment outlines how schools can proactively work to prevent child maltreatment.
Watch the video, and see how:
  • Studies have shown that children respond well to curriculum with strong socialization components and are more likely to talk with educators and family members about abuse and neglect.
  • Schools can encourage educators to take individual initiative in learning how their influence can reduce child maltreatment.
  • Schools and educators can play a key part in preventing child neglect and abuse.
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April 4th, 2014

Defining Child Maltreatment

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and each week we will be featuring a video from our new PD 360 program, "Child Abuse and Neglect."

Child maltreatment takes on many forms. The United States Department of Health and Human Services identifies four main types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect. This video segment gives an overview of each of these types.
Watch the video to see definitions and discussions of:
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Neglect

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March 31st, 2014

Identifying Signs of Maltreatment

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More than any other profession, educators are central in reporting suspected child maltreatment. This segment provides guidance in identifying and evaluating evidence of neglect and abuse.
Watch the video to see how:
  • Signs of physical abuse are identified
  • Indicators of sexual abuse are given
  • Children who have been psychologically abused demonstrate certain traits
  • The physical indicators of neglect are often more subtle compared to signs of abuse

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March 26th, 2014

8th Grade Role Play: Taxation Without Representation

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Often, the best learning comes from stepping into the shoes of someone else. In this video segment, Ms. Amanda Griffin, an 8th grade history teacher at Newton-Conover Middle School in Conover, North Carolina, discusses how taxation without representation contributed to the colonial unrest that led to the Revolutionary War. She then has her students step into colonialist shoes to get a taste of the emotions underpinning that unrest.

Watch the video below and observe as:
  • The students, working in groups, determine the central ideas of a secondary source.
  • The students provide an accurate summary of the source.
  • The students engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • Using Skittles to pay their taxes, the students experience the frustrations of taxation without representation.
The lesson aligns with ELA Standards SL.8.1 and RH.6-8.2.
This video also includes a downloadable lesson plan on PD 360.
March 13th, 2014

2nd Grade Math Lesson: Solving Story Problems with Hidden Information

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In this segment, Ms. Angie Sigmon, a 2nd grade teacher at Shuford Elementary in Conover, North Carolina, guides her students as they solve addition and subtraction story problems that contain number-related words. Each student has an iPad to work on throughout the day.
Watch the video below and observe students:
  • Using addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems
  • Using different strategies such as "count on" to solve problems
  • Moving to different stations that include students solving problems with Ms. Sigmon, math journaling, and watching a math video lesson
  • The lesson aligns with Math Standard 1.OA.A.1 and Math Practice Standard 1.
This video also includes a downloadable lesson plan on PD 360.

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March 5th, 2014

Common Core Lesson: Investigating Thermodynamics

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In this segment, Mr. David Schouweiler, a chemistry teacher at Newton-Conover High School in Newton, North Carolina, guides his students as they conduct experiments and evaluate the results to explore the principles of thermal energy and heat transfer.

Watch the video below and observe students:

  • Working in pairs; students will be moving from station to station
  • Engaging in think-pair-share strategy, writing results in their notebooks
  • Precisely following a complex multi-step procedure when carrying out experiments
  • Conducting an investigation to provide evidence about the transfer of thermal energy within a closed system
  • Synthesizing information from a range of sources into a coherent understanding of a concept

This lesson aligns to the following standards:

  • Common Core State Standards: ELA Standards RST.11-12.3 & 9
  • Next Generation Science Standards: Physical Science Standards HS-PS3-4

This video also includes a downloadable lesson plan on PD 360.

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February 25th, 2014

No Strings Attached: Technology in the Classroom Series Student Email

If email isn’t already a daily part of elementary students’ lives, it soon will be. And that’s a very good thing, especially considering all the learning opportunities that come with lessons about using email.

In this video, watch as a district technology literacy coach shares her insights into safe and productive email lessons, including:

  • Some websites and online services she likes to use
  • The writing and composition skills that go along with learning how to use email
  • And some incredibly valuable activities that are made possible by email

Watch the video for some great ideas about using email in your own classroom. Find more ideas in the Technology in the Classroom video series.

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February 14th, 2014

Citing Evidence from a Science Text

8th Grade ELA

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One of the crucial skills for students to learn in any science class is how to properly analyze and cite evidence when evaluating ideas. Used properly, these strategies generate greater understanding and communication of key ideas.

In this video, 8th grade science teacher Emily Cunningham at Stephens Middle School in Salem, Oregon, guides her students as they analyze and cite evidence from a science text. Watch the new ELA video to see the steps and techniques she teaches

Find more ideas to help implement the Common Core Standards in the Common Core in the Classroom program.

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February 7th, 2014

Classroom Management: Classroom Humor

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Humor in the classroom can help you communicate concepts as well as help keep attention focused where it needs to be. It also contributes to a positive learning environment that fosters supportive relationships among students and teachers.

Appropriate classroom humor is constructive and inclusive, and may include:
  • Playful banter
  • Pop culture references
  • Laughing at oneself
  • Laughing with students (but never at them)

Learn more about using classroom humor by viewing the video segment from the new Classroom Management program on PD 360.
January 31st, 2014

Five Principles of Effective Classroom Assessments

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Classroom assessments are vital to seeing continuing improvements in student achievement.
So it’s important to keep in mind that the primary purpose of assessment should be to promote student learning. Assessments should focus on the educational outcomes that matter most, not just on those things that are easiest to test and quantify.
How can an assessment serve as a vehicle for learning as well as a tool for measurement? Varied learning goals require varied methods of assessment.
The goals should incorporate these five principles for effective classroom assessment:
  • Ensure that assessment serves learning
  • Use multiple measures
  • Align assessments to goals
  • Measure what matters
  • Ensure that assessments are fair and equitable
Learn more about these goals as outlined by Jay McTighe by viewing video segments from the Core Learning: Assessing What Matters Most program on PD 360.
January 23rd, 2014

Classroom Management: A Framework for Student Success

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Most teachers envision the ideal classroom as one where content is rigorous and activities are engaging and relevant. They imagine a classroom where students are actively questioning, listening, and sharing—working collaboratively and showing respect for each other and the learning environment.
Though not every lesson happens in this “ideal classroom,” using a classroom management framework with effective components like the ones below can contribute to a learning environment where all students can succeed.
  • Set a vision and high expectations
  • Establish clear procedures
  • Foster relationships and offer support
  • Provide relevant, engaging instruction
  • Define appropriate interventions and redirection strategies

Learn more about the newly added classroom management strategies by viewing video segments in the Classroom Management program on PD 360.

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January 20th, 2014

Engaging Students in Literacy Development

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Student engagement is key to the success of any lesson. To help keep her students engaged as they develop literacy skills, Ms. Julie Wolfrum, a 2nd grade teacher from Alpharetta, Georgia, uses the Daily 5™ in her classroom.
Her students have five areas that they can choose from during the designated time:
  • They can listen to reading
  • They can read to themselves (choosing from a book box containing books at the student’s reading level)
  • They can read with someone
  • They can work on writing
  • They can work on words (also called Word Work)
In Ms. Wolfrum’s experience, when using the Daily 5™ it’s important to keep a variety of activities first and foremost, so the students don’t lose interest, but also ensure each activity is developmentally appropriate for each student.
Find more teaching strategies like this one by viewing video segments in the Teaching Strategies program in PD 360.
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January 10th, 2014

Classroom Management: Narrating Positive Behavior

Classroom Management Narrating Positive Behavior

Narrating positive behavior in the classroom allows teachers to reinforce their instructions in a constructive way, drawing attention to desired behavior instead of misbehavior.
Effective behavior narration begins with teachers giving clear, step-by-step directions. After giving directions, teachers identify individuals or groups who are following the instructions and briefly describe their actions to the class.
Younger elementary students typically appreciate positive individual recognition, while older students may prefer not to be singled out. They may respond better to behavior narration that targets groups more than individuals.
Learn more about the newly added classroom management strategies by viewing video segments in the Classroom Management program on PD 360.
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December 13th, 2013

Common Core in the Classroom: Exploring Theme and Character in Fiction

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Ms. Christine Fulton, a 3rd grade teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana, helps her students cite evidence from text to explain character actions and motivations in a story (lesson aligned with 3rd grade Common Core ELA standard Reading Literature one and three).

As part of her lesson, Ms. Fulton allows some students to separate for independent reading while she meets with one group of students at a time to discuss what they are reading and assess their comprehension with a series of questions.

“[In 3rd grade], it’ really important that they’re building their reading fluency,” says Ms. Fulton. “What we’re mostly doing is discussing in a sort of book talk environment about what they’ve read and what they’ve come up with while they were reading.”

Learn more about Common Core-focused classroom lessons by viewing video segments in the Common Core in the Classroom program in Common Core 360.

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December 5th, 2013

Six Strategies to Promote Respect for LGBTQ Students in Schools

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A recent federal report found that over a quarter of American students from 12 to 18 were bullied during the school year. Also, about nine percent of students reported being called a hate-related word.

LGBTQ students—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning—have a much higher chance of being verbally harassed and are far more likely to face other forms of bullying than the average student.

To help prevent bullying of LGBTQ students, educators can use these six strategies to promote respect in their schools:

  • Support a comprehensive anti-bullying policy in your school
  • Establish and model an expectation of respect for all students
  • Respond effectively to anti-LGBTQ language
  • Support a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance)
  • Designate your classroom as a safe place
  • Listen to students

Learn more about this strategy and other bullying prevention strategies by viewing additional segments in the “Bullying” folder in the Compliance Series in PD 360.

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November 21st, 2013

Formative Assessment: Three-Sentence Essays

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Ms. Christy Reasons, a 12th grade ELA teacher in Shelby County, Tennessee, uses three-sentence essays on an exit ticket to formatively assess student understanding of lesson content.
Three-sentence essays allow students to synthesize their learning and teachers to efficiently monitor student progress. In their three-sentence essays, students are asked to do the following:
Claim it—claim the big ideas
Cite it—cite the information for those ideas         
Clarify it—explain how it all works together to present a message
In Ms. Reason’s experience, “What makes students more engaged is picking the right content and picking the right strategies.”
Learn more about this strategy and our other new teaching strategies by viewing other segments in theTeaching Strategies program in PD 360.
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November 15th, 2013

Common Core in the Classroom: Strategy for Open-Ended Questions

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At Harriet Tubman Elementary in Newark, New Jersey, 5th grade teacher Yvonne Copprue-McLeod teaches a lesson about reading comprehension and answering open-ended questions using textual evidence.
Ms. Copprue-McLeod’s strategy for her lesson is to have students work in groups, using specific details from the text to draw inferences and answer questions about the main character in the text. This lesson is aligned with multiple 5th grade Common Core ELA standards (RL.5.1, RF.5.4, SL.5.1, SL.5.4).
Throughout the lesson, Ms. Copprue-McLeod observes her students’ discussions and helps them by stepping in where necessary to clarify a point or to ask guiding questions that will help students dive deeper into the text.
Learn more about Common Core-focused classroom lessons by viewing video segments in the Common Core in the Classroom program on Common Core 360.
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November 8th, 2013

Math Practice Standards: Attend to Precision

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According to Standard 6 of the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, mathematically proficient students “attend to precision.” They use clear definitions in communicating with others.
Robert Oswald, a teacher in Cumming, Georgia, elaborates on the importance of precision in the classroom, “It’s so important to use the vocabulary correctly when I’m presenting it, when I’m modeling it, or else the kids don’t have a chance to reproduce it in a way that will help someone else understand what they’re talking about.
In addition to expressing numerical answers with an appropriate degree of precision, proficient students also work to calculate numbers accurately and efficiently.
Learn more about the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice by viewing other segments in the Math Practice Standards program in PD 360.
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November 1st, 2013

The Benefits of Practical Lesson Study

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Lesson Study is a course of action where teachers work together to plan classroom lessons, observe the teaching and learning experience during the lesson, analyze the content and delivery, and then make changes in the lesson to make it better. At the heart of Lesson Study is the concept that all students can learn and all teachers can improve.
Lesson Study has both its benefits and hurdles. It may seem like an overwhelming process, but there is consensus that the teaching and learning process is significantly improved, and students are more engaged in the learning environment.
Mary Ellen Richichi, 5th grade teacher, explains the benefits she has seen with Lesson Study, “Your lessons come alive through Lesson Study… when the final lesson is completed there’s such passion and research into it that the kids are getting a wealth of knowledge compared to an individualized isolated lesson.”
Learn more about the benefits of Lesson Study by viewing other segments in the Practical Lesson Study program in PD 360.
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October 24th, 2013

Helping Students Develop Group Collaboration Skills

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Students can develop effective collaboration skills by reviewing criteria for successful group interaction before group activities, and reflecting on their collaboration after the activity.
In this week’s video, Comeshia Williams, a teacher in Shelby County, Tennessee, guides her students through specific criteria for collaboration in the classroom, including the following:
Respecting group members and their opinions
Asking clear thinking questions
Politely asking for “private think time,” if needed
After a group activity, Ms. Williams has the students reflect on their progress of how they used the collaboration skills reviewed in class. She explains, “After they assess themselves, they’ll write a paragraph at the end to tell me which of those interactions they felt like they used the most, they felt really comfortable with, and what interactions they need a little more support and work on.”
Learn more about helping students develop group collaboration skills and other teaching strategies by viewing other segments in the Teaching Strategies program in PD 360.
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October 21st, 2013

Preparing a Technology-Infused Lesson

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When preparing to use technology in a classroom lesson, it’s important that the technology becomes part of the lesson, and that the lesson is not about the technology.
Monica Montes, 5th grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Salt Lake City, Utah, elaborates, “The thing you start with as the foundation is ‘what’s the curriculum standard and objective that you’re trying to reach?’
“Then you look at that curriculum standard and think, ‘How could we make this task real, motivating, and engaging for students? What kind of technology could be used so that the end product would match what the standard says?’”
The key to using technology is to use it to help make the lesson more authentic. For example, with Google Maps, what students once could only see as a dot on a map, they can now see from a street view. Through tools like Skype, blogs, apps, and more, lessons can be brought to life in a way they couldn’t before.
Learn more about preparing a technology-infused lesson by viewing other segments in the Technology Pedagogy program in PD 360.
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October 11th, 2013

Math Practice Standards: Using Appropriate Tools Strategically

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The Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice outline critical skills that prepare students to use mathematics to confidently solve problems and justify their solutions.
One of these skills is learning how to use “appropriate tools strategically” (Standard 5). It’s important to help students know what tools are available to them and how to select which tool to use when solving a mathematical problem.
Proficient students familiarize themselves with appropriate tools and determine when they are useful for a task. By using appropriate tools strategically, students can detect possible errors and visualize results using technology.
Learn more about teaching with the math practice standards by viewing other segments in the Math Practice Standards program in PD 360.
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October 3rd, 2013

Active Learning Strategies for Student Engagement

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Engaging students in the classroom can sometimes be a challenge. However, by using active learning strategies, you can break up the traditional lecture and draw students into productive learning.

One of these strategies is called “note making.” To break up a lecture, note making can begin with a simple summary.  During the lesson, you pause at what you’re doing and give the kids a chance to summarize what was just discussed. There are five ways students can process their summarizing:

  • Back and forth with a partner
  • Back and forth with the teacher
  • Draw a picture
  • Write it down
  • Silent think time

Learn more active learning strategies by viewing the following video segment and other segments in theConscious Classroom Management program in PD 360.

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September 30th, 2013

Guide Student Reading Comprehension with the RATE Method

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The ability to dissect and understand a text means much more than just reading it. To help her students comprehend complex texts, Christy Reasons, a teacher from Shelby County, Tennessee, uses the RATE method.

  • Read
  • Annotate
  • Think
  • Encode

Ms. Reasons explains, “The RATE strategy is a device that I’ve used for them to read with a pen in their hand and annotate, think about the text, and then encode it (put it into the words they get).”

Learn more about guiding reading comprehension and other teaching strategies in the Teaching Strategiesprogram in PD 360.

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September 20th, 2013

Using Practical Equity Walkthroughs to Close Achievement Gaps

In the circles of education, it is widely accepted that an achievement gap exists between Brown, Black, Asian, and White students. This racial achievement gap is often evidenced in the performance gap between students of color.

Teachers can help close this achievement gap by using practical equity walkthroughs. In these walkthroughs, teachers (usually members of a practical equity walkthrough team) have the opportunity to observe learning inside each other's classrooms. 

Unlike traditional walkthroughs where the focus is on what the teacher is doing, the practical equity walkthrough team focuses specifically on how the students are learning. The practical equity walkthrough cycle involves four steps:

  1. The teacher meets with the team and asks them to observe his/her focus students.
  2. The team visits the classroom to observe the focus students.
  3. The team gathers to share what they observed.
  4. The team returns to the classroom to see if their feedback worked.

Learn more about practical equity walkthroughs by viewing the video segments in the Practical Equity Walkthroughs program in PD 360.

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September 13th, 2013

Practical RTI: Monitoring Student Progress

A successful response to intervention (RTI) program includes three key proficiencies: creating and administering assessments, monitoring student progress on an ongoing basis, and making decisions about student placement based on data.

This week, we’ll dive deeper into the second proficiency: monitoring student progress on an ongoing basis. Knowing which students need help in your classroom can be a daunting task. One strategy to help monitor student progress effectively is to assign students to one of three tiers:

  1. Benchmark group (students who understand 80% of the content)
  2. Strategic group (20% of students who will need some form of intervention)
  3. Intensive group (5% of the strategic group that need even more intervention)

Tier one involves the response to all students during a daily classroom lesson. Tier two is for children exhibiting some difficulty responding to the curriculum (designed to be shorter term). Tier three includes children really having difficulties responding to the delivery of instruction (students need more intensive support than tier two).

Education consultant Kimberly Honnick elaborates, “Generally what we’re doing is [determining] specific interventions that align with specific difficulties they’re having.”

Learn more about effective response to intervention strategies by viewing the video segments in the Practical RTI program in PD 360.

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September 6th, 2013

Student Collaboration and Engagement

Waukesha STEM Academy (part of CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network) is taking a personalized approach to learning, beginning with their nontraditional definition of STEM—Strategies That Engage Minds.

At Waukesha STEM Academy, "connect time" is designated each day for students to collaborate with and seek guidance from teachers and peers. During connect time, students have a lot of choices as to what they can do:

  • Take extra time to work on a personal school project
  • Collaborate and work with peers on schoolwork
  • Receive help on an assignment
  • Receive tutoring on a specific topic or concept

Principal Ryan Krohn further explains the environment at Waukesha STEM Academy, “Having students come into a math classroom is not our goal. Having students have a math teacher is not our goal. Our goal is to have students see themselves as developing problem solvers.”

Learn more innovative strategies for student collaboration and engagement by viewing the video segments in the Student-Centered Learning program in PD 360.

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August 29th, 2013

Back to School: Attention Getters

School is just starting, and the rules, routines, and techniques you establish in your classroom on day one make a difference all year long.

Creating rules for getting students’ attention is just one of the many you will establish this year. By establishing call and response techniques, you maximize participation and time on task by quickly gaining students’ attention.

To give you some ideas for getting students’ attention, here is list of some types of “attention getters” featured in this video segment:

  • Chants
  • Call backs
  • Rhymes
  • Sayings

Learn more about attention getters and other teaching strategies in the Teaching Strategies program in PD 360.

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August 23rd, 2013

Creating a Math-Task Culture in the Classroom

Increasing students’ critical thinking is a major objective of math tasks, the task-based approach to math instruction.

Teachers design math tasks to engage students in cognitive struggle: the challenging, trial-and-error process of applying mathematical reasoning to a problem with several possible entry points and solution pathways.

Evelyn Shoell, 4th grade math facilitator, explains, “Cognitive struggling is really important inside of mathematics. When children learn by memorization or by rote, it’s something that they can recall, but they do not have any webbing or any schema behind it to be able to pull it back out.”

To support students in the transition to task-based instruction, whether in math or in other subject areas, teachers can begin by creating a classroom culture in which students feel motivated to attempt the problems and safe to struggle with them.

Learn more about creating a math-task culture in the classroom by viewing the videos segments in the Teaching with Math Tasks program on PD 360.

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August 14th, 2013

Four Strategies to Support Student-Centered Learning

Student-centered learning looks different in every school, because individual students have individual learning needs. At the Manchester School of Technology (MST) in Manchester, New Hampshire, educators are focusing on students by supporting competency-based learning.

The Manchester School of Technology’s competency-based learning model embeds rigorous academic standards into career and technical education courses, allowing students to demonstrate knowledge in a way that means something to them.

Stephen Koziatek, design communication instructor at MST, gives four important student-centered learning strategies for educators to remember:

  • Provide meaningful learning opportunities for students
  • Allow students to explore
  • Help students to think beyond a textbook
  • Allow students to develop a positive outlook on themselves that they’re capable of

Learn more about student-centered learning strategies at Manchester Schools of Technology by viewing video segments in the Student-Centered Learning program on PD 360.

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August 1st, 2013

Personalization and Pathways for Student Success

The second of six drivers of student success highlighted in the LumiBook, Global Education Study: Six Drivers of Student Success is “personalization and pathways for student success.”

High-performing school systems expect all students to achieve; there is not a significant academic achievement gap. This success stems from developing coherent and accessible pathways for all students.

High-performing school systems establish academically and vocationally connected pathways beginning in the early learning years that include:

  1. A focus on the well-being of individual children that provides for childcare, health care, and preschool
  2. An accessible transition gateway from elementary to secondary to postsecondary education
  3. Core competencies and educational programs relevant to students’ personal and career interests that meet the needs of the overall economy

All essential components within and between the pathways are aligned with one another and provide feedback to all stakeholders throughout the system.

Learn more about the LumiBook, Global Education Study: Six Drivers of Student Success when you log in to PD 360 and search within your LumiBook bookshelf (if you have a PD 360 license, you automatically receive this LumiBook). If you don’t have a PD 360 license, click here to sign up for your free copy of the LumiBook.

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July 26th, 2013

Benefits of the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards

In 2011, the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium released the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards as a resource to help move to a consensus on a new vision of teaching for today’s learners.

Education Program Specialist Carlene Kirkpatrick N.B.C.T. from the Georgia Department of Education and member of the committee revising the standards explains, “We wrote the InTASC standards with the idea that this isn’t [just for] beginner teachers anymore; we are talking about standards for all teachers.”

The InTASC standards provide multiple benefits for teachers:

  • An articulation of what teachers should know and be able to do
  • A national focal point for dialogue defining what constitutes effective classroom teaching
  • A common language to use in the 21st century about teaching and learning

Learn more about the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards when you sign up for your free copy of the LumiBook, InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards: An Interactive Guide to Understanding and Applying the Standards Toward Teacher Effectiveness and Student Success.

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July 18th, 2013

Common Core in the Classroom: Research and Persuasion

Ms. Stephanie Buquoi, a first-grade English teacher at Shiloh Point Elementary School in Cumming, Georgia, facilitates her students’ development of research and persuasive writing skills so they can appeal to the manager of Petco to donate a pet to their classroom.

Ms. Buquoi’s lesson is aligned with multiple first-grade Common Core ELA standards (W.1.6-8; RI.1.5; SL.1.1, 3, & 5). Her lesson includes the following:

  • Defining a clear goal—persuading the manager of Petco to donate a pet to their classroom
  • Discussing the elements of persuasion—as a class and in small groups, sharing and learning what elements of persuasion are and how they are used
  • Researching the kind of pet for the classroom—students (in groups) look up the cost of caring for the various pets they would like to have in the classroom

Ms. Buquoi’s lesson engages her students by giving them the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned about the elements of persuasion to make a case for the type of animal they want for a class pet.

Learn more about Common Core-focused classroom lessons by viewing video segments in the Common Core in the Classroom program on Common Core 360.

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July 3rd, 2013

Teaching with Math Tasks: Systems of Equations

“There’s a lot of research that tells us that if you start with a mathematical task first, then students develop conceptual understanding before they start using the set procedures,” explains David Smith, Elementary Mathematics Specialist for the Utah State Office of Education.

Carrie Bala, a math teacher from Wasatch High School in Heber, Utah, uses math tasks to guide her students in creating and solving a system of equations to determine movie ticket prices. The lesson begins by giving the students a table to work from that includes the following data:

  • The number of children that came to a theater
  • The number of adults that came to a theater
  • The total money that was generated at the cash register at the movie theater
  • A date range of seven days

The objective of the lesson is for the students to practice the skills they already have solving systems and for them to try and prove that regardless of the system, by using the properties of equality, the solution won’t change.

Learn more about building student-centered learning communities by viewing video segments in the Teaching with Math Tasks program on PD 360.

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June 20th, 2013

Building Student-Centered Learning Communities

In the student-centered instructional model, students take ownership for their learning, often choosing their own projects to meet their goals rather than simply receiving information, completing assignments, and taking tests.

The process of building a successful student-centered learning community begins with three preliminary activities that are critical to a successful implementation:

  • Creating a shared classroom vision
  • Developing a common language
  • Maintaining daily rituals and routines

In student-centered learning environments, the school year begins with students creating a shared vision. This process sets the stage for how the classroom will function during the year and how it will look and sound. It is in this type of learning environment where students first begin to understand that they are at the center of their learning. 

Learn more about building student-centered learning communities by viewing video segments in the Practical Student-Centered Learning program on PD 360.

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June 7th, 2013

Closing the Achievement Gap through Practical Equity Walkthrough Teams

Talking about race and equity in education can be uncomfortable, but for change to take place, equity education must move to the forefront and become a priority. Only when it is a priority will educators be able to close the achievement gap and improve the quality of instruction for all learners.

One approach to closing the achievement gap is to create a practical equity walkthrough team in the school. This team functions like a residence team giving feedback about how the students are responding to the instructional practice.

Unlike the traditional walkthroughs where the focus is on what the teacher is doing, the practical equity walkthrough team focuses specifically on how the students are learning. They do this through the practical equity walkthrough cycle, which includes four steps:

  1. The teacher meets with the team and asks them to observe her focus students.
  2. The team visits the classroom to observe the focus students.
  3. The team gathers to share what they observed.
  4. The team returns to the classroom to see if their feedback worked.

Learn more about closing the achievement gap through practical equity walkthrough teams when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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May 30th, 2013

Teaching Strategies for Elementary and Secondary Students

This week, we wanted to share segments from our newest PD 360 program—Teaching Strategies.

Elementary: This strategy for elementary students is demonstrated by two school teachers using mail, or letters to the class, to introduce the learning target of a math lesson. The letters appeal to the students' imagination and create a setting for problem-based math instruction.

Secondary: This strategy for secondary students is demonstrated by twelfth grade teacher Christy Reasons at Germantown High School in Shelby County, Tennessee, helping her students analyze an excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Society and Solitude." Using the RATE method, students read, annotate, and think about the text. They then "encode," or explain their understanding of and connections to the text, as they discuss it in groups.

Learn more about these teaching strategies for elementary and secondary students when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up. To view more of the recently added teaching strategies, click on the Teaching Strategies program in the PD 360 video library.

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May 23rd, 2013

Working in PLCs to Develop Assessments

Related to the work of curriculum planning and development is the work of assessments. PLC members must be skilled in creating, administering, and analyzing assessments so the educators can target each student and meet individual needs.

When designing and administering assessments, PLCs need to be focused on what happens in the classroom and upon current student work. After administering assessments in the classroom on a regular basis, teachers then analyze those results back within their PLCs.

With a focus on assessments, PLCs help teachers react more quickly and decisively when students are struggling with content.

Learn more about developing assessments within PLCs when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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May 21st, 2013

Connecting Effort and Achievement for Students

Students need to see the relationship between effort and achievement. Reinforcing effort benefits students at every phase of the teacher learning cycle.

It is important to demonstrate to students what the result of their efforts will be. “If you evaluate students on effort, and there is a relationship between working hard and getting smart, then make sure that you have defined effort and you’d made it concrete for them,” explains Salle Quackenboss.

When students know that their efforts will make a difference, they will come to appreciate that their effort becomes an intrinsic motivating force.

Learn more about connecting effort and achievement for students when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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May 9th, 2013

How to Create and Teach Math Tasks

When creating tasks to support learning aligned with core mathematical standards, the planning is the big part of the task. Start by asking, "What's my mathematical objective?" Then in planning a math task, teachers identify and make available appropriate tools and resources for students to choose from:

  • Determine how and when students will work independently
  • Determine how and when students will work in groups
  • Decide the format in which students will record and present their work
  • Plan how the task may be approached in different ways by students at varying levels of understanding

Diana Suddreth, secondary math specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, explains how this approach can make a difference in the classroom: "Instead of a teacher proposing and expecting students to do it a certain way, they propose a math task that has multiple entry points so there's not necessarily one right way to do it."

Learn more about creating and teaching math tasks when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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May 6th, 2013

Preparing Questions to Improve Learning and Thinking

Good questions, effectively delivered, can facilitate student learning. They serve to motivate and focus student attention while providing opportunities for practice and rehearsal. Questioning functions as a yardstick of how well students are processing information at deeper levels.

To make learning truly effective for all students, teachers must do the following:

  • Identify the instructional purpose
  • Determine the content focus
  • Select the cognitive level
  • Consider wording and syntax

Alone, away from the students, during preparation time, is when the teacher formulates effective, educative questions.

Learn more about formulating effective, educative questions when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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April 30th, 2013

The 15 Guiding Principles of Student-Centered Learning Communities

The student-centered system is facilitated through a blended learning model organized by instructional level rather than grade level. These 15 principles act as a guide for schools implementing student-centered learning communities:

  1. Teachers and students create a learner-centered environment.
  2. Teachers act as both facilitators and activators.
  3. Students assume responsibility for goal setting as well as attaining proficiency on learning targets.
  4. Curriculum is organized into individual learning targets.
  5. Students generate evidence of mastery of state, national, and international standards.
  6. Differentiated instruction is essential for success.
  7. Instruction and assessment are linked.
  8. Learning targets are grouped by levels.
  9. Students are grouped by instructional levels.
  10. Student progression is based on mastery of content, not time.
  11. Performance rubrics will be used to evaluate mastery of learning targets
  12. Students and teachers have seamless technology available.
  13. Students are able to communicate their progress relative to personalized learning goals.
  14. Students will maintain portfolios to track evidence of mastery of learning targets.
  15. Instructional strategies match individual student’s needs to improve student performance.

Learn more about the 15 guiding principles of student-centered learning communities when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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April 23rd, 2013

Focus, Alignment, and Feedback

During the spring of 2012, five different teams from Battelle for Kids made three-day, on-site visits with the leaders of the highest-performing school systems in the world. While there remain great differences within and among the systems, there were six common drivers leading to student success.

Each driver of success is addressed through a systemic approach grounded in three things:

  • Focus—"the what"
  • Alignment—"the how"
  • Feedback—"the how we make it better"

These school systems are disciplined to maintain focus on their goals for improvement. Alignment refers to the practices they use systematically to maintain the focus, and feedback is how they use information to drive desired results, behaviors, and investments.

Learn more about the six drivers of student success and how you can use them in your school system when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required) in the free LumiBook from Battelle for Kids. If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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April 16th, 2013

Implementing the First Steps of Practical Lesson Study

Practical Lesson Study is a course of action where teachers work together to plan classroom lessons, observe the teaching and learning experience during the lesson, analyze the content and delivery, and then make changes in the lesson to make it better.

The foundation of Practical Lesson Study is based on teachers collaborating with one another to improve teaching and learning in the classroom. It is a process that evolves slowly over time.

The first step includes educators evaluating how lessons are currently being taught. Fran Herrin, a principal in Key West, Florida, explains, "Lesson Study actually has been an evolution in our school. We started out with learning about reflective practice, looking at our own teaching and trying to reflect on lessons."

Practical Lesson Study begins by asking two important questions: How can we improve our practices? What can we do differently in our classrooms to meet the needs of students?

Learn more about Practical Lesson Study when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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April 1st, 2013

Student Progress Reporting that Communicates Effectively

Reporting that communicates accurate and complete information to parents cannot be overemphasized. Ingrid Neitsch elaborates, "We need to let our parents know where our students are in relation to the curriculum and the curricular expectations that come along with that."

If the purpose of the reporting system is to communicate with the parent or student, then the language must be clear. Thomas R. Guskey further describes this point, "A lot of things that we use in education that we thought all parents understand, they just don't. We have a whole series of language and vocabulary that we use that parents have no recognition of whatsoever."

It can be difficult to pool effort, homework, classroom behavior, and other measurements all into one symbol on a student report card. Does the grade mean that they achieved everything well? Does it mean that the work was really neat and they worked hard? Who knows? What we need to do is think about how we can provide a better reporting system that is more accurate.

Learn more about creating an effective reporting system when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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March 26th, 2013

How to Evaluate Your Professional Development Program

The staff development evaluation process is divided into three big phases. Phase one is the planning phase. The planning phase assures that the staff development program that will be evaluated has a high likelihood of being successful due to being "well-designed" and thought-out.

Before evaluating any professional development program, the evaluator needs to ask whether the program is feasible, clear, and sufficiently powerful to produce the intended results—is it worth doing? Specifically, evaluators need to look at the following measurements:

  • Goals
  • Standards of success
  • Indicators of success
  • Theories of change
  • Logic models

Learn more about the specific measurements for evaluating professional development when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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March 15th, 2013

Helping Students to Generate and Test Hypotheses

Students when challenged can produce meaningful projects that can help them learn to generate and test hypotheses.

Generating and testing hypotheses requires students to reason inductively and deductively. Through inductive reasoning, students move from an understanding of different facts to a generalization about those facts. Much the opposite, deductive reasoning moves students from an understanding of a generalization to ideas about the facts that create the generalization.

The broader category of generating and testing hypotheses includes the following:

  • Inductive reasoning
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Problem solving
  • System analysis
  • Decision making
  • Historical investigation
  • Invention

View the videos below to see how teachers across the United States are implementing these strategies to help students generate and test hypotheses (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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March 8th, 2013

How Action Research Improves Classroom Instruction

Traditionally, teachers have been the subjects or consumers of others' research. Action Research, however, involves teachers directly in researching their own practice through topics they select to explore.

The purpose of Action Research is to help teachers improve their instructional practices by reflecting deeply on their work. Cathy Caro-Bruce, a staff development specialist, explains why it is vital for educators to have a clear understanding of what Action Research is:

"What is Action Research? It's a process in which participants examine their own practice. That piece of looking at your own practice is really critical. It implies that while you're doing your work, you're taking action. You're looking at a question, you're collecting some data, you're reflecting on it, and then you might try something new. You might refine your question, try something different, or collect some more data, but you're active while you're doing it; it's not a passive activity."

Learn more about this week's strategy when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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March 4th, 2013

Classroom Management: When Consequences Don't Work

What to do when consequences don't work may require additional effort despite the incorporation of classroom management procedures, rules, and consequences. It is not easy to change behavior. If students are to change and break the cycle of misbehavior or apathy, five things have to be in place:

  • The students must want to change.
  • They have to know how to change.
  • Students must have opportunities to practice changing.
  • They need to be conscious of their choices.
  • Students need to receive ongoing support.

A shorthand version of breaking the cycle is called "the conversation." While it won't necessarily permanently change student behavior, it can lengthen the time between misbehaviors. The conversation takes place after the student has completed his or her consequence and consists of three steps:

  • What was wrong with the student's behavior?
  • What is right?
  • Help them create a "clean slate."

Learn more about this week's strategy when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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February 25th, 2013

Concept-Based CurriculumCreating Performance Tasks for Concept-Based Curriculum

To give students the opportunity to show the depth of learning gained from concept-based curriculum, a culminating performance task is given. Dr. H. Lynn Erickson explains the purpose behind the performance task: 

"You really want to find out with a performance task not only what do they know as far as the fact base, but what do they understand." 
A simple format for creating a performance task is to prepare the students to answer the questions what, why, and how. "What is it you want them to do, why do you want them to do it, and how do you want them to demonstrate their understanding? I usually say start with a thinking verb that just engages the student with the topic—either analyze, evaluate, investigate is a wonderful word to use," says Dr. Erickson. 
Giving the students a culminating performance task not only engages them in the deeper understandings they have acquired, but it also mirrors the kind of tasks often performed in the working world. 
Learn more about this week's strategy when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up. 

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February 12th, 2013

Providing English Language Learners Comprehensible Input

Students must be provided “comprehensible input” so they are “making meaning” and developing “fluency and accuracy.” Teachers of English language learners can benefit from understanding the important research of Dr. Stephen Krashen.

Traditionally language has been taught by teaching grammar, providing extensive practice, drill, and structure. When Dr. Krashen talks about comprehensible input, he describes using more visuals. Jo Gusman, president and founder of New Horizons in Education in Sacramento, California, explains more about Dr. Krashen’s approach:

“One of the most powerful things that [Dr. Krashen] shares with all of us is to make the teaching, the content meaningful. It’s very human for all of us to sit in a seminar, or in a class. And you keep on asking yourself, ‘What does this have to do with my world? When am I going to ever use this?’

“So, by tapping into meaning, which then connects to reading vocabulary, prior knowledge, that will really help us know how to deliver the lesson.”

Learn more about this week’s strategy when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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February 5th, 2013

Common Core Lesson: Argumentative Writing

Diana Zipperer is an eighth grade teacher from Campbell County Middle School in Alexandria, Kentucky. Addressing the topic of the influence of advertising in their lives, Ms. Zipperer's students work to complete a graphic organizer that facilitates their development of an organized argument that is substantiated with quotes and evidence.

To begin her lesson, Ms. Zipperer discusses the influence of various forms of media in the lives of her students. To guide them through the necessary elements of the graphic organizer, she first presents her students with an outline of necessary elements in the introductory and body paragraphs of an argumentative essay.

She explains, "In your introductory paragraph you must have your hook. You must say your relationship with the media. You must say the problem the media creates, and you must offer a basic solution."

Ms. Zipperer goes on to explain the purpose of the first body paragraph and a strong thesis statement to her students: "You're going to find your specific details in the body paragraph…Your thesis must explain your relationship with the media, show the problem, and give the solution."

Learn more about Ms. Zipperer’s lesson and this week’s strategy when you click below to watch the full video segment (PD 360 login name and password required). If you do not have a login, you can follow the same link to sign up.

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January 29th, 2013

Common Core Lesson: Proportional Relationships

Ms. Melissa Hurt, a 7th grade teacher at Houston Middle School in Shelby County, Tennessee, relates her lesson to the technology in her students’ lives and aligns it to the Common Core Math Standards.

In her lesson Ms. Hurt presents her students with a math task in which they use proportional relationships to determine percentage:

“Imagine that you just invented Draw Something and your goal is to sell it to Zynga, the biggest purchaser of mobile apps in the world. In order for Zynga to consider your new app for purchase, it must have a download rate of 5% of all mobile users.

“Out of the 288 seventh graders at your school, 12 have downloaded the app you created. So based on the sample, predict how many of the school’s 864 students will download the app and then you’re going to determine whether or not your team is ready to approach Zynga with the sales pitch for your app. Justify all of your answers with written out explanations, equations, tables, and/or graphs.”

Learn more about Ms. Hurt’s lesson and this week’s strategy when you log in to PD 360.

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Pinterest - School Improvement NetworkDiscover inspirational quotes, lesson plans, news, and other education resources on School Improvement Network's Pinterest page.

January 17th, 2013

How Students with Special Needs Benefit from Research-Proven Programs

All students, and predominantly those with special needs, are the fortunate beneficiaries of schools and school systems that invest in research-proven programs. Students that have mastered literacy skills become independent learners, decision makers, and contributors to society.

The keystone of all of the building blocks is the higher order thinking that is stimulated by the activities and behaviors of all the other building blocks. A powerful asset for student learning is found in the consistent application of common language, common strategies and routines across grade levels, across the curriculum and throughout a building.

Beverly Colombo, director of programs and development at Strategic Learning Center, explains, “If a routine is used often and the students see the utility of it, they see, ‘Gosh, this really helps me.’ They’ll want to use this in another class.”

Mary Black, associate principal at Riverbank High School, shares how this strategy worked at her school, “What we were hearing from students was that they liked the fact that it was repeated across all courses, and that once they learned how to do it they could take it home.”

View the secondary edition in PD 360

December 12th, 2012

Directed Reading-Thinking Activity for Non-Fiction Text

When the teacher reads the introduction out loud, the probability of student success increases, because on average student listening level is 2 years higher than reading grade level.

This week’s segment shows a teacher giving a lesson in which she instructs her class in directed reading skills. Rather than focus on rote knowledge, the teacher uses the reading assignment as an opportunity to instruct students on how to read: strategies that will help students regardless of the type of content they might encounter.

This lesson is particularly relevant and timely for teachers implementing the Common Core Standards, which, at least in ELA, focus more on student reading skill than the memorization of facts in the text.

The teacher begins by asking her students a lead-in question:

“How many of you would like for it to be easier to understand your textbook and get better grades on tests?”

A handful of students answer in the affirmative.

“Ok,” the teacher continues, “today we’re going to go over a strategy that will help you do that. It’s called KWL. You all have prior knowledge. As we preview, you are going to be enhancing your prior knowledge.”

“In a preview we look at the title, the intro, the subtitle, bold print and italicized words, captions under pictures, charts, graphs, and maps. Do you look at this in your own reading? That’s what strategic readers do.”

“Then, we’ll take a look at the summary, and then the review questions.”

“Here’s a sheet to help you as you preview read,” the teacher raises a worksheet so the entire class can see. The worksheet displays the letters “KWL.”

“’K’ stands for ‘what I know after previewing,’” the teacher explains.

“’W’ stands for ‘what I want to know.’ After we do the preview reading, we will ask some questions, and these questions will be so much more interesting because of our preview reading.”

“’L’ stands for ‘what I learned.’”

“Our reading today is going to be about how the rise of dictators and increasing tensions lead to the US’s involvement in World War 2. Follow along silently as I read the introduction.”

When the teacher reads the introduction out loud, the probability of student success increases, because on average student listening level is 2 years higher than reading grade level.

The lesson continues…

Click here to watch the video.

December 5th, 2012

Project-Based School Curriculum,

Project-based school curriculum generates rigor and relevance through active learning that engages students in complex investigation of authentic problems. It is a comprehensive approach to classroom teaching and learning that is based on real-world collaboration and inquiry.

Curtis Muraoka, co-director of West Hawai’i Explorations Academy, Kailua-Kona, Hawai’I, describes the structure of the project-based school, and the point of project-based school curriculum:

“There’s a lot of scaffolding that happens within the program, where there is more structure in the sixth grade and then it becomes less and less structured,” he says.

Scaffolding is a strategy for differentiating instruction as teachers provide individualized support to students as they move from one level of learning to the next.

“In sixth grade, it’s very structured,” says Muraoka, “but they start having a chance to make their own choices about what’s of interest to them, and then as they go through the succeeding years they get more and more accustomed to the idea of making their own decisions. The sixth graders that learn this project-based school curriculum would probably spend about half to three quarters of their time in an instructional setting, where the teacher is driving the activities. The seniors are in the position where almost their entire day, except maybe for their math class, is their own, of their own design.”

Learning at West Hawai’i Explorations Academy is primarily student directed with the exception of a few mandatory classes. Biology and expository writing are required for freshmen, sophomores take math and business computers, juniors take math, history, and health, and seniors take math and history.

Heather Nakakura, founder and co-director of West Hawai’i Explorations Academy, describes the program of curriculum:\

“We have an integrative program as part of project-based school curriculum,” she says. “We don’t have an English or language arts class or a science so to speak. Much of it is intertwined, even a lot of the math. So we want them to produce exemplary products where if, you know, they do a good job, it’s going to satisfy a lot of different areas of learning.”

Segment Length: 11:26

November 20th, 2012

Math Tasks: Determining Price Points Common Core Math Standards 4.EE.4, MP.4 - 6

In this segment, Travis Lemon, a math teacher from American Fork Junior High School in American Fork, Utah, guides his students to solve a real-world problem using linear equations. Travis’s lesson targets eighth-grade Common Core math standard Expressions and Equations eight and Mathematical Practice standards four through six. Elements of related standards are also highlighted in this segment.

“Often when I teach, I use a contextual type of a task where it’s a scenario or something real-world that they can connect with.

'So Ivan’s furnace—it’s quit working during the coldest part of the year. He’s eager to get it fixed. He decides to call some mechanics. He’s not sure about parts, so he’s going to focus on the labor expense to help him make his decision.

“Company A, they charge a $20 service fee just for coming out to his house and then a $25 per hour charge on top of that. Company B, they charge $35 per hour flat rate. Company C, they charge a $45 service fee just for coming out to the house and then $20 per hour. So here’s your task: figure out for which time intervals Ivan should choose company A, company B or company C.

“You’re welcome as always to use the tools you have. The calculators, I have graph paper out. There are some up here on the chair and there’s some back in the corner as always.”

May 29th, 2012

Understanding Non-Fiction

How Do I Help My Students "Get" Non-Fiction?

This week's video features high school English Language Arts teacher Djana Trofimoff and her very thoughtful lesson on analyzing non-fiction. She asks her students to compare and contrast different articles on the same topic (Malcolm X's assassination) and leads them in a thoughtful discussion on word choice.

Now that the Common Core State Standards are required in many states, many ELA teachers are revising their curriculum in order to focus more on non-fiction. The School Improvement Network has created a series of programs that focus on Common Core instruction (see this link for more information). If your district or school has been looking seriously at how to align teaching with the Common Core Standards, then this week's video should prove helpful for you.



Are Your Students Even Paying Attention Anymore?

Summer break is just around the corner. Have you given up teaching, or still going strong? If you need some inspiration for those last days of school, this is a great link. It has a list of great end-of-year activities to keep students interested. It's geared for upper-elementary students, but many of them can be adapted to other grades.

Here is another such list. I especially like the idea of having students write thank-you notes to everyone who helped them during the year. You can't teach gratitude too early or too often.

I know one teacher who was a bit skittish about technology. She wanted to bring it into her classroom more, but wasn't sure how. So one year, for the last few days of class, she asked her students to be her "testers" and brought in several pieces of technology she wanted to try (Skype, some software for her interactive whiteboard, and a group blogging website). She put her students into groups and had them explore the software, create a few simple tasks for the rest of the class to try, and write up their recommendations. The groups shared their work with each other, and the teacher got great feedback and ideas for the following year.

What do you have your students do at year's end? Share your thoughts below. Thanks!


Keeping Kids Reading All Summer

Of course, you as a teacher may not be able to check up on your students during the summer to see if they're reading. But you can set the tone for a book-filled summer by how you model reading throughout the school year...and you can also get kids involved in a Summer Reading Challenge during the last week of school.

There are so many online lists that focus on how to get kids to read during the summer; they are worth reading if this is one of your concerns. Here are a few:

You may want to hand out some of these ideas for summer reading during the last week of school. Have kids commit to at least a couple of them, or write up their own summer reading program. You could also visit the students that you will have next year. Give them some summer reading ideas, and tell them that you'll start the school year by talking about what they've read over the summer.




May 21st, 2012

Helping Students Engage with Novels

This week, watch a talented elementary school teacher, Ali Johnston-Hull, as she helps her students better understand the novel Number the Stars. Because students can often get lost in the details of a novel, she helps them create a timeline of the entire story. After reviewing class guidelines and project details, she supervises them while they work on a novel-related project in small groups.

I like the way she clearly spells out what is expected of the students before she "turns them loose" to work in groups. Students need to be given explicit instruction on group work, and many teachers skip this step only to find that students become distracted and unproductive. Ali's careful handling of class dynamics ensures that group work time will be well spent.



What Do I Do at the End of the School Year?

Are you asking that question? For many teachers, the high-stakes tests are only a memory at this point of the school year, and they are faced with a classroom of restless students who seem less than interested in learning. Luckily, this article from TeachHub is full of good end-of-year ideas. The ideas are organized by goal (such as: Do Something Educational But Not Too Stressful for Me or the Students), and you're sure to find something there that you haven't considered. A few ideas:

  • Let the kids teach the class
  • Create a portfolio or profile for each student
  • Teach that fun unit you never have time for
  • Invite students to evaluate the course






May 14th, 2012

Facilitating Discussion with Technology

How Can Technology Unite a Class?

In this week's video, Featured Educator Kathleen Riebe, a sixth-grade teacher at Pleasant Green Elementary in Salt Lake City, Utah, uses technology to help her students connect with each other. She presents a standard lesson about punctuation, but what sets it apart is how she gets students to talk and think about the rules in question. As her students quiz themselves on usage rules, she invites them to look at their peers' answers and discuss how and why they answered the way they did. With wimba software, students join a virtual conversation with each other through which they explore the reasons behind the grammatical conventions.

If you have ever wondered if you can use technology to facilitate educational discussions, this is the video for you!


Social Media as Relationship-Builder

If you want a relatively fast and easy way to see how technology can build a sense of community, read this article by Mark Brumley, who blogs about educational technology. His entire blog is full of good ideas for the technology-shy and the technology-obsessed. Here, he suggests assigning a reading, and then using some free social media tools to generate a class discussion around it. TodaysMeet and TypeWith.Me are two such tools; alternately, you can let students text each other.

Also, check out his post on role-playing with social media. What a great way to help history lessons come alive for your students! In this article, Mark explains a strategy whereby students have an online meet-up while they are in character, and discuss upcoming battles (the Alamo, for example). You may find that students who are reluctant to talk in class are witty and ardent  texters.


What's Your Take on Cell Phones in Class?

In this week's video, teacher Kathleen Riebe demonstrates an effective, intelligent way to use technology in order to facilitate rich class discussion and collaboration. The technology has a defined purpose within the scope of the lesson and becomes a tool to deliver the curriculum.

Clearly, technology has a place in today's classroom. But to what extent? And how much is too much? Is there such a thing? Educational blogger Brian Bennett discusses the general fear of cell phones in the classroom that many educators feel in this blog entry. He reacts to an article in the online Boston Globe which reports that a lawmaker in Rhode Island wants to ban cell phones in schools. Brian says:

"The problem isn’t the phone, which is what the legislators and teachers are focusing on. The problem is that teachers aren’t challenging students with relevant, meaningful instruction and students are bored with school."

Does this ring true to you? Should we ban cell phones from school? CAN we even ban them? Or should we react as Brian suggests: embrace their usage and find a way to make them an asset instead of a distraction?


Use Technology to Extend Your Students' World

When one of my literature professors wheeled a phone and a big high-tech-looking box in to class one day, I knew I was in for something special. We, as a class, had just enjoyed a lively discussion about a great book and, as a bonus, our professor called the author RIGHT THERE from our class. This was a big deal in the pre-Skype days! The author was great--funny, charming, happy to answer our questions. He even gave a few students advice on their own writing projects. But what I most remember from that day is how great it was to have a professor who was willing to go to all that trouble to significantly enhance our classroom experience.

Of course, all this is much more easily accomplished these days with Skype. As the blogger "Northern Art Teacher" discovered, mobile communication technology allowed her somewhat remote north-western Ontario class to have a rich educational experience with an employee from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (read the blog post here).

How do you use technology to enhance your teaching experiences? If you are new to the subject, what is one easy way you think you can bring it into your classroom? What motivates you to give it a try?

May 7th, 2012

Using Manipulatives in Algebra

This week's video features a thoughtful lesson by Dwan Williams, a middle-school math instructor at Westport Middle School in Louisville, Kentucky. Because Dwan works with students who have struggled with algebra, he incorporates manipulatives into the lesson. As students "build" equations using physical representations, they gain a deeper understanding of the mathematical principles involved. Dwan encourages his students to work in groups, to explore the blocks that represent parts of equations, and to ask questions; the result is an active, lively class where the students all learn together.


How Do I Engage My Students?

Have you ever found yourself wondering this? One reason I like this week's video is it demonstrates several tactics to keep students engaged--a real challenge, since we are talking about middle schoolers who have struggled with algebra.

I ran across this article on, where students talk about what keeps them engaged. The article mentions several key strategies that Dwan uses:

Working with Peers (#1)

Students gain the benefits of collaborative thinking when they don't have to do all the work themselves. Notice how, in the video, Dwan repeatedly encourages his students to discuss their work and their thinking with each other.

Bringing in Visuals (#6)

The algebraic manipulates in this video really change the dynamics of this classroom. Students who were hesitant and quiet come to life once they get their hands on the mats and blocks. Often, students have a harder time with abstract thinking than we realize; visual props can help solve this problem surprisingly quickly.

Understanding your Clients (#8)

I love watching how Dwan interacts with his students in this video. He's not afraid to challenge them a little and to encourage them to think harder, but he always treats them with respect. He constantly checks to make sure each student is involved and understands the work.

Being Human (#10)

Although he always acts professionally, Dwan is not afraid to have some fun with his students. He jokes with them throughout the lesson in a way that helps them relax and let go of any math-related anxiety. Speaking as someone who has experienced math anxiety, I want to give Dwan a standing ovation for this tactic!


Three Ways to Get Your Students to Love Your Subject

In this week's video, Dwan Williams's students work together to simplify an algebra equation. His thoughtful approach to the topic encourages all his students to become involved, and has gotten me thinking about classroom engagement in general. If you're looking to heighten student interest as well, then this video on is well worth your time. It highlights Singapore's approach to classroom practice. Even though Singapore's student demographics are different from those of the U.S., this video demonstrates a few powerful concepts that apply to any classroom:

Invite students to create and share knowledge

Students are instantly more engaged when they know they are expected to create knowledge and then use it to add to the conversation. They love sharing what they know. Effective teachers stay away from "info dump" mode as often as possible, and instead use tools such as collaboration, the Socratic method, and thoughtful questions to spark student growth.

Use technology to open discussions

Technology, if used properly, can invite collaboration and jump-start important conversations (look at the way students use Twitter in this video). Many educators tend to think of technology as isolating, but it clearly has vast potential to unite and help create knowledge.

Keep learning yourself

The educators featured in the video mention that they are always looking for ways to improve their teaching: they have regular PLCs, for example, and they are constantly scanning the globe for best practices. As the principal of the school notes, you can't teach the same way you learned twenty years ago.


Great Sites for Teaching Algebra

Were you inspired by Dwan Williams's use of manipulatives and now you're looking for ways to bring some fun into your algebra class? Check out these websites: interactive algebra games

There are lots of fun things here, including an online version of the algebraic tiles featured in this week's video. The site is well-organized and covers all the basics of algebra, such as integers, slope, and variables.

Mr. Schlytter's Mathematics Site

Check out the first link under the heading "Algebra" to get to an interactive tile game that teaches students about equivalence. This is a fun, intuitive activity that helps students get their virtual hands on some equations and see how they work.

This is another great site with lots of good, interesting games. Click the algebra link to find plenty of activities to engage your students.

Any other good sites I should know about? Please share them below. Thanks!






April 30th, 2012

Student-Centered Math Instruction

Chelsea Mossman, an elementary teacher in Faxon Montessori Elementary School in Missouri, leads a great discussion on two-digit subtraction. She clearly understands that her role is that of a guide and not a lecturer, because she lets her students lead the discussion. While she asks them questions and prompts them to clarify, the goal of this lesson is to have the students present and explain their work.

Enjoy the video!


The Difference Between Traditional and Student-Centered Teaching

How do you turn your classroom into one where students are actively pursuing knowledge, taking responsibility for their own learning, and completely absorbed in their work? Simple: stop teaching.

Obviously, I don't mean that you should do nothing. However, if you want to see these kinds of results, you need to make the mental shift from "I must teach them this" to "I must help them learn this." This is a big shift. Here's an example of each kind of teaching.

1. "I must teach them this."

When I taught college-level Freshman English, one of my main jobs was to introduce my students to the genre of academic writing. How does one do this? Well, the traditional, "teaching" way involves lots of teacher-based lectures on audience, purpose, and structure. I got pretty good at telling my students "This is a thesis, and here's what it looks like," and taking the same approach with transitions, introductory paragraphs, conclusions, and lots of other academic writing minutiae. I even got my students involved: I used activities and group work, and my students practiced these skills in class. There was nothing wrong with these methods; they are tried-and-true, and about 95% of teachers use the same basic set of strategies.

2. "I must help them learn this."

One day, I observed a master teacher handle this same topic. Rather than explain and teach and lecture, she began with a crucial question upon which all subsequent activity centered: "What does good academic writing look like?" After her students sat and struggled with this for a while, she directed them to use their laptops or smartphones and start exploring the topic. She showed them how to access the library's electronic database and had them find what they thought was the BEST example of academic writing. Students worked in groups to give the best, most complete description of this genre and then presented their findings to the class. The entire class worked together to synthesize their findings, and then they each wrote a simple, five-paragraph essay on a topic of their choosing that followed all of the academic writing conventions that they had decided on.

Which approach provided the richer learning experience?


3 Ways to Move Towards a Student-Centered Classroom

Paul Bogdan, in this article on Edutopia, quotes Tina Barseghian, a reporter who wrote about the lessons that educators could learn from game designers. She says that we need to "redefine teachers as learning designers." Are you a teacher who wants to become a "learning designer"? How do you start moving in that direction?

1. More Questions, Fewer Lectures

As the story above illustrates, a good, thoughtful question can do a lot toward helping you shift from "lecture" to "coach" mode. Don't be afraid to ask something that you're not sure your students can answer. Give them time to struggle, think, and stretch their minds. Provide them with the resources that they need to get to the answer, but resist the temptation to provide that answer!

2. Teach the Skill of Self-Assessment

As your students pursue their own knowledge, they also need to acquire the ability to judge where they are. For example, a student may excel at research but struggle to collaborate effectively. Check in with students frequently and provide assistance for the skills that they haven't yet acquired. Many teachers find it useful to take the last five minutes of class and have students write a paragraph evaluating their own learning progression or their skill sets.

3. Make Parameters Clear

Real, student centered learning is deeply personal and "messy." It wanders through different disciplines and can cover a lot of ground. This is great...but ultimately, you will probably still be under pressure to provide a clear, graded assessment of student learning. That's why it's essential to provide detailed rubrics and good exemplars of final projects, whatever they may be. Students should always know how the end result of their learning will be assessed.

April 23rd, 2012

Assessing With Portfolios

Conducting a Student-Centered Conference

In this video, Instructional Coach Gretchen Penner meets with one of her students, Xion, to have a deep, one-on-one discussion about Xion's portfolio. Gretchen works with many students in Melcher Elementary in Kansas City, Missouri, and these meetings give her an opportunity to do some deep assessment around that student and his work.

I especially like that Gretchen asked Xion what the purpose of the portfolio was. These kinds of questions prompt deep thinking and self-reflection...even if the students are quite young. Xion was able to articulate the context of the work that he had done.

Enjoy the video!


3 Tips for Assessing with Portfolios

These tips all come from the PD360 program "Portfolio Assessment." The link takes you to the first segment of the program.

1. Follow the "Collect, Select, and Reflect" Process

First, students collect their work. They then select the best piece, and reflect on what they learned. If you're helping students in this work, you can remind them, during the selection process, that "I earned the best grade on this piece" is often not the best way to select a representative piece of work for the portfolio. Students should instead consider: which piece of work helped me to learn the most? The selection process naturally segues into reflection, which is a valuable part of the process of assembling a portfolio. Often, teachers will grade the piece of work itself, and then give a separate grade for a written reflection. This final step in the process is crucial in helping students learn to accurately assess their own work.

2. Consider the Portfolio's Audience and Purpose

Why are you having your students create a portfolio? These collections can be assembled to fulfill a variety of purposes; for example, you can ask your students to gather the pieces of writing that best describe themselves as writers, and to write a reflection piece on "What Kind of Writer am !?" In this case, the audience is the student. Or, you could ask your students to assemble a portfolio that would demonstrate their accomplishments to next year's teacher. In this case, the audience and purpose are different.

3. Involve Parents in the Portfolio Process

Consider the portfolio as a tool where the student can teach their parents about the work that has been accomplished. Some schools have an open house where the students can walk their parents through their portfolio as a kind of "active report card." This approach gives parents far more information about their students' accomplishments than letter grades do.


Why Use E-Portfolios?

"I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity."

--President Barack Obama,

Address to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, March 10, 2009

Whether or not you agree with his politics, President Obama's point is accurate: traditional A-through-F grades are simply not a thorough way to measure what students know and can do. This week's video features a traditional, paper portfolio of student work...but e-portfolios are becoming increasingly popular because they align so well with the educational goals of thorough assessment and implementation of 21st Century skills.

Educator Karen Barnstable has compiled a thoughtful and thorough list of benefits that students gain as they go through the portfolio process (she also recommends them for teachers and businesses). One of these benefits speaks to student involvement: “Assessment of … learning may become more student centered;  the learner is involved and authorized to make decisions about [what] will be evaluated.” Experienced educators know that getting students to take responsibility for their own learning is one of our ultimate goals…and that it takes time! When my students came to me and asked, “What should I write about?” I would give them suggestions for HOW TO THINK about that question, but never would I provide them with a list of subjects. If a student kept trying to get me to come up with a subject for them, I would say, “I will help you with the structure and format, but the thinking part is all yours!”

Creating a portfolio is an excellent way for students to become more responsible for their own learning. As they reflect and analyze their own work, they’ll gain insight into their own strengths and weaknesses, and with some help, they can use these reflections to develop a plan for improvement. A reflective piece titled “How I Learn the Best” is a natural extension from portfolio work and can help the student take that next step toward understanding and owning his or her learning.


How to Bring Portfolios into the Classroom

Are you looking for more information on how to bring portfolio use into your classroom? On this website, educator Timothy F. Slater gives a thorough, step-by-step guide to implementing portfolio usage in the classroom. He includes notes on what kind of preparation you will need, what your students will need, and even different options for assessing. He also describes variants on the standard portfolio (showcase, checklist, and open format) and gives links to the educational theory behind the practice.

Although Timothy is a college instructor, his website is highly relevant to anyone in the K-12 arena. His guidelines are valuable for anyone who's thinking of using portfolios in the classroom.

You may want more specifics at this point; for example, what should a good portfolio include, exactly, and what would one look like? The table on this page, at, provides a comprehensive list of the kinds of artifacts that would be good content for a portfolio. And, if you want to see what's really possible when a school fully integrates portfolios into its educational practices, check out the online student portfolios at New Technology High School in California. I love seeing great exemplars of a practice I'm thinking of trying; nothing motivates me more!

Your comments are welcome. Please join us next week for a great math strategies video!



April 16th, 2012

Teaching Students to Evaluate Research Sources

Do Your Students Think Critically About Research?

This week's video features English Language Arts instructor Haley Mears, who presents a lesson that examines the differences between primary and secondary sources. Her students are given two documents about the same historical period (World War II). Through discussion and analysis, they uncover the essential differences in points of view of these two documents.

The students gain some interesting insights throughout this lesson, one of them being that primary sources aren't always the most reliable...possibly not the conclusion they were expecting. They also get a chance to exercise their analytical abilities and work on their collaborative skills.

Enjoy the video!


April 17

I've written about collaboration before on this blog, but this week's video, with Featured Educator Haley Mears, reminds me again of how important it is to 1) teach solid collaboration skills to our students, and 2) give them enough time to work in groups in order for deep learning to take place. Haley provides the structure and the resources, and she also gives her students the time and the space they need for real collaboration.

Educator Steven Herder shares his thoughts about collaboration here. I like this article because he breaks down a specific project that he's assigned before and talks about what students learned. He even includes a few student quotes.

I also found this link helpful. It gives all the information you need about the "jigsaw" collaborative strategy, a term that I've heard before but never fully understood. This website provides a thorough examination of the jigsaw strategy, implementation tips, and pros and cons.


April 18

This week's video features a good, in-depth session of students evaluating sources. As they compare an encyclopedia article about the end of World War II to Anne Frank's account, they engage in the higher-order thinking skill of analysis. They also gain a good understanding of how primary and secondary sources differ. This exercise is a good foundation for later research they will have to do.

Going along with the historical theme, I have just discovered the fabulous site Here, you get access to documents that are housed in the National Archives, and you can also use one of the many activities that are designed to introduce these documents to your students. These activities have been created with the National History Standards in mind, so you can see exactly how they tie in with your curricular goals.

Even better, each activity comes with a note about which skill on the Bloom's Taxonomy chart it is accessing. And if the provided activities aren't quite what you need, the site includes great templates to help you create your own.

Even if you don't teach history, could your class time be enriched by introducing some relevant primary sources?


April 19

Because this week's video shows a history class, I've been looking at online resources for this curriculum area. I've just come across the great site, which provides detailed and well thought-out lesson plans for many history or social studies lessons--or even for language arts. Specifically, I like the lesson on persuasive writing, because it can be applied to so many areas in the junior high or high school curriculum. It breaks down the process of writing argumentation into discrete steps, and at the end of the process, students are able to argue the side they favor more in a structured way.

And finally, during this time of year, you and your students may be getting a bit tired of traditional teaching. If you want to bring an element of fun into your classroom, check out this resource round-up of effective--but also fun--games you can use in your class.

April 9th, 2012

Helping Students Discover Emotions in Text

Finding Emotion in Text

This week's video features Sarah Halsey, a first-grade teacher at Troost Elementary School in Kansas City Missouri. She takes a creative approach toward an important language arts skill: that of de-coding text and understanding characters' emotions. Her students practice guessing what the characters are feeling in a book she reads them, and then they are given an emotion on a piece of paper to act out for the class. This instruction underscores the fact that readers often respond to non-verbal cues to understand what's happening in a text.

Sarah's students clearly enjoy participating in the lesson, and you can see that there's some good learning happening in this busy class. Enjoy the video!


Using Google Docs for Online Journals

This week's Featured Educator, Sarah Halsey, works with young students to help them understand non-verbal cues and how they work in literature. Although they are too young to do a lot of writing, she engages them in the task of expressing themselves through the written work by assigning them to write "books" where they name and illustrate emotions.

Educational blogger Laura Coughlin details a great way to easily track and respond to student wriitings. In this blog post, she details how she uses Google Docs for her students' Digital Reading Notebooks. When journal entries are assigned and collected via Google Docs, they are easier to track and respond to, she reports. It's easy this way for a student to see his or her progress (she has them write all their journal entries in one document). Another benefit--writing on the keyboard is a good way to capture a certain subset of reluctant writers.


Do Your Students Love to Write?

This week's video has been getting me thinking about how to encourage a love of writing. Even though Sarah Halsey's students are very young (first-graders), she manages to engage them in a writing project about emotions. Their books are mostly illustrations, but the writing component is real and challenging for them.

This blog entry, on, gives several different ideas on how to engage students in writing. One good point to remember: being able to write well across the curriculum is a crucial 21st century skill, so I like the ideas provided on creating journals in different areas (science, geography, math) usually not associated with English Language Arts.

When I taught English, I had my students write a certain number of pages every week on whatever topic they wanted. I made it clear that this writing wouldn't be graded on structure, spelling, grammar, or other traditional "English grading" areas. I just wanted them to write. I found that my students were astonished when I would write my responses, questions, or thoughts in the margins of their pages. Many of them let me know that they'd never had a written conversation with an English teacher before. They found that this approach to writing really motivated them to continue.

Please share any ideas you have about student writing below. Thanks!


Getting Your Students Get Excited about Literacy

In this week's video, Sarah Halsey helps her students get involved in a book by involving them in creative ways to detect the emotions within the story. How else can you engage reluctant--or new--readers?

1. Choose Books Thoughtfully

What level are your readers--really? If you're trying to motivate reluctant readers, you need to know their interests AND their reading levels. Nothing discourages a new reader more than having to struggle with a text that's just too inaccessible.

2. Model Enthusiasm

Do you regularly read to your students? Do you post your current or favorite books on a "book wall"? Is your classroom library well-stocked, and are the books within easy reach? Do you participate in, and encourage, discussions about books? Let your students see you read and hear you talk about how much you love books. They will soak it in.

3. Provide Structure

Have you ever previewed books that your students will be reading? One master teacher, Mary Kim Schreck, has a few students dress up like characters in the book they're going to encounter.   She dresses up as a fortune teller and predicts what the characters will encounter. "Beware of your friend's husband!" she may intone. "He will only bring you heartache!" A dash of drama and a bit of silliness can introduce an element of fun into the mundane task of Required Reading.


Any other ideas? Share them below!





April 2nd, 2012

Finding Patterns in a Math Class: Video for Apr 2

This week's Featured Educator leads math-related discussions around patterns and sequences. Beverly Dunn asks effective questions to involve her students in the lesson, and lets them discover the answers themselves.

The lesson is effective because it introduces new information gradually. Beverly makes sure that her students can find patterns in sequences of shapes before she introduces sequences of numbers. And in true student-centered learning style, students create projects at the end of the unit to demonstrate mastery, which means that they need to take responsibility for their own learning.

Enjoy this week's video!


April 3

I've linked to The Buck Institute before, as they are a clearinghouse for all things related to project-based learning. This week, I've been exploring the many research articles that they include as a rationale for this kind of learning. The research on project-based learning has been rigorous and has shown how effective it can be:

"...a growing body of academic research supports the use of project-based learning in schools as a way to engage students, cut absenteeism, boost cooperative learning skills, and improve test scores. Those benefits are enhanced when technology is used in a meaningful way in the projects" (from this study).

Have you seen positive results from project-based learning? How would you describe and quantify those results?


April 4

Here is a great resource, with lots of tips, for anyone wanting to develop an interdisciplinary approach to projects. The article contains advice for how to incorporate the arts, math, or writing skills into your project. Along those lines, this article gives some very specific tips on how to organize, manage, guide, and grade group projects.

The same author of the previous article, Janet Abercrombie, also provides a lot of great tips on projects and computer work in this article. Her practical suggestions should help calm any educator who is worried about how to keep students engaged and on-task in a project-based environment.


April 5

"Everybody knows that education is the one intervention that can most elevate you above social disadvantage, more than anything else; and yet, it's the least-changed public institution in American society." This was the take-away quote, for me, from the 15-minute video that explores project-based learning at High Tech High in California.

The video IS about projects, but it also explores the intersection between education and society, and looks at the broader context of education within a community, and the effects it can have long-term. Even if your school doesn't resemble High Tech High, the video may provide you with some good take-away lessons...or just a lot to think about.

Thanks to this week's Featured Educator, Beverly Dunn, and to all teachers like her who work hard every day to change students' lives.


March 26th, 2012

Internet Searches and Freedom of Religion: Video for March 26

This week's Featured Educator is Chris McGowen, a government and Social Studies teacher in New Franklin, Missouri. In this video, he has his students research Supreme Court cases online and then present their findings to the class, as they grapple with issues surrounding the First Amendment.

I like this video because Chris's class is about more than just "Internet research." He has his students use their findings as a jumping-off point to explore the more complex issue of religious freedom. He takes the time to ask thoughtful questions to a group of students, and prompts them to go deeper with their arguments.

If you want to know how to use technology to help your students become deeply engaged in a topic, I recommend this week's video. Chris himself noticed drastic changes in student attitudes once he began using technology in a thoughtful way. As he says, " Now we have kids in the hallway talking about different lessons and things like that when they used to be asleep or bored out of their mind with me just up there talking or making them do some random project."

I hope you enjoy this video as much as I do!


March 27

I've written at length on this blog about the importance of bring technology into the classroom in a way that enhances the curriculum delivery rather than derailing it. In this week's video, Featured Educator Chris McGowen mixes Internet with low-tech activities such as writing, presenting, and debating. The online component of the lesson gives kids first-hand access into the world of legal debate and freedom of speech; clearly, in this case, the technology is far superior to a traditional format like a textbook.

Blogger Mrs. Pripp argues passionately in this article that technology in the classroom is no longer just a nice idea--it's a necessity. And yet, many schools who invest in high-tech gadgets do not go on to invest in the necessary training and support. If you'd like to brush up on your technological know how, is a good place to go. The teacher success stories--teachers who improve their practice through technology--are especially encouraging.


March 28

If you want new technology ideas for your classroom or for collaborating with your peers, a great blogger to follow is Mark Brumley. He has introduced me to all kinds of great educational technology tools, such as moreganize, Wiggio, and ScreenTweet. If I were in the classroom, I'd want to follow a few good bloggers who would not only give me a list of tech tools, but would also give me suggestions for how to use them. If that's what you want, check out Mark's blog.

I also came across this handy site that I've bookmarked for my own use. It lists the top twenty must-have educational iPad and iPhone apps, including one that lets students dissect a virtual frog.

One more: this article talks about how to create digital kits for students who will use them in projects. With these kits, students don't have to spend as much time searching for digital elements, and can instead focus on research. For a project on the First Amendment and Supreme Court trials, a teacher could create kits with visuals or even news clips from famous trials.


March 29

This week's Featured Educator, Chris McGowen, uses a blend of high-tech tools and traditional teaching to help his students analyze Supreme Court trials around the First Amendment. For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, watch the PD360 video "Tools: How to Use Technology in the Classroom." This video shows effective instructional strategies as they are used in the classroom. Its practical approach is designed to show you strategies that you can replicate in your classroom.


March 19th, 2012

Equations and Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Math Strategy Video for March 19

This week's video features Kim Cooper, a mathematics teacher at Middlesboro Middle School in Middlesboro, Delaware, and shows her presenting a compare-and-contrast lesson on different types of equations (linear, exponential, and quadratic). Ms. Cooper helps her students sort, classify, and think through the differences between each type of equation.

At the end of the lesson, she has her students create a "foldable" in their math notebooks. This project helps the students summarize all they've learned about these equations, and because they keep the summaries in their journals, they can refer back to them whenever they need to.

Enjoy the video, and please leave any comments below. Thanks!

March 20th

One of the reasons I find this week's video so compelling is because Ms. Cooper involves her students in higher-level thinking skills. They need to evaluate and classify different equations in a math class, which requires much more constructive work than simply memorizing the characteristic of each type of equation.

Most educators are familiar with Bloom's taxonomy, but I just ran across a great video that illustrates the differences between the levels of thinking skills by using clips from Seinfeld. This clip would be a great way to give students specific examples of these thinking skills...and it's funny, which is a bonus. Watch it here.

Sometimes, concrete examples can make abstract concepts like thinking skills so much more understandable!


March 21

More than any other subject, math suffers from PR problems. No one bats an eye when someone claims to be bad at math, as this article points out; author Jonathan Wai says, "I've noticed that it's quite socially acceptable to say that I'm not good at math. On the other hand, I would never admit that I was bad at reading because, well, that would just make me look really stupid."

I think that Wai has hit upon the largest problem that plagues math education: we as a society don't value it. When our children hear us say, "Math is not my strong point," or even when all we do is groan when they pull out their math homework, they learn the subtle but damaging message that math is not fun.

Judy Willis, a neurologist-turned-teacher, writes here about how to increase math positivity. Not only do teachers need raw math skills, but they also need to develop a passion for their subject, so they can instill that in their students.


March 22

One reason I like this week's video so much is because Featured Educator Kim Cooper incorporates writing into a math class. Traditionally, of course, writing and math have lived in separate worlds, but a growing body of evidence (some of that research can be found here) shows that writing-to-learn activities are crucial in many subjects, including mathematics. The article I link to above quotes The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: "the very act of communicating clarifies thinking and forces students to engage in doing mathematics."

Even mathematically gifted students will not live in a world of pure numbers; they will be required to communicate their work to a wider audience. That's why Ms. Cooper's approach is so effective. A student is much less likely to forget the difference between the three kinds of equations once they've created a foldable chart that explains the qualities of each one. 

As a final thought on writing in mathematics, I will leave you with this article, which gives some great, practical ideas for bringing the written word into the math classroom. It provides a list of writing prompts for the math classroom, such as "Draw a picture and label," and "Write about a real-life use of this math concept or skill." These kinds of prompts are excellent ways to encourage higher-order thinking skills and get students comfortable with the idea of using writing to learn in all subjects.


March 12th, 2012

Math Groups in Kindergarten: Math Strategy Video for March 12

Educators know that requiring students to work in groups is a strategy that can have big payoff in terms of learning, but many teachers of young students shy away from this tactic. However, our Featured Educator this week, Christee Hodgson of Faxon Montessori Elementary in Kansas City, Missouri, demonstrates that even children as young as five can be taught to work together effectively.

Ms. Hodgson provides lots of structure and supervision, and she follows a specific pattern to ensure group work success. Specifically, she:

1.     Explains the work students will do in their stations,

2.     Reviews any relevant vocabulary, and

3.     Reviews the previous day’s learning.

She also provides lots of hands-on manipulatives and several different activities to keep the math session interesting and engaging.

This week's video, therefore, is as much about good classroom management as it is about teaching math. I hope this video will help you rethink your approach to group work in the classroom...and maybe even try something new. Please leave any comments or questions below. Thanks!


March 13

One reason I enjoy this week's video is because the students are so obviously having a good time. Too often, educators forget that learning is supposed to be fun. Intuitively, we know that's true--we probably don't remember the lectures that we attended in school, but we do remember the hands-on science experiments, or the short play we wrote and produced as a class. Often, though, educators revert to a more passive learning approach because that's what they're familiar with.

The blog has a great article explaining why having fun in the classroom is a good idea; read it here. One reason: kids who are having fun are more likely to pay attention to you when you talk!

However, we have a significant anti-fun bias in this country. As Valerie Strauss says in this Washington Post article, "The belief remains strong that learning can only take place when kids are quiet and the work laborious, that any activities where engaged kids seem to be enjoying themselves must be superfluous, and that teachers who make learning fun run the risk of being declared unprofessional."

How do you make learning fun in your classroom? Please share your ideas below.


March 14

This week's video seems to be as much about good classroom management as it is about math. Ms. Hodgson, this week's Featured Educator, creates a fun, engaging environment and helps her students understand classroom procedures before the learning begins. The PD 360 video "Classroom Management--How to Win Students Over," found here, goes into greater depth to explain how to create that environment where learning can happen. The section on establishing routines (found here) is especially relevant to this week's video.

I also recommend this section of the video, called Active Student Involvement. "After three to five minutes of the same activity, the brain starts to fade," says Carol Cummings, an educational expert. Think about the implications of this truth in your own classroom. Have you seen this happen with your students? What do you do to make sure your students stay connected?


March 15

I just came across a sobering article about the state of mathematics instruction. The article, found here, talks about the chaos that new forms of math education can have on kids and on families trying to help them. It started with new initiatives that were aimed at helping children come up with creative solutions for math problems, rather than having them memorize and engage in drills. But, the article goes on to say, "the execution of this vision hasn’t been so idealistic. Instead of building a generation of math whizzes, it’s creating a Tower of Babel, where teachers can’t understand textbooks, students can’t understand teachers, and parents and children have no idea what the other is talking about."

While the article discusses Canadian mathematics education, the parallels to American schools are many. Parents are complaining that they are having to teach their children math because the schools aren't doing it adequately; they are spending a lot of money on after-school programs to make up the deficits that the students are experiencing in their schools

What do you think? What kind of mathematics eduation do you see as the most effective--and are there any lessons to be learned from this article? Please feel free to share your thoughts below. Thanks.


March 5th, 2012

Socratic Seminar: Assessment Video for March 5

I've been excited to show you this video for a while! This week's video features Al Faraone, an English teacher at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn Virginia--but he actually doesn't show up until after the video's halfway point. This is because he trains students in the art of self-teaching. His Socratic seminar style ensures that the students take control of their own learning...and you can see for yourself how effective this approach is. Notice how engaged and passionate the students become while they discuss The Catcher in the Rye. These are students who are invested, and who care about the book they're reading.

As you watch this video, ask yourself: have you ever seen a group of students engaged in such a long, intense discussion about their assigned reading?


March 6th

In order to get this kind of enthusiasm from his students, our Featured Educator Al Faraone prepares them from the beginning of the school year. Students participating in a Socratic seminar-type learning experience need to feel confident in sharing their thoughts and learn how to ask good questions. Mr. Faraone has kindly provided the handouts he uses with his students at the beginning of the year. This is the handout that explains what Socratic seminar-type learning means, and here is a short but difficult story that he lets his students tackle without giving any of his own input. He explains, "[my students] have to believe they are capable of thinking and actively learning. I challenge them with difficult short pieces -- let them puzzle over it -- no help from teacher -- and then (magic) they get it!...They are hooked forever!"

Does this video inspire you to bring some Socratic flavor into your class? Please share your thoughts below. Thanks!


March 7th

I've been thinking a lot about student engagement as I've put together this week's video, and I ran across this thoughtful article titled "How Do We Know When Students Are Engaged?" The author, Ben Johnson, provides practical evidence that teachers can use to measure student engagement. Most eye-opening, though, is this quote: "Educational author and former teacher, Dr. Michael Schmoker, shares in his book, Results Now, a study that found of 1,500 classrooms visited, 85 percent of them had engaged less than 50 percent of the students. In other words, only 15 percent of the classrooms had more than half of the class at least paying attention to the lesson."

To me, that is a shocking statistic. With all the hard work and effort teachers put forth, it's sobering to think that in the average classroom, fewer than half of the students are engaged! What is a teacher to do?

Obviously, teaching students to ask real questions on their own accord, and to search for answers without the teacher's help, is a great solution. I'm also reminded of an experience I heard from another high school English teacher. She had to assign her students to read Catcher in the Rye and was not looking forward to the inevitable grumbling, complaining, and resisting that came with the book. "They all think it's boring, and that Holden is weird," she told me.

But then, she had a brainstorm. She teamed up with the high school psychology teacher, who spent a few days at the beginning of the unit teaching her students about various mental illnesses. When the students began reading the book, they were armed with the assignment: Does Holden have a mental illness, or not? How would you diagnose him?

"Suddenly, my students had a purpose in reading," this teacher told me. "It made all the difference. I've never seen my students so absorbed in that book before. They taught themselves, actually, and I got to watch!"

Does this story spark any ideas for you about how to engage your students more fully? Please share your experiences below. Thanks!

February 27th, 2012

Assessments Elementary Edition: Video for Feb 27th

This week's video features Jill Dickert, a mathematics teacher in McKinley Middle School in Racine, Wisconsin. I love the way that she constantly focuses on learning targets, and making them explicit. She also helps her students take responsibility for their own learning, and they discuss different ways to hit their learning goals. As she says, "sometimes you have to use different strategies to figure stuff out." Throughout instruction time, she models these "different strategies" for her students and makes the learning process explicit.

Enjoy this week's video, and leave any comments or questions below. Thanks!


Feb 28th

I just ran across a great article on and thought I'd share it with you. The article focuses on how to administer assessments, and how to take your work in this area from good to great. Essentially, once teachers have assessed, they need to use that data to drive their teaching practices. In this week's video, we see Jill Dickert starting that process as she makes her learning targets clear for her class.

You may also like this list of 40 alternative assessments for learning. It contains lots of good ideas to help you think beyond the worksheet. After Jill Dickert talks about patterns, she gives her students a code to break, which they cannot do without recognizing the patterns she's effective and authentic assessment!

Do you have any good ideas that you use to assess your students? Please share them below.


Feb 29th

Humans learn by thinking and doing...and not, generally, by filling out worksheets. As brain researchers uncover more about how learning happens, the implications have filtered down to the classroom. Authentic assessments are an important part of the learning process, and skilled teachers use those assessments to drive instruction.

This article, by D. Monty Neill, addresses some of the problems of creating and administering authentic assessments in today's culture of high-stakes testing. Particularly interesting, I thought, is the section called "Back to Basics?" where he refutes the notion that multiple-choice tests are fine assessments for "basic" skills. All skills, including basics, are best learned in a culture of doing.

The article referenced above is a useful one to inspire deeper thinking about assessments: what they are, how to make them effective, and what to do with the data once gathered.


March 1st

If you would like a quick list of authentic assessments you can bring into your classroom today, please check out this short article. It lists a dozen Classroom Assessment Techniques and explains how to adminster them and what to do with the results. also has great resources to help you learn more about assessments. The Learning Framework series of videos bring assessments into a comprehensive strategy for classroom teaching. The program Assessment for Learning provides instruction for how to bring authentic assessment into the classroom, and how to make sure you're assessing effectively.

Thanks to Jill Dickert for being this week's Featured Educator!

February 24th, 2012

More Research-Based Strategies to Increase Reading Comprehension

This week's Featured Educators, Paula Landeen and Mandy Boland, help their students create original scripts based on the novel The Three Musketeers (see the video here). This week, we're discussing ways to help secondary-level students engage with difficult texts. You can read part 1 of this discussion here. These strategies are based on ideas found in the PD 360 video "Using Active Strategies For Learning."

Creating concept maps and other pictorial organizers

The brain learns visually, so any strategy that can tap into a visual learning method has a good chance of success. Asking students to create a pictorial or concept map helps them differentiate between main and supporting ideas, and helps them make meaning out of text-dense pages. Make sure to show them examples of these tools before having them create their own. If students struggle, start with a simple bubble map, or allow classtime for students to work on their maps together (lots of images of concept maps available here).

Writing summaries

Do your students really know how to summarize? This skill is harder than it seems, and may require some practice. Writing a summary helps students differentiate between main ideas and secondary ideas, and makes them search for meaning. Show students examples of good summaries and practice this skill in class before letting them do it at home.


This skill could be seen as a preliminary step to requiring written summaries, because students work in groups with teacher guidance. After students have gone through an assigned reading, have them close their books and ask them simple recall questions (such as "what were the tests that Penelope's suitors failed?" or "What are the three characteristics of covalent bonds?") Write the students' answers on the board, and then have them check their accuracy in the reading. Then, guide the students in writing a three-to-six-sentence summary of the reading.

Writing margin magnets

Require students to put a sticky note in the margin of their book, next to each paragraph. In this note, students write the paragraph's main idea. Use these margin magnets to help students review what they've read, or to help students create concept maps.

Creating a timeline as a class

Before beginning a large reading, such as a novel, create a large timeline with the beginning and end of the book clearly marked. Post this in the classroom. As students read portions throughout the weeks, have them work in groups to decide the three most significant events in the completed reading section. Then as a class, decide which 3-5 events are the most significant. These get written down on sticky notes and posted on the timeline. You can use different colors based on theme or character. By the end of the novel, this timeline becomes an excellent, group-created summary and can be used to discuss the overall storyline, novel structure, or other elements.

Create a "question parking lot"

To address issues that students may have with the reading, create a spot on the board (like a large circle) where students can write down and post any questions they have via sticky notes. From time to time, check the parking lot and address the questions. Even better: open up a particularly good question to the class, and discuss.

Please try any of these ideas in an upcoming class and let us know how your experience went. Thanks!



February 23rd, 2012

Research-Based Strategies to Increase Reading Comprehension

In this week's video, we see students who are highly engaged in an activity based on the novel The Three Musketeers. This is a complex and difficult reading, and in order for students to write works based on it, they must have a high level of understanding. How can teachers help students increase their understanding of difficult readings? Secondary educators, even if they're not teaching English Language Arts, have to become proficient at helping students extract meaning from increasingly difficult texts. Below, I present some research-based strategies for anyone who wants to increase their students' literacy. Many of these ideas come from the PD 360 video "Using Active Strategies for Learning," which you can access here.

Activating prior knowledge

This strategy builds confidence and helps the teacher focus in on what the students actually need to learn. Before assigning pages to read, ask the students what they already know about the subject. Whether it's molecules or General Custer or Hester Prynne, students become more engaged when they realize they already know something about the subject at hand. Have students share this knowledge and make a list on the board.

"Chunking" the reading assignment

For secondary students, assigned reading portions can look long and monotonous. Tap into the way the brain learns naturally by looking at the assigned reading and figuring out how many chunks, or natural sections, the reading contains. Have your students scan over the reading beforehand and divide a page into sections to match the chunks. Are their three chapters? Four main ideas? See if students can identify the natural breaks in the reading before they even start, and organize a page in a similar way. Have them take notes as they read and put them into the correct division on the page.


Similar to chunking, this practice greatly increases the amount of information that students can recall after reading. Put students into groups, give them the upcoming reading assignment, and give them five minutes to see if they can figure out what's going to happen (obviously, this may not work as well with novels if there are surprises coming up!). Have these groups give thirty-second "book reports" to the rest of the class. Because they only have five minutes to prepare, they can't read every word, but will have to skim for main ideas. This is previewing. When they actually do the reading later, their recall will be much higher.

Using anticipation guides

Create "true or false" statements based on the upcoming reading. Pass these out as worksheets and have the students make guesses. Examples may include "True or False: Gravity is stronger than the electro-magnetic force" and "True or false: Huck Finn is going to betray Jim." Briefly discuss these predictions as a class. After the reading, re-visit the predictions to help with recall and understanding.

I'll post more tactics for increasing reading comprehension tomorrow. Please share any of your own below. Thanks!


February 21st, 2012

Literacy Strategies Secondary Edition: Video for Feb 21st

This week's video features team teachers Paula Landeen and Mandy Boland, and a creative Language Arts lesson that has their students creating and performing original scripts based on The Three Musketeers. This assignment helps students think critically about genre, theme, character, and other important literary elements. It also lets them use their creativity and collaborate with each other.

One group of students sets their re-telling in the modern day, which helps them to see how this novel, more than 150 years old, can still be relevant. Students also get experience in oral presentation and performance, which makes this a valuable lesson for college and career readiness.

If you have any questions or comments about the video, please leave them below. Thanks!

February 13th, 2012

Literacy Strategies Elementary Edition: Video for Feb 13

This week's video features Ms. Jenny Ressurreciao, a second-grade teacher in Newark, New Jersey, and her incredibly skilled delivery of a differentiated ELA lesson. Ms. Ressurreciao teaches in a truly urban environment, and her students' English language abilities are wildly diverse. And yet, she teaches each student at his or her own level. The students are completely absorbed in their lesson, and there is clearly a great bond between each of them and their teacher.

If you want to see what good differentiation looks like in the second grade, this is the video for you. Enjoy!

February 6th, 2012

Project-Based Learning, Secondary Edition: Video for Feb 6

Our video this week features an outstanding project-based secondary science class. Our Featured Educator Melinda White helps her students create models of amino acids, but her students are the ones who choose which amino acid they want to make. After providing some whole-group instruction, the students get into groups and start to build their amino acids. During this portion of the lesson, Ms. White fills the role of guide and assistant, and lets the students drive their own projects.

When students are given this freedom, their investment in the project grows tremendously. I find the students' enthusiasm in their projects to be really inspiring. Clearly, choosing and building their own amino acid model is engaging them more than a standard lecture model of learning.

If you have any comments or questions about this video, please leave them below. Thanks!


January 30th, 2012

Project-Based Learning, Elementary Edition: Video for Jan 30

This week, our Featured Educator Andrew Larson integrates mathematics into an art lesson, demonstrating the power of a cross-curricular approach. He leads his students through a lesson on measuring and takes the time to show them how to use measurement tools correctly. Then, he and his students work together to make salt dough.

Mr. Larson is a skilled and patient teacher--both important skills--but he also takes the time to link to the subjects that his students are learning in their other classes. For example, he focused on the human body and mummy-making while his students learned about Egypt in their social studies class. By paying attention to the wider curriculum, Mr. Larson makes his art class much more meaningful for his students.

Take a moment to brainstorm how you could create cross-curricular projects in your class. Enjoy the video, and please leave any comments or questions below. Thanks!

January 23rd, 2012

Technology in the Classroom, Secondary Edition: Video for Jan 23

While students today are generally comfortable with the online environment, this week's Featured Educator Chris Rivet, an 8th-grade math and science teacher from Eagleville, Missouri, finds that they need explicit instruction on how to conduct effective searches. If teachers expect their students to spend any amount of time online, it's crucial that they set parameters. For this reason, I think this week's video is especially helpful.

Ms. Rivet opens with a discussion around what a good internet search is. After her students have shared their prior knowledge on the topic, she walks them through some searches and lets them do some supervised hands-on exploration. While she is careful to define important terms, I like the fact that she leads most of the discussion with good questions (such as "What do you see happening to your results?").

If appropriate, I encourage you to consider: how do your own students learn how to search online? What support or assistance do they get from their teachers? What strategies would you like to make explicit?


January 16th, 2012

Technology in the Classroom, Elementary Edition: Video for Jan 16

This week, I am happy to bring you our Featured Educator Monica Montes from Salt Lake City, Utah. She involves her students in real-world learning by asking them to make a movie that showcases why their school is "cool," in response to a contest being run by a local news station. Once she clarifies the parameters of the assignment, she puts them into groups to work. 

Ms. Montes's classroom is a clear example of what can happen when the teacher trusts students enough to let them use technological equipment (such as Flip cameras) as well as their creativity. Every student is fully involved and takes part within their group. I think it's interesting to note that when the task is engaging and relevant, teachers don't have classroom management problems!

Enjoy this high-energy video, and please leave comments or questions below. Thank you!

January 9th, 2012

Math Strategies: Teaching Reasonable Estimates

This week's video features Melissa Grunewald, a 5th-grade teacher from Selbyville, Delaware, and her innovative approach to teaching a newer standard for the state: providing reasonable estimates for fractions. She uses visuals, puts her students in groups, and has them work on the interactive whiteboard, all of which are great strategies for keeping interest levels high. This is an intelligently-designed and well-presented lesson, and I know you'll be inspired by it. Enjoy!

January 2nd, 2012

Math Strategies, Secondary Edition: Video for Jan. 2

This week's video features co-teachers Dawn Blubaugh and Shayna Mackey, from Stone Bridge High School in Virginia, and their innovative way of helping students review for a test. Often, test preparation carries with it an atmosphere of gloom and stress, which is why I admire these teachers and their tactics so much. These students are focused and work hard, but there is also a spirit of cooperation and teamwork--not words that I usually associate with preparing for an Algebra test!

Enjoy, and please leave any comments below.

December 12th, 2011

Formative Assessments, Secondary Edition: Video for Dec 12

This week's video features a lively debate in a high-school class. Ms. Christina Wallace, a social studies teacher at Arts High School in New Jersey, presents her students with a magazine article about the end of World War I and Germany's reparations. They read the content together, and she organizes a debate around a question that naturally emerges during that reading.

The students' participation is high. These are students who are eager to share what they know and what they are thinking. Ms. Wallace helps build relevancy by telling each side to try and win over those who are undecided. This is a clear indicator, for both sides, of how strong their debating skills are.

Clearly, this debate acts as a natural formative assessment. Since the object is to have the students take center stage and demonstrate their learning, Ms. Wallace takes on the role of coach. She provides the structure and subject of the debate, she encourages quieter students to get involved, and she calls their attention to questions they may not have heard...but the students themselves drive this discussion.

Would a five-minute debate work well as a formative assessment in your class? If so, try it out, come back, and let us know how it went.

December 5th, 2011

Assessments, Elementary Edition: Video for Dec 5

This week, we visit Lillian Todd's classroom in Hawaii. Ms. Todd, a fourth-grade teacher, conducts an excellent lesson in which her students collaborate, move around the room, and get some good hands-on practice in several activities related to immigration. I like how she helps her students break down this complex topic by helping them fill out thinking maps. I think you'll find the high level of student engagement to be inspiring...and it may help you approach thinking maps in a different way.

On a slightly different note: if you're at Learning Forward this week, please stop by the School Improvement Network booth tomorrow at 11:00 and introduce yourself. I'll be presenting a 15-20-minute session on teaching strategies and this blog. I'd love to hear any comments or suggestions for this blog: classrooms to film, teaching strategies I should cover, or anything else.


November 28th, 2011

Literacy Strategies (Secondary): Video for Nov. 28

This week's video features a dynamic English teacher, Jennifer Trujillo-Johnson, and her creative approach to teaching theme to a group of students, many of whom are English Language Learners. Here, when I say "creative," I mean that Ms. Trujillo-Johnson helps her students engage in the tasks of synthesis, analysis, and deep thinking. They use art in their English class, and this cross-curriculum approach helps them discover the meaning of the novel they've just read.

Enjoy, and please leave any comments or questions below!

November 14th, 2011

Literacy Strategies (Elementary): Video for Nov. 14


Our Featured Educator this week is Mary Ellen Richichi, a third-grade teacher from Key West, Florida. The video is about graphic organizers, but Ms. Richichi includes them as the final product rather than the way we usually see them: as a means to an end. Here, she has her students construct some very detailed Venn diagrams only after they’ve come to thoroughly understand their subject, immigration, through collaborative work and discussion. Ms. Richichi’s innovative use of Venn diagrams is one that I found inspiring, and I hope that you will too!

November 7th, 2011

Project-Based Learning in a Secondary Science Class: Video for Nov 7


Our Featured Educator this week is Brad Piroutek, an eighth-grade science teacher in Kansas City Missouri, who assigns a movie-making project about anatomy to his class. As he says, “we can really use technology to transform lessons into something beyond the classroom.” In the video, you’ll see how the students are naturally drawn to such a complex project. Getting students deeply involved, it seems, solves a lot of classroom management problems. 

We hope you enjoy the video. Please leave any comments or questions below. Thanks!

In addition to this week's video, quite a few of my readers have been facing significant challenges lately integrating the Common Core Standards into their classrooms, so I thought I’d let everyone know about a series of weekly Common Core themed webinars that we’ll be doing here at School Improvement Network for the next month or two. The first was hosted last Thursday by our vice president, Curtis Linton. Curtis laid out the purposes of the Common Core and explained how they’re designed to work. We’ve been getting great feedback on his presentation— people seemed to have learned quite a bit.

This week’s webinar will be hosted on Thursday, November 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 am Mountain Standard Time. Our presenter will be Dr. Ann Johnson, an expert in curriculum mapping. Dr. Johnson will discuss strategies for integrating the English Language Arts Standards into the classroom.

Our presenter is renowned in the field of education, and has a lot of experience with curriculum design, so we’re all looking forward to hearing what she has to say. This will be a great opportunity to receive some free professional advice on ways to get the most out of the Common Core.

You can sign up for Dr. Johnson’s webinar, or any of School Improvement’s Common Core webinars at The entire presentation is free, and, as far as I understand, will be archived and made downloadable after the webinar is over at



October 31st, 2011

Video for Oct 31: Project-Based Learning in a Science Class

This week’s video features Ruth Skaggs, a fifth-grade teacher in Fire Prairie Middle School, and shows her working with her students on a fun, engaging PowerPoint project about weather systems. The project her students create is a summation of a unit they’ve done on weather. Enjoy, and leave any comments or questions below!

October 23rd, 2011

Video for Oct 23: Secondary Math Skills

This week's video features Libbi Sparks, a high school math teacher from William Chrisman High School in Independence, Missouri. She has deeply integrated technology into her mathematics lesson and uses it to give her students immediate feedback, and to let them explore complex ideas in depth. By letting students show their work anonymously on the interactive white board, she  removes a lot of the fear and stress that's normally associated with making mistakes in a math class. We hope you enjoy it. Please leave your comments or questions below.

October 17th, 2011

Video for Oct 17: Technology in a Secondary Science Class

This week's video features Chris Rivet, an eighth-grade math and science teacher in Eagleville, Missouri. This video inspires me because: 1) Ms. Rivet is so obviously energized by technology, and her attitude is catching; 2) her students are clearly having a good time, and 3) the clicker technology she showcases is really very cool!

If any of you are wondering "Is it worth it to incorporate technology into my classroom?" then this is the video for you. Watch and decide for yourself...and please leave your comments or questions below.


October 10th, 2011

Video for Oct 10: Using Email in a Lesson on Character

Apologies to Libbi Sparks--we're having some technical difficulties with our previously-planned Video of the Week. If you were looking forward to a secondary-level math strategies video, we haven't forgotten about you! It will be coming soon.

For this week, we'll move on to Technology in the Classroom. This video features Lisa Young, a fourth-grade teacher at North Harrison Elementary School in Independence Missouri, and her technology-infused classroom. In this video, she seamlessly introduces an email component into a lesson on character. In a move that gets her students excited and involved, she asks them to first tell her what they know about email. If you teach fourth grade, you may not be surprised at the kids' level of technical knowledge--but I have to admit, I was a bit!

If you would like to use technology more effectively in your classroom, or if you are just starting down this path and would like to know how to begin, this video may give you a few ideas. Your comments, ideas, or suggestions are welcome; please leave them below.

October 3rd, 2011

Video for October 3: Two Formative Assessments

This week's video features two educators: Hillary Cloud, a sixth-grade Language Arts teacher in Sanger, California, and Jason McBride, a teacher in Kansas City, Missouri. Watch how they use quick and easy techniques to gauge their students' learning levels. Formative assessments don't have to take a lot of time or be tedious--they can happen organically, and can even be fun.

If you have any questions or comments about the techniques in this video, please add them below. Featured Educator Hillary Cloud will be available on the blog this week for discussion.

September 26th, 2011

Video for Sept 26: Math Skills, Elementary Edition

This week's video features Beverly Jensen, a second-grade teacher from San Jose California, as she helps her students become more math literate. Ms. Jensen introduces a new term to her students and helps them understand what it means. She presents the definition to them as a test question and lets them work through to an answer without feeling pressured or rushed.

Please share your comments or questions below.



September 19th, 2011

Video for Sept 19th: Formative Assessments, Elementary Edition

This week, we'll be discussing the task of assessing. Watch Ellen Pittman, an elementary teacher in Independence, Missouri, as she involves her class in the task of creating a rubric for their PowerPoint project on simple machines. Ms. Pittman has kindly provided her partially-completed rubric that she and her students worked on together, as well as her lesson plan.

If you have any comments or questions, please post them. Ms. Pittman will be available for discussion. Thanks!

September 12th, 2011

Video for Sept 12: Learning to Analyze Non-Fiction Text

This is our second literacy strategies video, and this one features a secondary-level classroom. Watch as Steve Olguin, a social studies teacher at Apollo Middle School in Tucson, Arizona, presents an innovative way to get his students to understand non-fiction text. I especially like how he involves his kinesthetic and visual learners in the process.

If you have questions or comments about this video, please include them below. 

September 2nd, 2011

Our First Video: Using Visualization to Build Reading Skills

In this video, Featured Educator Terri Craig from Morgan Hill, California, walks her students through an exercise designed to help them become more successful readers. Numerous studies have shown that skilled readers visualize what they read, or, as Ms. Craig describes it, they "make pictures in their heads." Ms. Craig explains this habit using concrete terms and by building on the students' prior knowledge. Since previous lessons have included educators modeling the concept, the students are well-prepared to practice this skill as a group.

As you watch this video, consider how you can use the material presented here in your own classroom. Could the skill of visualization help your seventh-grade students who are having trouble deciphering their history textbook? What would be the benefit of remind even advanced readers, such as 11th-grade honors English students, about how visualization works? Please feel free to share your thoughts on this concept after watching this video. Also, please submit any questions to Ms. Craig; she will answer them throughout the week. 

Ms. Craig has kindly provided both the relevant lesson plan and the rubric that she used. You may adapt them to your needs.

September 1st, 2011

We go live on Tuesday!



On Tuesday, Sept 6, our first Teaching Strategies video goes live! Our Featured Educator is Terri Craig, who teaches second grade at El Toro Elementary School in Morgan Hill, California. In this video, you'll see Ms. Craig present an excellent lesson about visualization and meta-cognitive thinking. This is the first video in our Literacy Strategies series.

Join us on Tuesday for the video and discussion.

August 29th, 2011

Why the Strategies in Teaching Blog?

I am in an urban area, approaching a run-down, ominous-looking school building. There are bars on the windows, the plaster is crumbling, and there’s asphalt everywhere I would expect to see grass. The wind rattles through vast expanses of broken chain-link fence. “Not a school where I would like to send my child” is my first thought.

My video crew and I locate the classroom where we’ll be filming. It’s in an old mobile trailer—another mark against this school, in my mind. How could we possibly find anything worth filming here? What if our contacts had been wrong and we were going to witness nothing more than a depressingly mediocre classroom experience?

And then we enter the classroom.

Two vibrant, passionate co-teachers are interacting with over forty fifth-graders, most of whom are English Language Learners, in a too-crowded classroom. After their teachers read them a story, the students get into groups to complete a series of activities that ask them to think about, and react to, the story’s main conflict. Because they are allowed to choose the activities—and because their teachers have built an engaging, interesting curriculum—the students remain occupied during the forty-five minutes that we interview and film their teachers. Not once did either teacher have to remind a student to remain on task. I can feel the love and respect these teachers and students have for each other. At the end of our session, I’m playing with the idea of re-locating here so that my son CAN go to this school.

The students’ good behavior could have been a result of having a film crew present, but I don’t think so. They were too engaged to even remember we were there. I think, instead, that I was witnessing the truth that John Hattie put forth in his ground-breaking synthesis Visible Learning: that “teachers are among the most powerful influences in learning” (238). In a recent ASCD Education Update, Executive Director Gene R. Carter agrees: “research shows that the highest performing education systems in the world rely on the high quality of their teachers.”

In other words, good teachers matter more—much more—than the more visible signposts of “successful” schools, such as pristine buildings, state-of-the-art classrooms, small class sizes, an affluent English-speaking student population, or generous funding. What teachers do in the classroom really does matter.

I’ve had similar experiences in many public school classrooms, which I have had the honor to visit as a writer and producer for the School Improvement Network. Throughout the U.S. and Canada, I’ve been privileged to watch exceptional teachers practice their craft.

One of my motivations for this blog, therefore, is to shine a spotlight on the many exceptional teachers in our school systems. Too often, media attention on educators is negative. With this blog, I hope to start reversing that trend. Good teachers rarely get a chance to demonstrate their expertise on a more public stage, and I want to acknowledge the amazing things that they do.

Another motivation behind this blog comes from research that says teachers crave interaction with other teachers. A study that summarized data from 1,350 public schools concluded that “approximately three quarters of [the] sample at all levels of schooling indicated that they would like to observe other teachers at work” (Goodlad, A Place Called School, 188, qtd in Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzano, 7).

So, bookmark this blog and come visit us regularly. Join in the discussions. Take what you learn and apply it in the classroom--and then come back and tell us how it went.

August 28th, 2011

What does Good Teaching Look Like?

No one who teaches would say that good teaching isn't important. And yet, think of your typical day. How much time do you spend focusing on, and improving, your actual classroom practice? In his book Visible Learning, John Hattie notes that in general, schools devote distressingly little time to improving pedagogy: "there is a preference instead," he says, "to make changes to structural and working conditions" (257). In other words, many educators prefer to change visible problems rather than deal with the often invisible work that goes on behind classroom doors,

What about the schools that DO focus on good pedagogy? While they are certainly to be applauded for caring about the nature of the teaching that happens within, Hattie notes that overall, educators' opinions of good practice varies widely. When schools and teachers disagree on what good teaching actually is, what happens? Hattie claims that in such cases, "there is a preference for the teaching method that fits the latest ideology, and rarely are these methods assessed by evidence" (257). A teacher may comment "Oh, I tried this idea last year and it worked well," and sometimes this sort of statement is taken as solid evidence.

Certainly, when educators are working together to define "good classroom practice," it's useful to ask the question "what are we already doing that seems to work?" But in that process, research and evidence should also play a role.

If you're looking for this kind of evidence, I strongly recommend the above-mentioned Visible Learning, in which John Hattie synthesizes and examines over 800 different studies in order to answer the question I've posed above. He finds that what teachers do matters more--much more--than contributions from the student, the school, or even the curricula.

So, teachers matter. What happens in the classroom matters. The videos that I will post in this blog are meant to celebrate the good work that teachers do. But they are also here so that you, the classroom teacher, can see what good practice looks like in a variety of contexts. We all need to observe multiple good models of behavior before we can perform that behavior successfully. 

The videos featured on this blog are aligned to good teaching practices that have been proven via empirical evidence. In them you will see the kinds of effective practices that Hattie discusses, such as:

  • helping students set challenging and specific goals
  • working with concept maps
  • providing regular and meaningful feedback
  • helping students learn how to peer tutor
  • focusing on meta-cognitive strategies
  • providing interventions
  • cooperative learning

All of these strategies contribute to good classroom management as well as effective student learning. And they are short--no more than ten minutes each--so you can watch them during breaks, during lunch, or for the fifteen minutes you may have before class starts.

I hope that these videos, and the discussions that they spark, will help you in your quest to define "good teaching" for yourself.






August 12th, 2011

Format and Schedule

Every Monday, starting in September, I will post a video featuring a teacher in the classroom. I’ve chosen the footage to create a “you are here” feel, so that you can fully witness good educators interacting with their students. The videos cover the following areas:

  • Literacy skills
  • Mathematics skills
  • Project-based learning
  • Assessments
  • Technology in the classroom

One week will feature an elementary teacher, and the next week a secondary teacher; however, I believe that videos of good practice provide useful content no matter what grade you teach. In other words, if you are a second-grade teacher, please check out the secondary videos from time to time. Similarly, if you teach English, you may get some good ideas from the mathematics skills videos.

A note on these videos: while they feature good teaching practices, they are not meant to be the final authority on their topic. My aim is to show several great ways to approach project-based learning during the course of the school year, for example, but never to claim that they are the ONLY ways. Instead, I hope that the videos I post will foster useful discussion and reflection.

As another way to add value to this blog, I will invite each week’s featured educator to join us for discussion around the lesson plan. The educator will provide the context for the video you saw, such as: what was the goal of the lesson? What do you think went well? If you were to teach it again, what would you do differently? I will also invite each teacher to post related rubrics, lesson plans, and other materials.

August 11th, 2011

About The Author

School Improvement Network is an online professional development and teacher training company that partners with schools, districts, and educators throughout the United States, Canada, and overseas to increase student achievement.

School Improvement Network believes that by providing teachers with quality, differentiated training, students will be able to master skills essential to their growth as individuals and to their participation in their communities. As teachers follow training that is practical, scalable, and measurable, they will find increased capacity to meet the growing needs of students, no matter their race, origin, language, or socioeconomic status.

July 8th, 2011

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July 7th, 2011

Teaching Strategies Blog

Teaching Strategies Blog

The Teaching Strategies Blog focuses exclusively on classroom practice. It features an all-new video every week of a teacher providing effective, high-quality, research-based instruction in one of these areas:

  • Literacy strategies
  • Formative assessments
  • Math strategies
  • Technology in the classroom
  • Project-based learning

These highly diverse videos come from elementary, middle, and secondary classrooms all over the country. They provide all teachers with immediately relevant content and are well-suited to further discussion in PLCs or other faculty groups. Each week's Featured Educator is invited to the blog to answer questions, provide lesson plans and rubrics, and provide the context of their lesson.