Monday, September 16, 2019

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits #8

Next in our consideration of the top ten habits of great teaching is #8:

"I make it a habit to frequently use models of strong and weak work."

Imitation is a powerful tool for teaching and learning. Models of strong and weak work help to make the elements of quality clear to students, leading them to have a similar understanding of quality that the teacher has. 

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Use anonymous examples of previous student work, or create them as needed. (Start collecting samples now for use next year.)
  • Working individually or in small groups have students apply rubrics to sample work. Have them group the work into general categories ('stronger', 'weaker'), then hold a class discussion to assign a specific rubric score or placement. 
  • Have students occasionally assist in creating rubrics, as appropriate. This will build deeper understanding in students and will focus them on the learning rather than the activity. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits #7

Next on the list of practices of great teachers is #7:

"I make it a habit to plan activities that require full involvement of all students."

Effective teachers make sure that all classroom activities engage all students. There are some students in every class who would love to answer every question and do every demonstration, and others who would be content to let them. Instead, teachers should set up all activities in such a way that all students must participate. 

It's important to avoid ‘batting practice’, or a situation where one student works and others merely observe (observation can be valuable, as long as students know that they will need to account for their observations in some way). This can be challenging during whole-class teaching or presentations. Here are a just a few ideas for making sure everyone stays involved in the learning:
  • Rather than just ‘follow along’ or watch others at work, students fill in a study guide or graphic organizer, or correct their own work.
  • During presentations or speeches, students use a grading sheet or rubric to assess student presentations.
  • During teacher presentations (which should be rare!) stop frequently and have students write three questions they have, briefly summarize the main point, or have them tell how they did the process differently.
  • Stop and have students engage in ‘mini-discussions’ with a partner on a specific question. Have one partner report to the class.   
For more on this very important habit, take a look at pages 19-25 in Four Foundations of Great Teaching

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits #6

We've considered five of the Four Foundations Top Ten habits so far:
-plan unit and daily lesson learning targets before planning activities
-write clear, student-learning-focused learning targets
-share the learning targets with students
-plan frequent formative assessments to check for understanding during lessons
-be sure that formative assessments are involuntary and all-inclusive

Next on the FF Top Ten is #6:
"I make it a habit to give frequent feedback to students that is specific and descriptive." 

Students need frequent feedback from teachers in order for them to know how they are doing in achieving the learning targets we have set for them. This feedback should be consciously connected to specific aspects of the learning, and it should be descriptive. Feedback that merely praises (e.g. "good job!") doesn't communicate to students what they are doing that is working well (and what is not), and how they can improve. Worse, it may ingrain a fixed mindset, even in stronger students, leading them to focus on maintaining their 'excellent' standing rather than on learning.  Giving specific, descriptive feedback helps to shift the responsibility for learning increasingly onto the student--which is where we want it to be. 

See The Four Foundations of Great Teaching, page 12, for more on this topic. 

Developing great classroom habits is critical to our success as teachers, that is, our students' learning. According to research, it takes an average of 66 days to develop an automatic behavior--a habit. As teachers, we want the excellent practices described in the 'top ten' to become second nature, to be so natural and integrated into our classrooms that they are virtually habitual. We shouldn't just do them unthinkingly, of course, but certainly we want them to be so much a part of our classroom routine that something would seem out of place if we didn't do them. 

So, I encourage you to make it a goal to establish these practices as habits in your classroom. Put them deliberately into your daily plans for the next quarter and see if they don't become an important, nearly automatic, part of your daily teaching. Your students will benefit tremendously!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Formative Assessment Packet for 2019 ACCS Conference

The link below is for a 23 page packet I'll be using in my presentation on formative assessment at the ACCS Conference in Atlanta next week.

Formative Assessment Packet B Lynch 2019 ACCS Conference

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits #5

Number five on the Four Foundations Top Ten list is:

"I make it a habit to be sure that formative assessments are involuntary and all-inclusive."

This habit was mentioned in the previous post, but it's so important that a review is in order. 

Checking for understanding should occur frequently during the learning, and we need to plan to check all students and not only the eager volunteers. 

In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that we should rarely call on students with their hands up. We should check the entire class often, and when we do call on individuals it should be with targeted cold calls rather than responding to volunteers. We may want to take volunteers occasionally as a way to encourage students, but normal procedure for checking for understanding should be involuntary and 'all-play'. 

There's more on formative assessment in Four Foundations of Great Teaching (pp 10-16).

Friday, April 5, 2019

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits #4

My previous three posts highlighted the importance of some fundamental teaching practices that we implement in our classrooms at Veritas:
-planning unit and daily lessons with the end in mind, before planning activities
-writing clear, student-learning-focused learning targets
-sharing learning targets with students

As we continue to review the Four Foundations 'Top Ten', we come to #4: 

"I make it a habit to plan frequent formative assessments to check for understanding during lessons."

Formative assessment, or checking for understanding during learning well before any tests or grade-book scores are taken, is an essential practice that great teachers use routinely. Teachers need to know how close students are to grasping the learning target, and students need this feedback, as well.

To be effective, checking for understanding must be frequent, involuntary, and all-inclusive. All students need to be checked frequently. Just  calling on eager volunteers who raise their hands gives both the teacher and the other students a potentially false read on the understanding of all the class. 

Formative assessments should, of course, be connected to the learning targets. This connection not only guides what is asked but can also influence the means. For example, a learning target that calls for students to "recall" or "list" will be easily checked by an exit pass. A target of "evaluate" will require something more--some kind of discussion or extended written assessment will be needed. 

For more on checking for understanding, see The Four Foundations of Great Teaching (pages 10-15).

Friday, January 18, 2019

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits #3

Making learning targets clear and sharing them with students is fundamental to good teaching. Students who understand what the learning is about are more engaged and better focused on the learning (as opposed to the activity or the grade) than those students who are not clear about the goal or target for the learning. 

Next on the Four Foundations 'top ten' list is:

"I make it a habit to share the learning targets with students."

Sharing the learning target must become a reflex, a habitual practice. As teachers, we should feel uncomfortable with proceeding with the lesson until we have posted (at least in secondary classes) and shared the learning target.

There is room for variety in this, of course, but the principle is foundational: learning targets need to be shared with students. In elementary classrooms it may look different depending on the abilities of the students and the subject. In secondary classrooms, however, it will probably mean writing the LTs on the board and making sure students understand them before engaging in the lesson

Friday, November 30, 2018

Sticky Notes and Poster Review Game

For my Rhetoric class this fall I developed a review game using large poster-sized copies of key charts. These posters are just enlargements of hand-outs, and are very inexpensive at Lazerquick--just a couple of dollars.

Once the concepts have been introduced, the posters become the center of review. The posters are taped to the white board using blue tape. Then, using sticky notes, I cover the important information on the charts. After dividing the class into two teams, (and the teams select a spokesperson to answer),  the game goes like this:
-I begin by giving Team 1 the number to an item to identify (e.g. "Team 1, #1"; the correct answer is "ethos, pathos, logos")
-If Team 1 answers correctly, they get 1 point and then choose the item number Team 2 must answer
-If Team 1's answer is incorrect, Team 2 can answer ('steal') and get the point. Team 2 can then choose an item to answer themselves. (If Team 2's 'steal' attempt is incorrect, Team 1 can answer again. This can go back-and-forth as long as needed or until the teacher supplies the answer.)
-If correct, Team 2 receives a point and then selects the item for Team 1 to answer.

For multiple teams, the same rules apply, except that Team 1 will select for Team 2, Team 2 for Team 3, etc. Opportunities to 'steal' go in order, and the game continues from that Team.

Below are the posters:

'Modes of Persuasion' chart with items covered by stickies
'Causes of Action' chart with some items answered
'Causes of Action' chart with items covered

'Kinds of Rhetoric' chart with items covered

Monday, October 29, 2018

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits: #2

Next on the Four Foundations Top Ten list is:

"I make it a habit to write clear, student-learning-focused learning targets."

While all of the 'top ten' are important habits for us as teachers to cultivate, this one--writing clear learning targets that are focused on student learning--may be the most crucial. The foundation laid by having learning targets that are clear in your mind, that focus on what students learn and not on the topic or (worse) what the teacher does, allows us to build interesting and successful lessons. 

If we're unclear on what the student learning is, or if we focus on the wrong things (topic, teacher action), we won't know--and students won't know--when the desired learning has actually happened. One sign that we might be veering from clear targets is if we're having difficulty coming up with formative assessments to check for understanding. If we're confused about what we're checking for, the first place to look is at the target.

For more on writing clear, student-learning-focused learning targets see:

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Four Foundations Top Ten Habits #1

The first of the Four Foundations Top Ten  is, "I make it a habit to plan unit and daily lesson learning targets before planning activities."

Planning the targets first helps to focus our attention and time on what is truly important for our students to learn in that unit and that lesson. It also encourages us to keep the lessons tuned into the learning rather than the activity itself--learning activities are simply means by which students gain the target. With the target in mind we're in a better position to select the best activity.

Great teachers make it a habit to think through carefully the learning targets for each lesson prior to planning activities. 

For more on this, see pages 5-7 of Four Foundations of Great Teaching

Monday, June 18, 2018

Formative Assessment Workshop Packet

The link below is to a scan of the packet to be handed out at my workshop on formative assessment at the ACCS conference (June 22, 2018).

Formative Assessment Packet for 2018 ACCS Conference

Monday, April 23, 2018

Formative Assessment: From Hand Signals to Harkness Discussions

A previous post  (Formative assessment and Bloom's) connected formative assessment methods with Bloom's taxonomy. The chart below moves from very simple quick-checks such as hand signals to more complex and thorough methods like harkness discussions, again connecting them to Bloom's.

Below I've included only a portion of the chart. The full document is available on Google docs using the link.
(general application)
Quick Checks
Hand Signals
Knowledge, Comprehension
 White Boards
Response Cards (e.g., A for one concept, B for another)
Writing Prompts
      Exit Pass

Pretend a classmate was absent from class today. Tell them what was most important from today’s lesson.
What is the most important thing we learned today?
What concept has been most difficult or confusing in this lesson/section/reading?
Analysis, Evaluation
Write down one question you have about today’s lesson.
Write down one thing I can do to help you.
What do you need to do to prepare for tomorrow’s discussion?
What would you like us to review tomorrow?
How did today’s discussion go? What do you need to do to improve for next time?
If you were writing a quiz over today’s material, what are two questions that you would include?
Synthesis, Knowledge
Write down two things you learned today.
Admit Slip
Knowledge, Comprehension
Yesterday’s News (review previous learning)
Think-Pair-Share (A tell B, B tell group)
A tell B/B tell A
Ungraded Quiz Entry Pass
3-2-1 Cards (key points, questions, connections, confusing, agree, disagree)
Knowledge, Analysis
RAFT (role, audience, format, topic)
Summary Writing
Sticky Notes on Board
Prioritized List
(e.g. most important, key ideas, etc. in order) in groups, then as class
Items for Organization
 (e.g. causes in one color, effects in another)
Arrange as class, or small group, or individual
(e.g. key dates on separate sticky notes; timeline on board (take volunteers, then rotate in new students to fix problems if needed, etc.)

Discussion Items from Section of Text
-in groups have students take a different part of discussion
-write on different colored stickies: (e.g. Group A- 3 connections, Group B- 3 most important ideas/themes, Group C- 3 excellent questions, Group D- 3 most interesting facts/points)
-discuss as class, prioritize, add to if needed, etc.

View the rest of the chart here
 for sticky notes, graphic organizers, discussions, etc.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Focus on Formative Assessment: Extending an Exit Pass from CFU to Review

The exit passes below are examples from those collected toward the end of a recent Humane Letters 11 period to check students' recall of factors favoring Great Britain at the beginning of the industrial revolution. 
I used them for a quick check for understanding that period, and then the next day for a quick review and formative assessment activity. Together this only took about ten minutes. 

Day One
This only took a few minutes. Perhaps three for the initial list, then 1-2 for the quick round robin.
  • Exit pass (index card) handed out toward the end of the period. Students listed from memory all of the items they could recall from our discussion that period. 
  • I collected the exit passes
  • We then did a quick 'round robin', going as many rounds as needed to get them all. 
This kind of exercise may be limited for long-term retention, but it is excellent for checking for understanding (CFU). 

Day Two
I used the exit passes the next day to review and also to check for understanding--a quick bit of formative assessment. The following took less than five minutes at the beginning of the next period. 
  • I added 'distractors' to the cards, items that were false, inaccurate, or misleading (e.g. "large population of serfs", "significant petroleum reserves").
  • I had the students put their heads down. Using hand signals (thumbs up for true, thumbs down for false, thumbs sideways for unsure) they responded to the items (both what they had written the previous day and the distractors) as I read them from the cards. 
  • Any incorrect or uncertain responses we discussed. Students explained their answers, with scaffolding and follow-up, as needed.  If all were in agreement a student might be asked to explain their response. 
  • Any items not read were added and discussed together. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Strategies to Extend Student Thinking

Effective classroom instruction is built around student thinking. In recitations, discussions, and other means of checking for understanding, excellent teachers make sure that students are doing the thinking and supplying answers, making connections, correcting errors, etc. 

The invariable temptation of inexperienced teachers is to rescue temporarily stymied students or class discussion. In the interest of student feelings, or in impatience to get on with things, some teachers will plunge in and either give the answers to their own questions (or worse, fail to even ask questions), or focus only on the students they know will give timely and correct answers. This will move the class along, but it will give a probably false impression that the class as a whole understands the learning.

Excellent teachers instead use many of the following to move past easy answers or awkward silences:

      Remember wait time
Provide at least three seconds of thinking time after a question and after a response

     Utilize 'think-pair-share'
Allow individual thinking time, discussion with a partner, and then open up for class discussion

     Ask 'follow-ups'
Why? Do you agree? Can you elaborate? Tell me more. Can you give an example?

     Withhold judgment
Respond to student answers in a non-evaluative way to solicit further discussion

     Ask for summary
To promote active listening, frequently ask students to summarize

    Survey the class
“How many agree with…?’ Use ‘follow up’ questions

    Play 'devil's advocate'
Require students to defend their reasoning against different points of view

    Ask students to 'unpack' their thinking
"Describe how you arrived at your answer"

    Cold call on students randomly or by design
Not just on those with raised hands

    Student questioning
Let or require students to develop their own questions

    Cue student responses
‘There is not only one correct answer for this question. I want you to consider alternatives.’
Effective classroom instruction requires thoughtful planning and great flexibility. While keeping the learning targets central, and checking for understanding frequently, excellent teachers focus their efforts on making sure that all students are engaged all the time, that students and not the teacher are doing most of the intellectual work in the classroom. Great teachers use a variety of means to stretch, challenge, scaffold, support, and encourage students

The link below contains a form for classroom observation using these strategies. 


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Focus on Formative Assessment: Using Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are an easy and flexible means for checking for understanding. The variety of sizes and colors make them adaptable to many kinds of tasks. They're great for facilitating discussions.

Discussion can include:
- adding to, deleting, prioritizing, re-combining, moving to different category, etc. Stickies are easily moved around on the white board (or chalk board), so this makes re-organizing simple and non-permanent.

Students can be asked to record any final product (or questions, etc.) in their composition books before the stickies are removed.

Here are a few examples of how I've used sticky notes in my classes:
  • Characters and Themes, A Tale of Two Cities: In small groups, students were given stickies with the main characters introduced early in the novel. Groups decided where these characters best fit under main themes thus far in the story: 'Buried', 'Recalled to Life', etc., as well as those whose role was uncertain. Simple, but a  great discussion starter. 
  • Long-term & Immediate Causes of the Renaissance: Students worked in small groups, with long-term using one color, immediate another color; each group posted on board; discussion, re-ordering, etc. followed.
  • Text Review, Developments in 19th c.: Groups decided on most important 'new markets and new products' and 'new patterns of life', and post ideas. Discussion followed: prioritizing, eliminating, adding, etc
  • Cause/Effect, Russian Revolution: Group 1 wrote causes on one color, group 2 wrote effects on another, groups 3 & 4 selected key events leading up to and after the revolution. These were posted on the board. Each group presented briefly, with class discussion following.
  • Discussion Prep (17thc. France): Groups with large stickies wrote on four areas: Group A- 3 connections to previous learning; Group B- 3 most important ideas/themes; Group C- 3 excellent questions; Group D- 3 most interesting facts/points. Discussed as class, adding and refining as needed, prioritizing what items to focus discussion on. 
  • Action & Character discussion, Pride and Prejudice: The (first) Proposal, The Letter-- sticky notes for: Darcy's actions for both, Elizabeth's actions for both; Darcy's character traits revealed by his actions for both, Elizabeth's character traits revealed by her actions, for both. Place on board and discuss.
  • Key Dates Review: Students placed individual events on the board in order; other students took turns (cold call!) re-organizing as needed, until sequence is complete. Students then placed dates over the events, following above process. We then had students try to recall the event under the date. 

For more information on formative assessment, check above under Resources  for 'Formative Assessment from Hand Signals to Harkness Discussions'.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Focus on Formative Assessment: Student White Boards

Individual student white (dry erase) boards  are an outstanding means to regularly check for understanding. White boards are inexpensive, easy to use and easy to store. They have the advantage over paper of not being ‘permanent’, so students are often more willing to take risks than if they were working on paper. White boards are excellent tools for younger students as well as for high schoolers. 

White boards enable the teacher to do a quick, full-class check for understanding. Misunderstanding or imperfect recall is easily seen, so the teacher will know if review is necessary for the class or for groups of individuals.

Here are some of the things I’ve used white boards for in my Humane Letters class:
  • Quick review of key dates (sometimes the date, sometimes the event)
  • Identification/recognition of ideas (e.g students write 'M' if the quotation I read is from Montesquieu, or 'R' if they think it's from Rousseau)
  • Summary statements; write, revise
  • Lists of causes, or effects
  • Writing and revising thesis statements
  • Graphic organizers as review activity, individually or in pairs

For more information on using white boards, check out the following site:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Focus on Formative Assessment: Exit Pass

Image result for exit pass
The exit pass or exit ticket is a versatile and easy method of checking for student understanding. When explicitly connected to the learning target/objective for the lesson (strongly advised) it gives the teacher a quick means of assessment.

How to use: As with formative assessments generally, the exit pass is an ungraded check. Toward the end of the lesson or transition time, students are given a slip of scratch paper, an index card, or a special 'exit ticket' (many versions are easily found on Google image).

I have found that the more 'scratch' the piece of paper is, the less pressure students feel from the exercise, and the less attached they are to the 'work'--there is no need to correct and return these to students. This helps to make checking for understanding a low-key, routine part of the class. Exit passes are not 'events' to be prepared for--they are simply a way for teachers to check on student understanding.

Students are given a few minutes to complete the task, and then hand the exit pass to the teacher on the way to their next class or transition. In my high school classes, it is literally their exit ticket--the student doesn't leave until I get a completed exit pass from them.

Typically the questions are brief, connecting as much as possible to the heart of the lesson, the learning target. The tasks range from simple factual recall (e.g. 'what were the five causes of the French Revolution?' to more involved (e.g. 'if you were writing a quiz over today's material, what two questions would you include?'). Exit passes can seek to do a variety of tasks, using a 3-2-1 format: students write 3 main points, 2 connections to previous learning, and 1 question. A 3-2-1 format not only checks for student recall of the basic information (3 main points) but also can help to bring up questions students may have been reluctant to ask. They can ask for students to reflect on their learning, and even to ask for any help they think they or class needs.

Exit passes are generally quickly reviewed by the teacher and then recycled (at least here in Oregon), but occasionally a teacher may want to copy a few excellent questions for further discussion or to review the next lesson. Typically, exit passes are looked at for patterns of misunderstanding. Are there a few students who missed something that needs to be addressed with them individually? Is there something that a significant part of the class is unclear on, and so needs to be reviewed or retaught?  A quick look at the exit passes will reveal these potential problems.

For more examples of exit pass questions, see the blog post below:

Formative Assessment from Hand Signals to Harkness Discussions

Thursday, March 23, 2017

'How We Learn' Quiz

True or False?
(And there is one trick question…of course.)
  1. I t is most effective for students to have one consistent time and place for study.
  2. Studying a new concept right after you learn it doesn’t deepen memory much.
  3. Cramming works.
  4. Changing the venue for studying can improve ‘retrieval strength’—the ability to remember the content studied—by as much as 40%.
  5. Guessing wrongly when studying tends to interfere with later recall.
  6. Attempting to communicate what you’ve learned is 20-30% more powerful than reviewing an outline.
  7. Giving the mind a break when stuck is counter-productive—it’s best to just ‘power-through’ problems.
  8. People often remember more of what they’ve left incomplete.
  9. Varied practice of many related items is more effective than concentrating on one skill.
  10.  Interrupted and scrambles practice sessions lead to less learning over time than focused and uninterrupted study. 
   Click here to see the answers.

    'How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens', by Benedict Carey

    See here for a summary of the chapters and recommendations from 'How We Learn'. This is a resource we used at Veritas during a recent professional development day. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

You're Only As Good As Your Training

Over the years, we've developed resources for use in faculty meetings at Veritas to help us improve our professional judgment. These involve discussions of scenarios of various lengths and complexity, and also the use of a 'critical incident' discussion protocol.

I've posted links to these resources on the 'Administrators' tab, and here:

Using Critical Incidents to Improve Professional Judgment

Scenario-Based Teacher Training