Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Teaching Lab Process

 Implementing Teaching Labs in Teacher Training

To be as impactful as possible, teacher training should be as realistic as possible. This can be difficult in a school situation, as we don’t have live students with which to practice methods or approaches during group meetings. (This would be an interesting exercise, but probably not often practical.)

Administrators can use role-play and analysis of live mini-lessons with teachers as the ‘class’ to make the situations more realistic. Having teachers engage in teaching, even in a short format, will require them to think carefully through the steps of the ‘lesson’, and the following time for critique and analysis gives valuable feedback to both the teacher and the participants, as well as any observers. 

The teaching lab training process, when conducted consistently over a period of time and in conjunction with faculty learning, is a powerful tool to develop in teachers a shared understanding of the elements of excellent teaching, a shared vocabulary about teaching practice, and, very importantly, a growing adaptive wisdom about what, how, and when to use these practices.

The Teaching Lab Process

Regardless of the teaching lab format used, the following four-step process will help teachers get the maximum benefit from the exercise.

1.     The Review (5 minutes)

-as a group, discuss the previous teaching lab session: lessons learned, applications, etc.

-review elements of the teaching lab rubric (guide) in the teaching lab notebook


2.     The Brief (5 minutes)

-lesson plan to be received in advance

-on own prior to teaching lab meeting, use rubric (guide) to analyze and assess the lesson plan

-pre-lab: 2-3 minutes in triads, discuss lesson plan analysis and assessment conducted prior to meeting

-teacher briefly summarizes lesson plan


3.     The Practice: The Teaching Lab (20 minutes)

-the lesson is taught


4.     The Debrief (a dynamic, candid, professional discussion) (15 minutes)

-individually analyze and assess for a few minutes using rubric (guide)            

-discussion in small groups

-analyze and assess as a full group

-individually reflect and apply in teaching lab notebook

Some possible additional debrief questions:

  • What was the learning target? Was it accomplished? How do we know?
  • What did the teacher do to help students learn during the lesson?
  • For the teacher: what would you do differently if you were to teach this lesson again?

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Is Failure Good for Student Learning?

The research cited below concludes that, at least for older students, building struggle and even failure into lessons results in deeper learning. As teachers we should consider how we can move more of the thinking onto students, including letting them struggle a bit with solving problems or issues prior to direct instruction or giving them the solution (or even how we would solve or answer the question). 

While we want to be aware of the potential to frustrate certain students, having them wrestle for solutions and make mistakes can have great benefit for their learning and retention. 

From the introduction to the linked article:  

"When learning a new concept, should students engage in problem solving followed by instruction (PS-I) or instruction followed by problem solving (I-PS)? Noting that there is a passionate debate about the design of initial learning, we report evidence from a meta-analysis of 53 studies with 166 comparisons that compared PS-I with I-PS design. Our results showed a significant, moderate effect in favor of PS-I..."

When Problem Solving Followed by Instruction Works: Evidence for Productive Failure

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

2023 ACCS Conference Workshops Full Packets

Full packets for my 2023 ACCS Conference Workshops can be found at the links below. (The conference notebook is limited to two-page outlines.)

Leading Teacher Training from the Back of the Room


Cultivating Conversation: Using Feedback & Grading to Improve Seminar Discussions


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Spacing out teacher training over time


     I recently came across a presentation on police training by Lon Bartel of VirTra, a law enforcement and military training company. In this presentation Bartel emphasized the SCORE approach to training. 

      What caught my attention was the reinforcement of the idea of spreading out challenging, realistic, and varying training situations over time, as opposed to mere classroom-heavy learning blocked over a few days. 

       Effective teacher training needs to occur regularly over a long period of time, and involve  unpredictable or imperfectly controlled situations and scenarios. 

       Bartel's ideas support the use of live teaching labs and scenarios for teacher training. 

      Here's a brief summary of Bartel's main points, with emphasis on the spacing of practice. 
      (available on line: https://www.policemag.com/download?id=655290&dl=1


Space out practice

·        Space out practice

By ‘spacing’ training activities out over time, (1-2 hours every other day, or at least once per week versus 8-hour marathon cramming sessions) you will be able to learn more information and retain it longer

 Massed practice refers to a style of practice where an individual engages in a large amount of training in a single, uninterrupted session. The goal of massed practice is to improve the skill or behavior through intensive repetition, with the assumption that the more you practice in one session, the better you will get.

 On the other hand, spaced practice refers to a style of practice where an individual engages in smaller amounts of training, spaced out over time. In this method, there are breaks between practice sessions, and the goal is to retain and reinforce the learned skill or behavior over a longer period. The idea behind spaced practice is that by spacing out the training sessions, the brain has time to consolidate and reinforce the newly acquired information, leading to better retention and transfer to new situations. In general, spaced practice has been shown to be more effective than massed practice in terms of long-term retention and transfer to new situations, although the optimal spacing between sessions can vary depending on the task and the individual.

Spacing helps when learning a skill because it allows the learner to spread out their study and practice over a longer period of time, instead of trying to learn everything in a single session. This approach has been shown to be more effective than massed practice, where all the study and practice is done in a single session. 

              There are several reasons why spacing is beneficial when learning a skill:

 Improved retention: Spacing helps to promote long-term memory retention by allowing the learner to revisit the material at spaced intervals, which helps to strengthen the neural connections in the brain.

Enhanced understanding: By revisiting the material over time, the learner can build a deeper understanding of the skill and identify areas where they may need further improvement.

Avoidance of overloading: Spacing helps to avoid cognitive overload by breaking down the learning into smaller, manageable chunks, which can make the learning process less overwhelming and more effective.

Better transfer: Spacing also helps to promote transfer of learning, as it allows the learner to apply what they have learned to real-world situations and contexts, which can help to consolidate their understanding of the skill. Overall, spacing is an effective approach to learning skills as it allows the learner to take a more gradual and structured approach, which can help to promote better retention, understanding, and transfer.

·        Challenge must exist

               -If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you

·        Obstacles help us deal with error in the environment

               -Practice must occur in less-than-perfect environments

·        Randomize the skills

               -A variety of potential scenarios rather than predictable, specific situations

               -Practice looks worse but performance is better

·        Exceptions exist with the very new or if prior to a precise performance


Monday, January 23, 2023

Including Learning and Training in Faculty Development Plans

Faculty development should include discussion-based learning exercises as well as action-based training exercises.

In fields where on-going professional development has literal life and death implications, realistic, live-action training is common. We can learn from them by applying training principles that improve classroom practice, multiplying the value of both learning and training sessions. This will lead to better teaching and thus better learning.

Recently, an ACCS teacher included this critique of faculty development programs in a presentation:

Typically, the program is three-pronged. First, it involves in-service events, where

someone from within the school delivers a lecture about something having to do with classical education. A few schools will occasionally bring in someone from outside their community to lecture on classical education, although this is relatively rare because it is expensive, and most schools try to run their faculty development programs on the cheap…they are held directly after school, when teachers are mentally exhausted and in no mood for deep intellectual activity. These in-service events are not exactly meetings, though they do mirror the modern meeting in that they are dry…

 …and finally, faculty development involves reading certain pre-approved books on the subject of education, writing a review of the book, and then submitting the review for approval to the administrator who oversees the development program. Teachers may also be required to attend a classical educators conference once every few years—like the ACCS conference, for example.

While perhaps overly critical of hard-working administrators doing their best with limited resources, much of what is described above is, unfortunately, very common. Often what is stated as a teacher training program generally consists of attendance at a conference, and participation in the school’s teacher certification process. Many schools will also have occasional administrator observations, usually scheduled well in advance. In general, faculty development is thought of as events for individuals or a one-time, mostly passive group-learning experience.

All of these activities are useful in their place, but they do not constitute a full faculty development plan designed to help teachers grow as classical educators. Administrators should create plans that prioritize on-going, engaging and realistic times for teacher learning. We also need to distinguish between and include two kinds of exercises: group or individual learning, and hands-on, active training with opportunities for practice with feedback.

I have written elsewhere (Classis, February, 2022) about the need for faculty development to be a regular part of the school’s schedule. This consistency is important in that it helps to create a faculty culture where growth in their craft is a priority to administrators and an expectation for all. Faculty development should be as engaging as possible. If they can’t involve wine, beer, and days off, as the writer quoted above wishes (and who doesn’t?), regular faculty development meetings should at least be designed so teachers are active participants and not passive recipients. Yes, we’re all tired afterschool, but if the exercises are intellectually interesting and clearly applicable, as well as having some movement and thoughtful conversation with other adults (something that is perhaps lacking in some teachers’ days) built in, then teachers will see the benefits of the time. Administrators should lead from ‘the back of the room’ in ways that put the teachers in the place of a discoverer of the learning, they should “excite and direct the self-activities of the learner.”  Small group scenario discussions, the creation of graphic organizers to teach a concept, role-playing, and presenting lessons to a live ‘class’ all have teachers in the center of the learning and the doing.

In addition, those responsible for faculty development should consider and plan for two very different aspects: learning and training. Learning exercises are primarily discussion-based whose purpose is to increase knowledge and understanding. Sometimes these are passive (lectures, presentations, on-line video, etc.), but the best kinds of learning exercises build in active participation from teachers, e.g. scenario discussions, lesson plan analysis, etc. At their best, learning exercises give teachers an opportunity to consider ideas together in a classroom situation, to discuss ranges of responses and applications. All of this learning is critical for developing the situational awareness necessary for teachers to make adjustments in their classrooms, anticipate potential issues and opportunities, and to apply their knowledge and understanding of the many elements of their school’s mission (i.e. pedagogy, curriculum, philosophy and culture).

An often-neglected aspect of faculty developing are training exercises. Although sometimes used generically, ‘training’ is a different kind of exercise with a different expected outcome from learning. Training is distinguished from learning in that it focuses on regular, realistic practice of the learning elements. While learning exercises are discussion-based, training exercises are action-based. Exercises in training give repetitions in as realistic a situation as possible. They are designed to put teachers into realistic, dynamic situations where they must respond to unplanned circumstances. This is, of course, more like actual teaching. Training exercises, followed by an honest discussion of what went well and what didn’t, will support teachers and faculties toward developing habits of excellent teaching. To gain the full effect realistic training should be a regular part of the faculty development calendar, not a one-time event.

An example of an active training exercise is live ‘teaching labs’, where the teacher delivers an abbreviated lesson to a class of fellow teachers acting as students. These live exercises are followed by robust analysis and discussion. Other examples include role-playing conversations (e.g., a parent-teacher conference), and practicing targeted scenarios (e.g., ‘check for understanding in a manner that is both involuntary and plenary’ (that is, involving all students)). All of these are meant to be as realistic and unscripted as possible, thereby requiring teachers to practice situational awareness and apply wise and prudent action in a dynamic circumstance.

It has been said that you’re only as good as your training. I think it’s probably closer to the truth that we’re never quite as good as our training, but we certainly won’t be any better. While many schools emphasize continued learning, and some provide ample resources for learning opportunities, faculty development plans should explicitly include frequent training opportunities, as well. Regular, realistic, and engaging faculty development is critical to the success of a school’s mission. Both learning and training exercises are also important to help teachers grow in their understanding and application of the principles and practices of classical, Christian education.

 Learning exercise examples (discussion-based):

·       Seminars

·       Workshops

·       Scenario discussions (‘tabletop exercises’, critical incident discussions, etc.)

·       Reading essays, books; writing papers (e.g. teacher certification plans, group reading and discussion)

·       ACCS conference

·       On-line class

·       Consultant presentation

 Training exercise examples (action-based practice; repetitions in realistic situations):

·       Scenarios and role-plays (single situation)

·       Teaching labs: live, real-time presentation in realistic situation; follow-up analysis

·       Walkthrough/observation feedback with follow-up discussion, implementation and feedback loop












Monday, November 21, 2022

I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me of: Across the Curriculum

We recently came across a pattern for student observations as part of the upgrading of our elementary natural science curriculum and instruction. As we began to have our students use these simple statements we quickly realized their ready application across the curriculum and, indeed, across the grades.

The statements, ‘I Notice’, ‘I Wonder’, and ‘It Reminds Me of’ have become a part of our routine in high school Humane Letters classes as much as in science classes. We've posted them in our classrooms, K-12. Students frequently use them without prompting because they are applicable across their day and they give them a framework for thinking about what they’re learning. I should point out that this isn't a new 'program' but rather a way of approaching thinking about new topics or deepening understanding of familiar ones.

These observations are foundational for other kinds of questions and observations, as well. In order to analyze and evaluate students first need to observe, ask questions, and make connections. These habits help to facilitate discussion that is not focused on student opinion but rather on student thinking. They require students to look carefully, to observe, to look for patterns, to ask questions, and to make connections.

We have been pleased, and perhaps a bit surprised, by the effectiveness and flexibility of this as a tool for thinking that goes well beyond the third grade science journal where it started.

Credit to the authors of  How to Teach Nature Journaling, John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren.

The link is to an excellent 13 minute video with John Muir Laws explaining and demonstrating the process for nature journaling.


Thursday, October 27, 2022

If the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught.

Write a caption which summarizes what the cartoon above tells us about teaching. 

One of ways we begin teacher training workshops is with the cartoon and caption-writing exercise above. Over the years we've heard many answers, but most come down to some variation of, "if the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught". It's clear that the 'teacher' (the policeman) is sharing a lot of information, but the 'student''s understanding is jumbled. Will the pedestrian actually make it to his destination? Will the student retain the learning? 

What's needed is for the teacher to break down the learning into steps, and to include formative assessments to be sure that the student understands and can recall what's being taught. Maybe some map work would be in order? 

As teachers we need to always remember that it's not what we said in class that matters, but what students learned. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Implementing Teaching Labs

To be as impactful as possible, teacher training should be as realistic as possible. This can be difficult in a school situation, as we don't have live students in teacher meetings with which to practice methods or approaches. That would be an interesting exercise, but probably not often practical. 

Schools can use role-plays and analysis of video, or, even better, live lessons with teachers as the 'class' to make the situations more realistic.

Having teachers engage in teaching, even in a short format, will require then to think carefully through the steps of the 'lesson', and the following time for critique and analysis gives  valuable feedback to both the teacher and the participants and observers. 

Implementing Teaching Labs

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Engaging Activities for Faculty Development Using 'The Seven Laws of Teaching'

Link to: Engaging Activities for Faculty Development Using The Seven Laws of Teaching 

Experienced teachers recognize in John Milton Gregory’s The Seven Laws of Teaching a thorough and challenging explanation of the many facets of the art of teaching. Like any great work, a Gregory rewards careful reading and discussion. And, of course, frequent re-reading reveals wisdom missed or underappreciated in previous readings. Gregory’s work deserves a featured place in the on-going professional development of teachers.

These exercises are meant to make the limited time schools have for faculty development engaging and practical. The exercises assume a 30-45 minute window of time committed to discussion of the principles and possible applications in individual teachers’ classrooms.

Because most schools will be doing this kind of training in after-school meetings the sessions are meant to encourage a high degree of active participation and to be lead from the ‘back of the room’ by the facilitator. This, of course, models what we want our teachers to be doing in their classrooms. Too often faculty professional development is done in a manner that we would not want teachers using in their own classrooms, with teachers passively listening to a presentation.

So, the following activities are designed to engage teachers and to model good classroom instruction at the same time. These activities are ‘field-tested’—that is, they being used successfully with actual K-12 classroom teachers in actual faculty meetings.

In addition, as much as possible the exercises are designed to follow or mirror the particular law being discussed. For example, for the Law of the Learner, which emphasizes attracted attention as the result of engaging, thoughtful questions, the exercise involves two broad questions. The selected passages from Gregory include questions and tasks meant to ‘shake the shoulder’ (in Gregory’s phrase) of the learner and to attract their attention to the problem.

If these sessions in some way help individual teachers, and their schools, to grow in the understanding and application of the art of teaching they will have fulfilled their purpose.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Seven Laws of Bad Teaching

In a recent faculty meeting we began our year-long review of Gregory's The Seven Laws of Teaching. I asked teachers in small groups to create a list that turned the seven laws around, as if they were offering advice to undermine a new teacher. Below are a few of those lists of the seven laws of teaching badly. 

1.       Don’t bother internalizing your material before teaching

2.       Stick to your lesson regardless of student attention

3.       Impress them with technical jargon

4.       Kids like surprises!

5.       Explain everything

6.       Keep moving

7.       Review takes too much time



1.       Wing each lesson—let it flow naturally

2.       Teach to those who are listening—others just miss out

3.       Use confusing academic language—make the students work harder

4.       Stick to unknowns—make them figure it out

5.       Lecture only—hopefully they can keep up

6.       Teach the facts—Regurgitation works

7.       Don’t review—it’s a waste of time, children are sponges


1.       Just wing it. It doesn’t matter if you know the lesson

2.       Start on time no matter what the students are doing, just keep talking

3.       Use challenging words to grow students’ vocabulary. Hope they understand

4.       Don’t check for prior knowledge, just begin teaching. Novelty is flashy.

5.       Do everything for your students and fill the vessel. Don’t make them work. Talk continuously.

6.       Just get your students to say the right answer. Understanding doesn’t matter.

7.       Don’t revisit past learning. Just keep going on to something new. 

A sample from one of the groups: 

An Introduction to the Progymnasmata

 The link below is to a document (31 pages) which introduces the progymnasmata exercises to teachers in a brief, easily adapted format. 

It's not meant as an exhaustive treatment of the progymnasmata. Each exercise is briefly explained and an outline for working through the parts of the exercise is provided. 

An Introduction to the Progymnasmata: 


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Formative Assessment: 'Pride and Prejudice' Relationships and Character Chart Using Stickies

 Early in our reading of Pride and Prejudice in Humane Letters 11 we used this activity to both help students solidify their understanding of the characters and their relationships, but also as a means of formative assessment—checking for understanding. (Total time: about 15 minutes)

As a formative assessment, this activity provided opportunity to observe individual responses on all characters, as well as to observe the paired discussions. The full group discussion gave us opportunities to defend positions and for cold calling. Students could volunteer, as well, of course. 

1.       Students first individually filled in the graphic organizer below. Then, they paired up and were assigned one character.

 2.       They were given two yellow sticky notes to identify character traits and two blue sticky notes to describe the relationship between that character and another. When they agreed on the best descriptions of each they wrote them on the stickies and put them on the board.

 3.       After they had placed their stickies on the board, the class discussed the words used and any changes or additions, etc. We filled in as a group certain areas that the small groups hadn’t been assigned.




































Friday, January 15, 2021

Four Year Teacher Training Curriculum for Administrators

The link below is to a new resource for administrators. It's the first two years of a planned four year curriculum for teacher training using the Four Foundations of Great Teaching  booklet. 

Four Year Teacher Training Curriculum for Administrators (Year 1 and Year 2 included as of 1/15/2021)

From the introduction:

For classical, Christian schools the mission is always central. School culture and the formation of graduates who love God and love their neighbors should be the consistent focus of what our schools are doing. Along with these important goals, schools have a curriculum of academic skills, tools, and subject content that teachers are responsible to pass on to their students. It is classroom teachers who deliver the mission, both the spiritual and the academic curriculum. This guide is meant to assist administrators as they work with teachers to grow very effective faculties, by focusing on key habits that all great teachers have.

Those habits are:

·         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

·         give frequent feedback to students that is specific and descriptive

·         plan activities that require full involvement of all students

·         use models of strong and weak work frequently

·         make sure that students talk more than the teacher does

·         be clear about expectations for transitions and other routines


This guide includes lesson plans for thirty sessions, assuming 30-45 minutes each. The plan below spreads this out over a cycle of four years, but of course they could be done more quickly, or more slowly, depending on the needs of the group. While the concepts build on each other, it is not necessary for all of the lessons to be done in order for future lessons to be valuable. Administrators may find it useful to add their own topics and materials, as well, to fit their particular school situation. This may be especially true with the lessons on classroom culture and management, as each school will have its own emphases and procedures to focus on.

These lessons were developed in actual teacher training in an ACCS school, with teachers K-12. The topics are universal to good teaching regardless of grade level, and teachers will readily adapt them to their individual situations during the lessons and discussions.

The lessons are designed to be highly engaging, with a minimum of presentation from an administrator. This is meant to ensure that teachers actively participate in the learning, and to also model the kind of engaged teaching process that should be the norm in teachers’ classrooms. Administrators rightly expect teachers to have their students actively engaged in their learning—teacher training should model this.

These thirty lessons are only a beginning, of course. Excellence in teaching is a never-ending but deeply satisfying pursuit, for individual teachers and for schools. And since excellent teachers are the key to excellent schools, it is one we must continually attend to.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Lesson Plan Assessment

 For our All-Faculty meeting for December, we'll be looking over the following (fictitious) lesson plan. 

We'll use part of Teacher Observation Form to guide our assessment and discussion. 

We'll do this individually and in small teacher groups, then as a faculty as a whole. 

Classical Christian Academy

Mr. Johnson

Subject:  5th Grade History

Time: Tuesday, 11:00-11:30








French Revolution: Causes




Causes of the French Revolution







Formative Assessment

Quiz on Friday








1.           Pray

2.       Project a cartoon image of guillotine from French Revolution; tell students what it is and who invented it

3.       Teacher to write the ten causes of the FR on the board and tell a bit about each one

4.       Students write them down

on notebook paper, in their composition book, or  on the back of the map we did yesterday in class

5.       Students start to write a story about themselves during the French Revolution: Imagine you’re a child in France during the revolution. Write a story about your feelings about the revolution.

6.       Students work ten minutes on story, then move to grammar lesson



Live Mini-Lessons for Teacher Professional Development

During our curriculum day time, teachers will be presenting twenty-minute live mini-lessons, with other teachers as the 'class' and audience. Critique and discussion to follow. 

Here's a link to the packet for the day:

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Lesson Planning Using The Wheel

The document linked here:

combines Bloom's taxonomy with methods of checking for understanding, as well as with activities designed to fully engage students. 

The form is a kind of worksheet that I've used it mainly for daily lesson plans in my 11th grade Humane Letters classes. We use Planbook which is where our more detailed lesson plans are found. 

The first image below gives the general (though unfortunately a bit fuzzy) idea, and the second image is a photo of an example from my class. 

The wheel starts in the center with the learning target language--knowledge, analysis, evaluation, etc. 

This helps to focus my planning on the 'bulls-eye' of the learning: the learning objective. Effective planning must start with the target. What will students learn? What is the point of the lesson? 

Across the center line I complete my learning target for the lesson: TSWBAT analyze "immediate & long-range causes of the F.[rench] R.[evolution]."

From there, the wheel moves out to formative assessment (checking for understanding). In my planning I want to move from learning target to formative assessment, that is, how I will check student understanding of the target. 

Finally, the outer circle includes some (but by no means all!) specific activities appropriate for that learning target area. These are meant to make sure that all students are as engaged as possible. 

For this class, I've circled 'analyze' as my learning target. From there, I've selected an exit pass to check for understanding. Finally, for the student activity I used a graphic organizer and pair-share. 

This form also includes spaces for other information--steps in the lesson, notes, etc.