Posts Tagged ‘High-Impact Instruction’

Finding Thinking Prompts

Friday, July 12th, 2013

This is a column I wrote for a different blog a few years back.  

I recently received an email asking a great question:  “Where can I find good Thinking Prompts for my math class?”  Thinking Prompts, in case you don’t know, are provocative objects we share with students to create lively conversations in the classroom. In fact you can download a mini-manual for Thinking Prompts at this link, and read about and download other mini-coaching manuals at the Big Four Ning

Coincidently, the day I received that email, I was talking about the very same topic with Laura Parn, an instructional coach in Lincoln, NE.  Laura was looking for a video to use as a Thinking Device for her elementary students to talk about measurement.  What Laura did helped me understand how I could find good Thinking Prompts.

Laura told me she sat at her computer and took a few minutes to think about things students needed to measure and convert to other forms of measurement.  She said she wanted something that would be very familiar to her students, and she came up with something simple: pennies. So, she just Googled “pennies” and “video” and a bunch of options came up.  In less than a minute, she found a great thinking prompt for a lesson on measurement; you can view it here.

I decided to try out her strategy on a higher-level topic, and I chose statistics.  Again, in less than a minute, I found a famous, but great Thinking Device for my topic.  You’ve probably seen it before, but watch it again as a way to introduce statistics in a high school algebra class.  You can view it here.

So here’s my advice. If you’re looking for video Thinking Prompts, all you have to do is go on You Tube, search for your topic, poke around a bit, and you should be able to find appropriate Thinking Prompts.  And if you find any great ones, we’d love to see you post them on the Big Four Ning.

By the way, a simple way to download video from You Tube, if you haven’t tried it out, is Kick You Tube.

You can also find a checklist for evaluating Thinking Prompts from my most recent book, High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching, here

The Most Important Part of Instructional Coaching? Setting a Goal

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

For most of my career, I’ve been studying teacher growth. I’ve found, as I’m sure many readers have found, that one-shot workshops and other quick-fix forms of professional development often have little impact on teaching and learning. For that reason, my colleagues and I have spent more than a decade studying instructional coaching.

Our research has uncovered that one factor plays an incredibly important role in successful instructional coaching. When coaches set measureable student goals with teachers, and provide effective support, coaching can really make a difference. When coaches and teachers do not set goals, coaching can be a waste of time.

Successful goals have three characteristics

We’ve found the following to be essential characteristics of effective goals:

1. The goal has to be based on a clear picture of what is happening in the classroom. The easiest way to do this is just to video record the class. Coaches can also gather data such as Time On Task or Ratios of Interaction if that is what they prefer, but teachers need to see the data as reliable.

2. The goal must be a student goal. If coach and teacher set a teacher goal, they can’t be sure that the goal will make a difference. When a student goal is set, coach and teacher keep working until something significant happens for students. Setting a student goal also takes the focus off of the teacher, which often helps the coaching relationship.

3. The teacher has to care about the goal a lot. If the teacher doesn’t care about the goal, not much is going to happen.

How the Process Works

We usually complete the following steps to set goals:

1. The coach video records the teacher’s class or gathers some other data.

2. If video is recorded, the teacher and coach watch the video separately. The teacher might watch the video using the surveys “Watch your students. Watch yourself.”

3. When they meet after they have watched the video, the coach asks a few questions to help the teacher identify a goal, such as the following:

• On a scale of 1-10, how close was today’s class to your ideal?

• What would have to change for it to be closer to a 10?

• What would your students be doing if that change happened? Describe what the students would look like.

• How would we measure that change?

• Is that a goal you would like to try to achieve?

• Which teaching strategy can we use to achieve that goal? We offer a list of teaching strategies from High-Impact Instruction that teachers can choose from, but coaches could use other books or instructional frameworks such as Robert Marzano’s Art & Science of Teaching, or Jon Saphier & Mary Ann Haley-Speca’s Skillful Teacher

4. Once a measurable student goal is established, the coach should confirm that the teacher really is committed to implementing the goal, by asking questions such as “Is this a goal you really want to achieve? Does this matter to you?”

If the teacher is committed to the goal, then coach and teacher move forward. If the teacher isn’t committed, then coach and teacher revisit the goal until one is identified that matters to the teacher.

Our research on instructional coaching has led us to many insights into the importance of modeling, effective questions, effective communication skills, how to explore data and so forth. In my opinion, our most important finding is that goals are incredibly important. When teachers set a measureable student goal, there is a good chance the coaching will really improve instruction. When there is no goal, there is a real danger that coaching will have no lasting impact.

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: Saying No To 1,000 Things

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

A “no” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. Mahatma Gandhi

According to Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, how Jobs acted when he returned to Apple after 11 years “tells you everything you need to know about how Steve Jobs creates innovative products.” When he returned, Apple had more than 350 products. Within a year, Jobs reduced the product offerings to 10. Jobs initiated the rebirth of Apple by saying no to hundreds of things.

Gallo explains why saying no is essential. “It’s only by saying no, that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” In fact, as William Ury writes in his excellent book The Power of a Positive No,

Everything you care about—your happiness and the well-being of your family, your success in your job, and the health of the larger community—hinges on your ability to say no when it counts.

And many of us, I suspect—teachers, principals, instructional coaches, radical learners—need to be saying no more often.

A teacher, for example, can say no to the seductive power of content, and write unit questions that emphasize the most important knowledge, skills, and big ideas students need to master.

Click here to watch a short video of high school English teacher Wendy Hopf talking about the importance of focus.

Click here to download a free checklist for writing guiding questions.

A principal saying no to “innovation overload,” can lead a school toward a simple school improvement target that everyone understands, agrees with, and commits to implementing.

Click here to download a Learning Forward 2012 presentation I gave with Jadi Miller from Lincoln, Nebraska School district, describing Elliot Elementary School’s success doing just that.

Instructional coaches can say no by refusing to try and know everything for everyone and instead focusing attention on a small number of high-impact instruction strategies that have the most potential to increase student learning and well-being.

When he talked about his accomplishments, Steve Jobs said, “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” All of us can take the same approach. In fact, I believe that it is only by saying no to many things, that we can begin to effectively do those few high-impact things that can have the most impact on student learning and well-being.

What do you think?

Do you struggle to say no to demands that pull you away for achieving your best?

When should educators say no more often?

My New Book: High-Impact Instruction

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I’m thrilled to share with you that my new book, High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching, has been released by Corwin this week. Many of the ideas in my book were first fleshed out in this column. If you’re interested, you can view an 80-second trailer about the book here:

High-Impact Instruction

You can also download a lot of free resources and view teachers using high-impact instruction strategies here:

Companion Website

I’d love to hear what you think about the site or the book.

Next week I’m going to begin a new series of columns: Steve Jobs, Radical Learner.

Radical Learners–It’s Back

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

After a long break, during which I wrote my new book High-Impact Instruction, I’m bringing back the Radical Learners blog. The columns will be posted each Wednesday, and I’ll include my own thoughts along with the thoughts of guest authors.

When I started this blog two years ago, I began with a simple statement:

The people who will save our schools are not the policy makers, or educational researchers, or text book developers, or consultants, or anyone else who works outside of a school. Our schools will be saved by the teachers, principals, superintendents and other educators who live to learn. This new group, people I call radical learners, is emerging in schools all across the world. They are people who are driven by learning, who get up in the morning fired up to try something new, to make a difference, to teach and learn.

I believe the need for radical learners is greater today than it was when I started writing this column. I’m excited to begin this journey again, and I invite you to be a part of the conversation.