Category Archives: Instruction

Looking Forward to 2013-14 School Year

UbD-SummaryA message from Will Pierce, Director of Student Achievement:

Hello 27J Educators,

We hope your summer is offering you exactly what you need this summer, rather it be relaxing with your families, traveling the world, or actively learning and preparing for the up-coming 2013-14 school year.  Our team is trying to have a little bit of it all this summer.

As the student achievement team prepares for the up-coming school year, we felt it necessary to share some curricular changes with all of you.  This is the year that the “new” Colorado Academic Standards, and National Common Core Standards go live.  We know that many of you have been “playing” with these standards and you can expect more “play” this coming year at your school, within your departments, and across the district, as we continue our work toward Thinking Classrooms, and actualizing the teaching practices that we know produces higher levels of learning.

As a district we want every student in every classroom to be chasing rigorous instructional goals, and these goals are derived from standards.  We want our students to be assessed in ways that show evidence of learning toward these goals.  We want our students to be in classroom environments, and have educational experiences, where they have the responsibility for the attainment of such learning.

Instructional Goals (from Standards)… EvidenceLearning Experiences.  The new standards are only part, but an essential part, of what we want for every classroom.  For a view of the new 27J standards, resources, and links, please visit the Student Achievement Page on the 27J website.  There are plenty of resources available to you to help you interact with and understand the new standards if you follow the various tabs and links.

Please enjoy the remainder of your summer, and we will look forward to your return after a hopefully amazing summer.


Defining Rigor and Busting Myths


This week over 70 staff completed day 2 of the  “Units of Study” workshop at the District Training Room. Participants continued their work around unit planning and the Understanding by Design backwards planning model they started a couple of weeks ago.

Part of the discussion was around designing for the level of rigor required by the standards and reflected in your assessments and learning activities. But what is rigor, exactly? During the workshop conversation around assessment, rigor includes selecting the “right” kind of tasks/assessment, and the “right” scoring of those tasks.

Those interested in reading more about the concept of rigor, here are a few resources collected by the Pennsylvania Dept of Education:

The Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Rigor, Barbara Blackburn, 2012

4 Myths About Rigor in the Classroom, Eye On Education, 2010

The Characteristics of a Rigorous Classroom, Instructional Leader, 2009

The Lecture…Version 2.0

medium_3228729514Why does the lecture persist? Should it?

As teachers, we sure love to talk at our students! The most intense form of this “teacher-talk” is delivered every day in classrooms across the world, from middle schools through universities, as the age old LECTURE.

For decades, perhaps centuries, it has been argued that lectures are not the most effective form of teaching. Indeed the ideas of a Thinking Classroom itself leads us to less teacher talking and more student thinking. But yet lectures remain a common occurrence in many classrooms. Like all instruction, lecture is not necessarily bad in itself, but it can be done badly.

We believe the use of lecture, when used effectively, can be helpful when used with a variety of other learning modes. BUT — It definitely needs a re-vamp, an update, an overhaul. In fact, people have been trying to get it re-vamped for…well, let’s just say awhile…

Some thoughts from others on lecturing

From 2000:     Hativa, N. “Lecturing and Explaining.” Chapter in Teaching for effective learning in higher education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

“The success and effectiveness of the lecture depends upon its quality–there are good lectures and bad lectures…effective lecturing is much more than just communicating knowledge. It arouses interest and motivation…”

From 1981:    G.Gibbs Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing, SCED Occasional Paper No. 8, Birmingham.

“I would not like to leave the impression that I feel that there is no justification for ever lecturing. I lecture myself (though seldom for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch and then seldom when written substitutes are available). I believe there are circumstances when a well structured, well paced, varied, lively lecture can be the most efficient teaching method. But I do believe there is far more lecturing going on than can reasonably be justified by the evidence concerning the efficiency of lectures, especially bearing in mind the nature of the educational goals we claim to be striving for.”

From 1968: The Modified Lecture: A Useful Technique for the Teacher, Charles K. West, The Clearing House, Vol. 43, No. 3

“The chief disadvantage of the traditional lecture is the total lack of involvement, the passivity, of the student in the situation. It is true that some types of learnings take place when a students is passive. For most complex types of human learnings, however, involvement is a necessary correlate of learning. Typically, the only person involved in the traditional lecture situation is the lecturer. It can be said that at least one person learned, in any case.

Investigators of interaction analysis have begin to attack teacher talk in terms of the amount occurring in the classroom. Analyses indicate that less learning occurs in the classroom in which “teacher-talk” proceeds in an uninterrupted sequence.”

Upgrading the Lecture to Version 2.0

Lecture As Content Delivery is Dead
Jeff Utecht, a former teacher and blogger, shares the idea that lecturing for content delivery is no longer relevant with the explosion and abundance of free and open content through the internet. He proposes that “Lectures should be used to inspire, tell stories, and push ideas”.

Don’t Lecture Me: Rethinking How College Students Learn
Here’s a post from the Mind/Shift blog, written by Emily Hanford, describing a strategy of peer instruction, in place of the lecture, as used by Eric Mazur.  “….[he] now teaches all of his classes using a “peer-instruction” approach. Rather than teaching by telling, he teaches by questioning.”

TED Talks: Ideas worth spreading
If you haven’t watched or heard of TED Talks, it is popular website that houses a collection of lectures. The only limit? The talk must be 18 minutes or less. Here’s their description: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

Some Ideas to help Start Your Upgrade

Need some ideas on how to use technology to make your next planned lecture more interactive? Jeff extends the discussion in his post on “The Evolution of Lecture”

An collection of resources/ideas (some good, maybe some not so good) on designing Interactive Lectures, part of the SERC Pedagogic Service. The authors suggest the use of “engagement triggers” and “interactive activities”.

Like the TED Talks? There is now a new site created just for educators, TED ED – Lessons worth Sharing. Lessons build from TED-like videos are available on a variety of topics. The lesson includes three pices: Watch (the video), Think (questions to explore) and Dig Deeper (additional resources). Perhaps the most powerful feature, you can upload any video from YouTube and turn it into a TED-ED lesson!!

photo credit: Tadeeej via photopin cc

The Voice of the Active Learner


Are you ready to educate this Active, Connected Learner? Our students are growing up in an ever changing, increasingly digital society. Will your current instructional strategies and “keep up” with her? What one small step could you take tomorrow to better serve her needs? What changes have you already made?

The video below has some interesting statistics on the use of technology by young people. Be sure to check it out! Disclaimer: This video was produced by Blackboard, however, this is not an endorsement of the company. We just liked the video!

photo credit: courosa via photopin cc

Taft Elementary in Wisconsin Shares Thinking Strategies

So you want to make your classroom a “Thinking Classroom”, but need ideas to find a place to start? Here’s a video posted by Taft Elementary School in Neenan, WI about how they identified Thinking Strategies and incorporated them across their school. Their thinking strategies are:

  • Monitoring
  • Using Schema
  • Making Connections
  • Visualizing
  • Predicting
  • Questioning
  • Inferring
  • Determining Importance
  • Summarizing

Do you use any of these strategies? What did that look like? What strategies would you add to this list? What do you think shouldn’t make the list? What is your school doing or working on?

See the Video Here

How Do You Get ME to Learn?

As an extension to our first post, some educators suggested that we consider our question of “How Do We Get Kids to Learn?” from a possible student perspective. So without further explanation:

How do you get ME to learn when…

  • I don’t want to or have a reason to care about what is being taught?
  • You never stop telling us the answers, and sometimes we can’t hear them all as fast as you are talking?
  • I know that if I struggle, you will help me finish my paper correctly?
  • all you expect me to do is sit there and be quiet?
  • I can simply “Google It” or “Ask Siri” to find the facts you are asking me to memorize?
  • school is so boring?
  • I have already learned half of what you are teaching me, but I won’t say anything because I would rather not stretch myself anyway?
  • cooperative work really means chill with my friends, and copy each other?
  • your feedback just gives me the right answers?
  • you won’t call on me anyway because I didn’t raise my hand?
  • you are so busy talking that you won’t notice if I take a brief nap, send a text, write a note, do my homework for other classes, or talk quietly with my friends?
  • learning in school is really just an exercise in following directions?
  • I am already so far behind that I am completely lost?
  • I don’t know what you want from me?
  • your teaching doesn’t make me think, be responsible, or own anything?

But please don’t change anything. I am a kid, and I like the idea of just having to show up for school, do what you tell me to, and hang around for 13 years and you will let me out. I don’t want the responsibility of learning and would prefer you to shoulder the burden because you are accountable for this stuff, not me.

Ok, Ok. This isn’t a real student, but it is a real message. How will we change our own behaviors to change this perspective? How will we help each other commit to change?

photo credit: Gunnsi via photopin cc

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