Subtle ways to help redirect your students.
Literacy & Special Education Specialist
I recently met with a colleague who had just returned from visiting a science teacher’s classroom, and when I asked her about her visit, she replied, “I love being in his classroom. I mean, he’s such a natural teacher.” I nodded, because I know just what she means. In this particular teacher’s classroom, the students produce thoughtful work and always seem engaged, even cheerful, which is no small feat for high schoolers. He has a gentle, relaxed way about him and when students start to act a little silly or get off task, he swiftly ushers them to their seat or nudges them to refocus.
I kept thinking about that phrase “he’s such a natural,” and what it means to be a “natural” at teaching. Or anything, really. I thought about the teachers I’ve worked with whom I consider to be “naturals,” and how they seem to teach effortlessly, how they bring humor into the classroom and make students feel safe and welcome so they can focus on learning and engaging with the content.
Professor and mentor Ruth Vinz always pushes educators to name the verbs we use in teaching. In other words, what does it mean to “teach?” In this case, what are those moves this “natural” teacher makes to keep his class running smoothly, so class time is spent on learning?
Our classroom management resource can help you encourage students in your class who may need some redirecting, and proactively stop flare-ups before they start. The goal is to maximize class time with your students, and this resource may provide fresh ideas. As you look at the list, notice which strategies you are already doing and which you can try.
Below are some non-confrontational strategies from this resource that I use all the time.
Please note: if anyone in class is in danger of hurting themselves or others, the teacher needs to reach out for help immediately.
To the class aloud, “I want to say thank you to x, y and z for working quietly on their assignment.” Or “Everyone is working so well, keep up the good work!”
This strategy notices and names students who are on task, or working towards the right direction. Naming students who are doing the “right thing” is a great teacher trick, as it allows students to hear their name in a positive way. This acknowledgement can even sound like, “I love how you are partnering together and sharing your ideas,” as this feedback names the specific ways students are working in your class. When teachers use positive narration, they are creating a positive cycle that other students will want to engage in.
Teacher stands close to students who are talking or disruptive. The teacher continues to stand there until the students have stopped their disruptions.
This is such a classic teacher move that so many of us practice without even knowing it! When a student begins to get a bit distracted, walking over to the student and standing near their seat is often enough of a gesture to refocus the distracted student, instead of elevating the situation by saying their name in a disciplinary way.
Along this same trajectory, it often helps to walk farther away from students who are speaking too softly for classmates to hear. Students tend to speak loud enough for their teacher to hear, but if the teacher is moving to the far side of the classroom, they will have to raise their voice to become more understandable. This is another non-confrontational way of nudging students to project their voices instead of asking students to “speak louder.”
Teacher is speaking to the class when talking begins. The teacher freezes mid-sentence — doesn’t speak or move — and doesn’t speak again until the room is quiet.
We can all remember that teacher who could silence a class with just a look. Perhaps by widening their eyes, or a slight tilt of their head. Before you knew it, students were shushing each other and sitting up a bit straighter.
While there may be a touch of teacher magic happening in these scenarios, the “Wait” strategy is an effective way to redirect your class without raising your voice! Sometimes it takes a minute for students to get quiet. This strategy is a reminder that teachers don’t have to talk louder or speak over students; on the contrary, it is more powerful to pause and wait for class to quiet down.
It’s also a good reminder that sometimes silence or “wait time” in the classroom is necessary — particularly during discussions or after the teacher or a student poses a question.
There are some teachers who may appear as “naturals” in the classroom, but if you start to notice and name their teaching moves, you will find that they are practicing non-confrontational strategies with their students. These small moves are ones that all of us can employ, and with some consistency and a bit of teacher swagger, perhaps we can all be “naturals” as well.
Help students independently investigate and interpret unfamiliar words using context clues.
Elementary & Project-Based Learning Specialist
When it comes to reading, one of the most significant challenges students face is vocabulary. If students come across a word they don’t know while reading, it can have a substantial impact on their comprehension and their confidence. I witnessed this as a classroom teacher, and I’ve heard it from many of the teachers I now coach.
Searching for clues
One of my most tried and true strategies, which I used in my own classroom as an elementary teacher, and one I continue to offer to teachers, involves encouraging students to read texts like a detective who is searching for clues. Asking them to engage in this way encourages students to look for clues that can help unlock meaning, offer insights, and assist them in interpreting unknown words.
But these clues — often referred to as context clues — go beyond the language immediately surrounding unknown words. Clues might be found in the paragraph before or after an unknown word or phrase. Sometimes there are clues in the text features, including pictures, visuals, captions, or word boxes. We need to support students in treating the whole text as a series of clues that can help them become familiar with specific vocabulary words as they read independently.
Monitoring for meaning
Our Monitoring for Meaning resource can support students with this process, particularly when it comes to identifying and investigating difficult words. It offers a helpful template that prompts students to:
This resource asks them to use their best guess and then either confirm or revise their thinking after using a dictionary. Furthermore, it prompts students to lean on their prior knowledge to help decipher new words.
Literacy teachers have the demanding and important task of teaching reading, and while there is no single strategy that can guarantee success, encouraging curiosity and investigation while reading is a high leverage way to support students in becoming competent, confident readers.
A flexible path toward mastery that provides structured support for students at all levels.
ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Instructional Design Specialist
When I was growing up, my high school Social Studies teacher had a poster hanging on the wall that read, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” The message was clear, even to teenagers -- the power to succeed or to reach a new goal is often inside of each of us. As educators, we know that our students’ mindsets play a major role in how hard they try, how much confidence they develop, and how committed they are to reaching their goals. But confidence alone doesn’t get them to a point of mastery. And desire alone won’t develop their skills, or increase their knowledge base, or level up their accuracy or precision. For those changes, our students need structured support!
This structured support often comes in the form of scaffolding. Like the large platforms that help construction workers reach the tall exterior of a building, scaffolding student learning creates platforms of support as teachers incorporate challenging texts, complex tasks, and abstract ideas into their instruction. Scaffolding is critical when holding high expectations and implementing a rigorous curriculum — but scaffolding alone doesn’t develop independent learners. Sometimes, scaffolding can become a crutch that teachers and students use, turning a support into a shackle. As educators, we often spend a lot of our planning time thinking about how to build scaffolds to break learning down into manageable components, but we can’t stop there. We must also consider the ways we gradually release scaffolding so that students can internalize and transfer their knowledge and skills to new tasks and topics.
A path toward mastery
Our Progressive Scaffolding Framework outlines a path for educators to consider when setting high expectations for students, helping them find that balance between necessary supports and structured enabling. Building on the ideas of Zone of Proximal Development and apprenticeship theories, the framework outlines a path toward mastery in four stages:
Stage 1: I do, you watch
When introducing new content or skills, we begin with the I do, you watch stage. We initiate this by introducing new concepts alongside prior knowledge, real world examples, or previous units of study. Our goal is to map new information onto our students’ activated schemas so that the new content or skills are contextualized and relevant.
At this stage of instruction, we can prepare and provide a model of the task, using a Think Aloud mini-lesson where we walk our students through an internal thinking process that illustrates how we navigate the task and make decisions. Alternatively, we can outline the explicit steps to complete the task, or provide a roundup of the important information students need to know before diving in.
The I do, you watch process can be presented to students working individually or in small groups. It’s important to remember that even at this stage, students shouldn’t be sitting silently. We always want students actively engaged, so we might add a note taking component, a reflection task, a meta-cognitive class discussion, or an element of inquiry so that students remain intellectually engaged in the process.
Stage 2: I do, you help
After laying the groundwork for the task in stage 1, we can move into stage 2, where students begin working with the content and task materials with support. Working in small groups, students might replicate the model with new information, restate or reword the essential steps in their own words, or engage in a small group discussion or group practice as a way to begin experimenting with and internalizing the skills.
Stage 3: You do, I help
In stage 3, the content and skills should be familiar to students after their initial explorations, and they should be ready to continue in pairs or small groups with more independence. Students are still in the development phase of their learning, so they may need additional support and will benefit from frequent check-ins, and suggested strategies — but here’s where we want to avoid returning to stage 1 supports. We’re looking for students to be engaged in a productive struggle.
Students may benefit from suggestions of “fix up” strategies or options for what to do if they get stuck. At this stage, we want to push students beyond replicating the model or the example by having them practice the skill or apply content with a new format, a new context, or by making connections to other topics within the discipline or beyond.
This is also a great stage to ask students to use one another as resources. While working in pairs and small groups is an excellent way to support students at their level and create opportunities for growth through collaboration, we want to ensure a high level of individual accountability so that some students don’t take on the burden for the group while others opt out of the learning process.
Stage 4: You do, I watch
In stage 4, students have been exposed to new content and skills, they’ve practiced working on a task informally with support, and they’ve begun making connections with other content information or demonstrating their learning through class activities and tasks. At this stage, it’s important to begin removing any unnecessary scaffolds to see what students can do independently.
In the You do, I watch phase, we recommend providing a short review of the process and previous work done up to this point in the learning experience. After the review, we can be clear with students that they’re ready to try it out on their own. Provide a clear task and an adequate amount of time to complete the task (3-4 times as long as it would take you to do it).
Students who are able to take on this challenge and demonstrate their skills individually prove that they’re meeting the expectations of the task and are ready to move forward to the next knowledge block or skill sets. Students who struggle at this stage help us to understand where and why they’re struggling, so that we can return to Stage 3 to provide targeted support.
How long does this take?
Like an accordion, this process can be expanded or compressed to meet the needs of your grade level and subject area. We might be able to move through the four stages within a single lesson, or it may be an expanded process that is organized across a week’s worth of lesson plans. Consider these two examples:
45-minute Lesson Plan Structure
5 minutes | Opening warm up: Inquiry question
10 minutes | I do, you watch: Mini-lesson modeling
10 minutes | I do, you help: Stop and jot, turn and talk reflection on the model
15 minutes | You do, I help: Small group practice
5 minutes | You do, I watch: Closing summary formative assessment
Week-long Lesson Structure
Monday | I do, you watch: Introduction, modeling, and reflection
Tuesday | I do, you help: Small group discussion and practice
Wednesday | You do, I help: Small group practice and connections, part 1
Thursday | You do, I help: Small group practice and connections, part 2
Friday | You do, I watch: Independent practice and formative assessment
The process of instruction and assessment is complex, especially when we’re trying to use data to inform instruction and support students who’ve struggled in the past. We want to be mindful to keep forward momentum toward rigorous learning goals while developing a clear path forward for students who begin at every level.
Making a 21st century skills framework meaningful for K-12 instruction.
ROBERTA LENGER KANG, Instructional Design Specialist and SHERRISH HOLLOMAN, CRSP & Adult Learning Specialist
Over the past century, advanced technology has made the world smaller and smaller. This has perhaps never been truer than the past decade, in which social media has made it possible for a tweet or an Instagram post to be seen around the world in mere seconds. Consequently, we see and have many more collective experiences. This was perhaps never more evident than over the past few years with the shared experience of a global pandemic and a rapid impact on learning in most parts of the world.
As we were thrust into new ways of thinking about teaching and learning, different mindsets, and different ways of imagining schools, we were faced with the truth that we can no longer sustain a 20th century in a 21st century world. The task before us is to educate students today for the world they’re poised to lead tomorrow.
As a founding organization of the Global Learning Alliance (GLA), we have been thinking about reimagining education and preparing educators for the future for quite some time. The GLA is the outgrowth of our groundbreaking research in five of the top PISA-ranked cities around the world on the features and practices surrounding 21st century teaching and learning, and is committed to cross-cultural research collaborations as an effort to define a pedagogy that takes into account the dynamic needs of our changing world.
Through this work, we are dedicated to understanding, defining, applying, and sharing the principles and practices of a world-class education within a wide range of educational contexts.
As part of research and collaborations with K-12 schools and university partners around the world, we have developed the Global Mindset Framework, which identifies five mindsets that have emerged as most relevant to the future success of today’s students. Each mindset includes four key skills that demonstrate the actions that can be seen when cultivating the mindset.
But just having access to a framework doesn’t mean it’s automatically linked to classroom practices — and some of these mindsets haven’t been typically taught in schools. As a result, we always consider how we can help educators to analyze, apply, and adjust learning frameworks as they incorporate them into their everyday teaching practices.
Putting the framework into practice
The challenge with any educational framework is translating it into meaningful practice for the teachers and students it's intended to serve. We were privileged to partner with the Brunswick School to integrate 21st century practices into a wide range of courses across all grade levels. We customized our professional learning approach to maximize the time we had together so teachers could have meaningful conversations, practical applications, and space to reflect on their experiences for deeper learning. We used a blended approach to professional development that included customized, professional learning videos and synchronous 75-minute sessions to explore the meanings of each component and practical application for classroom practices.
As we worked across department teams, we wanted to model the mindsets of the framework, so with each new mindset that we studied, we created a customized video with the basic facts, and then planned for an interactive face-to-face session where teachers developed practical strategies after watching the video and discussed the impact of the framework on their classes.
Some teachers noticed that incorporating a new mindset each month allowed them to expand their learning outcomes beyond simply “critical thinking skills” and that they were setting critical goals for collaboration through group work and discussion, as well as creativity where they used imaginative writing prompts to help students expand their thinking. This kind of integrated thinking helped the teachers test and tweak their learning strategies immediately.
By creating heterogeneous groups in these sessions, we were also able to support cross-grade professional learning conversations that generated great ideas from different vantage points. Teachers from the upper grades were amazed at the different planning and pedagogical moves made by the teachers in the lower grades. Similarly, the teachers in the lower grades benefited from learning more about student expectations in the upper grades. These realizations created space for metacognitive reflection about their practice, and challenged some of the assumptions we all have when thinking about planning for our specific grade/content area. Like working with students, we know that placing adults in strategic and flexible groupings is a powerful lever for keeping learning fresh.
During the culminating session about their learning, each teacher was given an opportunity to share a lesson, unit, or project they implemented or planned to implement by applying a single or multiple mindset from the framework. Their learning was evident through their sharing and evidenced in the artifacts from their student work. In one case, a teacher hoped to have students investigate COVID-19 using actual numbers and data to unpack the pandemic. After interpreting the data, they would design charts and graphs to share their findings, make predictions for the long-term impacts of COVID-19, and offer recommendations for next steps. Throughout the project, students would implicitly be asked to demonstrate the Global mindset from our framework, as they strove to solve real-world problems.
When educators consider the implications of the Global Mindset Framework within their own curriculum, we’ve seen how they cultivate their own mindsets, in addition to making direct connections to new teaching practices.
Our partners demonstrated that when we scratch the surface of 21st century skills, we see that there are not only many innovative practices, but many unanswered questions.
Some of our big learning moments and new questions included the following:
In education, we often encounter frameworks — whether it’s a framework for literacy, a framework for evaluation, or a framework for instruction — that should translate into practice. This translation can be achieved through thoughtful and intentional professional development that respects the knowledge of teachers and honors the ways adults learn. By structuring these professional learning sessions in both synchronous and asynchronous engagements, and using cross-content and grade-level groupings, teachers were able to interpret this essential framework in meaningful ways.
Wondering what this work could look like in your community? Reach out to us to discuss how you can bring essential 21st century skills to your students and community.
A suggested sequence of sessions that encourages learning, application, reflection, and the sharing of promising practices.
ROBERTA LENGER KANG, Instructional Design Specialist and SHERRISH HOLLOMAN, CRSP & Adult Learning Specialist
Effective professional development can be defined as structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practice and improvements in student learning. Features such as strong content focus, inquiry-oriented learning approaches, collaborative participation, and coherence with school curricula and policies can be the difference between good and great professional learning experiences.
Since the 1970s, there has been a growing body of literature about learning and the application of reflective practice, which is a way of allowing educators to step back from their professional experience, develop critical thinking skills, and improve future performance.
When educators can learn a new idea or concept, apply this learning to their specific context/content area, reflect on the experience and share their experiences with colleagues — a cycle we call LARS — they can bring their professional learning experience to fruition.
Using the LARS model
The LARS model is a structure for developing ongoing professional development sessions that prioritize developing community knowledge, shared practices, and deepening reflection on what works, and why. In the planning process, facilitators should conduct a needs assessment to determine the strengths and struggles across the community and strategize an area of focus.
For example, one school recently discovered student performance in reading was struggling. After conducting a series of Learning Walks, the school leadership team noticed that literacy instruction was inconsistent across classrooms. The leadership debriefed their experiences and came to the conclusion that if teachers were using similar instructional strategies for Before, During and After reading, students would have increased their comprehension and confidence. The leadership team reviewed several research-based strategies and identified two strategies for each stage of the reading process, for a total of six literacy strategies to share with the whole school. They began to use the LARS framework to structure a 12-week PD series. They knew that they needed two weeks per topic: one session to introduce the strategy and make a plan to implement it, and a second session to reflect on their implementation and make adjustments.
The first session in the LARS model is focused on learning a new strategy, and making a plan to integrate or apply that strategy into instruction. This workshop should communicate the essential components of the topic, provide active engagement and an exchange of ideas between participants.
In leading the first workshop on literacy strategies using the example above, the facilitators would share more about why literacy is important across content areas, as well as the concept of Before, During and After reading strategies. They’d then provide a hands-on experience with the first literacy strategy. They may choose to model the strategy using a professional text, show a video of a teacher using the strategy in a real classroom, or create a challenge for teachers to collaborate on developing a model after learning about the strategy from a shared text.
At the end of the workshop, teachers consider how they can implement what they’ve learned into their practice. This is the apply portion of the session. Participants can complete an application plan where they write ideas about how they can implement the strategy, and what artifacts they will be able to bring to the next session. When teachers choose for themselves what to implement and what they want to bring back to the group, they have increased ownership in the process. By asking all participants to bring an artifact to represent what they implemented, we are able to create reciprocal accountability within the community. Additionally, when teachers across the school begin using a shared strategy at the same time, it exponentially increases the students’ understanding of how to use that strategy, and kickstarts the impact of that strategy on their learning experiences.
Reflection and sharing
The second session has a focus of reflection and community sharing. In Session 2, participants regroup through written reflection using either open-ended journaling practices, or by responding to a variety of prompts specific to the focus strategy. By reflecting on their experiences of implementing the strategy, teachers are able to synthesize the impact of that strategy on student learning and their own teaching practices. Their reflections become concrete texts and when shared, culminate as an archive of the professional learning that has occurred. After reflection, participants share their artifacts and experiences together in small groups, identifying similarities and differences in the samples of student work and their implementation experiences. Participants may celebrate successes, as well as take the opportunity to identify challenges and ways that their process can be extended.
After the first two sessions, the school may choose to retry the focus strategy, or to move onto the next topic, with the expectation that teachers will be adding to their instructional tool kit with each new move they learn.
Using the LARS cycle supports the most challenging aspect of professional learning: application.
Without application, learning just floats in the air as a neat idea. Engaging in the LARS process as a school community and/or department builds in time to apply new skills and reflect on them with colleagues. The reflection aspect promotes individual thinking about what went well, and how individual teachers might tweak it to make more sense for their classroom. This can become a rigorous process where teachers in the community test and vet instructional strategies that are most effective for their unique students. The LARS model is a cycle of inquiry that lends itself to not just learning a new concept, but creates a structure that helps communities cultivate ways of working, learning and growing together to meeting the evolving needs of students.