Archives for : Pedagogy

Instructional Strategies Are Not Created Equal






How many of you use this strategy to check for understanding?

Professional development sessions have touted this strategy as an effective method to check for understanding. I have used it with fidelity in my classroom. It has only become apparent to me of late, as I observe and coach, that this is probably not the most effective strategy in a teacher’s toolkit.

It is so very important to gauge students’ understanding when presenting new content. Everyone learns at their own pace and it is an educator’s responsibility to monitor that learning. Some students come to class with background knowledge of the skill being taught, while others have never been exposed. Between these two poles, there are varying degrees of understanding. As an effective educator, I need to know at what learning stage each of my students finds him/herself.  

What can be wrong with this method of checking for understanding? Here’s what I’ve observed:

  1. Students want to be part of the “in” crowd. No one likes to admit they don’t know. When I ask for the thumbs indicator, eyes start looking around, heads turn to see positions of their friends’ thumbs. Some thumbs go up one way initially and change direction based on the thumb position of their peers. Some thumbs move from 0 to 30 before I’ve had an opportunity to fully scan the room. At the end of the check, I’m confused. I really don’t know who knows what or to what degree they think they know what they may or may not know.
  2. Nothing happens after students indicate their understanding. Teachers continue along the trajectory planned for the lesson. It is rare to see a teacher differentiate instruction based on student response. There is no “turn and talk” to clear misconceptions. I’ve rarely heard follow-up questions such as, “Ayja, you had your thumb raised that you understand. Based on what we’ve shared, what would you say is a character trait of the main character.” Possible responses include: 
  • “What? I don’t understand the question.”
  • “She was late to school.”
  • “I didn’t have my thumb up. I had it to the side.”
  • “Could you repeat the question?” 

I acknowledge this may only occur in my classroom and my pedagogy is the problem, but, I don’t think so. If you too find this happening in your classroom, maybe this strategy is not effective for you and your students either. Methods to check for understanding are plenteous. This one, however, may not be best. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. 



Facebook: FosteringTeachers@urbanschools1

It’s Not Hard. It’s Just New.

I recently had the pleasure of teaching integer rules to 7th graders. I want you to know I have tried several strategies to teach this concept, all of them easy to me, all of them frustrating to them.  While I was excited about being in the classroom again, I was apprehensive about teaching the concept. Right before I started to teach, I walked into an epiphany. I tried a different approach; something very familiar to them, resonated with them, something they all understood:  feelings!!!! Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding!!!

Now, before I share the strategy, I’d like to preface my understanding of the necessity for mathematical vocabulary and mathematical reasoning. I teach in a district where students come to middle school without much exposure to either. This lack of exposure propels me into the realm of “oh yes, you will learn this concept and be able to explain it” with expediency.  My students will learn and they will understand!! Maybe this strategy will help you with your budding, struggling mathematicians.

I state the objective for the day: I can add and subtract integers using integer rules. I presented three scenarios:

A. You wake up in the morning and as you walk out the door on your way to school you see a package with your name on it.  You open the box, and to your surprise is the pair of shoes you admired at the store, but didn’t ask for because you knew your parents couldn’t afford them. Are you feeling positive or negative?

Answer: Positive

As you are walking to school in your brand new shoes, you look down and there on the curb is a $20 bill.  There’s no one around, so you pick it up. You’ll decide what to do with it once you get to school.  Are you feeling more positive or less positive. 

Answer: More Positive

B. You are ironing your uniform shirt when your cell phone rings. You rush to your bedroom to answer, speak with your mom and assure her you are up, getting ready for school, and will not be tardy. You hang up, return to the ironing board and there is a hole in your shirt. You left the iron sitting on your shirt. Are you feeling positive or negative?

Answer: Negative

You are three minutes from your little brother’s school when he looks at you sadly and says he forgot his school project. Initially, you refuse to walk back home for it, but when the tears begin to roll down his face, you take him back home. You’re going to be late for school after all. Are you feeling more positive or more negative?

Answer: More negative

C. It’s your birthday!! Birthdays are big deals in your family and are always celebrated in a big way. You put on your new birthday outfit and head for the car. You’re getting a ride to school this morning too!! Are you feeling positive or negative?

Answer: Positive

You get in the car, smiling and excited. Before you get out, your dad informs you that he and your mom have to work late and your birthday celebration will need to be postponed. How are you feeling?


It is here the conversation becomes a student-friendly debate. Some feel more positive than negative, some feel more negative than positive, and some don’t know how they feel.


We then go on to relate feelings to integer rules.  No problem with positive plus positive. No problem with negative plus negative. But what happens when you’re feeling really positive and a little negative comes along? What happens when the feeling are reversed, and you feel really negative and something positive happens? What happens when the positive feelings equal the negative feelings?


They got it! They can explain it! It’s introductory, it’s simple, it’s relatable. It’s a beginning!!


Hope this helps another teacher!!




The Resurrection of “Why?”

Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I have more ice cream? Why do birds fly? Why is red, red and not blue? Why, why, why?

If you have ever had the wonderfully amazing experience of interacting with a two or three year old, you have been bombarded with one particular question, “Why?” No matter the race, color, culture, ethnicity, or socioeconomic factor, children are curious beings. They question everything. Questioning allows them to make sense of the world. Being inquisitive is a desirous trait; one that is valuable throughout life. Why then, would such a valuable and necessary characteristic be practically non-existent in the middle school classroom?

Last school year, I began to seek an answer to this question. My students were engaged, active learners. They performed well on common, benchmark, and state assessments. They were well behaved, participated in academic discussions, and were respectful of each other. Yet, there was something amiss. I rarely heard them ask me, their teacher, “why?” Despite many conversations where I quickly informed them I didn’t know everything and no adult does; despite many conversations where I encouraged them to “call me out”; despite me giving them the “ok” to question me, I rarely heard, “Why?”

What have we done to the children? I can vividly remember my response to my own children’s “Why?” When I’d worked eight hours, prepared dinner, assisted with homework, bathed, and read a bedtime story, my response was too often, “Because I said so,” or “I don’t have time to explain, just do it.” Those responses equated to “Don’t ask me questions, just do as I say.” Over the course of only a few years, “Why?” died, and it was me who caused its death.

Have we taken the concept of authority too far? Are we, unconsciously and unwittingly, raising a generation of young people who are accepting the hand they’ve been dealt. Who will be the challengers, the resistors, the ones who ask questions and demand answers? I taught my students to look me in the eye when speaking. At the same time, I taught them to make sure they DID NOT look a police officer in the eye, just in case. A middle school student once shared, “If I ask my mom why, I might get slapped.”

I wanted my students to challenge me. I wanted them to beg the question for skills I taught.  I longed for a “Why?” that rarely happened. It was during my reflective time that I began to ask myself a question, “How do I resurrect why?”


  • As you model procedures and expectation, require that students ask the reasoning behind the procedure.
  • Assure your students that it’s OK to question you.
  • Set an expectation that each student MUST ask a minimum of one “Why?” question per week, or ideally more frequently.
  • During instruction, ask more “Why?” questions.
  • Teach situational discernment on when to ask “Why?”
  • Teach the relationship between advocacy and “Why?”
  • Teach the difference between an insolent “Why?” and an inquisitive “Why?”
  • Encourage students to challenge each other by asking “Why?”

Having students ask “Why?” can seem daunting. I can hear the insolent tone of a misbehaving student even as I write. However, using a positive approach and good instruction, can only yield growth and development for students who need it most. I challenge you. Why?





Why I Didn’t Quit Teaching

There is a plethora of articles, posts, tweets, discussions, and comments regarding why teachers leave the profession. Facebook carries daily posts concerning what you can do with an education degree other than being an educator. Negative responses are rampant to “back-to-school” ads. Parents are becoming delighted while teachers are feeling dismayed. Standing outside, looking in, it would appear as if teaching is the worst profession in the world. Standing outside, looking in, it would appear as if teachers are actually miserable and despise their jobs. While this may be true for some (and if that’s you, PLEASE LEAVE THE TEACHING PROFESSION), it’s not true for all.

Teachers who love their job are busy, right now, mentally preparing for the start of the new year, walking the aisles at Walmart, or actually in their classrooms setting up for the new school year. Lovers of teaching have little time to express dismay. Instead, they are preparing for what’s ahead. Here are some of the reasons why these teachers do what they do:

  1. They are walking in their purpose – When you are aligned with purpose, everything falls into place. You are happy in your job, with your family, and with your income. Every need you have is taken care of. You may not have everything you want, but you do have everything you need. You could complain, but you don’t because you know how well you have it. For these teachers, teaching children is not a job, it’s a passion.

  2. They are life-giving and passionate – These teachers genuinely like kids. They enjoy the antics. anticipate the failures, and applaud the successes. They are energetic and enthusiastic. These are the teachers who spend time during summer break being perfectly content improving their skills – taking a class or reading a new resource/technique to improve instruction – BECAUSE THEY WANT TO.

  3.  They seek opportunities to try new approaches in their classroom – These are the teachers who enjoy professional development. They enjoy faculty meetings. They want to learn. They understand their students can only grow as far as their teacher is willing to grow. These teachers rarely use the previous years’ lesson plans verbatim. They may tweak previous lessons, but primarily create from scratch. These teachers are not lazy instructors.

  4. They recognize the importance of the work – These are the teachers who realize the students they teach today are the citizens of tomorrow. They teach each student as if he/she was their own. They establish boundaries for children, always act in the best interest of students, are unafraid of administrators, parents, coworkers. Because they walk in purpose, they recognize they are completely protected. These teachers maintain balance in their lives, recognizing the importance of the work they do for others as well as the necessity to work on themselves, holistically.

  5. They share – These are the teachers who want to see all children succeed, not just the ones in their classroom. That’s why they share instructional activities and resources. They open their doors to anyone who wants to observe, critique, or evaluate. They are not afraid of feedback and actually relish such. They are open to suggestions and will make suggestions to those wanting to receive. They share strategies that work; they share strategies that don’t. These are the teachers who are givers and give freely, expecting nothing in return. These are the teachers who advocate for students.

    While there is a lot of conversation right now about “back to school,” there’s also an EXCITEMENT

    in the air!!!  


Chunk Independent Practice????

We know the value in chunking text for our struggling and advanced readers, but what about chunking independent practice? Consider this:

I just read the article (below) by Dave Stuart (I shared in an earlier post how much I respect his work). What if we chunked independent practice into short spans of time? What if we broke the teaching objective into discrete steps of mastery along Bloom’s hierarchy?

This is what I mean: Let’s say we’re teaching subject/verb agreement. Well, we need to know if students can identify a subject and verb before we ask them to determine agreement. So, after we instruct and model identifying each, we would them say, “OK, class, for the next ten minutes I want you to deliberately focus on nothing else but identifying subjects and verbs in the following sentences. Go!” Once ten minutes are up, we could give a mental break – a quick Socrative quiz or maybe a discussion for clarity. Next, we would instruct and model agreement. “OK , class, now I want you to deliberately focus for the next ten minutes on nothing else but whether the subjects and verbs agree. Go!”

Our exit slip would consist of questions that check for identification as well as agreement and could be differentiated based on the different levels of student understanding.

These are my initial thoughts, and I’m sure they’ll be tweaked in the days to come. It never occurred to me to chunk independent practice.

Your thoughts????



As I reflect on my teaching career, there is one area I did not give adequate attention – WRITING. Only in the last three years, was I able to fully understand how to incorporate reading, writing, listening, and speaking into a 75 minute block effectively and efficiently. No matter your content, students MUST read, write, listen and speak daily.

Dave Stuart publishes a wonderful graphic to assist teachers in ensuring writing is happening daily. He also stresses quantity over quality, at the beginning of the year, to get our students accustomed to writing.

The graphic is below. For those of you interested in the entire article, I have added the link –

REMEMBER: No matter your content, students must read, write, listen, and speak on a daily basis.

Thank you!


Learning Strategy: Think Like A Runner

If you are a teacher who does not follow Dave Stuart, Jr., I strongly suggest you do. Dave shares amazing instructional strategies which I often used in my classroom. In the future, you will see reposted items from Dave’s blog.

Happy reading!

Speaking and Listening – A Non-Negotiable in Urban Schools

I follow Dave Stuart, Jr. Factually, it is because of Dave that I have this website. It is because of Dave that I wrote my goals and am actually pursuing them. I have implemented strategies Dave discusses in his blog, AND THEY WORK!!!  Dave Stuart, whether he knows it or not, is my self-appointed mentor.

Speaking and listening is an important skill in high poverty, urban schools. Our students don’t always come to us with practical understanding of how speaking and listening works outside the home. Instead, they bring to school what they know: cutting off the speaker, listening to respond instead of listening to understand; zoning out. If you doubt what I’m saying is true, scroll through Facebook. It is our teacher responsibility to teach this much-needed skill for our students’ future successes.

Take a moment to read the article in the link I’ve shared. Once you have recuperated from the school year and begin to prepare for the next, you won’t be disappointed.