Pencil and ruler.

Cheryl Belknap March 14, 2019

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Try a New Strategy, Part 1

Cheryl Belknap

BetterLesson Instructional Coach and Senior Manager, Solution Design

It’s March already? For many teachers, that means state-mandated assessments are right around the corner. Teachers can get pits in their stomachs thinking of all of the material they have yet to cover and of the need for further review.

I’d suggest that this is a great time—in fact one of the best times—to try a few new student-centered strategies that may help with those testing season butterflies (yours and your students’). There are three suggestions here, and I’ll be writing a second blog post with more soon.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the choices; skim through and find just one suggestion that you think is doable, and then try it! You might lose momentum if you spend hours trying to perfect it. Remember that after you implement it once, you can go back and improve upon your starting point to make it even more tailored to your students.

1. Maximize your ability to reach every student using the Designing Group Stations for Station Rotation Model strategy. How to find and manage content for these stations is covered in the suggestions below.

2. Blend your classroom, Part 1:  Providing students with teaching video to watch in class, as well as out-of-class.

Assigning videos for homework doesn’t work, and I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting using video as targeted instruction for small groups of students, so that you can work with individuals and the remaining small groups. Reminding students that those videos are then also available to watch at home, is a life skill you can introduce.

Many teachers, when I make this suggestion, look politely away to hide their astonishment that I would even suggest such a labor-intensive strategy, and wondering, “Didn’t she hear me when I said I was overwhelmed?”

I am listening and I’m not suggesting you make your own videos. Use quality videos from one solid free source. Why just one source? This is a great way to evaluate if that source is sufficient rather than trying to find a bunch of different sources. What do you have to lose? If video is intended as reteaching for target areas, it is just one of a handful of teaching strategies that you can try. Here are some solid resources you could explore:

If you have the time, make your own teaching mashups using EdPuzzle. As for student accountability, and your ability to check student thinking, try assigning two students per computer and giving them roles (here’s how), and whenever possible add a follow-up assignment that will ask them to “prove and practice” their thinking. You can also give students a graphic organizer with prompts such as 3 Things I Learned, 2 Questions I Still Have, and One Thing that Interests Me (access this strategy with a BetterLesson account).

3. Blend your classroom, Part 2: Leverage some of the sites listed above, and a few more that I’ll list below, to add literacy to learning experiences through reading, writing, and vocabulary practice.

cK-12 and Kahn Academy (see above) have complete lessons and units, but ReadWorks and Newsela are two of my favorite sites for adding literacy to all subjects. Both provide leveled texts, the ability to adjust reading levels, vocabulary practice, text in Spanish, follow up questions, direct to student assignment, non-fiction text and more. Just because these are literacy sites doesn’t mean they are solely useful for ELA content. They are also rich resources for science, social studies, and other subject areas, too. Make the reading activities accountable by using the prompts, vocabulary, and question sets available on the site, and, again, I suggest assigning two students per computer.

Build student curiosity and create a daily engaging writing activity such as journaling no matter the subject area. Yes, students can journal in math! Journaling is a great way to get students thinking. Challenge them to show and explain three different ways to solve (assess process for solving), to write a note to a classmate explaining, with examples, what they just learned (assess learning), and to find out how they are feeling about math learning (assess mindset).

Finally, What’s Going on In This Picture? is a weekly free New York Times writing activity suitable for upper middle and high school students that supports the development of identifying evidence and making inferences, skills critical to science, social studies, and ELA. There are a number of organizations, such as National Geographic and USA Today, that also provide pictures of the day.

This March, when you sit down to plan for this especially busy time of year, get excited for the opportunity to try something new. You’ll be surprised at how it helps scale down the big-ticket items ahead of you this spring. After all, even one shift in the strategies you employ can have major and meaningful impacts on the teaching and learning in your room.