Archive for January, 2013


How many students struggle taking tests?  Not because they don’t know the subject matter, but because they just don’t understand what a question was asking?  They just might not know what a word meant.

Larry I. Bell, author of the book, 12 Powerful Words That Increase Test Scores and Help Close the Achievement Gap, has come up with a list of 12 words that when students are exposed to these words in a systemic, in depth manner, they will have to think at a higher level.  By asking teachers to model these powerful words in daily conversations, as part of the questions on tests and quizzes, students are less likely to be intimidated by them on standardized tests; therefore, relieving any testing anxiety.

Unfortunately, in our current educational testing system, with the infinite wisdom of legislators and policy makers who mandate so many “required state assessments”, high stakes testing is a huge part of the school year.  And for many students, with so much riding on these tests, it’s no wonder that many students suffer from test anxiety.  However, with continuous and consistent exposure to these 12 Powerful Words there will be an increase in the student’s confidence level as well as a reduction in testing anxiety.

The key is for all students to be thoroughly familiar with these 12 Powerful Words Every teacher in every class must consistently use these words.  When this happens, all students will benefit.

Here are the 12 Powerful Words with a short, “student-friendly” definition of each:

  1. Trace – list in steps
  2. Analyze – break apart
  3. Infer – read between the lines
  4. Evaluate – judge
  5. Formulate – create
  6. Describe – tell all about
  7. Support – back up with details
  8. Explain – tell how
  9. Summarize – give me the short version
  10. Compare – all the ways they are alike
  11. Contrast – all the ways they are different
  12. Predict – what will happen next

What strategies can teachers use to make the 12 Powerful Words a part of every student’s vocabulary? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Learn By Doing


What do all of the following have in common?

  • in football – tackling drills, passing routes by receivers, extra points, “Run it again!”
  • in baseball – batting practice, “situations”, hitting your cut-offs
  • in basketball – free throws, lay-ups, three pointers, press break, in-bounds plays


In order to be good at these skills, you have to practice them.  You learn them by doing them.   You don’t get good at them by just having the coach TELL you how to do it.  To get good at these skills you have to do them.  You learn by doing.

I read an article written by Alan Haskvitz, in which he outlines traits of great teachers.  Great teachers keep their students off balance.  They are not boring.  They challenge the students.  They motivate the them to do their best.

Great teachers are diverse.  They have to be because not all students learn the same way (contrary to popular belief by some teachers).  We all have different learning styles and the great teacher uses many different methods to reach their students.

Great teachers create an environment where students are independent.  They can get answers on their own.  They are not spoon-fed.  They learn by doing.  This will promote a deeper understanding for the students.

Great teachers set high expectations and bring out the best in their students.  Great teachers encourage risk-taking, knowing that sometimes the students will make mistakes and sometimes even fail.  They learn by doing.

Great teachers are also, and will always be,  students.  They must be constant learners themselves.  They learn by doing.  They set the example that learning is something good.

As a teacher, it is our job to set up the classroom environment that is conducive to learning.  As an administrator, it is our job to set up the school environment that is conducive to learning.  We all know this.  It’s nothing new.  But, it unfortunately is not always the case in every classroom in every school.

What do we have to do to get it to be this way?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Learning By Doing

This school year we have been stressing that in order to increase student achievement we must have great instruction.  This is not anything that is new or cutting-edge; it is just plain common sense. This past summer I read a book written by Sean Cain and then, when I attended the TASSP (Texas Association of Secondary School Principals) Summer Conference in June,  I was fortunate enough to hear Sean Cain and others speak about The Fundamental 5.  I brought the ideas back to my campus and now we are using the ideas and strategies of the Fundamental 5.

Also this year I challenged my staff to try new things, take risks, and to not be afraid to fail.  I am looking to have my teachers be comfortable with new ideas and excited about trying new things.  I know that we all get in our comfort zones and don’t like to step out of the box, so I just keep encouraging them to “just try.”  I had one teacher who approached me about Flipping her classes.  She actually wanted to know if I would mind if she tried!  She has been working extremely hard on this project for her U.S. History classes and is doing a great job.

Back in December, we had an early release day for the students and the faculty had professional development.  So, in keeping with the concepts of The Fundamental 5 and trying new things, I decided to make a video and send it to my teachers so they could watch it before we met.  All in all, I think it went well and we had a productive day.

Here is the video that I made about The Fundamental 5 — The FORMULA for Quality Instruction.



Musician Ray Wylie Hubbard says, “The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, those are good days.”  I think it goes without saying that gratitude is an amazing “happiness strategy”.  Expectations, on the other hand, get us in trouble.  The expectations we have of ourselves and others are one of the quickest ways to get frustrated and disappointed.

I have found that we get frustrated when people don’t meet our expectations when, in reality, most of the time we haven’t even clearly communicated what our expectations are.  Think about the last time you were frustrated with or disappointed in someone.  Chances are, it was because your expectations weren’t met.  Did you clearly communicate them?

I once had a friend who said he was never disappointed because he always kept low expectations.  I think he and Ray Wylie Hubbard were on to something, in simple terms; however, I am a firm believer that we must always have high, positive expectations for ourselves and our organizations.


This year, one of my goals is to communicate better, more clearly, and more effectively.   This is something that I will consciously make an effort to do on a daily basis.  Not only will I need to better, clearly, and more effectively communicate my expectations, I will also better, clearly, and more effectively show gratitude.  When I do this, the days will be good.


This post was adapted from an email I received from Dr. Ray Deason.  You can follow him on Twitter @RayDeason