Posts Tagged ‘instruction’

Fundamental Change witht he Fundamental 5


This is a review of my notes from my final session from this summer’s TASSP Summer Workshop in Austin. In this particular session, Sean Cain, one of the authors of The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction, gives some practical advice to administrators and teachers about how to increase student achievement by following each of the components he outlines in his book.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  It is an easy read with straight-forward, easy to follow and implement strategies.  This will not be a summary of the book only a summary of my notes from this particular session.  Notes that I took that will help me in my school as we work to increase student achievement.

I am not an advocate of teaching to the test, or CONSTANTLY verbalizing the importance of raising our scores.  My teachers know that we are judged by our scores and they don’t need to be constantly hounded about getting them up.  This is not to say that we “bury our heads in the sand” and do not talk about it.  What we do is work to improve instruction in every classroom every day.  When students know what they will be learning each day, when they exposed to higher-level instructional practices, and they are engaged daily, then our test scores will improve.



We will discuss how the Fundamental 5 transforms classroom instruction.  I will describe the relationship between the Fundamental 5 and improved student performance.


What does instruction look like now?  Mostly it is at the COMPREHENSION level.  There is lecture, students are taking notes, and they have homework .  Students are doing something.  Teachers are still teaching like they were back in the 1990’s.   At the best campuses, typical instruction is just under the APPLICATION level.


  • whole group instruction
  • lecture
  • worksheets


  • teacher to student feedback
  • questions, cues, and organizers
  • reinforce effort


  • written summarization
  • non-linguistic
  • generalize and test hypothesis
  • cooperative learning
  • student-to-student feedback
  • discussion groups

WRITE CRITICALLY = written similarities and differences, written summarization, note taking

SMALL GROUP, PURPOSEFUL TALK = cooperative learning, student-to-student feedback, discussion groups

If teachers teach the way they always have taught but recognize and reinforce (authentically) they can get up to a 30% increase in student performance.  This is a big increase just by doing this one thing.  It only make sense that when students are doing the right thing, they need to know.

If students are engaged in an academic task and if the teacher monitors and supports this by being in the Power Zone, student performance can also increase.  Teachers can now more easily recognize and reinforce.  All they have to do is start talking to their students.

Students need to write.  There is noting more powerful than writing critically.  This does not mean that students need to write research papers all the time.  They need to write in small to mid sized chunks.  They need to talk & write and write & talk.  If it doesn’t involve talking and writing, it is not a good instructional practice.  This purposeful talk can easily be managed by the teacher being in the power zone.

When the teachers don’t frame their lesson, they haven’t planned enough to know when and where to talk and write.

Here’s a simple solution to increased and improved student achievement:  Expose students to better instruction.  When students are exposed to better instruction, they will  out perform students who are not exposed to better instruction.

Math teachers can easily have students work at the application level if they “solve” problems BUT only if they are solving what they don’t already know.  Otherwise it is only “review”, which is only at the knowledge level.

If the teacher is talking it is only at the Knowledge level.

Fine Arts classes and science labs are at the Application level.  Most of the time the core classes are not at this level.

In order to get to the Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation levels, students must write and students must talk. (write critically, small group, purposeful talk).  The prompt is important and the teacher being in the power zone is vital for them to see and hear what is going on.

No matter how hard the teacher works, if the students are not talking purposefully and writing critically, their instruction will never be above the knowledge, comprehension, and application levels.

Rigor in the classroom is not driven by how hard the teacher works or talks.  Rigor only increases when students talk with a purpose and when they write critically.  They must Talk & Write, and Write & Talk.

The Good Ole Days are now and the Great Days are ahead of us.


The Fundamental 5


Teachers … How would you describe your class?  Are you an out-of-the-box type of teacher?  Do you get your students to think outside-the-box?

Administrators … How would you describe your school?  Do you promote out-of-the-box thinking?

outside the box

This is an awesome video! 

I can’t think of any other way to describe this video, created by Paul Bogush, an 8th grade teacher at Moran Middle School in Wallingford, CT.  You can visit his blog and see what all he’s about as well as follow him on twitter @paulbogush.


I agree with Scott McLeod when he says, “I want this for my kids. And yours. And everyone else’s. More of this, please!”

Is this out-of-the-box and unusual, or can this the new norm for modern teachers?  What do you think?


The start of the new school year is right around the corner.  In just a few days, teachers and students will be back in school , back to the routine that is all so familiar to us.  While some teachers and students will say they are not ready to come back, most really are ready.

Ready to learn.  Ready to teach.  Ready to make a difference.

Here are some questions to think about.

  1. What are you going to do this year?  Will it be the same as you’ve done every year?  You know, the saying … one year’s experience, twenty-five times!
  2. Are you ready to do something different?  Are you ready to put in to action what you learned from your summer professional development?
  3. Are you willing to commit to it?  Will you go right back to what you’ve always done because that is what you are comfortable with?

Is this what your classroom will look like this year?

desks - straight

Do you rely solely on textbooks to teach your class?


In this video from John Maxwell, he talks about the value of a rubberband.  It is  intended to be stretched.  Can you be stretched?

Here’s my challenge to you … What are you going do to stretch yourself ??

We are already 53 days into 2013.  February is about to be over and March is right around the corner.  So is your State Assessment (especially if you are in 3rd thru 12th grade in Texas).  How do you feel? Are you FIRED UP?

Is this you?

Teacher depressed

What about this?

Ray Lewis Fired up

How do you WANT to feel?

I hope you want to feel FIRED UP.

If not, it’s time to STEP UP!

No matter how bad you feel about the current school year, it is of the utmost importance to your students, to your staff, AND to yourself that you STEP UP and get FIRED UP!!!

It may not be easy, but I know you can do it.  All you have to do is make the DECISION … make the COMMITMENT … and get FIRED UP!

I believe in you.

the world

Do your students want to learn?  Do they look forward to coming to your class?  Do they get a chance to create, to collaborate, to connect?  Or do they get a chance to fill in the blanks on a worksheet?  Like Will Richardson says in his book, Why School, the world has changed — and continues changing — rapidly and radically.  Technology is a huge part of our lives today.  Everybody’s lives.  Teacher’s lives and, yes, even students.  Why not harness the power of technology and its opportunities to connect and learn.  Be creative.  Make it fun.

How do you use technology in your classes?  How do you connect with the world?  How do your students connect?

Learning is Fun

Remember when you were in elementary school (for some of us, that was a very long time ago) and you actually enjoyed school and looked forward to getting up everyday and going to school to learn.  Back then, learning was fun.  Somewhere along the way, though, something happened.  I can’t say what it actually was, but it was something.  School wasn’t fun anymore.  Whatever it was, it made learning not fun anymore.

I’m not here to say that every teacher in every school has made learning not fun.  I guarantee that everyone of us can think about that one special or not-so-special teacher.  What was it about him/her that comes to mind?  Also, I’m not here to place blame on anyone.

What I would like to do, however, is to challenge you to reflect.  Reflect on your own teaching practices.  Reflect on your classes from last year and the years before.  Reflect on your classes this year.  Reflect on your subject.  Think about what you have control of …. you and your style. I understand that there are factors in every school with every child that are beyond our control.  But, there are also factors in every school that you do have control of … your attitude, your effort, your desire, and your ability to make learning fun.

Our world has changed over the years.  The standards for success have changed.  But what hasn’t changed is that students still need to learn, and we need good teachers to teach them.  How you teach these students makes a difference.

In the following video, Tyler Dewitt talks about ways to make your subject and your classes fun. And when it is fun, the students will learn.  Once again learning is fun, and It’s OK to Make Learning Fun.   He uses biology as the example, but you can do this for any subject.

What is is that you do that makes learning fun?  I hope that, as you reflect on this question, you can answer it positively.  But if you can’t, it’s not too late.  Just know that you have total control from here on out to make your class fun.

Remember, It’s OK to Make Learning Fun.



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