How A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning

how-checklists-can-improve-learningHow A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning

by TeachThought Staff

From reminding us of what to pack for a trip to helping doctors perform surgery, checklists are crucial for projects that require sequential steps or a series of tasks.

As Atul Gawande points out in his book ‘Checklist Manifesto‘ (affiliate link), checklists break down complex tasks and also ensure consistency and efficiency if more than one person is working on a project. If checklists are so effective for airline pilots, skyscraper construction teams, and heart surgeons, why shouldn’t students use them as well?

Checklists can benefit students in the following ways:

For younger students, simple, task-based checklists can help them become accustomed to following steps, adding order to the relative chaos of learning, and offering a pathway to accomplishing complex tasks. For older students, they can do all of the above, and also serve as memory aids as they work on unfamiliar or complicated tasks.

Checklists help students feel in control and hold them accountable by removing obstacles to success such as “I didn’t know we were supposed to do that,” or “I forgot to do that part.”

Checklists keep students on task. Rather than losing focus and forgetting where they left off or abandoning the task altogether, they always know where they are in a task or project. (Or should know.)

Checklists can help communicate the details or goals of an assignment or project to other teachers, parents, or relevant community members.

Improving Metacognition

Education specialist Dr. Kathleen Dudden Rowlands believes checklists are more than just a way for students to stay organized and on-task. As she explains in “Check It Out! Using Checklists to Support Student Learning,” checklists can aid students in developing metacognitive awareness of their own learning process.

“Used effectively, checklists can help students develop metacognitive awareness of their intellectual processes,” Rowlands explained. Metacognitive awareness is essentially people’s understanding of both the process of learning and how they can optimize their learning of certain knowledge or skills.

“Metacognitive research consistently suggests that students who know how to learn, know which strategies are most effective when faced with a problem or a task, and have accurate methods of assessing their progress, are better learners than those who don’t,” Rowlands noted. She also discussed checklists’ role in the process of fostering strong metacognitive awareness: “

By articulating and labeling operational steps, checklists scaffold students’ metacognitive development.”

10 Resources To Use Checklists In Your Classroom


This turbo-charged mobile app checklist allows users to collaborate on shared lists, turning it into a project management tool. You can create simple “to do” lists or different lists (subtasks) based on more complicated tasks. It syncs across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, and web browsers.

You can leave notes, set recurring tasks, share your lists and set alarms. The app lets you break big projects or tasks into manageable smaller goals. Of special benefit to the classroom is the fact that Wunderlist lists can be printed. It is also free, with an option for Wunderlist pro at $4.99 a month.

2. Overstrike

An app designed for easy checklists with the ability to create reminders and due dates, perform drag and drop sorting, and change backgrounds to fit the nature of your checklist.

3. Pinterest

You can do a search on Pinterest and find a variety of checklist resources. Search on ‘checklist classroom’ and find simple, pre-made checklists such as the ‘Dismissal Checklist,’ a list of tasks to help young students prepare for leaving school at the end of the day. A writing checklist for older students helps them make sure they are taking the necessary steps to successfully write essays and compositions. Other checklists include ‘end of the year,’ ‘field trip,’ and ‘active listening.’


This site, a collaboration between the International Reading Association, The National Council of Teachers of English and Verizon’s Thinkfinity program, offers several in-depth and useful lesson plans that are accompanied by comprehensive checklists.

The ‘Editing Checklist for Self and Peer Editing’ offers a step-by-step guide for students to edit their own work as well as their classmates’ work. A quick web search on any school subject will yield checklist ideas as well.

5. Templates

From the simple ‘Homework Checklist’ for young students to more in-depth rubrics for older students, there are countless checklists for both teachers and students across the internet. Even if you don’t find quite what you need here, you’ll discover plenty of ideas that you can incorporate into your own custom checklists.

You can start by searching several templates available from Microsoft and Adobe.

Other Checklist Resources

6. App: Google Keep (browser, Android, and iOS)

7. App: Microsoft To-Do (browser)

8. App: Checklist+ (iOS)

9. App: Productive (iOS)

10. Book: The Checklist Manifesto (affiliate link)


Any checklist you use in the classroom should be a flexible document that adapts to the needs of your students. Remember to visit your checklist with a critical eye frequently to make sure it’s still working for you and your class. As you work through your checklist and realize ways to make it better, take the time to do so. Ask for feedback from your students as you implement new checklists to ensure that they are working as effective learning tools.

They might surprise you.

Kristin Marino writes about education for several websites, including She has a bachelor’s degree in English composition from the University of Nevada, Reno; How A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning; How A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning


10 Ways To Be A More Reflective Teacher

10 Ways To Be A More Reflective Teacher

by Terry Heick

Teaching isn’t easy.

It will challenge your content knowledge, pedagogical skills, charisma, diplomacy, communication, statistical analysis skills, and a dozen other strands you didn’t know where strands. Some teachers may try to tell you that being happy doesn’t matter. That it’s about results. Data. Performance. Or more rhetorically, the students.

Teaching is about the students, but guess what? If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t help the students–not in a way that’s sustainable. We’ve talked before about surviving teaching. But what about setting the bar higher? What about thriving as a teacher? What about being happy? And further, can you be happy and be a good teacher at the same time?

A key factor in happiness can be perspective, and a factor in effectiveness can be reflection.

10 Ways To Be A More Reflective Teacher

1. Record yourself teaching

This used to require awkward VHS systems and tripods that students would knock over–and that would distract them endlessly.

Today, it can be a matter of casually propping up your smartphone out of sight, setting it to record, and getting on with the lesson. In fact, you can even create a time-lapse (there are many apps that do this with ease) to track your movement around the room. You can watch the video with and without sound. You can even look for specific things–who talks the most, average wait time, clarity of instructions, etc.

And it doesn’t have to be video–just audio can be revealing, too.

2. Share that video with your PLN

And ask them to help you do the above, and offer feedback of their own. (Just be sure that students’ faces are blurred if you’re making the video public.) Every teacher needs a high-functioning Professional Learning Network.

3. Invite colleagues to observe your class

Not just the same few teachers, either. Ask them to be ‘critical friends’ and then thicken your skin. It’s not about you, it’s about your craft.

4. Ask the students for feedback

You might be surprised how good they are at guiding you in your work.

5. Ask yourself daily, “How did it go and how do you know?”

This is a question from Cognitive Coaching training, and it’s a useful tool to frame reflection. What are your general impressions, and what evidence do you have to support those impressions? Think of something right now that you believe to be effective. A literacy strategy, for example. Or a favorite unit. Maybe a no-zero grading policy.

You say it ‘works.’ How do you know? What can you point to as evidence? What would others say? What metrics are you using? (See #10 below.)

6. Keep a minimalist blog or journal

This doesn’t have to be anything ambitious–the point is reflection, not web design. Make it as basic as possible and try to blog at least twice a week–and don’t skip it if you’re feeling too tired or stressed to reflect. These can be the best times and writing about it can be therapeutic. You can even limit yourself to five minutes per entry.

The only goal here is to reflect–maybe create a list of sample prompts or stems to support the reflection. Then go back and read previous entries every now and then to see what you were thinking, when, and why.

7. Be honest with–but not critical of–yourself 

So many potentially great teachers are blind to their shortcomings.

This is probably a kind of defense mechanism. That, or they really can’t see their hangups. No teacher is perfect, but reflection can help you identify those barriers that are keeping you from improving. This will require you to be honest with yourself; don’t rationalize your own mediocrity, but don’t tear yourself apart, either.

Reflect, iterate, and improve.

8. Surround yourself with enthusiasm

The more potential you see around you, the more you’ll observe, analyze, and design to try to fit some of those ideas in.

9. Look for what’s working

Don’t become addicted to fixing the broken bits in your teaching; celebrate what you do well. Identify your own strengths, and use them to bolster where you’re weak.

10. Diversify your metrics

It’s tempting to have ‘stuff you like,’ but have a diverse set of measures of the effectiveness of what you do: Talk to students. Get feedback from parents. Have colleagues watch you. Record it and share with your PLN. Use a variety of types of assessments.

And that’s just the content part. You also need to know if your manner of interacting with colleagues is working for both you and them. Your tone, body language, quantity and quality of conversation, and so on.

The same with how you grade papers, store unit materials, call the class to attention, manage your time, and on and on. There is no single way to do these things. But make sure you know what’s working and what’s not. So often, teachers spin their wheels wildly without knowing it.

10 Ways To Be A More Reflective Teacher; 10 Tips For More Reflective Teaching

Where Has The Joy Of Learning Gone?

Where Has The Joy Of Learning Gone?

by Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed., & Terry Heick 

We know that for most children kindergarten is something anticipated with awe and enthusiasm – especially when one or more older siblings are already in school.

There certainly can be anxieties, but they revolve around fear of leaving a parent or the security of the home environment. The idea of being a student is exciting. Most kindergarten or first-grade students speak passionately about what they learn and do in school. Fortunately, there is no condemnation from the usual legislative critics that if these youngest children have fun in school, they are not learning.

In the current state of legislated standardization of tests linked to the financial stability of schools, two factors encroach upon the joyous learners by the time they reach 2nd or 3rd grade. There is the pressure for the type of academic achievement that can be measured on standardized tests of superficial rote memory. In addition, many teachers are mistrustful and anxious about how they will be judged by mandated curriculum police or legislative analysts who judge teachers and teaching without the benefit of having been trained as professional educators.

Uninformed critics may make erroneous assumptions that if children are laughing, interacting in groups, being creative with art, music, or dance that they are not doing real or important academic work. The result is that teachers have been mandated or feel pressured to preside over more sedate, solemn classrooms with students on the same page in the same book, sitting in straight rows, looking straight ahead at the teacher. These quiet classrooms give the judges who pass by a false sense of security that when they observe discipline and order, real learning is taking place.

The truth is that when the joy and comfort are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with homogeneity and when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.

What we have are classrooms where instead of taking pleasure from learning, students are bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. The changes that are evident from joy-filled kindergartens to highly-structured upper elementary school classes have been mandated to do away with what has been propagandized as “feel-good learning.” In fact what is happening is a passage away from students feeling good about learning and themselves as they become discouraged, alienated, bored, or intimidated and ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once felt about discovery learning.

Connectivity, technology such as learning simulations, new learning models such as scenario-based learning, and more already exist to replace the anxiety of performance with the joy of self-initiated discovery. No matter how poetic the argument, actuating these in light of modern pressure, focuses on ‘proficiency,’ and existing biases across schools, districts, and communities about what ‘real learning’ is a tremendous challenge.

But without taking on that challenge, school will remain a passionless, joyless–and for many students soul-crushing–experience that makes students think they hate to learn.

Where Has The Joy Of Learning Gone? image attribution flickr user tanozzo


10 Dos & Don’ts For Teaching Vocabulary In Any Content Area


10 Dos & Don’ts For Teaching Vocabulary In Any Content Area

by TeachThought Staff

With the Common Core adoption in the United States, teaching vocabulary is no longer strictly the domain of the English-Language Arts classroom.

While Robert Marzano has been promoting the instruction of academic vocabulary for years–and many school literacy plans have included reading and writing across the content areas for years–it is now a matter of standard and law. Which makes it kind of a big deal.

And while a small portion of non-ELA teachers may wonder (sometimes out loud) why they have to do “ELA teachers’ jobs and their jobs too,” this is a change that’s been a long time in coming. The above infographic from offers up some simply tips in Dos-and-Don’ts format–brief enough to be practical, and simple enough for even the most novice teacher to use.

10 dos and donts for vocabulary instruction


27 Ways To Enhance Retention In Your Students


27 Ways To Enhance Retention In Your Students

by TeachThought Staff

How you can help students retain what they learn? What sort of teaching strategies, curriculum mapping techniques, or other changes can you use to help them remember and apply information?

Most broadly, this is a matter of understanding and transfer. The more complete a student’s understanding, the less likely they are to ‘forget.’ One way to think about understanding is to think of it like a tent–or rather the stakes used to anchor a tent into the ground on a windy day. If the understanding is ‘deep,’ the stakes are less likely to come out of the ground when the wind blows, whereas topical ‘understanding’ can become unanchored more easily. It’s not driven as deeply.

Transfer matters as well–more so than the more general idea of ‘practice.’ Can a student use knowledge in a new and unfamiliar context, and more importantly, will they do so unprompted?

In an attempt to create a more specific taxonomy to help you measure understanding, we developed our TeachThought Taxonomy for Understanding, 36 ways to help students wrestle with, rethink, and explore “how they get it.’ That taxonomy, however, is complex (we need to release a 2.0 version, and we plan to).

For something a bit more grab-and-go, there is the following infographic from Mia MacMeekin. It offers 27 ways to enhance student retention of understanding. Its strength lies in the diversity of the ideas, from painting and singing, to focusing on the big idea, to using games and even visual cues like different fonts and typography.

Have any you’d like to add? Add yours in the comments below.

27 Ways To Enhance Retention In Your Students


27 Ways To Enhance Retention In Your Students

  1. Snap shots
  2. Big idea
  3. Master
  4. Posters
  5. Add spice
  6. Walk
  7. Paint
  8. Practice
  9. Mindmap
  10. Sing
  11. Write
  12. Picture
  13. Games
  14. Connect
  15. Pin-It
  16. Talk
  17. Typography
  18. Make
  19. Scaffold
  20. Read
  21. Accessible
  22. Steps
  23. Practice
  24. Listen
  25. Try it
  26. Store
  27. Partner

27 Ways To Enhance Retention In Your Students; image attribution flickr user miamcmeekin


3 Ways You Can Respond When Students Turn In Incomplete Work

3 Ways You Can Respond When Students Turn In Incomplete Work

contributed by Heather M. Stocker

It’s like looking at a photograph where only a small bit of the picture is discernible, but you can’t tell that what you’re actually looking at.

This is what happens when students turn in incomplete assignments. Incomplete assignments only give a partial snapshot of student ability. We might only see their ability to answer surface questions and not see that they are capable of probing the deeper nuances of a given content area–literature, world civilizations, or the scientific process.

The biggest need for any teacher is having a clear view of what students can and cannot accomplish. This knowledge is our guide and signpost for helping our students. So, how can we get that data accurately when students aren’t completing the work? When students come to you with incomplete work there are a couple of options you have:

1. You can simply accept the work. (I did this for years and found myself getting frustrated with students’ lack of care. Yes, I took it personally sometimes).

2. You can reiterate why you need the work completed and leave it up to the student whether to do it or not. (I also tried this. Most of the time, kids chose not to do the work and then I would feel the same feelings I experienced in number 1).

3. You can hand it back for completion.

I’ve found the most effective of these three techniques is the third strategy. Of course, I reiterate why I need the assignment, but handing the assignment back for completion with the express understanding that the grade remains a zero until I receive a completed assignment motivates kids to complete the work.

It’s one of those holy grails in education that had me wondering why I’d never done it before—what took me so long? Once students hand you half completed work and you hand it back immediately for completion, and this happens a couple of times, an amazing thing happens: students learn not to hand in incomplete work. I say, “I can’t accept incomplete work.”

The key here is to hand the assignment back immediately. I quickly scan what kids turn in to me as they turn it in and can catch the assignments that need more work. It’s not a perfect system and kids do periodically fudge their answers just to get the work in, but I’ve still gotten more out of them than they were initially willing to give.

Ultimately, incomplete work doesn’t really give us anything. It’s important to keep the dialogue open with students about why you’re doing what you’re doing and to have a clear understanding of expectations. I tell my kids all the time that I want a complete picture of their abilities and most of the time they’re willing to give it.


15 Of The Best Ways To Share Large Files

12-ways-t-share-files-with-your-students15 Of The Best Ways To Share Large Files

by TeachThought Staff

As a modern teacher, you probably need to share stuff and have stuff shared with you.

‘Stuff’ like pdfs, various word processing documents, video files, and other digital fare. The traditional way to do this has been through emailing, but limits here–including speed, file size, and the relative clunkiness of sharing with large groups–make sharing files through email less than ‘best practice.’

We started to create a chart that listed the nuanced details of each platform, from storage and sharing limits, FTPing ability, the need to sign up to use, and password-protecting to flexible expiration dates for rights to files–but then we found that Wikipedia had already done this (and then some). So we instead picked our favorite dozen and then ranked them in terms of their flexibility and integration that education technology demands.

Though most of the tools below can share most files (mp3s, .movs, .mp4s, exe, .zip, .doc and .docx files, .pdfs, etc.), we focused more on documents, images, folders and software integration than incredibly detailed features that may make it overkill for your classrooms.

Note, this list isn’t in any particular order. It’s simply 15 of the best ways we’ve found to share large files. Note, we try to update this post periodically because the tech world changes so fast but sometimes file limits change, free plans go paid, and some platforms disappear quickly. Also, we started out with 12 (thus the graphic title) but added three so here you are with 15.

15 Of The Best Ways To Share Large Files

1. Microsoft OneDrive

Full-featured cloud and sharing platform with deep integration with the entire Microsoft suite, from Office and PowerPoint to Outlook and more. You click ‘share,’ enter an address or grab a link, and you’re done. You can also embed files into blog posts as well.

Microsoft has come a long way since the ‘Skydrive’ days. OneDrive also seamlessly syncs files to the cloud when you’re not looking (which is great). Ideal for both sending files or daily cloud usage, documents or images, videos or pdfs, and available for every OS.

Drawback? If you don’t use Microsoft Office it’s kind of wasteful, and you only get 7 GB free, though you can get up to 100 GB for free if you watch for promotions. (For example, this.)

2. Google Drive

If you only want to share a simple document and the receiver has a Gmail account, this is an excellent choice. It’s tied to Google’s products, which means Gmail, Google Docs (err, Google…Drive), etc. Perfect for cloud-based word processing. 15 GB free, up to 16 TBs paid. Ideal for both sending files or daily cloud usage, Google Drive put other cloud platforms on notice that narrow utility and high-cost would no longer be enough.

Like OneDrive, seamless backup of files to the cloud as well.

3. Dropbox

If you want to kick out a pdf or document to your class, you can set up a folder, grant the class access, and be done. Get free storage if you spam your friends to sign up. (Or don’t.)

4. SugarSync

A powerful sharing client that works across operating systems; interface not as elegant as it could be. Their comparison chart is a bit misleading, but it does highlight SugarSync’s features.

5. Box

10 GB free, folder sharing, and available across operating systems.

6. Dropsend

Send files up to 4 GB with nothing to install; idea for sending rather than daily cloud usage.

7. Apple iCloud

5 GB free, up to 50 GB paid. You can also share image ‘streams,’ which other tools here lack. Not a one-stop solution for the 21st-century teacher, but if you’re tied into all things Apple and don’t need fancy features, you could do worse.

8. HighTail

More for businesses than teachers, you can still send 250 MB files for free, with 2 GBs of storage. That said, it’s at #11 and not the top for a reason.

9. GoodSync

More of a sync tool used to keep files the ‘same’ across whichever platforms you choose, it does have the ability to sync certain folders between your work and school computers, for example.

Six More Ways To Send And Share Large Files

10. Wetransfer

11. OwnCloud

12. Filemail the app13. Filemail the web platform

14. YouTube

If you want to share a video and have a Google account, with the ability to set videos private and share links, this may be a good choice; for video only (obviously)

15. Imgur

If you want to share an image, Imgur is a decent choice. It’s heavily-favored by Reddit users and allows for some social elements as well. Obviously, Flickr can be used in a similar way, as can dozens of other platforms.

15 Ways To Share Files With Your Students; 15 Ways To Share Large Files With Your Students


Want To Become A Better Teacher? Try Slowing Down

Want To Become A Better Teacher? Try Slowing Down

by Terry Heick

The gift of my fifth year of teaching was patience.

Every year something new occurs to me as an educator, and for year five it was the insurmountable scale of process. This was partly a response to beginning to see the things that were in my control, and the things that were not. To see the sequence between this thing and that place with that student clarified it all quickly.

All year I worked with my students to loosen them and wake them up—to get them agile and responsive and able to move laterally in their learning as they consider task, purpose, technology, and place. To look first inside themselves, and move outward from there.

On a daily basis, I fought my instincts to plan and control and cause, and their instincts to be ‘finished,’ listless, and compliant. There were times I thought we were dead in the water, but a few months ago they started to respond, and just in the last few weeks started moving through ideas and projects faster than I can chase them.

Which is exactly what I want.

So many times I almost quit. I blamed culture, literacy, technology, myself, Minecraft, Justin Bieber, and everything else that didn’t jive with my ‘vision.’ But it was growing the whole time–I just couldn’t see it because I wasn’t looking in the right place.

As a teacher, you may come across a strategy, technology, or learning model that knocks your socks off, only to give it a shot and be underwhelmed at the results. It very well could be that you’ve got a bad idea.

But it also might be that you’re teaching students so accustomed to other ways that everything you say sounds like crazy talk. That you teach on a ‘data team’ that wants you to be more streamlined—to teach just like they do. That you’re trying to lead an entire school of fish upstream, which is real work.

Trust yourself to figure to know when to cut your losses, and when to stick it out.

For one, there is always an implementation dip–a period after integration when things go south. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, you probably don’t fully understand this “great new thing” as well as you think you do. Which means you probably explain it clumsily, use it inefficiently, and aren’t sure how to trouble-shoot when things go awry.

Like your students, you need time as well.

In an era of pressure, maps, PLCs, and pacing guides, forgive yourself for not having all the answers. For learning on the job. For not being able to fully explain why a student is struggling. This doesn’t excuse “accountability,” but rather honors the teaching and learning process as something greater than the scientific collision of students and standards.

Rather than an excuse, patience can keep you from overreacting. It can force you to sit with the assessment design, or assessment results just a bit longer to see if something reveals itself. It can keep stress from shutting down your creative thinking and resorting to crazy-panicked teacher mode where no one wins and you’re exhausted.

All of education may seem like it is trying to exert its will on your classroom. Let it push.

You’ve got work that is both creative and scientific. Human and technology-based. Two minds that can’t possibly be rushed.

You’re growing things, after all.

Image attribution flickr user adselwood; The Wisdom Of Patient Teaching; Want To Become A Better Teacher? Try Slowing Down

Critical Thinking

100+ Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs For Critical Thinking

100+ Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs For Critical Thinking

by TeachThought Staff

Ed note: This post was first published in 2013 and updated in December of 2019

Bloom’s Taxonomy’s verbs–also know as power verbs or thinking verbs–are extraordinarily powerful instructional planning tools.

In fact, in addition to concepts like backward-design and power standards, they are one of the most useful tools a teacher-as-learning-designer has access to. Why?

They can be used for curriculum mapping, assessment design, lesson planning, personalizing and differentiating learning, and almost any other ‘thing’ a teacher–or student–has to do.

For example, if a standard asks students to infer and demonstrate an author’s position using evidence from the text, there’s a lot built into that kind of task. First, a student has to be able to define what an ‘author’s position’ is and what ‘evidence from the text’ means (Knowledge-level). They’ll then need to be able to summarize that same text (Understanding-level), interpret and infer any arguments or positions (Analysis-level), evaluate inherent claims (Evaluation-level), and then write (Creation-level) a response that demonstrates their thinking.

Though the chart below reads left to right, it’s ideal to imagine it as a kind of incline, with Knowledge at the bottom, and Create at the top. You may not always need this kind of tool to ‘unpack’ standards and identify a possible learning sequence, but it also works ideally as an assessment design tool. If students can consistently work with the topic in the columns to the right–designing, recommending, differentiating, comparing and contrasting, and so on, then they likely have a firm grasp on the material.

While we’ve shared Bloom’s Taxonomy posters before, the simplicity and clean design of the chart format make it a bit more functional–even useful to hand to the students themselves as a hole-punch-and-keep-it-in-your-journal-for-the-year kind of resource. It also makes a powerful self-directed learning tool. Start at the left, and, roughly, move right.

Knowledge: Define, Identify, Describe, Recognize, Tell, Explain, Recite, Memorize, Illustrate, Quote, State, Match, Recognize, Select, Examine, Locate, Recite, Enumerate, Record, List, Quote, Label

Understand: Summarize, Interpret, Classify, Compare, Contrast, Infer, Relate, Extract, Paraphrase, Cite, Discuss, Distinguish, Delineate, Extend, Predict, Indicate, Translate, Inquire, Associate, Explore Convert

Apply: Solve, Change, Relate, Complete, Use, Sketch, Teach, Articulate, Discover, Transfer, Show, Demonstrate, Involve, Dramatize, Produce, Report, Act, Respond, Administer, Actuate, Prepare, Manipulate

Analyze: Contrast, Connect, Relate, Devise, Correlate, Illustrate, Distill, Conclude, Categorize, Take Apart, Problem-Solve, Differenatiate, Deduce, Conclude, Devise, Subdivide, Calculate, Order, Adapt

Evaluate: Criticize, Reframe, Judge, Defend, Appraise, Value, Prioritize Plan, Grade, Reframe, Revise, Refine, Grade, Argue, Support, Evolve, Decide, Re-design, Pivot

Create: Design, Modify, Role-Play, Develop, Rewrite, Pivot, Modify, Collaborate, Invent, Write, Formulate, Invent, Imagine

100+ Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs For Critical Thinking  


20 Ways To Provide Effective Feedback For Learning

20 Ways To Provide Effective Feedback For Learning

contributed by Laura Reynolds

While assessment gets all the press, we often misunderstand feedback for learning.

When feedback is predominately negative, studies have shown that it can discourage student effort and achievement (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, Dinham). Like my experience, the only thing I knew is that I hated public speaking and I would do anything possible to get out of it. As a teacher, most of the time it is easy to give encouraging, positive feedback.

However, it is in the other times that we have to dig deep to find an appropriate feedback response that will not discourage a student’s learning. This is where the good teachers, the ones students remember forever in a positive light, separate themselves from the others.

A teacher has the distinct responsibility to nurture a student’s learning and to provide feedback in such a manner that the student does not leave the classroom feeling defeated.  Here you will find 20 ideas and techniques on how to give effective learning feedback that will leave your students with the feeling they can conquer the world.

20 Ways to Provide Effective Feedback

1. Feedback should be educative in nature. 

Providing feedback means giving students an explanation of what they are doing correctly and incorrectly. However, the focus of the feedback should be based essentially on what the students is doing right. It is most productive to a student’s learning when they are provided with an explanation and example as to what is accurate and inaccurate about their work.

Consider using the concept of a ‘feedback sandwich’ to guide your feedback: Compliment, Correct, Compliment.

2. Feedback should be given in a timely manner. 

When feedback is given immediately after showing proof of learning, the student responds positively and remembers the experience about what is being learned in a confident manner. If we wait too long to give feedback, the moment is lost and the student might not connect the feedback with the action.

3. Be sensitive to the individual needs of the student.

It is vital that we take into consideration each student individually when giving feedback. Our classrooms are full of diverse learners. Some students need to be nudged to achieve at a higher level and other needs to be handled very gently so as not to discourage learning and damage self-esteem. A balance between not wanting to hurt a student’s feelings and providing proper encouragement is essential.

4. Ask the 4 questions.

Studies of effective teaching and learning (Dinham, 2002, 2007a; 2007b) have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work. Providing answers to the following four questions on a regular basis will help provide quality feedback. These four questions are also helpful when providing feedback to parents:

What can the student do?

What can’t the student do?

How does the student’s work compare with that of others?

How can the student do better?

5. Feedback should reference a skill or specific knowledge. 

This is when rubrics become a useful tool (single-point rubrics, for example). A rubric is an instrument to communicate expectations for an assignment. Effective rubrics provide students with very specific information about their performance, comparative to an established range of standards. For younger students, try highlighting rubric items that the student is meeting or try using a sticker chart.

6. Give feedback to keep students ‘on target’ for achievement.

Regular ‘check-ins’ with students lets them know where they stand in the classroom and with you. Utilize the ‘4 questions’ to guide your feedback.

7. Host a one-on-one conference.

Providing a one-on-one meeting with a student is one of the most effective means of providing feedback. The student will look forward to having the attention and allows the opportunity to ask necessary questions. A one-on-one conference should be generally optimistic, as this will encourage the student to look forward to the next meeting.

As with all aspects of teaching, this strategy requires good time management. Try meeting with a student while the other students are working independently. Time the meetings so that they last no longer than 10 minutes.

8. Feedback can be given verbally, non-verbally or in written form. 

Be sure to keep your frowns in check. It is imperative that we examine our non-verbal cues. Facial expressions and gestures are also means of delivering feedback. This means that when you hand back that English paper, it is best not to scowl.

9. Concentrate on one ability. 

It makes a far greater impact on the student when only one skill is critiqued versus the entire paper being the focus of everything that is wrong.

For example, when I taught Writer’s Workshop at the elementary level, I would let students know that for that day I was going to be checking on the indentation of paragraphs within their writing. When I conferenced with a student, that was my focus instead of all the other aspects of their writing. The next day would feature a new focus.

10. Alternate due dates for your students/classes. 

Utilize this strategy when grading papers or tests. This strategy allows you the necessary time to provide quality, written feedback. This can also include using a rotation chart for students to conference with at a deeper more meaningful level. Students will also know when it is their turn to meet with you and are more likely to bring questions of their own to the conference.

11. Educate students on how to give feedback to each other. 

Model for students what appropriate feedback looks like and sounds like. As an elementary teacher, we call this ‘peer conferencing.’ Train students to give each other constructive feedback in a way that is positive and helpful. Encourage students to use post-it notes to record the given feedback.

12. Ask another adult to give feedback. 

The principal at the school I taught at would often volunteer to grade history tests or read student’s writing pieces. You can imagine how the student’s quality of work increased tenfold! If the principal is too busy (and most are), invite a ‘guest’ teacher or student teacher to critique work.

13. Have the student take notes. 

During a conference over a test, paper or a general ‘check in,’ have the student do the writing while you do the talking. The student can use a notebook to jot down notes as you provide the verbal feedback.

14. Use a notebook to keep track of student progress.

Keep a section of a notebook for each student. Write daily or weekly, dated comments about each student as necessary. Keep track of good questions the student asks, behavior issues, areas for improvement, test scores etc. Of course this requires a lot of essential time management but when it is time to conference with a student or parent, you are ready to go.

15. Return tests, papers or comment cards at the beginning of class.  

Returning papers and tests at the beginning of class, rather than at the end, allows students to ask necessary questions and to hold a relevant discussion.

16. Use Post-It notes.

Sometimes seeing a comment written out is more effective than just hearing it aloud. During independent work time, try writing feedback comments on a post-it note. Place the note on the student’s desk the feedback is meant for. One of my former students had a difficult time staying on task but he would get frustrated and embarrassed when I called him out on his inattentive behaviors in front of the class.

He would then shut down and refused to do any work because he was mad that I humiliated him. I resorted to using post-it notes to point out when he was on task or not.  Although it was not the most effective use of my time, it really worked for him.

17. Give genuine praise. 

Students are quick to figure out which teachers use meaningless praise to win approval. If you are constantly telling your students “Good Job” or “Nice Work” then, over time, these words become meaningless. Make a big deal out of a student’s A+ on that vocabulary test. If you are thrilled with a student’s recent on-task behaviors, go above and beyond with the encouragement and praise.

Make a phone call home to let mom or dad know how thrilled you are with the student’s behavior. Comments and suggestions within genuine feedback should also be ‘focused, practical and based on an assessment of what the student can do and is capable of achieving’ (Dinham).

18.  “I noticed….”

Make an effort to notice a student’s behavior or effort at a task. For example; “I noticed when you regrouped correctly in the hundreds column, you got the problem right.” “I noticed you arrived on time to class this entire week.” Acknowledging a student and the efforts they are making goes a long way to positively influence academic performance.

19. Provide a model or example.

Communicate with your students the purpose for an assessment and/or feedback. Demonstrate to students what you are looking for by giving them an example of what an A+ paper looks like. Provide a contrast of what a C- paper looks like. This is especially important at the upper learning levels.

20. Invite students to give you feedback.

Remember when you finished a class in college and you were given the chance to ‘grade’ the professor? How nice was it to finally tell the professor that the reading material was so incredibly boring without worrying about it affecting your grade? Why not let students give you feedback on how you are doing as a teacher?

Make it so that they can do it anonymously. What did they like about your class? What didn’t they like? If they were teaching the class, what would they do differently? What did they learn the most from you as a teacher? If we are open to it, we will quickly learn a few things about ourselves as educators.

Remember that feedback goes both ways and as teachers it is wise to never stop improving and honing our skills as teachers.

A version of this post first appeared on; image attribution flickr user nist6ss


10 Pieces Of Advice That Could Save Your Teaching Career


10 Pieces Of Advice That Could Save Your Teaching Career

by Terry Heick

Simple premise, as titled: what sorts of ‘things’ make teaching unsustainable, and what sort of advice can help teachers reflect on these ideas to mitigate any damage and make the profession more enjoyable, and thus sustainable.

10. Grow a healthy and useful professional learning network.

Human connections sustain humans.

9. The school year is a marathon, not a sprint.

And this should have significant implications for instructional design–spiraling, for example. Some ideas students can “get” right away, while others will take all year. Continuously spiral those sufficiently complex ideas so students have a chance to master them.

8. You don’t need a million tools and strategies to teach well.

You don’t need a million tools and strategies to teach well, so use a handful that are flexible and powerful.

The 40/40/40 rule is a wonderful on-the-fly measuring stick to help prioritize content, teaching, and assessment. Other useful tools that can come in handy? Metaphors, similes, and analogies (using them to teach complex ideas–“a thesis statement is the _____ of an essay a…”; “The Civil Rights movement was like…”; RAFT assignments. Choice boards.

Be picky.

7. Never take it personally.

Teaching is a deeply human endeavor and so of course it’s natural to ‘take it personal.’ By all means, do so. But as much as possible, endeavor to be a professional in the same way a surgeon is. While surgeons undoubtedly care about their patients because they care they have to be professional, calculated, and objective. You never know what a student is going through, or ‘where they are’ in their development as human beings. Have a short memory, and be their best chance to become something great.

6. The students should talk more than you do.

This one’s easy to forget, especially when you have so much to teach. There’s the shift though–try to focus on what students are learning and how, rather than what ‘you’re teaching.’

5. How you frame your thinking is everything.

This isn’t much different than a relationship, marriage, money, or any other career.

You can’t teach if you’re exhausted, misinformed, too hard on yourself, disconnected, or misunderstand your role in some critical way (as a colleague, a peer, a teacher, a department leader, etc.) It’s not your job to save the world. Every child needs something differentIn response, try to adopt learning models, tools, teaching strategies, and more–and use them in a way that doesn’t require superhuman effort from you to make it work.

They should work harder than you do.

4. You’re a professional and you control your own attitude.

You see what you want to see, so choose to see and assume the best in people and circumstances, and move forward from there. Schools can be places full of bad policies and absurd bureaucracy. You probably can’t change most of that, so focus on what you can change–and that starts with how you think.

The students are always watching you. How you treat people (even the “problem students); how you show compassion or model accountability. Where you go for resources. How you define ‘success.’ What you do when you’re frustrated or upset. Your dedication and craft and expertise. They may not see it all every single time, but they never stop watching.

This means your voice carries on outside the classroom, where they’ll continue to talk about you–for years to come if you’ve done it well.

3. How you make students feel can last a lifetime. Careful. 

You are a larger than-life-figure to most students. You’re a teacher–you may be the loudest voice in their already busy mind. Consider the character you play in that mind accordingly. Further, how you frame students in your mind absolutely changes how you’ll think about and respond to and teach students.

2. It’s not your job to prepare students for ‘the real world.’

Holding their feet to the fire for a deadline? Refusing to let them retake an exam? Requiring them to work with students they don’t begin to work well with? And doing so under the guise of “the real world”? For it to be successful, school should be the exact opposite of these characteristics we cherry pick from ‘life.’

It should be a time to help them learn from mistakes; a place that helps protect them from themselves; a chance for them to adopt mindsets based on love and growth, not fear and policy. While this doesn’t excuse accountability measures for students, the big idea is clear: School is there for the students, students aren’t there for the school.

If we want a better world, we can’t continue to mirror the worst parts of that world into our classrooms.

1. Find your thing.

We all have to have our ‘thing’ as educators. Whatever ‘it’ is, it’s equal parts identity, purpose, love, and curiosity. Whether it’s the students, your craft, your content, your community, or something else entirely–be clear in your own mind about why you do what you do, and never let it go.

Advice For Teachers? 10 Things To Not Lose Sight Of This Year; adapted image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics


6 Tips For Creating Effective Student Groups


6 Tips For Creating Effective Student Groups

by TeachThought Staff

Grouping students is easy; creating effective student groups is less so.

The following infographic from Mia MacMeekin seeks to provide some ideas to help make group work easier in your classroom. The strength of this particular graphic is in the range of the ideas. The first tip refers teachers to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal development, which frames student ability in terms of a range: what they can do unassisted, what they can do with the support of a More Knowledgeable Other (MKO), and what they cannot do even with support. This is different for each student, and understanding these ranges for students can help inform grouping decisions, whether you’re using a peer instruction model, ability grouping, or another approach.

MackMeekin’s suggestion to consider problem-based learning in a group setting is especially useful in that it also provides a link to the design of curriculum and instruction as well, rather than merely being a grouping strategy. Students engaging in problem-based learning will themselves make unique demands on the curriculum rather than the other way around. That is, the curriculum will have to be adapted to fit the problem-based learning approach, as will the instruction and then, ultimately, the grouping itself.

This highlights the ecology of teaching and learning; changes here necessitate adaptations there.

6 Tips For Creating Effective Student Groups

1. Create a ‘ZPD zone’

2. Use cognitive dissonance

3. Quantity matters

4. Reinforce norms & praise

5. Sense of purpose

6. Don’t teach–facilitate


image attribution Mia Mackmeekin; This work by Mia MacMeekin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License; 6 Tips For Creating Effective Student Groups


The Most Important Question Every Assessment Should Answer

The Most Important Question Every Assessment Should Answer

by Terry Heick

The difference between assessment of learning and assessment for learning is a crucial one, in many ways indicative of an important shift in education.

Traditionally, tests have told teachers and parents how a student ‘does,’ then offers a very accessible point of data (usually percentage correct and subsequent letter grade) that is reported to parents as a performance indicator. Class data can be gathered to imply instructional effectiveness, and the data from multiple classrooms can be combined to suggest the performance of an entire school, but a core message here is one of measurement and finality: this is how you did. This was the bar, and you either cleared it or you didn’t.

And it’s all past tense.

5 Strategies For Assessment For Learning


First, a word about assessment strategies. created the above graphic that shares 5 strategies for assessment for learning:

1. Sharing Learning Expectations

2. Eliciting Evidence

3. Feedback

4. Self-Assessment

5. Peer Assessment

This approach to assessment outlines the systematic approach–ways to measuring understanding, including self-assessment and peer-assessment, feedback for learning, and clear communication of performance criteria. These strategies hint at the organic, dynamic, and iterative feel any modern system of assessment should realize.

What Every Assessment For Learning Should Tell You

Of course, it’s never that simple.

During assessment of learning, a test (of some kind) is given to communicate student understanding. Years of research has let us know that consistently hoping for ‘understanding data’ from your average classroom assessment is hopelessly problematic, not to mention reductionist, sterile, and institutionally-centered.

Still, it happens.

But a simple shift to assessment for learning can quickly modernize the instruction in any classroom. Here, the change goes from exams which are evaluative to those that are reflective of both process and understanding.

The benefit of assessments for learning isn’t merely a more clear picture of understanding; Used properly, it can also inform the rest of the learning process, from curriculum mapping (what do we learn when?) to instruction (how will it be learned?) to assessment design (how should future learning ideally be measured?)

While the role of testing in instructional design isn’t simple, it really might be. If the goal of any assessment is to provide data to refine planned instruction, then the primary function of any assessment, whether an authentic, challenge-based learning performance or a standardized test, should be to answer the following question for any teacher:

“What now?”

If the data doesn’t provide a clear path forward for both students and teachers, it likely obscures more than it clarifies.

Stiggins, R.J. (1999). Evaluating classroom assessment training in teacher education. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice. 18 (1), 23-27.; image attribution flickr user teo


50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child

by TeachThought Staff

There are many ways to encourage a child, but for students of any age, honest, authentic, and persistent messages from adults that have credibility in their eyes are among the most powerful.

The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning has put together the following list, 50 Ways To Encourage A Child. It was designed for younger students (head start/kindergarten), but with the exception of 4, 17, 21, and maybe 40, they’re actually useful for K-12 in general. It all depends on your tone, the situation, and who else is listening.

In addition, they’ve got a couple of other useful documents under their tips for fostering teacher connections series you can check out as well.

See also Sentence Stems To Replace ‘I Don’t Know’ Or ‘I Can’t’

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child


See also Need A Lift? Here Are 50 Books That Can Make You Happy

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child

  • Thumbs up.
  • You’re on the right track now.
  • You’ve worked so hard on that.
  • I heard you say how you feel. That’s great,
  • Oh, that turned out very well.
  • That’s coming along nicely.
  • I’m proud of the way you worked today.
  • You’ve just about got it.
  • That’s the best you’ve ever done.
  • You stayed so calm during that problem.
  • That’s it!
  • Now you’ve figured it out!
  • That’s quite an improvement.
  • I knew you could do it.
  • Congratulations.
  • I love hearing your words.
  • What a superstar you are.
  • You’ve solved the problem.
  • Keep working on it, you’re almost there!
  • Now you have it.
  • Your brain must be working hard, you figured that out quickly.
  • I bet you’re proud of yourself.
  • One more time and you’ll have it.
  • Great idea!
  • You’re amazing!
  • Terrific teamwork!
  • Nothing can stop you now.
  • You have such creative ideas.
  • That’s the way to do it.
  • Sensational!
  • You must have been practicing.
  • You handled that so well.
  • I like how you think.
  • Good remembering.
  • You know just what to do!
  • You really are persisting with this.
  • You expressed yourself so well.
  • You did it!
  • I knew you two could figure it out together.
  • Excellent job saying how you feel.
  • I know it’s hard, but you’re almost there.
  • Fantastic problem-solving!
  • I love hearing your ideas.
  • I know that was hard for you, but you stayed so calm.
  • Yes!
  • Looked how you help each other.
  • You finished faster because you worked together.
  • You kept trying!
  • Excellent try!
  • You are a creative thinker.

You can see the original pdf files here.

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child; image attribution flickr user skokiemonumentpark


How To Take Cornell Notes

How To Take Cornell Notes

Originally published in 2015; updated in October 2018

Form: Cornell Notes

Purpose: The purpose of Cornell Notes is to distill complex text, arguments, etc. into a format useful for reflection and study.

Sweet Spot: Grades 8-12, college

Background: According to Wikipedia, the system was developed in the 1950s by Walter Pauk, a Cornell University professor who shared the technique in his book “How to Study in College.”

How To Take Notes Through The Cornell Notes System

From Wikipedia:

The student divides the paper into two columns: the note-taking column (usually on the right) is twice the size of the questions/keyword column (on the left). The student should leave five to seven lines, or about two inches (5 cm), at the bottom of the page.

Notes from a lecture or teaching are written in the note-taking column; notes usually consist of the main ideas of the text or lecture, and long ideas are paraphrased. Long sentences are avoided; symbols or abbreviations are used instead. To assist with future reviews, relevant questions (which should be recorded as soon as possible so that the lecture and questions will be fresh in the student’s mind) or keywords are written in the keyword column. These notes can be taken from any source of information, such as fiction books, DVDs, lectures, textbooks, etc.

It’s important to recite the information by covering the note-taking column (with a paper or folder, for example) and then looking at the questions or cue-words column, and saying the answers to the questions, ideas, or facts in your own words. Ask yourself questions while studying: “Why is this material significant?” “How can I apply this to the real-world?” Take the time to study your Cornell Notes, take at least 10 minutes each week and go over your notes. By studying a little bit each day or each week, you will have a greater success rate by retaining more information.

When reviewing the material, the student can cover the note-taking (right) column while attempting to answer the questions/keywords in the keyword or cue (left) column. The student is encouraged to reflect on the material and review the notes regularly.

How Taking Notes Is Changing

Note-taking is a lost art.

While recent trends–including multi-point touch screens, sketch notes, etc.–have given it a shot in the arm, the idea of encountering new information or experiences of some kind, distilling it for what’s important, then recording it for future reference doesn’t get much attention.

While there are many ways to take notes, Cornell Notes are among the most useful for pure academic study but they’re also a bit complicated. Simpler forms like combination notes are easy to explain and use, but lack the depth a form like the Cornell System has.

The video above does a very nice job of showing how to take a text and transfer it into the Cornell Notes format.

How To Take Cornell Notes


5 Tools And Strategies That Support Personalized Learning

5 Tools And Strategies That Support Personalized Learning

by TeachThought Staff

Personalized learning is something that many teachers strive for, but it can be easier to want it than make it happen.

Personalization is best created at the learning model and curriculum level rather shoe-horned in after the curriculum is done, but when you’re given lemons you play the hand you’re dealt when in Rome, because birds of a feather may not come back unless you set them free.

Wait. What?

1. Choice Boards

A choice board is a brilliantly simple tool that can provide scaffolding, tiering, use of Bloom’s taxonomy, support multiple learning styles, and more. You essentially take the idea behind an assignment–or better yet, a learning standard itself–and create four choices that, if completed, will address a given learning standard.

In fact, these can be done on the fly. Write a topic or standard on the board in the center of four squares, and in each square create an activity students can perform to demonstrate understanding of that topic or standard. Or better yet, let them come up with ways of their own.

2. Project-Based Learning

By its very nature, Project-Based Learning requires a significant role for the student. They take on authentic roles by documenting, capturing, reflecting, imagining, managing, and communicating. They actively choose topics and media, audiences and challenges, research sources and project timelines.

3. Tiered Learning Targets

Tiered learning targets aren’t exactly the high point of progressive learning but they can be useful in a tightly-monitored, high-pressure public school classroom. In extracting learning targets from academic standards, teachers create single statement of performance (often in “I can…” form). The problem is that this statement will rarely be the “just for me” strand all learners need (unless, by chance, every student happens to understand a topic at the same level, which is unlikely).

So instead of one statement–I can explain the relationship between diction and tone–it can be broken up into three standards:

I can define diction and tone. (low)

I can explain the relationship between diction and tone. (middle)

I can explain how diction and tone converge to imply an author’s position on a topic. (high)

This helps in terms of assessment–identifying where learners are stuck–and offers an oar to students drowning in the rigor. The “low” target provides an accessible starting point where they can feel honored. “Hey, that’s about where I am” rather than “I have no idea what she’s talking about.”

 4. Write. (A lot.)

Writing as assessment.

Writing to learn.

Quick prompts.


Writing to demonstrate learning.

Formal writing. Informal writing.

Academic writing.


Starting at various stages of the writing process.

Revisiting old writing.

Writing to support meta-cognition.

Reflective writing.

Personal writing.

Writing about reading.

Writing about the writing itself.

Stream of Consciousness writing.

RAFT assignments.

Writing helps personalize learning, is highly flexible, and imposes a cognitive load on learners that is hard to match in terms of both skill and content knowledge.

5. Mobile Devices

By placing an Android smartphone, iPad, or notebook computer in the lap of a student, they immediately have direct access to media tools and information. This doesn’t mean learning is suddenly personalized by using a mobile device, but the tool is there. Rather than listening, they are accessing, a great starting point for personalized learning.

5 Tools And Strategies That Support Personalized Learning


50 Ways To Measure Understanding

50 Ways To Measure Understanding

by Terry Heick

How do you measure what a student understands?

Not give them an assessment, score it, then use that score to imply understanding. Rather, how do you truly ‘uncover’ what they ‘know’–and how ‘well’ they know it?

The Challenge Of Outcomes & Standards-Based Assessment

First a preface: itemizing ways to measure understanding is functionally different than students choosing a way to demonstrate what they know—mainly because in a backward-design approach where the learning target is identified first, that learning target dictates everything else downstream.

If, for example, a student was given a topic and an audience and were allowed to ‘do’ something and then asked to create something that demonstrated what they learned, the result would be wildly different across students. Put another way, students would learn different things in different ways.

By dictating exactly what every student will ‘understand’ ahead of time, certain assessment forms become ideal. It also becomes much more likely that students will fail. If students can learn anything, then they only fail if they fail to learn anything at all or fail to demonstrate learning anything at all. By deciding exactly what a student will learn and exactly how they will show you they learned it, three outcomes, among others, are possible:

1. The student learned a lot but not what you wanted them to learn

2. The student learned exactly what you wanted them to learn but failed to demonstrate it in the assessment

3. The student failed to learn

But what if we’d been misled?

For an analogy, consider a car. If we want the car running at its best—to be safe to operate, to start when we want to go somewhere, to attain the fuel efficiency that we want, to look and smell the way we want, etc., we need data about those conditions. The look and smell are easy enough, and the fuel efficiency is a matter of math. The reliability is a little more abstract—cut and dry but the product of many other maintenance factors and so requires more abstraction to predict. And the safety bit? Equally abstract—and subjective, to boot.

Imagine being concerned about the reliability of the car (as anyone would be), so you developed tests that could be used to predict the future likelihood that the car would start. (It’s at this point that I’m realizing I could’ve chosen a much better analogy, but I’m sticking with the car/starting thing. Sorry.) So imagine giving a bunch of tests to predict today whether the car would start tomorrow. It makes sense on paper because we want to monitor that idea, but it seems a little wasteful, right?

And it gets wasteful fast when you consider the possibility that the car may fail test after test after test and still continue to start. This means that the tests we developed to predict whether or not the car would start likely measured something but not what we wanted them to measure. The tests were bad and the data misleading and any conclusions drawn accordingly invalid.

In an outcomes-based and data-driven circumstance, the data and the decisions made using that data are everything. If that data is misleading, it’s not hard to realize that we will be misled–as teachers and learners–too.

First, Determine The Purpose Of The Assessment

If all students are all going to have their height and weight measured, a common standard makes sense; If students are all going to have their attractiveness measured, any kind of ‘standard’ is creepy.

Measuring knowledge and mastery of competencies and skills isn’t quite as subjective as ‘beauty,’ but isn’t anywhere close to as cut and dry as height and weight. We can give the same test that measures the same thing in the same way for all students and do no damage really—provided we are all on the same page that we’re not measuring understanding but rather measuring performance on a test.

In a perfect world, we’d have countless ways to measure that understanding—all valid, universally understood, engaging to students, etc. In pursuit, I thought it’d make sense to brainstorm different ways to measure understanding. Some will be more or less useful depending on content areas, grade levels, student motivation, etc., not to mention what the purpose of the assessment is.

Do you need a snapshot?

Do you need to measure mastery or growth?

Do you want it to be flexible for a variety of learners or more binary—you either pass or you fail?

Do you want students to be able to return to the assessment periodically or is this a one-shot kind of deal?

Is the assessment for the teacher or the student?

If you’re not clear about why you’re assessing (and what you’re going to do with the data the assessment provides) you’re wasting a lot of time, energy, and resources–your own and that of the students.

With that mind, see below for 50 ways to measure understanding. Some are assessment forms (e.g., exit slips), some are models (e.g., Bloom’s Taxonomy) and some are more frequently thought of as teaching strategies (e.g., Socratic Discussion).

50 Ways To Measure Understanding
Assessment Forms For Measuring Understanding

These can be thought of as reasons to test

In 6 Types Of Assessment, we offered up exactly that–six ‘kinds’ of tests that imply the purpose of and standard for the assessment.

1. Norm-Referenced Assessments

Norm-referenced assessments are assessments used to compare students to one another rather.

2. Criterion-Based Assessments

A criterion-based assessment assesses a student’s performance against a clear and published goal or objective. This is in contrast, for example, to a test which students hope to ‘do well on’ but without a clear and concise objective and/or without clear performance standards for that objective.

3. Standardized Assessments

A standardized assessment is any assessment containing elements that are the same for all students universally. The perceived benefit is that standardization ensures all students are being weighed equally and that there is a common ‘bar’ for students to be measured with.

4. Standards-Based Assessment

A form of standardized assessment, a standards-based assessment is one that is based on an academic content standard (e.g., ‘Determining an author’s purpose...’).

5. Personalized assessments

While these aren’t necessarily ‘different’ kinds of assessments, they do reflect different reasons to assess.

6. Pre-Assessment

Pre-assessment is any kind of evaluation, analysis, or measurement of student understanding that occurs before the teaching/learning process begins.

The purpose of pre-assessment varies–it can be to help plan lessons and activities, revise curriculum maps, create personalized learning pathways for individual students, help inform grouping strategies, plan future assessments, etc.

7. Formative Assessment

Formative assessment generally occurs during the teaching and learning, though it’s not that simple and a better way to think about formative assessment is to consider that it provides data to form and inform the teaching and learning on an ongoing basis. A common example of a formative assessment is a quiz. Types of quizzes? Pop quizzes, planned/scheduled quizzes, timed quizzes, and so on.

This can also be thought of as ‘diagnostic assessment,’ and is ideally the most common form of assessment in K-12 learning environments (because the purpose is to measure understanding to better create future learning experiences).

8. Summative Assessment 

A summative assessment is any assessment done when the ‘teaching is done.’ This makes the process of ‘summative assessment’ a curious thing unless there are no more opportunities to teach and learn (like the end of a school year).

9. Timed Assessment

This one is self-explanatory–any assessment that is time-bound is a timed assessment (though technically that timing can be minutes or even years depending on the nature and purpose and scale of the assessment.

Timed Assessments can also be combined with other forms–a timed project or timed essay, for example. The idea is the constraint of time somehow shapes the scope of the test and the performance of the student.

11. Untimed Assessment

Untimed assessments are less common than timed assessments if for no other reason than the scheduled-nature of modern education necessitates it.

12. Open-Ended Assessment

In contrast to a timed, standards-based and standardized assessment, an open-ended assessment is generally designed to provide a proving ground for the students to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and competencies. Through open-ended assessment, student autonomy, creativity, and self-efficacy play a larger role in their performance.

Due to the nature of this approach, the mindset of the learner is crucial. Without confidence, ownership, and a clear sense of how and what they might demonstrate what they know, learners can feel uncertain–and worse, may fail to ‘show what they know’ and misinform future planning of learning experiences because of this ‘failure.

A learning blend is an example of an open-ended assessment.

13. Game-Based Assessment

A game-based assessment is often technology-based (e.g., video games), but an athletic contest can be considered game-based assessments as it’s the performance within a given set of rules that determines what the learner knows and can ‘do.’

14. Benchmark Assessment

Benchmark assessments evaluate student performance at periodic intervals, frequently at the end of a grading period. Can predict student performance on end-of-the-year summative assessments.

15. Group Assessment

Group assessment is what it sounds like it might be–assessment done in a group with (at times) varying roles and responsibilities.

Obviously, a design challenge is Group Assessment is to know exactly what you’re assessing as social dynamics and individual roles and responsibilities can obscure the analysis of student learning.

Different Assessment Forms For Measuring Understanding

These can be thought of as ‘types of tests’

16. Short Responses Tests

Example: Short, written or verbal responses to questions or prompts

17. Extended Responses (On-Demand, Essays, etc.)

Example: Like the above but longer–anywhere from a few paragraphs to entire research essays

18. Multiple-Choice Tests

Not sure this needs explaining–multiple-choice assessments are great for providing data but are highly dependent on the quality of the questions and responses–and even then favor highly-literate and motivated students over others.

19. True-False Tests

If you’re good at creating very nuanced True/False assessment items, they can challenge students with a strong grasp of content by forcing them to closely consider whether something is ‘true’ or not. True/False assessments can also be useful for struggling or ‘hesitant’ students because the barrier to answering is so low (like a multiple-choice assessment) but there are only two ‘answers’ to choose between.

Tip: You can allow students to revise the true or false statement until it seems true to them based on what they know. The changes they make can go a long way in helping to diagnose what they’re misunderstanding.

20. Matching Items

The strength of matching items is that they’re simple to create, complete, and score–and well-designed, can be surprisingly effective in uncovering what students know. The challenge with these kinds of assessments is that they do very little to demonstrate depth of understanding and are only useful with certain kinds of content.

21. Performance & Demonstration (i.e., watching the student attempt to demonstrate understanding/competency/skill in real-time)

Example: Watching a student try to hit a free throw in basketball or make a specific pass in soccer, etc. It doesn’t have to be athletic-based, however. Students can also demonstrate the effect of gravity on planetary orbits or how propaganda works, etc.

22. A Visual Representation

Example: Students can create a visual representation of the water cycle–how it works, all the forms it takes, its benefits, the physics of the process, etc. What is visualized is obviously part of the assessment.

They could also create one for the use of transitional phrases in writing–what they do, when they’re used, what their effects are, etc.

23. Analogies

Analogies are underrated assessment tools; students can ‘answer’ analogies you create, modify them to create new meanings, explain why an analogy you create is wrong, or create their own analogies to demonstrate understanding.

Example: If you wanted to assess a student’s understanding of thesis statements, you could have them ‘answer’ an analogy you create by completing the analogy.

Thesis Statement: Essay:: Company:________ (mission or slogan)

24. Concept Maps

25. Graphic Organizers (like analogies, these are also very underrated ways to measure understanding)

26. A Physical Artifact

27. A Question (i.e., a student asking/revising a question as a form of assessment)

28. A Debate

29. A Conversation/Group Discussion/Socratic Discussion

30. Question Stems

See here for examples of question stems for critical thinking. You can also let students create their own stems and quiz/test one another.

31. Role-Playing (e.g., role-playing historical figures to assess biographical knowledge–this is similar to #21)

32. QFT Session

33. Observable Metacognition

This non-traditional assessment form is asking to (somehow ‘watching’ the student think about their own thinking an using it to ‘measure’ understanding

34. Self-Assessment (where the student evaluates their own understanding with or without the help of the teacher)

35. Peer-Assessment

36. Expert Assessment

This one is obviously better suited to more skilled and knowledgeable learners (in high school and college, for example.) An example of Expert Assessment is a talent show like American Idol

Any kind panel evaluation (where a third party chooses one or more of the above forms) that seeks to to evaluate and measure understanding where the assessment and feedback depends on the specific and often narrow expertise of the panel itself is an ‘expert assessment.’

37. RAFT Assignments

RAFT is a common ELA activity that stands for Role Audience Format Topic (or Theme/Thesis/Tone). I hesitated to put this on the list because it’s best-suited to English-Language Arts/Literature/Writing/Literacy and is hard to explain it’s utility as an assessment tool even in that narrow domain.

The idea here is to alter elements of an activity or assignment to force students to think critically to complete it, and it doesn’t have to be ‘RAFT’–you can frame anything in any number of ways. (If you’ve never used RAFT before, you’re probably best off skipping this one until you’re more familiar with it. Email me if you have any questions.)

Example: Students studying the Declaration of Independence can revise it for a specific audience or communicate the same ideas in a different format or tone (rather than the letter/political tone of the original).

38. A Challenge

Creating a challenge for students to complete in order to demonstrate understanding is another non-traditional form of assessment but can be useful to engage hesitant learners or bring out the best in gifted students. Gamification is useful in challenge-based assessment.

39. Teacher-Designed Projects

Create a project that produces a ‘thing’ whose quality will or will not demonstrate student understanding.

40. Student-Designed Projects

The same as above but the student designs the project (likely with the teacher). This will confuse a lot of students–you’ll know fast if this is going to be useful for your purpose for assessment or not.

41. Self-Directed Learning

By supporting the student to reflect on, prioritize, plan, and complete their own learning experiences on their own, students will inherently have their understanding measured.

Self-Directed Learning is a form of open-ended assessment–you can see one of the self-directed learning models I created here.

Frameworks & Assessment Models For Measuring Understanding

These can be thought of as ways to frame the thinking about the content being assessed in the test

42. Bloom’s Taxonomy

43. The TeachThought Learning Taxonomy

44. UbD’s 6 Facets Of Understanding

45. Marzano’s New Taxonomy

46. Assessing ‘Transferability’

It is common for assessments to be standardized, universal, and practiced in those standardized and universal forms (for example, a multiple choice assessment with a set number of items and a standardized amount of time to complete).

This is great for norm-referencing, but a terrible way to truly measure what a student understands–and the strength and depth of that understanding. That’s where transfer of understanding comes in. You can read more about different kinds of learning transfer.

47. A Graded Assessment

This is the most common form of formal assessment–one that is scored, feedback is given, and data is shared (even if only via a letter grade).

48. An Ungraded Assessment

This is less common than graded assessments–which is strange because the most useful purpose of assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. Feedback is also useful, but the scoring, grading, and communication of a grade can take time, distract learners emotionally, and most critically obscure data about that understanding.

That’s not to say that assessments should never be graded, but scoring, documenting a score, then communicating that score to students, parents, colleges, etc., significantly alters the tone, scale, and reach of that assessment. It becomes more like a public performance than a way to measure understanding.

49. Feedback-Only Assessment

Learning Feedback-only Assessment is similar to ungraded but focused intently on providing detailed feedback to individual learners to help them mastery the standard, competency, or skill.

50. Pass/Fail Assessment

While feedback can be given, time limits can be imposed, and various taxonomies can be used, the primary characteristic of pass-fail assessment is that letter grades and points are generally not given and the standard for performance is binary–that is, the standard either was or was not met.

An athlete trying to vault over a 6-meter bar is participating in a kind of ‘pass/fail’ assessment in that they either will or will not clear the bar.

51. Ongoing ‘Climate of Assessment’

A ‘Climate of Assessment’ is a personal favorite of mine.

In this approach, critical and complex ideas and skills are constantly revisited and iterated upon in various ways, forms, and contexts while supplemented by less complex/quicker-to-master content. Assessment is frequent, playful, clear, compelling, and always formative.

52. Snapshot of Assessment

This is an assessment of what the student seems to know at that moment based on that given assessment form. These can be misleading but useful if they’re preceded and proceeded by additional snapshots in the aforementioned ‘climate of assessment.’

53. A Measurement Of Growth Over Time

In this kind of assessment, mastery isn’t measured–nor are students compared to one another (as they are in norm-referenced assessments).

Instead, the focus is on far the student has (or has not) ‘come.’ One strategy here is grading backward . This approach, while complex, is naturally differentiated for each student, has a positive tone, and makes it much more difficult to ‘fail’ unless the student actually literally atrophies in terms of skills and understanding.

54. Concept Mastery

This kind of assessment is mainly distinguished by what’s being assessed–the focus here being a grasp of concepts and ideas rather than skills and competencies (like the item below).

55. Competency & Skill Mastery

Many academic standards combine concepts and skills–which is fine because that’s often what the ‘real world’ is like.

But when you’re trying to troubleshoot student achievement and evaluate what they actually, truly understand (versus how they did on the test), being able to separate what they ‘know’ and what they can ‘do’ can make remediation more efficient–and make the student feel better about their own ‘lack of mastery’ because they are able to see what they do and don’t know, what they can and cannot do, etc., which is more precise and comforting than ‘I missed the question’ or ‘I failed the test.’)

Project-Based Learning

50 Smart Ideas For Project-Based Learning

A Better List Of Ideas For Project-Based Learning

by TeachThought Staff

This post has been updated with new ideas and clearer formatting

At TeachThought, we’re huge fans of project-based learning.

While there is no magic bullet of practice, program, or framework that automatically produces progressive and effective learning, what makes project-based learning exceptional is its flexibility. As it is, first and foremost, simply a curriculum planning tool, so much other “good stuff” that can support learning (game-based learning, learning simulations, place-based education, self-directed learning, etc.) can all be “embedded” in project-based learning.

With PBL, there is no “either/or” proposition: anything from open-ended, play-based learning to data-driven, research-based instructional environments can all use PBL effectively.

While there are all kinds of great resources necessary to teach and learn through PBL, from apps to planning templates and more, the genesis of a great project is the idea itself–the purpose and/or audience of the project itself.

Below, we’ve shared dozens of ideas for projects, and we’re going to constantly update the list with new ideas, suggestions from our community, resources, etc. In that way, this page can become the ultimate guide for project-based learning in your classroom. The focus will be on the ideas for the projects themselves, but we’ll also include apps, tools, and other “stuff” you’ll need to effectively realize this approach in your classroom.

Need help with Project-Based Learning in your school? Take a look at our PBL Workshops or Schedule a free consultation with a TeachThought PD PBL expert today!

6 Posts To Get Started With Project-Based Learning

  1. The Difference Between Projects & Project-Based Learning
  2. 5 Types Of Project-Based Learning
  3. 11 Tools For Better Project-Based Learning
  4. 4 Keys To Designing A Project-Based Learning Classroom
  5. 23 Ways To Use The iPad In The 21st Century PBL Classroom
  6. 12 Timeless Project-Based Learning Resources

The Constantly-Updated List Of Ideas For Project-Based Learning

Note: This list will constantly be updated with new ideas, tools, and resources. As such, some fields will be empty, updated, or removed as we build and improve the list over time. Note that the list is intentionally not separated into “content areas,” as many of the projects could be approached from a number of angles (the math of design, the language of planning, and so on).

1. Create an interactive family tree with voice-overs from living family members.

2. Design an app with a specific purpose for a specific audience.

3. Inventory the world’s most compelling ideas in an elegant and browsable interface.

4. Problem-solve ‘screentime’ for yourself and family (identify problem, overcome those challenges, monitor progress, evaluate effect of changes, etc.)

5. Solve the problem of negative and/or ‘fake news.’

6. Using the best thinking of major world civilizations, design the perfect civilization. Identify critical characteristics, resources, and habits, etc.

7. Mash any 3 social media apps and explain the purpose and features of the new app.

8. Help local businesses increase environmental sustainability (e.g., reduce waste).

9. Identify, analyze, and visualize recurring themes in human history; then contextualize those themes in modern society.

10. Make a compelling case for a viewpoint other than your own on any issue.

11. Create ‘visibility’ for something beautiful, useful, or otherwise deserving of attention (e.g., music, parks, people, acts of kindness, effort, movies, nature, etc.)

12. Leverage the wisdom of people living in nursing homes.

13. Artfully express, analyze the causes-effects of, or otherwise evaluate population growth.

14. Debate the relationship between technology and humanity from a historical (Mary Shelley?) or modern (Steve Jobs?) perspective.

15. Reimagine major coastal cities in light of 6 degrees of warming.

16. Measure the sociological impact of social media on local communities (using a self-selected parameter).

17. Design an alert system to publicize the spread of viruses/disease.

18. Plant and manage a garden to feed local homeless/hungry.

19. Solve a personal problem.

20. Analyze the impact of architecture–or lack thereof–on a community.

21. Dissect the ‘anatomy’ of viral web content, memes, or social media arguments.

22. Help a local business that does “good work” market itself to younger audiences. Create a proposal, present to business, refine proposal based on feedback.

23. Artfully illustrate the global history of human/civil rights.

24. Visually demonstrate the galaxy’s behavior from changing a single parameter (e.g., the gravity level of a single planet).

25. Design the next Google (the next method of content and data discovery).

26. Start and run a profitable business that is ‘aware’ of its impact on the world.

27. Plan a Mars colony using current data of the Martian landscape and atmosphere.

28. Create a photo documentary, then turn that into a film documentary, then turn that into a short eBook.

29. Define, Analyze, and Visualize an Abstract Concept (Wisdom, Freedom, Conflict, etc.).

30. Develop a feasible response to potential asteroid–> earth collisions.

31. Analyze the cause and effect of low voter turnout on both democracy, and the health of the local community.

32. Re-imagine the American Constitution–or similar governing documents–as if they were designed today.

33. Perform a cause-effect analysis on consumerism (or any self-selected topic)

34. Create and publish a weekly or monthly podcast on a self-selected topic based on market data.

35. Film a documentary on an under-served social issue few people see.

36. Imagine and articulate a community where neighbor-to-neighbor and neighborhood-to-neighborhood interaction was necessary to survive.

37. Design a better book (physical/printed) that’s affordable and accessible to a wider range of readers.

38. Identify an emerging musical genre, then write/perform a song that fits in that genre.

39. Design a school, including new content areas, grading, collaboration, and community involvement.

40. Create and manage a YouTube channel for a self-determined and authentic purpose.

41. Solve a problem your parents have (scale is important here–choosing what to try to solve that’s worthy of an entire project and your best thinking and design).

42. Analyze, visualize, and socialize the long-term impact of coal on the environment.

43. Revise the United Nations in some way, shape, or form to better respond to international crises.

44. Answer the following: What would (insert historical figure) say about (insert relevant social issue)?

45. Re-conceive YouTube as an aggregation tool and player for traditional literary forms (e.g., poetry, fiction).

46. Redesign your city to reduce the need for extended commutes.

47. Research all modern tools sued to provide clean water access, then design a better tool.

48. Study local land regions and resources to identify a geological-based response to the Zombie Apocalypse.

49: Design a 21st-century library by first analyzing macro-purpose of a library, then reimagining one in a modern context.

50. Design a modern bookstore by integrating both physical and digital media, and categorizing them all by something other than traditional genres.

Image attribution flickr user nickspicture