Learning Models

The Sync Teaching Method: A Blended Approach To Self-Directed Learning


The Sync Teaching Method: A Blended Approach To Self-Directed Learning

by Terry Heick

The definition of second screen learning is roughly what it sounds like it might be–learning through a second screen. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that students are on their own, nor even that every student has to have their own device. Let’s back up for a moment and take a look at the big picture of learning.

Learning is about students interacting with and creating new ideas. For decades, the ‘create’ part has been mostly mute, saved for end-of-the-unit projects or writing prompts. And the interaction part was often missing as well. Interaction is possible with teachers and textbooks as well as it is with apps and tablets, but not on the same scale, with the same degree of personalization, or the same engaging form-factors.

The Difference Between 1:1 & Second Screen Learning

In a 1:1 environment, every student has their own device–which opens things up considerably. Second screen learning environments can also see every student having their own device–or even one per group. The difference is a matter of syncing. In second screen learning classrooms, the teachers and students are ‘sync’d’ content-wise with one another, while still having the tools, learning strategies, freedom, and space to clarify, extend, create, or connect the learning.

Take the metaphor of the teacher as a conductor, and the students as members of the symphony. Roughly, that’s what second screen learning implies–a group of students creating their own music, but still following the teacher as a guide. The difference is that here, the teacher is the ‘first screen’–the Sync Point. In this role, they choose what, when, and how the students sync with the primary screen, or the teacher themselves.

A Clarifying Image Of The Sync Teaching Method

The image below hints at this, where the teacher is delivering ‘Content 1,’ and each student or group of students are then accessing 1A, 1B, 1C, and so on, respectively. Whether this is done in 4 groups with 4 tablets, or 28 individual students in 1:1 or BYOD classrooms, the big idea is the same: students accessing (or creating) personalized content while the teacher guides and facilitates the core of the lesson.

A neat middle ground between self-directed learning and sage-on-stage, yes? So what are some of the benefits for you as a teacher?

4 Ways Sync Teaching & Second Screen Learning Can Support Teachers & Students

1. You can differentiate more creatively

In the Sync Teaching approach, teachers have the ability to differentiate due to the sheer abundance of engaging and flexible learning resources, from learning simulations to YouTube channels, blogs, social media platforms and more.

If you think of differentiation as offering different content, processes, products, or learning environment based on readiness or interest for example, the more diverse those processes, products, environment, or that content, the more creative you can get as a teacher. Here, students are only required to ‘sync’ with your standard, or topic, essential question, or whatever.

As the teacher, you choose the central theme, and they make their own pathways in pursuit.

2. Students can use social apps more naturally

Using social apps in sync teaching, students can interact with one another using their ‘digital voice.’ They can also ping relevant networks and communities, peers in other schools. community and organization leaders, or even content experts.

They can also curate their thinking and mingle using backchannel discussions on twitter or instagram. Could the get off-task and distracted? Of course, but that’s not new. And it’s also more easy to track by those same networks, peer groups, and even families. Yay for digital footprints!

3. You can follow curriculum documents more closely

This is probably the biggest draw of syn teaching/second screen learning for many teachers: the ability to stick to necessary curriculum documents. While many teachers want to let students innovate and direct their own learning, this is often at odds with the demands of assessment requirements, and local school and district concerns.

How can second screen learning help here? By allowing the teachers to choose the central theme–or Sync Point–while still offering students room to create, find their own resources, clarify their understanding, etc.

In this way, it’s a kind of blended approach to tablets–that is, a blend of find-your-own-pathway-to-whatever-you-find-interest and do-this-then-this-then-this-because-I-said-so. Students can have their learning extended by teachers, or extend and create it themselves parallel to the teacher. They can follow their curiosity while the teacher remediates, or add their own voice and choice to the lesson with their ‘digital voice.’

4. It promote students interacting directly with content

As opposed to traditional 1:1 classrooms, sync teaching/second screen learning is less ‘open’; compared to traditional classrooms, it’s more so. Somewhere in the middle, second screens allow students to access instead of watch; respond instead of listen; create instead of watch others create. It also puts every student on the clock to produce something.

In a second screen classroom, every student has a digital instrument to make sound, but they most due so with some kind of pace, rhythm, or pattern set by the teacher–who, for all the technology in the world, is almost always the most powerful learning resource a student has access to.

The Sync Teaching Method: What You Can Do With Second Screen Learning; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

Critical Thinking

A 3-Dimensional Model Of Bloom’s Taxonomy


A 3-Dimensional Model Of Bloom’s Taxonomy

by TeachThought Staff

Well, technically it’s a 2-dimensional representation of a 3-dimensional model, but being limited to two-dimensional screens, this is about as close as we can get.

(Soon you’ll be able to 3D print what you see–download the plans and print it. Or play with it in virtual reality. Eventually a hologram you can manipulate digitally–pass around the room like a tennis ball, then fling it into the ether….)

Rex Heer at Iowa State University, who created the graphic, explains:

Among other modifications, Anderson and Krathwohl’s (2001) revision of the original Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956) redefines the cognitive domain as the intersection of the Cognitive Process Dimension and the Knowledge Dimension.

This document offers a three-dimensional representation of the revised taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Although the Cognitive Process and Knowledge dimensions are represented as hierarchical steps, the distinctions between categories are not always clear-cut.

For example, all procedural knowledge is not necessarily more abstract than all conceptual knowledge; and an objective that involves analyzing or evaluating may require thinking skills that are no less complex than one that involves creating. It is generally understood, nonetheless, that lower order thinking skills are subsumed by, and provide the foundation for higher order thinking skills.

A statement of a learning objective contains a verb (an action) and an object (usually a noun).

The verb generally refers to [actions associated with] the intended cognitive process.

The object generally describes the knowledge students are expected to acquire or construct. (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001, pp. 4–5)

In this model, each of the colored blocks shows an example of a learning objective that generally corresponds with each of the various combinations of the cognitive process and knowledge dimensions. Remember: these are learning objectives—not learning activities.

It may be useful to think of preceding each objective with something like: “Students will be able to . . .”

It’s a fairly straight-forward interpretation of the original (revised) model, but adds Cognitive Process and Knowledge Dimensions as groundwork to create verbs and example tasks for each level within said domain. If you’re ready to move past the pretty Bloom’s Taxonomy posters and big words and begin to look at strategies for teaching with the Bloom’s model, a relatively advanced model like this may be right for you.

You can find the full pdf on Iowa State University’s site.

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


5 Levels Of Student Engagement: A Continuum For Teaching

5 Levels Of Student Engagement: A Continuum For Teaching

by Terry Heick

Years ago, I worked with a school in Kentucky that had adopted Phil Shlechty’s “Working on the Work” framework.

The idea behind Shlechty’s framework is, in short, to focus on the work that students do, and the systems that produce that work. While there are critics of how it works in practice, the ideas are sound. One of the stickier takeaways for me from the “WoW” resources was the idea of levels of student engagement. I had recognized every level in my classroom as a teacher (struggling students usually in the ‘Retreatism’ area, while even the ‘best’ students I had seemed to be around the ‘Ritual Compliance’ level. It was eye-opening for me.

For starters, the idea of ‘authentic engagement’ now had a new standard. No longer was ‘paying attention’ and eye contact and completing the assignments the standard. I started looking for sustained immersion.

I also began to itemize the kinds of things that motivated students. It was already clear to me that students want to ‘do well in school’ for different reasons, but now those ‘reasons’ had names and I could see a full continuum of student engagement in my mind. This helped me begin to plan (creating tiered learning targets, for example) not just for ‘mastery level’ but the engagement of minds that would then lead to that kind of mastery I’d been looking for.

I’ve had this post drafted for years now because I’d planned on fleshing it out a bit with some thinking about the movement along this kind of continuum but have decided to break that process up and start first with simply sharing the continuum and types of student engagement. I have added some indicators for each level–and note, these are my words while the levels themselves ‘belong to’ Shlechty. He may or may not agree with the indicators–nor did I have much room on the graphic to go into much detail. (I will in a follow-up post).

Please respond in the comments with your thinking, questions, ideas, thoughts.

5 Levels Of Student Engagement: A Continuum For Teaching

Authentic Engagement [Highest Level]

Students are immersed in work that has clear meaning and immediate value to them (reading a book on a topic of personal interest).

Characterized by: persistence, sustained inquiry, self-direction, playfulness with content, and unprompted transfer of understanding

Ritual Compliance

The work has little or no immediate meaning to students, but there are extrinsic outcomes of value that keep them engaged (earning grades necessary for college acceptance).

Characterized by: clear effort; some creativity; focus on directions and task completion in order to meet extrinsic standards for motivation

Passive Compliance

Students see little or no meaning in the assigned work but expend effort merely to avoid negative consequences (not having to stay in during recess to complete work).

Characterized by: minimal effort made only to mitigate ‘consequences’ or other negative ‘punishers’; no creativity, genius, curiosity, or transfer of understanding


Students are disengaged from assigned work and make no attempt to comply but are not disruptive to the learning of others.

Characterized by: little to no effort, productivity, or progress; no demonstrated inquiry, affection, or interest in the content, collaborations, or task

Rebellion [Lowest Level]

Students refuse to do the assigned task, act disruptive, and attempt to substitute alternative activities.

Characterized by: zero demonstration of learning; outright disruption & defiance

5 Levels Of Student Engagement: A Continuum For Teaching

Critical Thinking

8 Strategies To Help Students Ask Great Questions


8 Strategies To Help Students Ask Great Questions

by Terry Heick

Questions can be extraordinary learning tools.

A good question can open minds, shift paradigms, and force the uncomfortable but transformational cognitive dissonance that can help create thinkers. In education, we tend to value a student’s ability to answer our questions. But what might be more important is their ability to ask their own great questions–and more critically, their willingness to do so.

The latter is a topic for another day, but the former is why we’re here. This is part 2 of a short series (can two articles be considered a series?) built around the idea about how to ask great questions as learning tools. Part 1  ‘An Updated Guide For Questioning In The Classroom.’

8 Strategies To Help Students Ask Great Questions

1. TeachThought Learning Taxonomy


The TeachThought Learning Taxonomy is a template for critical thinking that frames cognition across six categories.

It imagines any learning product, goal, or objective as a ‘thing,’ (i.e.g, a subject of some kind) then suggests different ways to think about said ‘thing’–mitosis, a math formula, an historical figure, a poem, a poet, a computer coding language, a political concept, a literary device, etc. It’s designed to promote ‘whole’ thinking about otherwise discrete or disconnected ideas.

1. Function–thinking critically about how a ‘thing’ works

2. Self–Making sense of how the thinker relates to the ‘thing’

3. Abstraction–Thinking about the ‘thing’ creatively, or in non-traditional ways

4. Parts–Seeing the individual parts of the ‘thing’

5. Interdependence–Examining how the ‘thing’ relates to other (similar and non-similar) things

6. Whole–See the ‘thing’ fully and within context

A literary device–a metaphor example, is usually studied in isolation. This writer uses this metaphor in this way to this effect. Using the TeachThought Learning Taxonomy, a learner would be forced to confront that metaphor in much more diverse cognitive terrain–to think about something in multiple ways for a more complete picture and advanced understanding.

Function–Communicate the metaphor’s most ideal utility (how it can and should be used, and why).

Self--Identity what you do and don’t understand about the metaphor

Abstraction–Design a ‘sequel’ of the metaphor (not a simile–an extended metaphor would be a good start)

This framework can be used not only as a planning or assessment tool, but to promote students in self-directed learning and self-created questioning and examination. In short, they can use this framework (or a simplified version of it) to create their own questions. Some examples?

Prompt: Parts–Give examples and non-examples

Questions: What are 3 examples and non-examples of mammals? What are 5 examples of push-pull factors? What are 3 non-examples of mixed fractions?

Prompt: Interdependence–Direct others in using it

Questions: How do–or might–others use alternative fuel sources to help create fresh water sources?

Prompt: Explain it differently to a novice or an expert

Questions: How would explain the Pythagorean Theorem differently to a 2nd grader and a college freshman? What would the main difference be?

The downside to using the TeachThought Learning Taxonomy to help students ask their own questions is the relative complexity of the framework, and the extra step of converting prompts to questions. Therefore, it’s better suited to late middle school–university settings.

The upside? It can be used in any content area to think deeply about almost anything.

2. Digital Taxonomy Power Verbs

‘Power verbs’ aren’t exclusive to Bloom’s Taxonomy (see below). In addition to our TeachThought Learning Taxonomy (see above), there are ‘verbs’ that describe cognitive ‘actions.’ Add some kind of framework or hierarchy, and you’ve got a full ‘taxonomy.’

Enter the ‘digital taxonomy’ power verbs. You can download a ready-for-the-classroom curricula version of our power verbs here, but you can do plenty with digital taxonomy power verbs to help students ask great questions without spending a penny. From designing projects and refining assessments to classroom, discussions and digital citizenship lessons, the ‘actions’of students are among the most critical components of any learning experience.

3. Socratic Discussion

A Socratic Discussion, which is also referred to as a Socratic Seminar, is a group learning strategy designed to support students in open-ended examination and extended critical thinking through dialogic terms. In short, students learn together by talking together in an open and student-centered format. These discussions are not teacher-led, but student-led–students talk to one another.

It is a dialectal method of learning inspired by Socrates’ iconic teaching methods that depend on a pattern of theory formation, revision, and elimination to arrive at loosely-held “truths.” Used strategically, this approach should promote inquiry as learning, and the close examination of one’s own beliefs as primary catalysts for learning.

4. Paideia Seminar

A Paideia Seminar is similar to the Socratic Seminar–in fact, it uses Socratic Discussions on the part of the students, combined with a minor but clear role for teachers, to facilitate verbal and critical examination of ideas. From the (a?) Paideia Seminar website, “The Paideia Seminar is an integrated literacy event built around formal whole class dialogue. The purpose for doing Paideia Seminar is to support students’ ability to think conceptually and communicate collaboratively.”

One of the key differences between a Paideia Seminar and a Socratic Seminar is that within the Paideia format, teachers are “allowed” a role, provided that that role doesn’t exceed 10% of the total discussion.

5. The Question Game


The Question Game focuses on “teaching children a kind of thinking which is particularly useful in creative problem-solving–a focused approach to get from a problem to the most effective solution. It is most effective when combined with regular repetition, which solidifies the thought pattern, and with groups, which encourages contributory exploration of alternative responses and creativity.”

Its dice-form not only offers a whiz-bang manipulative, but also introduces a level of gamification and playful uncertainty into the process, and its open-ended and universal stems make it practical for a wide variety of classroom applications.

6. Bloom’s Taxonomy 

Similar to the TeachThought Taxonomy, Bloom’s Taxonomy can act as a framework or pattern to funnel content, inquiry, or other learning processes. These use of the taxonomy to create universal stems is one approach as modeled in the following graphic from flickr user enokson.


7. Question Formulation Technique

We’ll have more on this soon but in short, the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a kind of question brainstorming process based around a topic as a kind of kernel.

In their words of the Right Question Institute, QFT is “straightforward, rigorous process that helps all students learn how to produce their own questions, improve their questions, and strategize on how to use their questions. In the process, they develop divergent, convergent and metacognitive thinking abilities.”


For now, you can read more about the QFT here.

8. Question Stems 

As seen in the Bloom’s graphic, sentence stems and question stems are wonderful tools that can empower students to ask questions by giving them a head-start in doing so.

By using a ‘stem,’ a teacher has set the ball on the proverbial tee for the student to smash. Yes, ideally the student asks their own great questions, but what if they can’t–or don’t think they can? What if they don’t? What if they’re still learning how? What if they lack the background knowledge in some narrow sect of science or math or whatever, and need a push in the back? Stems can help.

See also 26 Sentence Stems For Higher-Level Conversation In The Classroom

Question stems are a more elementary questioning strategy than the Question Formation Technique (see above), but not necessarily less effective. They can be used for younger students, students struggling with a concept, or even “advanced learners” (not a huge fan of this term) as they narrow an open-ended learning experience, or to be used as ‘bread crumbs’ in the case that the teacher is trying to help them arrive at a pre-determined destination. Some examples?

8 Basic Question Stem Examples

Which differences between ____ and ____ stand out to you?

Why does____never seem to____?

How does_____impact____?

How does _____ work?

What’s most important about?

What’s most simple/complex about ______?

How could you classify____? (And ‘Why would you classify____?’)

When____, why does____?

8 Strategies To Help Students Ask Great Questions; image attribution flickr user enokson

The Future Of Learning

Becoming Innovative: 15 New Ideas Every Teacher Should Try


Becoming Innovative: 15 New Ideas Every Teacher Should Try

by TeachThought Staff

What are the latest emerging and popular trends in education?

As trends to do, these are changing almost yearly. Consider how quiet iPads in the classroom have been recently, whereas three years ago they were going to replace teachers and were (unsarcastically) compared to magic. While mobile devices like the iPad can indeed parallel a kind of magic in the learning process, it obviously has to ‘fit’ into a progressive supporting ecology of assessment, curriculum, and instruction.

With that in mind, we’ve created a list of 15 (the graphic plus 3 bonus items below) new ideas every teacher should try. Not all will fit or work–again, it depends on the ecology of the classroom, school, and so on. But each of these ideas below–some learning models, some concepts, and some technologies–can be transformational for students, and your teaching.

A suggestion? Maybe pick 8-10 that seem like they might be the best fit for what and who you teach, and spend the next year or two trying one per unit. In that way, this can be a kind of ‘to-do’ list as you seek out new and innovative ideas for your teaching.

Note that we’ve also created a pdf version which has some links embedded to help you as you look for information on some of these ideas. If you hover over some of the terms, you’ll see which are active and which are not. Feel free to print and share the graphic however you see fit to support teachers and students around you.

Becoming Innovative: 15 New Ideas Every Teacher Should Try

12 New ideas Every Teacher Should Try-c

13. Grading Backwards

Consider: This approach.

14. Use Prevailaing Social Media Trends

Consider: Help students use facebook video to publish their ideas

15. 3D Printing

Consider: Thingiverse (also referenced above under ‘Maker Tinkering’) is an excellent place to start–especially if you don’t have a 3D printer.

15 New Ideas Every Teacher Should Try In 2017; Becoming Innovative: 15 New Ideas Every Teacher Should Try


Critically Examining What You Teach

by Grant Wiggins, Ph.D

Ed note: On May 26, 2015, Grant Wiggins passed away. Grant was tremendously influential on TeachThought’s approach to education, and we were lucky enough for him to contribute his content to our site. Occasionally, we are going to go back and re-share his most memorable posts. This is one of those posts. Thankfully his company, Authentic Education, is carrying on and extending the work that Grant developed.

In my 100th blog post I complained about the course called ‘algebra’. Some commenters misunderstood the complaint. Though I said a few times in the article that my critique was not about the content called algebra but the aimless march through stuff that makes up almost every algebra course in existence, some thought I was bashing the value of the content. Not so. Another commenter said: you might have ranted, then, about many history courses! Indeed I could have–and have done so multiple times in my career.

The issue, then, is not ‘algebra’ or ‘history’ but what we mean by ‘course of study’. I am claiming that to be a valid course, there has to be more than just a list of valued stuff that we cover–even if that list seems valuable to me, the teacher. Rather, a course must seem coherent and meaningful from the learner’s perspective. There must be a narrative, if you will; there must be a throughline; there must be engaging and stimulating inquiries and performances that provide direction, priorities, and incentives.

Notice that I haven’t merely defined a course. What I have just done is identify some criteria by which any so-called ‘course’ can be designed and critiqued. And such criteria are vital: I know from 35 years at this work that very few teachers ever self-assess a course as a course against explicit criteria–with unfortunate consequences. They may tweak lessons and even units but they rarely dispassionately critique the design of the entire course against criteria such as mine; or receive feedback against criteria about their design.

Textbooks Are Tools, Not Courses or Content Areas

Next time I will say a bit more about my criteria, but we can’t ignore the other lurking issue in this discussion: ‘coverage’, i.e. teachers marching through the pages in a textbook.  I wish to claim that defining a course as a tour through the textbook, page by page, is simply not a course by any valid set of criteria. A textbook is merely a collection of topics, with exercises and text under each topic.

The textbook does not know your personal or school priorities; the textbook does not know your students; the textbook doesn’t identify any priorities or through lines that unite all the chapters, etc. So, a march through a book is a non-design. It would be like learning English through a page by page tour of the dictionary and grammar book; it would be like learning history by reading through the encyclopedia page by page.

It doesn’t matter how good the textbook is. My critique is not a critique of textbooks. (I have worked on over a half-dozen for Pearson, to infuse UbD). My critique is the use of books. A text–be it an algebra textbook or Catcher in the Rye–is a resource in support of clear and learning-focused goals. Goals cannot be supplied by a text, they are supplied by purposeful teachers.

7 Prompts That Every Teacher Of A Well-Designed Course Should Be Able To Answer

Here are some simple prompts that a teacher who has really thought through the course as a course should be able to answer:

  1. By the end of the year students should be able to…. and grasp that…
  2. The course builds toward…
  3. The recurring big ideas about which we will go into depth are…
  4. The following chapters and sequence support my goal of…
  5. Given my long-term priority goals, the assessments need to determine if students can…
  6. Given my goals, the following activities need to build insight and incentive…
  7. If I have been successful, students will be able to transfer their learning to… and avoid such common misconceptions and habits as…

So, even before spelling out the meaning of and rationale for my course criteria, you should be able to realize from these prompts why almost all algebra courses are complete failures as courses–i.e. purposefully designed learning in support of clear intellectual goals. No, almost every algebra course (and, yes, history and science course) is a mere march through a textbook, page by page. Rarely do explicit overarching goals and priorities inform the sequence, the activities, assessments, and choice of topics.

Most importantly, the assessments almost never require students to synthesize learning across many chapters and transfer their understandings and skills to priority performance tasks. And it is therefore no accident that students uniformly find high school math to be their most boring and difficult course, as our student surveys show.

In my follow-up post I will say more about the criteria mentioned above as well as walk the talk: I’ll share some design work that my colleagues and I have done over a 10 year period to build better high school math courses. Here’s a hint: if we want understanding instead of mere dutiful learning, we must begin in a very different place than almost every math course I have ever seen.

We have to begin with giving the learners intellectual reasons and incentives for taking such a course. And, thus, we have to justify both the content and the overall direction of the course.

math-books-rulerUPDATE: Resources for Improvement

A number of math teachers have complained either directly or indirectly recently that I have offered criticisms but no solutions to the problem of poorly-designed math courses, especially at the secondary level. For example:

“In my opinion the writer suggests that textbooks are merely a collection of topics with examples of exercises under each and that teachers merely race through a textbook to get to the end. In a sense I agree with this but my problem/concern is that he offers no alternative/answer to what we should be doing instead…. It seems there are so many people out there saying that this is not what we should be teaching our students and that us Math teachers are in fact wasting students time with our outdated teaching methods. My question is then what should we be teaching them? What am I missing? He offers no answer to that question.

“What I find lacking in your rants are specifics. What types of “broad questions” would you suggest to stimulate the interest of hormone driven 14-year old boys? or incredibly self-conscious 14-year old girls many of whom lack basic computational skills, the ability to read critically or who are afraid to take chances or to explore into areas in which they are not familiar, yet who are required to sit in my Algebra I class?

Leaving aside the fact that I have indeed offered numerous resources under the Understanding by Design name (including many math units such as this one: Algebra Unit – before and after) over many years, let me offer a short list of print and web sources for problems, assessments, and pedagogical advice on teaching mathematics more meaningfully that every secondary math teacher ought to have in their library (or at least know about). Math teachers and supervisors: please post others and I’ll add them to this list.


The first go-to resource is Dan Meyer’s videoblog and his open-source collection of problems. The second go-to site is the archive of Car Talk Puzzlers. Here’s my favorite, and make sure to read all the follow-up posts and listen to the next week’s radio show). Here’s my next favorite, and the great kids from E Tipp MS had fun with it, as I blogged here.

Another helpful source is from the United Kingdom (and has served as a partner to Common Core developers) – the Shell Center.

I contributed to a big volume for MAA on Quantitative Literacy (my article begins on p. 121) and you can find many examples not only in my article but in those of others in the volume.

NCTM publishes resources under the Illuminations banner. Here are lessons in algebra.

Mathalicious has some great resources for real-world lessons. So does PBSBuck Institute and Edutopia have long been known for their materials on problem-based learning.


To build courses around worthy performance tasks, the series entitled Balanced Assessment, edited by Judah Schwartz, is excellent. (You can find free resources from it here.) Good tasks, good rubrics, and samples of student work. There are books for middle school, high school, and advanced high school.

The 20 year-old book from NCTM entitled Teaching and Assessing Problem Solving is probably the best of it s kind, a great mix of theory and practice, filled with helpful examples. A newer NCTM book, Teaching Mathematics Through Problem Solving, is equally helpful.

An edited volume entitled Real-World Problems for Secondary School MathematicsStudents has lots of great examples from different countries.

One of the better textbooks in math is by Harold Jacobs called Geometry: Seeing, Doing, Understanding.

Beyond Formulas in Mathematics and Teaching is a bit text heavy but provides a solid perspective on such an aim. For a more general text on the meaning of mathematics, highly readable and usable with HS students, nothing beats Morris Kline’s old bookMathematics in Western Culture.

And as I have noted numerous times in this blog, arguably the best course ever designed, from the 1930’s, was Harold Fawcett’s course later written up as an NCTM Yearbook, and republished 20 years ago. And surely the most seminal and vital book in a math teacher’s library is Polya’s classic How To Solve It. Here is a great old video of Polya at work. Stick with it: there is a dramatic conclusion to the inquiry.

A blunt postscript: All of these resources are not new. I find it a bit depressing that so many math teachers such as the ones I quoted above are seemingly unaware of the materials that are available to ensure better engagement and outcomes in mathematics. BTW, it is ONLY math teachers who routinely make these complaints such as the ones up above in high numbers that they lack resources to develop better courses, instruction, and assessment. At a certain point, I simply must say: isn’t it your professional obligation to know about these resources rather than vent at me for not providing more resources?

This article first appeared on Grant’s personal blog; you can follow Grant on twitter; Critically Examining What You Teach; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad


The Pedagogy Of John Dewey: A Summary

listeup-teaching-vocabulary-fiThe Pedagogy Of John Dewey: A Summary

by Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor, Plymouth Institute of Education

This is number 7 in my blog series on major learning theories. My plan is to work through the alphabet of psychologists and provide a brief overview of their theories, and how each can be applied in education. In the last post we examined the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on Flow Theory. In this post, we explore the work of John Dewey on experiential and interactive learning. This is a simplified interpretation of the theory, so if you wish to learn more, please refer to the original work of the theorist.

John Dewey is one of the giants in the history of educational theory, and it’s difficult to isolate one of his specific theories to discuss here. He was influential in so many areas of educational reform, that to choose one theme would do him a disservice, so I will highlight several of the areas in which he was ahead of his time.

The theory and how it can be applied to education

Even before the constructivist theories of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky were widely known, Dewey was talking about how children learn best when they interacted with their environments and were actively involved with the school curriculum. He rejected much of the prevalent theory of the time – behaviourism – as too simplistic and inadequate to explain complex learning processes. He argued that rather than the child being a passive recipient of knowledge, as was presumed by many educators of the time, children were better served if they took an active part in the process of their own learning. He also placed greater emphasis on the social context of learning. At the turn of the 20th-Century, these were radical ideas.

Dewey further argued that for education to be at its most effective, children should be given learning opportunities that enabled them to link present content to previous experiences and knowledge. Again, this was a ground breaking idea for the period. Yet another feature in Dewey’s theories was the need for learners to engage directly with their environment, in what came to be known as experiential learning, where ‘knowledge comes from the impressions made upon us by natural objects.’ This approach led later to a number of other similar approaches such as problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning.

Notwithstanding, Dewey was wary of placing too much emphasis on the child’s abilities, but preferred to place his trust in a more balanced approach to education where teacher, students and content were given equal importance in the learning equation. Ultimately, his belief was that teachers should not be in the classroom to act simply as instructors, but should adopt the role of facilitator and guide, giving students the opportunities to discover for themselves and to develop as active and independent learners. In some schools, a return to these values is long overdue.


Dewey, J. (2011) Democracy and Education. Milton Keynes: Simon and Brown.

Previous posts in this series:

Anderson ACT-R Cognitive Architecture
Argyris Double Loop Learning
Bandura Social Learning Theory
Bruner Scaffolding Theory
Craik and Lockhart Levels of Processing
Csíkszentmihályi Flow Theory

The Pedagogy Of John Dewey: A Summary by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This post first appeared on Steve’s personal blog; The Pedagogy Of John Dewey: A Summary; image attribution flickr user listeup

Critical Thinking

20 Questions To Guide Inquiry-Based Learning

20 Questions To Guide Inquiry-Based Learning

by TeachThought Staff

Recently we took at look at the phases of inquiry-based learning through a framework, and even apps that were conducive to inquiry-based learning on the iPad.

In the first post, we suggested that inquiry-based learning is an “instructional model that centers learning on a solving a particular problem or answering a central question.” We also provided some thinking on the ‘stages’ of inquiry, saying that “inquiry-based learning can vary depending on context but generally include Interacting, Clarifying, Questioning, and Designing.”

During our research for that phases framework, we stumbled across the following breakdown of the inquiry process for learning on (who offer the references that appear below the graphic). Most helpfully, it offers 20 questions that can guide student research at any stage, including:

What do I want to know about this topic? How do I know I know it? What kinds of resources might help? How do I know the info is valid? Does my research raise new questions? And, in a nod to digital and social media, How do I use media to express my message?

These stages have some overlap with self-directed learning. Hopefully you’ll find the following graphic–and the embedded stages and questions–helpful in your planning, or to distribute to students as they make sense of what could be a new (for them) approach to learning.



Cross, M. (1996). Teaching Primary Science: empowering children for their world. Melbourne: Longman Australia.

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari, A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. London: Libraries Unlimited.

Learning Models Teaching

32 Characteristics Of High-Performing Classrooms

32 Characteristics Of High-Performing Classrooms: Spotting The Holes In Your Teaching

by Terry Heick

Instructional design is the strategic creation of learning experiences through intentional planning, sequencing, and data-based revision of learning.

This process includes both the ways content is accessed, and the learning needs and objectives (and how they are determined) themselves. This puts instructional strategies, literacy strategies, curriculum mapping, standards unpacking, assessment design, digital literacy, and a dozen other facets of education beneath its umbrella.

With that in mind, we’ve created the following 32 characteristics of high-performing classrooms to help you spot the opportunities for growth in your teaching.


Technology Integration

  1. Technology connects students with authentic content and communities
  2. Personalized learning experiences are achieved through a variety of mobile, game-based, or self-directed learning
  3. Technology creates learning opportunities impossible without it
  4. Technology is a means, not an end

Cognitive Demand

  1. Rigor is omnipresent, from bell ringers and quizzes to accountable talk and assessments
  2. Students generate original ideas from seemingly disparate sources of information
  3. Students consistently revisit ideas, thinking and general misconceptions (e.g., via digital portfolio)
  4. Thinking habits are valued over demonstrated ‘proficiency’

Lesson Planning

  1. Lesson planning templates serve student thinking, not district ‘non-negotiables’
  2. Bloom’s taxonomy (or related learning taxonomies) is/are used to move students from basic to complex thinking daily
  3. Data is applied immediately and meaningfully to revise planned instruction
  4. There is clear evidence of backwards design


  1. Transfer is required to prove mastery
  2. Data is easily extracted and visualized
  3. The academic standard and assessment form complement one another
  4. There is opportunity for students to demonstrate what they do know rather than simply succeed or fail in demonstrating what the assessment asks for

Curriculum Mapping

  1. Curriculum naturally absorbs and adapts to data sources
  2. Curriculum map is dynamic, changing in response to data and circumstance
  3. There is clear priority of academic standards (not all standards are created equal)
  4. There is clear evidence of the Gradual Release of Responsibility model

Learner Choice

  1. Student questioning–rather than the teacher’s–drives learning
  2. The ability for self-directed learning extends beyond the topical, to assessment forms, research sources, learning technology, topics, and essential questions
  3. Learning pathways can be self-directed by ambitious, supported, and/or resourceful students
  4. Students recognize and can articulate their own role in the learning process at any given time

Classroom Management

  1. Expectations are clear 
  2. Discipline is a collective effort: peers, colleagues, administration, and family
  3. Fair doesn’t always mean equal
  4. ‘Behavior’ starts with self-awareness and self-respect, which must be encouraged and modeled

Student Support

  1. Students have choice in demonstrating understanding
  2. There are exemplar models immediately accessible to students of all important work and activities
  3. Students are accountable to peers, families, organizations, and communities, not you
  4. Student literacy levels are meaningfully taken into account when planning instruction 

Image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad; 32 Characteristics Of A High-Performing Classroom