Monthly Archives: January 2014

Guiding Questions

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Pay attention to where you are going because without meaning you might get nowhere. – A. A. Milne

I have been to two shooting ranges in my life. One was a row of pop cans stretching several yards in each direction and the other was a single target. With the pop cans, I aimed in the general direction and hit several cans (okay, let’s be honest, I hit a couple). The single target on the other hand made me focus. Be intentional. Reflect on where I missed. Adjust my stance. I knew what I wanted to hit.

Guiding questions are like the single target. They provide a clear learning target for students.

There may be dozens of pieces of information you want students to know in a unit, but guiding questions direct the larger picture for a complete understanding. Additionally, they prepare the path for organizing the unit and content. They put learning ahead of activities (ensuring every activity has a purpose). As a result, student learning is increased.

Characteristics of Good Guiding Questions:

  • rigorous in nature, but understandable language
  • places emphasis on the most important elements
  • are made up of smallest number needed for the unit
  • support formative assessment
  • support differentiated instruction

How to Create Guiding Questions:

  • address the standards
  • identify the knowledge students need to learn
  • identify the skills students need to learn
  • identify the big ideas that students need to learn
  • choose meaningful or important topics
  • choose personally relevant topics
  • use the most appropriate words
  • keep language easy to understand
  • prompt students to use learning strategies
  • prompt students to use technology
  • prompt students to use communication skills

Robert Marzano, in The Art and Science of Teaching (2007), recommends two structures for creating guiding questions:

Students will be able to ____________

Students will understand ___________

For further information on Guiding Questions, Arika & Joy have copies of Jim Knight’s, professor at the University of Kansas, chapter on Guiding Questions from High Impact Instruction and are happy to brainstorm with you.

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Filed under Instruction, strategies

34 Names

For quite some time, we have heard the importance of having images of people of color present in our classrooms. Research shows that students of color benefit from seeing people who look like them in their learning environment.  As we return from honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., we are reminded of all the impactful African American leaders who have shaped our past, present, and future.  

In an earlier blog post titled “The Students’ Six:  Strategies for Culturally Proficient Teaching”, we referenced strategy #3 that addressed the importance of making linkages between classroom content and student experiences and perspectives.  We want to give you an opportunity to do just that.  The list below contains  over 30 influential African American leaders.  As we looked over the people, we realized that beyond name recognition, we knew very little (or nothing) about over half the list.  We reflected on why that is and wondered  how we could change this for others so that the stories of these heroes could be more widely shared.  

Would you consider reviewing the list and selecting a name unknown to you and learn about that pioneer?  If yes, take it a step further and determine how you can link your classroom content to this person.  If you want help with ideas, you know where to go~

Malcolm X
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Langston Hughes
Charles Hamilton Houston
Harry Belafonte
Nat Turner
Carter G. Woodson
Mary McLeod Bethune
John H. Johnson
Rev. Jesse Jackson
Marcus Garvey
Fannie Lou Hamer
A. Phillip Randolph
Paul Robeson
Dred Scott
James Baldwin
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Booker T. Washington
Ella Baker
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Rosa Parks
Harriet Tubman
Frederick Douglass
Thurgood Marshall
WEB DuBois
Barack Obama
Bessie Coleman
Maya Angelou
Shirley Chisholm
Dr. Dorothy Height
Sojourner Truth
Wilma Rudolph
Ruth Simmons
Gwendolyn Brooks

bessie-coleman*If you can identify this woman from the list above, email us by the end of the school day tomorrow (1/22/14) to receive a prize!  (Remember, times are tough.)  😉

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Filed under Instruction

The F Word

The word itself causes anxiety and apprehension, but can be vital to reflection and growth and ultimately, impact student success.


Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement and can offer us the opportunity to enhance the learning experiences we create for our students (Hattie and Timperley 2011). As the semester comes to a close, we want to encourage all educators to create room for this growth by soliciting student feedback.

The Heart Of It:

The most critical tool for self-improvement is an accurate picture of current reality. That’s why every trainer starts with a fitness test and colleges have placement exams. Coupled with a vision, it offers concrete direction for growth. Feedback gives us an opportunity to look at how our beliefs and values correlate to our instruction. For example, I believe every student can learn, but how am I making sure that happens? Do my students feel I believe they can learn in my class? Feedback gives us a gateway into this real conversation.

The Logistics Of It: 

  1. Prep: Processing feedback that we receive  from students is easier if we self reflect first. Take some time to think back on your first semester on your own. What are your strengths? Where do you hope to grow? Then, ask your students. When given the opportunity to be anonymous, students can be brutally honest. However, we can choose to see honesty not as harsh criticism or complaint, but as a gift.  Feedback is necessary to improve instruction which creates the greatest impact.
  2. Do: The opportunities to ask for feedback are endless. It can be at the end of a class period, end of an activity, or end of semester. Let students know why you want their feedback. We encourage you to give all students a survey at the end of the semester. You can adapt one of ours below or create your own.
  3. Process: Within responses, there will be unexpected positives, sincere suggestions for better serving student needs, and some random thoughts. Look at the whole. Focus on themes. Reflect on the praise and what you would change. Meet with a colleague or your Equity Coach to consider what you could use from the survey in your coaching sessions.

The Meat Of It: What should you ask?

Some example questions:

  • When did I successfully encourage you to do your best?
  • What do you want to see more of?
  • What do you want to see less of?
  • How did you feel coming to class?

Want more ideas? Check out some of these posts and sources:

Note: Consider asking for demographic (gender/race) information on anonymous surveys and explaining why. Simply stated: If we want to serve all students, the themes in the replies may help inform us how to better serve underserved groups.

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Filed under Teacher Development