October 22

Small Group Instruction in the Secondary Classroom

Small group on the secondary level is unheard of! Today we discussed the “glue” we use to make learning stick in small group! In an effort incorporate what my teachers needed and to differentiate PD, I surveyed the teachers on what they wanted. Three themes emerged from teacher voice and input: Time Management Strategies, Strategies on how to manage the class that are not in small group, and strategies in general to use in small group.


Polling twitter and other peers, we were able to come up with a HUGE list of various strategies that are “go-to” strategies! One of my favorites, are “All Sorts of Sorts”. The mere act of sorting various words and phrases helps to get the metacognitive juices flowing in our students. Talking about why an item was sorted, multiple encounters with new vocabulary words or content vocabulary words, asking questions, and modeling think alouds are all part intertwined in “All Sorts of Sorts”. In today’s teacher academy, we had differentiated instruction at it’s finest through this activity. Each session was completely different and highlighted the needs/wants of the teachers present at that time. We had rigorous conversations on various topics. Teachers shared stories, learned some new strategies, and hopefully left with a clearer picture. 


Small group is all about ensuring what students know and how to either fill in the gap or accel them forward! Stay tuned in a for a strategies list of topics covered!

February 4

Slice of the Day

Reflection is one of the most underutilized tools for teacher and student learning and allows metacognitive thinking to take place. Incorporating thinking strategies is “the single most effective way to increase student achievement” (Silver, et al pg 57), thus making metacognition and the reflective process taste that much sweeter to any teacher aiming to promote critical thinking in the classroom. How can you learn from others while teaching? Conducting a “Slice of the Day” is a great way!

To conduct a slice of the day, choose a school period and map out your schedule. @GraysonLawrence and I conducted our “Slice of the Day” during sixth period (A 96 minute period). We stayed in each classroom around seven minutes. We used the slice protocol to create a snapshot to share with teachers in Teacher Academy. Our goal was to show teachers the “Slice of the Day” and give them time to reflect on practice, create goals, and discuss classroom pedagogy that is impactful to student achievement.

@GraysonLawrence and I chose to do a new take on the “Slice of the Day”. We each had a lens of what to be on the lookout for. The only reported information was observable information/data garnered by the lense. His lens was student engagement and my lens was rigorous instruction. Here is what we discovered for each applied perspective:

Rigorous Instruction Lens:

  • Citing textual evidence
  • Academic vocabulary from the ACT Aspire in elective courses
  • Quality question by teachers
  • Students using content vocabulary in conversation without the teacher present (high expectations present)
  • Performance tasks (open-ended questions) in ALL content areas
  • Graphic organizers, such as ACE, in history and elective courses
  • Number talks in math
  • Manipulatives used by students to model thinking
  • Application of Ethos, Pathos, Logos in elective course
  • Differentiated Small-Group based on student needs
  • Students using Rubrics to assess their learning

Engagement Lens:

  • Classroom Managers present and eager to discuss their learning and the learning in the classroom.
  • Students troubleshooting through assignments together
  • Students using rubrics in groups to assess learning
  • Learning Targets posted that show a pathway to learning
  • Students asking questions about their own learning
  • Bellringers to start the day
  • Math Stretches
  • Students participating in PBL (Project Based Learning)
  • Blended Learning opportunities for students
  • Collaboration in Google Docs/Slides


Silver, H., Dewing, R. T., & Perini, M. (2012). The core six essential strategies for achieving excellence with the common core. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


**Small side note about The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achievement Excellence with the Common Core:  It is a short read, BUT very transformative!!! I highly encourage you to read and reread it! I have a copy you can borrow anytime! It is not content specific, rather just a focus on effective teaching strategies!

February 7

The Power of Time, Pace, and Scaffolding

CalcN0rUkAAVHwaThis week in Teacher Academy, we had a guest teacher, Nancy Clarke, from the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI).  Thank you so much Mrs. Clarke for coming to observe classrooms, plan PD, and highlight some best practices for us to implement and try! The framework of our discussion revolved around the power of time management, pacing students throughout a lesson, and scaffolding students. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 1.35.32 PM



The following highlights are a series of questions/statements to remember while planning future lessons:

  • We as teachers should plan with Blooms but assess with DOK (Depth of Knowledge)
  • With our DOK assessments, what type of thinking is required?
  • Tasks in the classroom should be at the DOK 3 Level because DOK 3 level incorporates DOK Levels 1 and 2.
  • As teachers, we focus on a lot of things and we try to do everything fast. The tasks we plan should have meaning and rigor.
  • Planning is extremely important. Planning should encompass areas where we anticipate we would have to scaffold.
  • We must plan where learning could possibly have a breakdown.
  • The power of time is invaluable.
  • The  use of a timer keeps us on track but also the students on track during scaffolding.  It is much easier to Close Read for 6 minutes then it is for 30 minutes.
  • If your students are having a difficult time turning in assignments, use a timer to help pace their work.  Time management for students is a necessary skill to be College and Career Ready.
  • For more information on Webb’s DOK, click here!


Just a few Teacher Takeaways

  1. Coach Strickland and Mrs. Brown said that their takeaway was starting out her small group lessons with DOK 3 questions then scaffold student learning from that point.
  2. Mr. Studdard and Mr. Gable both stated that their takeaway was the use of a timer.  This would allow them to maintain pressure throughout the lesson and help pace students toward completion of desired tasks.


Sentence Starters were also part of discussion amongst teachers.  Using sentence starters in the classroom allows students to have appropriate content dialog in the classroom. Sentences starters look different in each classroom.  There are millions of different sentence starters to use to frame productive classroom discussions. Share with everyone when you find some that best suits your classroom! Here are a few examples we can use in our classrooms:

Math:  Check Out Page 7

ELA:  Check out Page 3


Social Studies: Check Out Page 10

Career Technical Education


November 15

Why, Why, Why: Metacognition Protocol

images-2Why?  Three simple letters packed with an educational punch.  When students can tell us why they think something, or why they believe something, teachers feel as though we have reached the educational summit!  Whether right or wrong, we can diagnose misconceptions or build upon current thinking.  For today’s Teacher Academy, we had 3 Learning Targets:



  • Identify the right drivers and the wrong drivers in our classrooms.
  • Identify the importance of soliciting sophisticated responses.
  • Create a short action plan to address student deficiencies.


The 5 Why Protocol was recently used at the Key Leaders Network through the Alabama Best Practices Center. This protocol basically takes you through a series of Why’s….5 of them to be exact. You first have to identify your “right drivers” and then the “wrong drivers.”  We used 3 aspects of our school culture as a review for this protocol:  Classroom Managers, Formative Assessment, and Learning Target.  The last “Why” question that is asked, is packed with core foundations of belief.  Here are our examples:


1.  Why are classroom managers the right drivers over classroom observations?

-If the pressure in on the students, they will have higher success rates in life.

-To have students more invested, means that they have more ownership, pride, and are more engaged in class.

-There is a direct correlation between engagement and student achievement…simple!

-It is important to integrate so we can better prepare them for their future job!



2.  Why are formative assessment strategies the right drivers over accountability?

-Tailoring Formative Assessment tailors our instruction.

-Without a foundation, you can’t build more knowledge and you do not want

misconceptions to build.  You cannot build a house without a foundation.

-Formative Assessment shows student achievement, then in turn data and scores increase.  Formative Assessment shows the teacher where to go next with that child.

-Formative assessment gives them ownership, accountability, engagement in the lesson, etc.


3.  Why are learning targets the right drivers over fragmented strategies?

-It is important to connect to real world objectives for clarity and guidance.

-Students have to buy in with the lesson in order to be invested.

-We increase the rigor in our classroom lessons and this increases lesson stamina.

-It is important for everyone to go down the same path (Lifelong learning – not the exact path…we differentiate)


We also discussed the importance of using a protocol or having a system in place for student questioning and the answers we accept as teachers.  We must solicit educational responses that are of grade level quality, and beyond, not answers that are quick or sloppy.  Many questions on our summative Assessments, the ACT Aspire, require that students answer questions using grade level sophistication!  Thank you Anna Jones for your inspiration and aha moment on this issue!


We had a great day of learning and Action Plan development! You can find more about the 5 Why Protocol on the National School Reform Website:  http://www.nsrfharmony.org/system/files/protocols/5_whys_0.pdf