Tag Archives: what I’m reading

What I’m Reading – TeachingWorks High-Leverage Teaching Practices

Recently on Twitter I asked for advice about how other people engage with professional reading.

I got a lot of great advice. (Thank you to everyone who contributed!) A recurring theme was how much more people get out of their reading when they interact with others. One way I’d like to try to spur some interaction while I read is to use my blog as a place to share my thoughts on my professional reading. At worst, no one will respond, but I’ll still have done some reflecting on my own so that’s not so bad. At best, folks will comment and I’ll get to engage more with the ideas from whatever I happen to be reading.

I’m not quite ready to dive into a professional book at the moment, but I did want to spur myself to get started, so today I reread over the material at TeachingWorks (Link) on high-leverage teaching practices to refresh my memory. I jotted down notes while I read that I’m putting in this post. If you read through them and they spark any thoughts, feel free to share in the comments! I’m particularly interested in the topic of high-leverage teaching practices. I’d love to hear what others think about them or hear what other resources on this topic that you think I should read!

The Work of Teaching (Link)

“Great teachers aren’t born. They’re taught.”

“Having a skillful teacher has been a matter of chance and students of color and low-income have unequal access to good teaching.”

Identifying and teaching high-leverage practices – “an action or task central to teaching” – is one way to support new and early career teachers.

Core Ideas (Link)

  1. “The goal of classroom teaching is to help students learn worthwhile knowledge and skills and develop the ability to use what they learn for their own purposes.” – I’m curious how “worthwhile” is defined. Worthwhile to whom? Deemed worthwhile by whom? I do like the idea of using “what they learn for their own purposes.” Schooling isn’t about what anyone else thinks a student should ultimately do, but about the knowledge and skills a student learns and their agency to make choices about how they use them.
  2. “All students deserve the opportunity to learn at high levels.” – I just listened to an episode (Link) of the podcast “Teaching While White” where Tim Wise talks about the history of schooling in this country and he shares a quote by Thomas Jefferson where he says 6 years or so of schooling should be provided to all (white people) in order to elevate those with talent from the “rubbish.” Clearly the goals of public education in this county from its inception have not been to ensure that all students learn at high levels, but rather to find a small population who we deem capable of learning at high levels and letting them rise to the top.
  3. “Learning is an active sense-making process.” – This is the nature of human brains. Even if we could provide every student the same inputs, our brains are making sense of them against the background of our own unique experiences which is why the outputs can be so vastly different for each person. Regardless of what those outputs are, it is the sense that each person’s brain has been able to make of what they’re experiencing. It’s no wonder that you can have such a broad range of skills and abilities within a single classroom. It also demonstrates the challenges teachers face in identifying and responding to what their students have learned.
  4. “Teaching is interactive with and constructed together with students.” – If you’ve ever tried to teach the same lesson to different groups, this will make sense. What stands out to one group vs. another may impact the conversation you have and where you focus your time and what the ultimate learning is for a given group. One group may need a different way of interacting than another group in order to be successful. Even if you teach just one class (like an elementary teacher), you’ll notice year to year differences between groups of students. Those variations and your interactions are the basis of constructing knowledge together. There might be similarities about what’s learned between groups, but there will inherently be differences.
  5. “The contexts of classroom teaching matter, and teachers must manage and use them well.” – This reminds me of the porous boundary between the classroom and the surrounding environments Dr. Deborah Ball talks about in her AERA 2018 Presidential Address (Link). According to Dr. Ball, these environments aren’t just physical, they also include historical racism, the legacy of slavery, colonialism, whiteness, housing policies, segregation, school structure, teaching as an occupation, the enormous health and wealth disparities in our country, and curriculum. It’s a big “multivariate soup” within which teaching and learning take place. “Environments permeate the classroom and have no bounds themselves.”

Origin & Evolution (Link)

“The goal has been to identify a small set of instructional practices that are crucial for beginning and early career teachers to be able to do well, and a small number of topics and ideas that they should understand and know how to teach.” – From the elementary lens, this is a powerful idea because elementary teachers are required to “do it all.” They are expected to teach every subject well, and while there are unique challenges to teaching each content area, how might it benefit teachers (particularly new and early career teachers) to focus on a core set of skills that can be applied across content areas? It feels like a much better use of their time, especially when you consider all the professional development opportunities teachers can be bombarded with that are often siloed by content. Each of these PD opportunities may be amazing, but if they aren’t helping teachers develop big picture understandings about teaching and learning, the impact may be smaller than we’d hope. I’d much rather focus professional learning on these core skills and then look at how they can be applied in different content areas.

“…striving to isolate those aspects of the work of teaching that matter most for the quality of students’ educational opportunities.” – From reading this page it sounds like their group has done a lot of work to involve a variety of stakeholders in order to create and refine their list. I wonder how others who weren’t part of this work can create buy-in with teachers that these practices “matter most for the quality of students’ educational opportunities.”

“We also seek to identify the highest-leverage content knowledge needed for teaching. High-leverage content is particular topics, practices, and texts that are both foundational to the K-12 curriculum in this country and important for beginning teachers to be able to teach.” – This would be useful to connect with standards at a given grade level to help teachers understand where and how to focus their time and attention with their students.

High-Leverage Practices (Link)

“These practices are used constantly and are critical to helping students learn important content. The high-leverage practices are also central to supporting students’ social and emotional development.” – I like how this acknowledges that we’re teaching people, not just content, and so the skills of teaching need to include skills related to building relationships and working with people.

Here’s the list of high-leverage practices

  1. Leading a group discussion
  2. Explaining and modeling content, practices, and strategies
  3. Eliciting and interpreting student thinking
  4. Diagnosing particular common patterns of student thinking and development in a subject-matter domain
  5. Implementing norms and routines for classroom discourse and work
  6. Coordinating and adjusting instruction during a lesson
  7. Specifying and reinforcing productive student behavior
  8. Implementing organizational routines
  9. Setting up and managing small group work
  10. Building respectful relationships with students
  11. Talking about a student with parents or other caregivers
  12. Learning about students’ cultural, religious, family, intellectual, and personal experiences and resources for use in instruction
  13. Setting long- and short-term learning goals for students
  14. Designing single lessons and sequences of lessons
  15. Checking student understanding during and at the conclusion of lessons
  16. Selecting and designing formal assessments of student learning
  17. Interpreting the results of student work, including routine assignments, quizzes, tests, projects, and standardized assessments
  18. Providing oral and written feedback to students
  19. Analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it

It’s overwhelming when you look at it all at once, especially when you consider there’s quite a bit of depth to each of these statements, but I like the idea that if these are the things that matter most, then this list provides solid avenues teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators can pursue to help improve the quality of students’ educational opportunities.

High-Leverage Content (Link)

“Although many teaching capabilities are used across subject areas, some are subject-specific.” – This is where I’d like to see subject-area PD focus. The high-leverage practices keep us focused, but we can learn the nuances of how to use them successfully in each subject area without feeling like we’re always learning something brand new or disconnected from previous learning.

TeachingWorks hasn’t provided a list of high-leverage content yet. It says they began the work of identifying high-leverage content in 2011. I’m curious where they are 10 years on.

Practice-Based Teacher Education (Link)

I guess everything gets a list on this site. This page shares 10 critical features of practice-based teacher education – “professional training that is deliberate about making sure that novice teachers can use specific practices of teaching” in an effort to create “a more just society, achieved through classroom instruction that disrupts racism and attends to all students as individuals and as members of multiples communities.”

Here is their list of critical features of practice-based education

  1. Shared vision
  2. High-leverage practices
  3. Models of skillful teaching
  4. Opportunity to practice
  5. Ambitious learning goals for children
  6. Deliberate attention to Black and brown children
  7. Content knowledge for teaching
  8. Ethical obligations
  9. Performance assessments
  10. Coherence, sustainability, and continuous improvement

Part of why they share this list is because there’s not one model program or way to teach teachers. Rather, we need to create programs for particular contexts and students, but these critical features can help shape that work.

One thing they talk about in this section is how they decompose the high-leverage practices and provide opportunities for teachers to learn and practice individual parts of each practice. This makes sense given how dense the high-leverage practices are.

If you want to see some of these critical features in practice, I recommend watching the entirety of Dr. Deborah Ball’s talk that I mentioned earlier. In particular she demonstrates deliberate attention to two Black children in her class and the power we have as teachers to build up or tear down these students with decisions we have to make in-the-moment.

Fast forward to 46:31 for the start of Dr. Ball’s talk

Final Thoughts

I’ve been drawn to this idea of high-leverage practices for several years now. Having worked as a curriculum coordinator in a school district with 34 elementary schools with over 1,000 elementary teachers, I constantly bumped into the limits of teachers’ time. Teachers are pulled in many directions from administrators, instructional coaches, the curriculum department, state requirements, not to mention teachers’ own interests about what they’d like to learn. I feel like we can work smarter, not harder, by centering our professional learning efforts around a set of common practices like those shared by TeachingWorks. It would create common language and would reassure teachers that any professional learning they are doing is tied into the bigger picture of what it means to provide quality instruction to all students. Unfortunately I wasn’t a very good salesman because I never found any traction with the idea in my district, which is fine, but it doesn’t mean I’m letting it go. I don’t know how or when I might be able to work with these ideas further, but I know that I’d like to.

Math on the Move: Part 1

I have a tendency to devour professional books. However, in my rush to read about all these new ideas, I rarely ever slow down and take the time to stop and reflect on what I’m reading. Don’t get me wrong, I do *a lot* of thinking about what I’m reading, but I’m not doing anything to make my thoughts permanent so I can easily engage with them later.

I’ve been meaning to change that, to clarify and capture my thoughts in my blog, and what better time to do that than with my colleague Malke Rosenfeld’s long-awaited book Math on the Move: Engaging Students in Whole Body LearningToday I’d like to write about my thoughts as I read the introduction and chapter 1. I’ll follow up with posts about the other chapters as I make my way through the book.

I’d like to start with my own introduction to how I first came to meet Malke and get to know her incredible work.

Back in the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to attend my first Twitter Math Camp. Looking at the schedule of morning sessions, my curiosity was piqued by a session called “Embodied Mathematics: Tools, Manipulatives, and Meaningful Movement in Math Class” offered by Christopher Danielson and Malke Rosenfeld. Here’s the session description:

This workshop is for anyone who uses, or is considering using, physical objects in math instruction at any grade level. This three-part session asks participants to actively engage with the following questions:

  1. What role(s) do manipulatives play in learning mathematics?
  2. What role does the body play in learning mathematics?
  3. What does it mean to use manipulatives in a meaningful way? and
  4. “How can we tell whether we are doing so?”

In the first session, we will pose these questions and brainstorm some initial answers as a way to frame the work ahead. Participants will then experience a ‘disruption of scale’ moving away from the more familiar activity of small hand-based tasks and toward the use of the whole body in math learning. At the base of this inquiry are the core lessons of the Math in Your Feet program.

In the second and third sessions, participants will engage with more familiar tasks using traditional math manipulatives. Each task will be chosen to highlight useful similarities and contrasts with the Math in Your Feet work, and to raise important questions about the assumptions we hold when we do “hands on” work in math classes.

The products of these sessions will be a more mindful approach to selecting manipulatives, a new appreciation for the body’s role in math learning, clearer shared language regarding “hands-on” inquiry for use in our professional relationships and activities, and public displays to engage other TMC attendees in the conversation.

Sounds awesome, right? It was! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought up this experience in conversation with colleagues over the past couple years. It gave me a new perspective about how we construct knowledge with physical things, including manipulatives and the body. And how exciting is it that two years later I get to revisit and expand on these ideas as I read Malke’s new book.


In pairs we created 8-beat dance patterns using movement variables.


We analyzed each other’s dances and talked about the mathematics in the dance as well as the dance itself.


Our work bled over into the evenings as we danced and talked math in the “Blue Tape Lounge.”

Now that my introduction is over, we can move on to Malke’s.

Malke is a percussive dancer and teaching artist. During her career she has explored the relationship between dancing and mathematics through a program she developed called Math In Your Feet. Check out this TEDx video to see her do a little dancing, but mostly to hear her talk about her vision and her work.

One thing Malke does early in her book is make it clear what she is and is not saying about teaching math and dance and what she is and is not saying about the role of the body in learning. I appreciate that she takes the time to do this because as humans we have a tendency to try to fit what we’re hearing into our pre-existing worldview. By sharing examples, and more importantly, nonexamples, Malke helps create some necessary disequilibrium before readers dive more deeply into the rest of the book. Here are a couple of examples:

The first is that this is not arts integration. According to Malke, arts integration is difficult to pull off well and often the core subjects, such as math and science, are truly the focus while art is brought in as a way to “liven” things up. Rather, Malke prefers to frame her work and the ideas in this book as interdisciplinary learning.

“Both math and dance are discrete disciplines that require students to gain content knowledge, develop skills, and cultivate thinking and reasoning fluency in order to create meaning within their respective systems.” (page xvii)

The goal is not to teach math with dance or to teach dance with math. Rather, students are able to engage with and learn concepts from both disciplines simultaneously. Reading about this reminded me about Annie Fetter’s Ignite talk where she talks about the intersection of art and mathematics in her mother’s weaving and quilting. It makes me wonder in what other disciplines mathematics intertwines where someone may not even be conscious of it.

A related and important point Malke makes is that not all math can be danced and not all dance is math. But where they overlap is a beautiful place to spend some time learning about both.

The second example is probably the most important before getting into the meat of her book. If someone is going to invest the time to dive deeper and explore her message, then she needs for the reader to understand what she does and does not mean about the role of the body in learning. She does not mean using our arms to represent types of graphs, bouncing on exercise balls as we recite multiplication facts, or having students create the sides of polygons with their bodies.

“Too often the moving body is used primarily as an object for literal interpretation, illustration, and memorization of math concepts. Conceptualizing the body in this way, as a drawing or mnemonic tool, severely limits its potential in a learning setting.” (page xvii)

In contrast, Malke wants us to consider how the body can be used as a thinking tool that puts the student at the center of the reasoning and doing within a particular context. From birth, we have used our bodies to explore and make sense of our world long before we had language skills or the ability to understand someone telling us what to do. Malke wants us consider how we can provide students opportunities to use their bodies in these same ways to explore math concepts in school. I’m not going to steal her thunder, but in chapter 1 she shares three lovely vignettes of this in action in kindergarten, second grade, and fifth grade. Be sure to read and think about those,  and then contrast them with the nonexamples she provides.

Then get ready to dance! Malke doesn’t let you off the hook as a reader. Chapter 1 has two Try It Yourself! boxes that encourage you to get some masking tape and make a square on the floor – I recommend blue painters tape. Then she poses questions and challenges that give you the opportunity to try using your body as a thinking tool. You might feel a bit silly, but you just might make some new insights as well. Give it a try!

With the groundwork laid, I look forward to diving in to chapter 2.


Inspired by a Cop Out

I’m going to force myself to keep it brief tonight. Each day of this blogging challenge I haven’t really planned too much ahead of time about what I’m going to write, but each day I’ve found myself sitting down at my computer for one and a half to two hours writing that day’s post. I’ve learned I have a lot to say! And when I don’t start saying it until around 10 or 10:30 or maybe even 10:45, it means going to bed much later than usual.

This evening I got on my computer around 10 o’clock, but I ended up reading other people’s blog posts for the past hour. I can’t bring myself to start writing another long post for my blog that’s going to take until after midnight, so instead let me share a few good blogs I was reading today.

The Roots of the Equation

My unofficial blogging partner, @jacehan, is usually getting his posts in at the last minute like me. Tonight he wrote a short Cop Out post because he’s feeling tired. That gave me the idea of doing my own cop out post today. I have lots on my mind that I could talk about, but I also have lots of sleep that I’d love to catch up on.

Since I’m linking to his blog, I should probably link to another of his posts so you can see that he writes about more than just elevators and a lack of sleep. During this blogging challenge, the piece that has resonated the most with me is the one about being out in the classroom. This is something I was never able to be when I was a teacher, and it makes me happy to read about someone who can.

Wandering through math

I just discovered @Mr_Kunkel’s blog during the #MTBoS30 challenge, and I’m happy I did. I enjoyed his two recent posts – The Ferrari Ride and Zonk and the impact of time – talking about testing and more specifically the amount of time remaining in the school year after the tests are over. While some folks may be ready to throw in the towel, he is trucking along. He’s doing a great job of demonstrating that as long as you continue to provide engaging instruction, your students will continue to participate.

Learning to Fold

This blogging challenge has taught me that @mythagon is my one stop shop for what to read and listen to. Today she talked about the TED talk given by the author of xkcd. I passed that right on to my husband. Yesterday she shared a link to an article about the ‘Noticing and Wondering’ strategy. That one I read for myself, though I’ll likely share it with some folks at work. And the day before that she linked to another post where the author wrote, “A pyramid is like a 3D representation of a dilation.” That post was quickly shared with my coworker Meredith. Basically, I can’t go wrong with her blog, and you probably can’t either. Go check it out!

D’oh. This is not a brief post. I guess “brief” wasn’t the right word. Maybe I should have said I wanted to write a post today that is less intense than my other recent posts. This definitely fit the bill. While there’s some length to it, this was much easier and faster to write than other things I’ve written during this challenge. And, besides, I’m happy to share with others the great things I’m reading thanks to this blogging challenge. It’s a win-win.

Now, time for bed.