Activate Prior Knowledge

The step in teaching where you should talk about what students already know to make a connection.

IAB_CL1_PX01572I tell my kids they should love this part of the lesson because ?prior knowledge? means basically: ?Stuff they already know.? All I am doing here is getting them to fix on something they understand. I will use this quickly to bridge to what they have yet to learn. For example, if I am doing a lesson to 8th graders on consumer documents I can explain to them how skateboards come with a warranty.

I can get them very involved in sharing stories of ?prior knowledge? about pasts that have broken and got replaced within the terms of the warranty. Then I can bridge from that to the lesson objective which might be analyzing the various terms of a consumer document. The learning objective can be restated throughout the lesson reminding the students that each thing we are doing has a place in getting towards that learning objective. I thoroughly enjoy the elaboration from kids during ?APK? or activate prior knowledge. They have a lot of enthusiasm in telling me what they know. I think the ?dynamite? advice for this step would be to pick an APK subject that they know and enjoy. Getting kids comfortable at the beginning of the lesson through prior knowledge is a dynamite tool. Here are some sample lessons.


Kids remember things when they have relevance to their lives. Using creativity to come up with what multiplication facts are important will raise test scores.

IAT_CL1_PX00770The next step of EDI is importance. Before I learned EDI I always tried to infuse this into my lessons. Unfortunately, I didn’t always get to it. EDI makes it mandatory and I know why: it is very effective.

Kids remember things when they have relevance to their lives. Using creativity to come up with what multiplication facts are important will raise test scores. It should be part of every dynamite lesson you do. Think about your own motivation to do work: if it wasn’t relevant to money, sense of happiness, etc. would you still do it? I wouldn’t. Give your kids the reason(s) your learning objective is important. You will be astounded at the results. Here are some sample lessons using the step of importance.

Backwards Mapping for Planning Instruction

In planning instruction toward a dynamite lesson plan, one extremely effective form of CFU is called curriculum mapping. It is referred to by many teachers as: “backwards mapping.” This can be used to strategically work toward test goals.

Backwards Mapping Requires Reflection

A Dynamite lesson plan is great, but we musn’t forget that assessment is a key part. In a given lesson plan format, such as EDI, it is often called CFU (Check for Understanding). As teachers, we need to know what stuents know when they know it.. EDI is a form of instruction. Today I am writing to you about planning instruction which is a “whole different animal,” as they say. Before the lesson plan, there must be backwards mapping.

Curriculum Mapping Requires Testing

Backward mapping requires a test. The test becomes the “data” for use in making a “backward map.” The test ideally is calibrated with the same standards as you plan to master with the students. Once you’ve given the test you can analyze the data by noting the percentage of accuracy on each standards. Depending on the teaching situation, you might decide standards that 70% of the class got correctly are no longer needed in your instruction. Whatever your lesson plan format, since we know the brain needs review you can always review that throughout the year.

Make the Map and Take the Road

The items where the students had less than a proficient percentage now become part of your instruction “map.” You then take those standards and create your instruction going forward. Let’s face it: no one wants their students to fail. This is an excellent way to focus on the toughest standards and guide your instruction to mastery of the concepts. This is a big job when you really get into it. That’s why I recommend doing it on a trimester or other periodical basis. Don’t do it nightly or even weekly. Wait for the data to be relevant, over time.

No Instant Gratification but …

Remember also that the brain likes small bites so resist the urge to re-teach it all at once. Teaching is a job of patience and tenacity not instant gratification. However, through setting goals and using strategies like backward mapping, we can experience the rush and satisfaction of seeing goals achieved.

If you use backward mapping or plan to implement it or something like it into your teaching, please let us know in the comments.

To Teach Same Kids or Rotate, that is the Question

Teaching groups that rotate has advantages. Staying “self-enclosed” with one group of students all day can also be helpful. Which is right for your teaching goals and learners’ needs?

I’ve written a few posts on what might be called the single subject intervention model for elementary school. Up to now I have always heralded the strengths of the single subject intervention. To recap, this is simply a model where students rotate into specialist teachers who teach a single subject rather than all core subjects in the same classroom all day long. I have learned this year for the first time in 5 years that I have been doing this that behavior and maturity levels should be considered. If the students are unable to behave, the single subject intervention model might not work. In fact, it may cause the year to be less effectual and much more taking on the teachers. Immature students will take advantage of not having a single teacher in charge. In the single subject models, whicl curriculum varies, must unclude a uniform and progressive class-to-class system of consequences.

This is something to definitely consider in your grade level collaboration as you discuss this intervention as a possibility. The single subject model or “specialist” model is a good one for many reasons. For example, each teacher can focus more time and energies on one subject. In theory, this will produce more interesting, weathered lessons that get better over time. In a self-enclosed “multiple subject” model, one teacher must create and innovate lessons on all subjects required in the district core curriculum. I hope to go into more detail as to what worked for us last year and those before. There were many positives. I plan to publish an article here over the Summer on single subject teaching as an intervention and why this might or might not work for your school and your palette of students. A lot worked and some didn’t. Mostly, what held the intervention back most were student behavior problems.

As part of my preparation for the article, I appreciate any comments on the topics. Tell me your opinions and your experiences.

Student-Tracked WPM in Reading Passages

126_0558There are many things we can do with a passage of text. The “cold read” can be used as a time for the kids to read and measure their words per minute (WPM). This helps motivate and improves fluency.

The process is fairly simple. You just have the kids run their finger along the text and you time them for one minute. When they stop, they go back and count the number of words they read. If you have an AVID folder or other organized area dedicated to keeping track, they write the date and their WPM for that day.

After doing this a few days, the kids can set realistic goals to improve their fluency. I was shown how to do this by my Assistant Principal and it went very well. I will report in after a few weeks whether it worked and anything I learn about using ths method.

What do you think about teaching kids to measure their own WPM? 

Guided Practice

Guided practice is showing and releasing the students to do the task or standard at hand. It is probably the most important step of a dynamite lesson plan.

Guided practice is showing and releasing the students to do the task or standard at hand. It is probably the most important step of math lessons especially but of any subject you can teach.  You model the way a problem comes to a solution.  In some ways, it’s the easiest part of the lesson because you are doing the learning objective.  If you are teaching about fractions, you would show the way to do the learning objective only later to release them (independent practice) to do it on their own. Incidentally, there are an increasing number of sites for teachers that can help you with guided practice.   An important part of this step is “checking for understanding” (CFU).  I use playing cards and number off kids.  Then I randomly call on them. Using “random non volunteers” in your CFU is crucial to seeing if they get it.  Your goal is to have them master the learning objective with 80% proficiency prior to closure.  After closure comes “independent practice.” Here are some guided practice lessons.

This brings up an interesting topic on homework.  Homework is not guided practice because no one is guiding the student. In my experience, worksheets are bad homework because the students often do them wrong repeatedly and then they learn it wrong.  It has been said “practice make perfect.” That is not true.  It is true instead to say “practice makes permanent.” Students should only do homework that they have 100% mastered.  This should be determined by the teacher based on assessment during the lesson. Apart from that, silent reading for comprehension is an excellent form of independent practice.  Teachers must remember the difference between guided and independent practice and when each is the appropriate step in the lesson. Educational websites should always promote guided practice as a foundation.

Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold.

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

Circle the Keywords

Unraavel is an acronym used by many teachers I know. It was created by Larry Bell and it has a specific goal to increase test scores. The second “a” stands for “Are you circling the keywords” and this step of Unraavel is really the most important when it comes to reading comprehension questions. Of course, I can only speak from my experience and my classtroom. My students are about half English Learners and almost 100% socioeconomically disadvantaged. Circling the keywords in the test questions guides their focus on “what to look for” back in the text.

I tell my students they have a better chance of hitting a target than just shooting with no target. The keywords may be chosen incorrectly at first, though the kids get wise quickly, but at least they are traveling back into the text with a compass of some kind. Choosing the right keywords can be fun when kids are rewarded for choosing good ones. Here is an example:

After reading a piece of text about the Incan Indians, a question on the test asks,

About how old was the Incan pottery?

The students would circle “how old” and “pottery.”

Now they are armed to go back into the text looking for these two keywords. I tell my kids they have most everything they need by finding keywords in the text. At that point they can find the exact answer in that context.

Unraavel is just one way to teach test taking strategies for standardized tests but I have found with my students in this given demographic, it is a very good one ideed.

Infographic: Key Ideals of Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia

Did you ever wonder what Monstessori believed? How about Waldorf and Reggio Emilia? I was sent this link and it’s a really helpful infographic for understanding all 3.

Click to Enlarge Image

The Big Three: Comparing Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia Learning Philosophies

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