Altering Instruction On The Fly

By synthesizing over 50,000 studies related to achievement in school-aged students, Hattie conducted the biggest ever evidence based research project in education, and has provided us with a much more solid foundation of scientific research than we have ever had in the field of education. Based on his research, Hattie developed 8 mind frames for teachers, which have a key role in successful teaching and learning, and the teacher’s view of his or her role. Hattie’s first mind frame for teachers is: My fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on my students’ learning and achievement. Hattie says it is critical that teachers see themselves as evaluators of their effects on students, and that seeking interventions and actions that have positive effects on student learning should be a constant goal for teachers.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…..I thought my fundamental tasks included things like designing the learning, delivering the material, and assessing the students?!?! I do believe that how well my students do (or not) is a reflection upon my teaching. If I want my students to do well, Hattie says that teachers need to be actively engaged throughout the learning process, continually collecting feedback from students and altering instruction on the fly.” Altering instruction on the fly? This sounds like a superhero power to me. How do you alter instruction on the fly? Why bother having a lesson plan if you are going to alter it on the fly? My teacher training stressed the importance of preparing ahead of time and having a well thought out lesson plan, with carefully chosen learning activities. Nobody said anything about doing anything on the fly……sheesh.

Drama aside, I do know what Hattie is getting at. Evaluation is an inherent part of good teaching. Doing good evaluation is like doing good research. In both cases, you are trying to answer some important questions about an important topic. The key to doing both activities well is (a) identifying the right questions to ask and (b) figuring out how to answer them. Richard J. Shavelson of the Stanford Education Assessment Laboratory, has distinguished three kinds of formative assessment, which include (a) “on-the-fly,” formative assessment (b) planned-for-interaction formative assessment, and (c) formal and embedded in the curriculum formative assessment. On-the-fly formative assessment occurs when “teachable moments” unexpectedly arise in the classroom.   Identification of these moments is initially intuitive and then later based on experience and practice. Personally, I feel as though, even if a teacher is able to identify the moment, she may not have the necessary pedagogical techniques or content knowledge to sufficiently challenge and respond to the students. In contrast to on-the-fly opportunities, planned-for-interaction formative assessment is deliberate. Recognizing the value of information that can close students’ learning gaps, teachers plan in advance the kinds of questions that will maximize their acquisition of information needed to close the gap. That is, teachers come to realize in applying newly acquired formative-assessment techniques the value of good questions (and other pedagogical actions for eliciting information) and spend time planning these pedagogical moves prior to class (Black, Harrison, et al., 2002). In Formal Embedded-in-the-Curriculum Formative Assessment, teachers may embed assessments in the ongoing curriculum to intentionally create “teachable moments.” In its simplest form, assessments might be embedded after every 3 or so lessons to make clear the progression of sub goals of the topic, and thereby provide opportunities to teach to the students’ problem areas. In its more sophisticated design, these assessments are based on a “theory of knowledge in a domain,” embedded at critical junctures, and crafted so feedback on performance to students is immediate and pedagogical actions are immediately taken to close the learning gap. Formative assessment is so important for teacher effectiveness and student achievement. By incorporating formative assessment into our teaching, we are “checking in” to ensure our students acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes to prepare them for their future endeavors.

For the future, I plan to make a conscious effort to evaluate the effect of my teaching. How will I do this? I like the idea of using planned-for-interaction formative assessment. Recently I started tutoring an ESL student, and I can see applying this type of assessment in the work we are doing together. Lately we’ve been working on the past tenses. When we are working together I can incorporate questions such as, “How would you explain a trip to the grocery store you took yesterday?” By asking this question, I am intentionally finding out if my student knows how to use the past tense. This is an opportunity to take a moment to use corrective instruction, give the student a chance to try again, experience success, and “fill-in the gaps.” Developing useful formative assessment, using corrective instruction, and giving students a second chance to practice skills can increase student achievement. Eventually, with experience I think I will be able to get to a place in my teaching where I can alter instruction on the fly, like a super hero!



David-Lang, J. (n.d.). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Retrieved from The Main Idea: Current Education Book Summaries:

Reynolds, C. (2013, September 25). Hattie’s 8 Mind Frames. Retrieved from

Shavelson, R. J. (n.d.). On The Integration Of Formative Assessment In Teaching And Learning with Implications for Teacher Education.

Waack, S. (n.d.). Hattie Ranking: Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement. Retrieved from Visible Learning:



Using Divergent Questions To Promote Higher Level Thinking

What is a divergent question? A divergent question is a question with no specific answer. The purpose of a divergent question is to exercise one’s ability to think broadly, and creatively. Divergent questions are more analytical, testing the students’ ability to synthesize information, offer educated opinions or create hypotheses based on their knowledge. These types of questions are always open-ended, allowing the students to express themselves as they demonstrate their ability to reason in the subject.

These types of questioning fit very nicely with the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain, as shown below:

Analysis Breaking something down into its parts. Divergent: Critical thinking; identifying reasons and motives; making inferences based on specific data; analyzing conclusions to see if supported by evidence.
Synthesis Creating something new by combining different ideas. Divergent: Original thinking; original plan, proposal, design or story.
Evaluation Judging the value of materials
or methods as they might be applied in a particular situation.
Divergent: Judging the merits of ideas, offering opinions, applying standards

Is There Any Such Thing As A STUPID Question?

“Stupid” is such a harsh word, it somehow infers that the person asking the question is stupid as well. In the words of Carl Sagan:

“There are naïve questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

I agree with Sagan that questions help us clarify and understand our world. I asked my nine year old son if he thought there was any such thing as a stupid question, and he said, “Yes, there are dumb questions-the ones you already know the answers to.” wink

How do we get students to ask better questions? What if we start by asking them the kinds of questions we hope they will ask us? The Art of Asking Questions provides several suggestions to help us model what good questions are and demonstrate how instrumental they can be in promoting thinking, understanding, and learning.

I particularly like the idea of asking questions you can’t answer, questions currently being debated, but as of this moment, the answers are unknown. This type of question is far more interesting than one that can be answered. Are there theories or research findings that suggest answers? Are some of those more likely than others? Could the answer be something totally unexpected? With this type of question, the opportunity for creative and critical thinking is vast, and in some ways it is freeing when there is no particular right answer. I could see using this strategy in a variety of settings to spark conversation and as a springboard for other learning activities, such as journal writing.


Group Work: Does Anyone Like It???

I find it funny that most of us do not like group work… yet we do see the value in it. I am guilty of having students do plenty of it, and they probably hated it too. It makes me wonder whether I have sufficiently prepared students with the appropriate strategies for working in a group, or is the struggle part of the learning experience? I can’t help but think there is something more I should be doing to facilitate the process.

I found this video on the 1-3-6 strategy for group work. I like that it starts off with individual work and then progressively moves to larger group work to expand and deepen understanding. I might give this a try next time I have the urge to have students do group work.

Does Flipping the Classroom Really Work?

Flipping the Classroom is an instructional model which involves taking direct instruction and placing the onus on the individual learner. Classroom time is then spent applying the content rather than direct instruction. But does it improve learning?

In short – yes. Evidence is building that supports a flipped model for teaching. Teachers are finding it useful as well as effective. Consider the following statistics:

  • In 2012, 48% of teachers flipped at least one lesson, in 2014 it is up to 78%
  • 96% of teachers who have flipped a lesson would recommend that method to others
  • 46% of teachers researched have been teaching for more than 16 years, but are moving towards flipped classrooms
  • 9 out of 10 teachers noticed a positive change in student engagement since flipping their classroom (up 80% from 2012)
  • 71% of teachers indicated that grades of their students have improved since implementing a flipped classroom strategy
  • Of the teachers who do not flip their classroom lessons, 89% said that they would be interested in learning more about the pedagogy

These statistics point to some good reasons to “Flip your Classroom,” there are however, challenges to consider, such as how do you get students to do the homework before coming to class in order to be prepare for classroom learning activities. The Teach Amazing article “5 Challenges When Flipping your Classroom” suggests building in accountability to ensure your students actually complete the lesson. Assign a short survey after a video is watched, determine criteria for online discussions or throw in a pop quiz at the beginning of class. Active participation in home-based learning is crucial for the flipped classroom to work, and should be assessed just like you would in the classroom.

For me, the biggest challenge of the Flipped Classroom model is all the work that needs to be done. Creating online materials, corresponding classroom activities, preparing learners for a new approach, are just some of the things required. Instead of trying to implement a  whole sale change and flip an entire course, I think I might start off on a smaller scale by flipping a lesson. This approach seems less overwhelming and practical because it would give me a chance to try it out, collect some feedback, and work out the “kinks.”