KCS Curriculum and Instruction

Teaching and Learning News for January 2017

Let's Be Resolute in the New Year

A Note From Dr. Burgess


New Year, New You. Right? That is much easier said than done. Rather than making New Year's Resolutions, that are difficult to keep, lets BE RESOLUTE. Let's be admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering to improving in our profession. Our students deserve our best everyday! Here are a few ways we can be purposeful in our interactions and planning to be the best educators we can be.


Ask for meaningful feedback. As much as we try to improve, we will always have blind spots. Asking for feedback gives us an additional perspective. Some people to approach are colleagues, supervisors, or even students.


Learn from your peers. Every educator has amazing qualities in them with a unique skill set. With all the colleagues who surround you, they are going to have things you can learn from. Try thinking of a colleague right now. Think about just one quality they have that you want to adopt. How can you learn from them and adopt this skill for yourself? Speak to the colleague, an instructional coach or take this survey if you would like support in scheduling and learning from the colleague.


Set Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGS) for you and your students. Author and leadership expert, Jim Collins, points out that successful entrepreneurs relentlessly pursue bold ideas. BHAGS should be inspiring! They can stretch you and your students beyond your normal capacity since they are big and audacious – you wouldn’t think of attempting them normally. What are a couple big audacious goals you can embark on, which you’ll feel absolutely on top of the world once you complete them? Set them and start working on them.

Make A Note of It

  • Evaluations from Fall PD are still waiting in TimeKeeper for some of you. Plan to take a few minutes this week to see what's waiting for you and fill it out. The presenters deserve your feedback, and you deserve your CEU credit!

  • Our elementary math coach Laura Baker recently created and shared a Problem Solving Tips and Strategies for K-5 Smore.

  • Insidemathematics.org's Problems of the Month are organized by grade level and domain. According to the site, "The structure of a Problem of the Month is a shallow floor and a high ceiling, so that all students can productively engage, struggle, and persevere.” Jackson Park's third grade is already using this as a problem solving resource.

  • For the rest of this school year, through a partnership with the Gates Foundation, we have an opportunity to support peer observations within and beyond the district. Please complete this Peer Observation Interest Survey to help us gather information and coordinate peer observations within and beyond the district.

  • Please help us meet your needs by completing this survey for the AIG Department ... who knows, maybe there will be a prize involved!

  • Sometimes things we do in the classroom actually have the opposite effect of what we intend. Thanks to Katie Winchell for sharing this article that gives tips to combat learned helplessness.

  • Our final two early release days for PD will be Friday, February 3 and Thursday, March 23. These two days will be planned and hosted at the school level. All staff will be asked to join their school assigned for the 2017-18 school year for both dates.

High-Impact Instructional Strategy: Total Participation Techniques

One of my favorite parts of supporting teachers is problem-solving together. While each frustration I have co-brainstormed to improve was unique to that classroom, I have found myself frequently going to the same resource for a variety of frustrations: Total Participation Techniques by Himmele and Himmele. It's a book that compiles many different ways teachers can make every student an active learner. Teachers and I have used a variety of techniques from this book with immediate success. However, it's not necessarily the exact strategies that make the difference, it's more of a mindset and a commitment to "intentionally plan for and require students to demonstrate active participation and cognitive engagement" (p. 4). With this mindset, it's not a matter of the students choosing to participate or being engaged but rather the design of your lesson that determines how many of your students are thinking and learning.


The link above should take you to Chapter 1, a chapter that makes a pretty good case for planning lessons that include these techniques regularly. It's chock-full of great quotes that make a lot of sense and keep the ideas simple to understand. I'll share a few quotes below in hopes that they pique your interest. Here is a link to a shortcut, a set of slides that describe many of the Total Participation Techniques (TPTs) from the book. You may not see too many strategies that are brand new to you, but with the framework of TPT, you may see how you can use the strategies more deliberately to engage students and check their understanding.


"What percentage of [class] time are students actively engaged and cognitively invested in what is being taught or learned in your classroom? What evidence do we as teachers have that students are actually cognitively in tune with us? And what wonderful and deep critical thinking are we missing out on by not requiring evidence of processing and content-based interaction by our students?"


"If we were given the opportunity to choose just one tool that could dramatically improve teaching and learning, we would choose Total Participation Techniques as the quickest, simplest, most effective vehicle for doing so" (p. 7).


"The more we observe excellent teachers teach, the more convinced we become that the common thread in their teaching is that these teachers ensure that students become actively, cognitively, and emotionally engaged in the content" (p.7).


"In a TPT-conducive classroom, students are not allowed to passively hide behind the others who are always raising their hands" (p.7).


"We write TPTs into our slides and we type them into our lesson plan agendas in red to help [us] remember to repeatedly pause for student processing, interaction, and the reciprocity that needs to take place between students and students, as well as between teacher and students" (p.10).


"This is our hope - that through the use of TPTs, students will become so actively engaged and so lost in the learning, they won't have time to be distracted by other things" (p.11).

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KCS Spotlight on Teaching and Learning

In each issue of this newsletter, we like to shine a spotlight on KCS staff and their effective teaching and learning strategies. Look below for some highlights of effective teaching and learning strategies (for both students and teachers) in classrooms, teams, and schools!

Making Every Minute Count

As part of a pilot round of peer observations, I was able to observe two of Mrs. Ward's high school English classes along with her BT, Ms. Evans. Mrs. Ward is known for her ability to make the most of her 90-minute classes as well as using a variety of strategies to keep students engaged. In just half a day with her, I saw how the quick pace, clear instructions, and activities requiring participation made it nearly impossible for any student to "check out." In one class period, her inclusion English IV class walked down to the social room to mingle with phrases from the text, interactively read an adapted version of the classic text, and created and performed group skits illustrating a theme from the text. There was regular movement for students (and Mrs. Ward), multiple transitions to keep students engaged, little to no cell phone issues, and lots of smiles and laughs. Her Honors English III class, which she described as usually very chatty, was trying a Socratic discussion for the first time, and it was a major success! Her format gave students leadership roles, kept every observer engaged, and despite the fact that it was probably 100 degrees in that room, a constant hum of the heater, and only one student talking at a time, absolutely every single student was engaged the entire class. I know that both Ms. Evans and I took away many ideas, and Mrs. Ward shared that having others in her classroom forced her to reflect and learn as well. Thanks to both of these ladies for a great pilot peer observation!

Letting Go A Little Bit

I had the pleasure of joining Mr. Chapman to observe Mr. Griggs teaching an investigative math lesson at KMS. We were particularly interested in ways Mr. Griggs was able to get more lower-performing, quiet, and/or disengaged students to participate in the type of lesson that requires student initiative and vulnerability. He used a series of steps modeled by UNCC professor Dr. Michelle Stephan, which included: partnering students strategically, students reading and restating the situation and directions to each other, and working in small sections of the investigation, keeping the workload manageable and the support high for all students. Basically, this kind of lesson required Mr. Griggs to let go a little -- to structure the lesson in a way that requires engagement, to allow students the freedom and time to think and discuss, and to wait to "swoop in" by asking questions and providing positive feedback instead. Mr. Griggs reflected that at first, these types of lessons were difficult for students (and him), but each time they try one, they participate more, think more deeply, and need less support from him.

Good Questions Leading to Good Discussion

When Ms. Barr and I visited Mrs. Beck's Science lesson in order to learn more ways to facilitate student-centered classroom discussion, we observed a multitude of effective strategies: choral response, open-ended questions, sentence frames, quick writes, turn and talks, positive feedback, and hand signals. Mrs. Beck had clearly set up a classroom climate where students felt comfortable asking and answering questions, sharing their thinking, and stretching their use of academic vocabulary in their conversations. Mrs. Beck shared that with her high number of English Learners in the classroom, she has seen a significant increase in their participation and speaking skills. Based on the positive, respectful, and safe environment, that was no surprise to me!

Guided Reading 2.0

Mrs. Gillespie and I joined Mrs. Barrese's 3rd grade ELA block to observe her structure for guided reading. We both were impressed with her process, but especially with her use of technology. One of the biggest take-aways was that we both wanted to become proficient in the use of the Showbie app for students to access digital text, mark on it, and receive personal feedback. She had obviously taught procedures well, as every student outside the small group was on task and self-directed. And of course, as with any visit to another classroom, we also picked up a few more great resources and ideas. I really enjoyed watching these two teachers from different grade levels collaborate during the visit and in their joint planning time that was built into the visit.

Wonders Welding - Teaching for Transfer

With a subject like welding, designing a curriculum for transfer seems like a no-brainer. Mr. Huffman, Wonders Welding teacher, knows that keeping the end in mind is essential. In case you missed the article on the KCS website when he won the Hilbish Ford Teacher of the Month for December, here it is below:


Mike Huffman is the Wonders Welding Teacher at A.L. Brown High School. He has done a great job helping to implement the welding program at A.L. Brown. Mike is a hands-on teacher that takes pride in his students and encourages them to do their best. He was recently nominated by three of his welding students who said that Mike has helped them in so many ways. One student said, “[Mr. Huffman] has not only improved me as a student, but as a person. There are not many teachers you can ask very personal questions to, but he is always there willing to help.”

Mike’s students appreciate the way he takes time to work with them one-on-one to help them master welding skills. His students feel that Mike deserves more than one award and describe him as a humble person. One student asked Mike if he would like to win an award one day and he replied, “I don’t need an award. The best thing for me is getting a call in five years saying that you have a welding job making more money than me.”

Meeting the Needs of AIG Students

Sara Newell, KCS AIG Coordinator


Only through appropriate learning accommodations can students realize their true potential. It is for this reason that we must differentiate, both for students with deficiencies in their learning AND those needing to be challenged. That being said, differentiation is often seen as time-consuming and difficult. Educators know that the best differentiation occurs when data sources are analyzed and needs in relation to readiness, interests, learning profiles, and learning environment are determined from this data. However, “on the fly,” or intuitive differentiation is just as necessary. And, it is very likely that you intuitively differentiate on a daily basis. For example, do you:

  • give students choices for work options?

  • provide mini-lessons or small-group instruction to a few students who struggle with a skill,

  • offer more in-depth coaching to advanced students?

  • use a pre-assessment to determine what students already know?

  • explain or model content for understanding in two or more ways or through multiple sources?

  • group students by common academic needs or similar skill level?


If you said yes to any of these, you have implemented simple, but effective, differentiation in your classroom! If not, we encourage you, in the remaining months of the school year, to try at least one small thing. We hope all of you, as you continue to grow as a professional, will consider adding higher levels of differentiation for the needs of your AIG students. Additional suggestions for curriculum adjustments can be found in the following resources: PowerPoint, PDF.


Please remember that the AIG department is here to support you in this process. Don’t hesitate to ask for our help!
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