Common Sense

Thomas Jefferson Feeder Pattern News - September 8, 2015

About the Title

Common Sense was a pamphlet authored by Thomas Paine in 1775-76. It was written to inspire American colonists to declare independence from British Rule at the beginning of The Revolution. This weekly, modern, online relative of that pamphlet documents the news, events, updates, and celebrations of the TJ Revolution - the educational sensation sweeping through northwest Dallas.

TJ Feeder Pattern News in Brief

Executive Director's Message

Welcome back from what was, I hope, a restful 3-day Labor Day weekend!

During this short third week of school, many of our students will be completing BOY assessments and mid-six-weeks checkpoints. It is important that this information be used to guide instruction. Robyn Jackson reminds us in her book Never Work Harder Than Your Students to:

  • Start Where Your Students Are
  • Know Where Your Students Are Going, and
  • Expect to Get Your Student There

This process occurs fluidly with solid data on current student performance, a clear vision of the destination, and differentiated support provided to each student along the way. This week, work alongside your teachers as they dive into this process in pursuit of increased student achievement!

Have a great week with students!

Timothy J. Hise

Executive Director, Thomas Jefferson Feeder Pattern

Succeeding with Classroom Structure: Rules, Routines, and Standards

from Marshall Memo #601

“A classroom routine,” says classroom management guru Fred Jones in this Tools for Teaching website article, “is simply a well-rehearsed response to a teacher’s directive. The alternative is usually noise, milling around, and time-wasting on the part of students and nagging on the part of the teacher. A classroom routine is, therefore, one of the teacher’s primary labor-saving devices.” Jones contends that the time spent establishing routines in the first two weeks of school eliminates huge amounts of wasted time from that point on.

But firmly establishing routines takes time and determination. “They cannot simply be announced,” says Jones. “They must be taught and practiced.” Here’s how a fourth-grade teacher worked with her students on walking silently from their classroom to the library:

  • She explains how noise in the halls prevents other classes from learning.
  • She establishes several silent signals: A finger to her lips for silence; a signal for a straight line; gestures to stop and start moving and to stop, go back, and start all over.
  • The class lines up and files down the hallway toward the library.
  • A student in the line giggles and the teacher turns, gives the Go back signal, and the class, with some disgruntled faces, shuffles back to the classroom and lines up to try again. “Some show disbelief for a moment before they realize that you are not kidding,” says Jones. “Keeping a straight face is the hardest part of this routine.”
  • The second time, the class makes it two-thirds of the way to the library, but someone talks and the teacher once again gives the Go back signal. “This time you see real pain on the faces of students,” says Jones. “Several students mouth the words, ‘I didn’t do it,’ with pleading hands and looks of exaggerated sincerity. Keep a straight face.”
  • The third time, the class is almost at the library door when someone messes up and students once again return to their classroom. “The pain registered on faces the third time around is almost too much to bear,” says Jones. “Bite your lip. Old pros know that this is the only way to play the game. Green teachers need to be reassured that they are doing the right thing. By practicing the routine to mastery, you are signaling to the students by your investment of time and energy that this piece of behavior is important. And, you are teaching the students a thing or two about yourself. They are learning that you are the living embodiment of two timeless characterizations of a teacher: I say what I mean and I mean what I say. We are going to keep doing this until we get it right.”
  • The fourth time around, a transformation takes place. The class clowns and nonconformists, instead of getting reinforced for their behavior, get glares from their peers. The majority of students “start losing patience,” says Jones. “They are tired of trekking up and down the stupid hall. When they finally lose patience with this repeated practice, they also lose patience with the few who are causing them to do it.” The class learns that “Quiet means quiet” and makes it all the way to the library.

“Research has repeatedly shown that highly effective teachers spend most of the first two weeks of the semester teaching their classroom routines,” concludes Jones. “They know that there is no free lunch. It is a case of: Pay me now, or pay me later. Do it right, or do it all year long.” And this is true right up through high school, he says.

“Succeeding with Classroom Structure: Rules, Routines, and Standards” by Fred Jones in Tools for Schools, August 25, 2015,

Designing Great 'Hinge' Questions

from Marshall Memo #602

“Every teacher I’ve ever met knows that no lesson plan survives the first contact with real students,” says assessment guru Dylan Wiliam (University College, London) in this Educational Leadership article. “And yet most teachers plan their lessons as though they’re going to go perfectly. They plan them on the basis of assumptions they know to be false.” The result is that learning problems arise during the lesson and the teacher finds out only when grading the papers that night. “And then,” says Wiliam, “long after the students have left the classroom, you’ll have to try to get their learning back on track, in writing, one student at a time.”

The solution, he says, is to “build plan B into plan A” by designing lessons with a “hinge question” somewhere in the middle. The benefits of doing this are “huge,” says Wiliam. “It means that you can find out what’s going wrong with students’ learning when they’re right in front of you and that you can put the whole class’s learning back on track right away.” Of course checking for understanding is nothing new, but writing hinge questions is harder than it appears; he’s found that teachers typically take more than an hour to design a good one. Here are the key steps:

  • Design questions that elicit the right response for the right reason. Students shouldn’t be able to get the correct answer for the wrong reasons, or vice-versa. The key is plausible distractors that attract students with incomplete understanding. These can be written only by educators with good pedagogical content knowledge who have been working with students for some time. Another technique for making it more difficult for students to guess the right answer is to have multiple right answers and ask students to identify all of them.
  • Get responses from every student. Calling on students who raise their hands is obviously inadequate, and choral responses are ineffective because it’s impossible to tell who really knows and who’s mouthing an imitation of others. Some kind of all-class response system is essential – fingers on chest, colored cards, dry-erase boards, Plickers, clickers, etc. The technology used is far less important than the quality of the question, says Wiliam.
  • Make the check for understanding quick. All students should be able to respond within two minutes, and the teacher should be able to collect and interpret the responses within 30 seconds.
  • Based on students’ responses, decide whether to go forward or re-teach. If few students have the right answer, going back is the obvious choice. If most have it correct, moving on makes sense, perhaps with a side conversation with those who are confused. If similar numbers of students get the answer right and wrong, the teacher can get students debating in pairs (“Convince your neighbor”) or have an all-class debate.

Assessment purists might argue that one question can’t possibly assess mastery of a concept – for that you need up to 30 questions. But Wiliam says this matters only if the teacher is using the question for high-stakes decisions. With hinge questions, the teacher is trying to make a quick, low-stakes decision for the whole group. “If the response of a student to a 30-item test provides a reasonable basis for drawing conclusions about that student,” he says, “then the responses of 30 students to a single question probably provide a reasonable basis for drawing conclusions about that class.”

“Designing Great Hinge Questions” by Dylan Wiliam in Educational Leadership, September 2015 (Vol. 73, #1, p. 40-44), available for purchase at; Wiliam can be reached at

TJ Feeder Pattern Super Saturday - September 19

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Leadership Quote of the Week

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Week At-a-Glance

Monday, September 7
  • Labor Day Holiday / No School

Tuesday, September 8

  • Campus Visits (TJH)
  • TJ Feeder SBDM Training @ Saldivar (3:30-4:30pm)
  • Science Fair Coordinator Meeting (See WAIP)

Wednesday, September 9

  • Call-In Enrollment Count Due by 11am
  • Full Day Campus Visit - Cigarroa ES (TJH)
  • SchoolNet Training for Principals Option 2 @ Haskell (7am, 10am, 4pm)

Thursday, September 10

  • Campus Visits (TJH)

Friday, September 11

  • Campus Emergency Operations Plan Due Today
  • Full Day Campus Visit - Cary MS (TJH)
  • SchoolNet Training for Principals Option 3 @ Webinar (7am, 10am, 4pm)

On The Horizon

Sept 8 - Science Fair Coordinators' Meeting @ Buckner

Sept 9 - Principals' SchoolNet Training Option #2 (7am, 10am, 4pm @ Haskell)

Sept 11 - Principals' SchoolNet Training Option #3 (7am, 10am, 4pm @ Webinar)

Sept 14 - Assistant Principals' Focus Group (4-6pm @ Haskell)

Sept 16 - Districtwide Principals' Meeting (1-5pm @ Hulcy)

Sept 19 - TJ Feeder Pattern Super Saturday (9am-12pm @ TJHS)

Sept 20 - Ms. Hernandez's Birthday

Sept 23 - New Safety Coordinator Training (8am @ Maria Luna)

Sept 24 - Existing Safety Coordinator Training (8am @ Maria Luna)

Action Items