Becoming a Better Teacher

Eight Innovations That Work

The Power of Essential Questions

Essential questions can remind teachers and students that learning is a journey, that the quest to know is never-ending, and that the voyage can begin at any point in time.


Essential questions are compelling, universal, and never fully answered. the questions lead to the realization that knowledge is an ongoing search, and one that makes life worth living.

Curriculum Integration as a Tool for Coherence

Teachers need to assume greater control of the local curriculum by designing and implementing a number of integrated units and lessons instead of relying primarily on textbooks and teaching isolated activities and lessons.


The organizing center is the hub of the unit - what holds it together. Regardless of the classification and choice of centers for a unit, the organizing center should provide the context for unifying the knowledge and skills in a unit.

Standards-Based Curriculum and Assessment Design

Schools need to pay at least as much attention to the quality of what they produce, as they do to the process and content involved.


It is important that teachers generate a list or a visual representation of the components of their subject or grade-level curriculum. Teachers will have a sense of their year as a whole, so that they can see how their units fit into the whole plan.


Teachers or teams of teachers can build a successful unit by following the nine steps described:

  1. Selecting an organized center
  2. State the rationale
  3. Describe the content and present an overview
  4. Devise essential and guiding questions
  5. Determine exit outcomes and indicators
  6. Review district, state, and national standards
  7. Devise learning opportunities
  8. Develop assessment opportunities
  9. Develop reflective prompts

Authentic Assessments

An assessment is authentic when it requires that students engage with real-life problems, issues, or tasks.


Authentic tasks enable students to make sense of and apply what they have learned and to establish clear connections between what they have learned in schools and the world in which they live.

Using Scoring Rubrics to Support Learning

Rubrics are a critical component of authentic assessment tasks and of other assessments used to evaluate students' learning and to assign grades. They are a rating scale that defines and differentiates levels of performance.


Most classroom rubrics are either holistic or analytic. Holistic rubrics assign a single score to an entire product, process, or performance. Analytic rubrics disaggregate the parts of a product, process, or performance into its critical attributes or dimensions.


The more specific a rubric is the more helpful it is to students. Rubrics are useful to teachers because they help them clarify what they want from students and convey their expectations for students' work and achievements in ways that students can understand and use. They also enable teachers to justify and validate grades.


Developing a rubric involves two steps: drafting and refining. The drafting stage relies on the teacher's imagination and prior exposure to the product, performance or process for which the rubric is being created. After the teacher has used the rubric once and has received student work guided by the rubric, the development process can go through a refinement phase.

Rethinking Rubrics: An interview with Maja Wilson

Portfolios: A Window into Students' Thinking and Learning

Portfolios look beneath the surface and discover what students think, how they think, what they value, and who they are.


They can be designed to show evidence of effort, corrections of test errors, progress, and achievements.


Here are eight good reasons to consider using them:

  1. Documentation of students' best work, effort, and growth
  2. Focus on authentic performance, or knowledge
  3. Student access to structured opportunities for self-assessment and reflection
  4. Evidence of thinking
  5. Thick description of student learning
  6. Validation of a developmental view of learning
  7. Choice and individualization for students and teachers
  8. Opportunities for conversations with different audiences


There are five different kids of portfolios:

  1. Showcase Portfolio
  2. Development or Growth Portfolio
  3. Process Portfolio
  4. Transfer Portfolio
  5. Keepsake Portfolio

Reflection: A Key to Developing Greater Self-Understanding

When students assume responsibility for their own learning, the reflect on their accomplishments, evaluate their work, decide on where changes are needed, define goals, and identify sound strategies for attaining them.


Reflection can enhance authentic assessment as students determine how to grapple with real problems and challenges.


Reflective activities also provide teachers with critical feedback about the limitations of their curriculum, facilitating its subsequent revision.


When teachers value their own and their students reflections, the processes of learning become as important as its products, and the focus of evaluation moves from something that is done at the end of a project or a marking period to something that occurs throughout the school year.

Action Research: Asking and Answering Questions About Practice

One way that action research is different from traditional or scientific research is that the researcher is not removed from what is being studied, but rather a part of it.


Researchers must go through three stages: planning, implementation, and analysis and reflection.


To get started on the planning stage, follow these five steps:

  1. Identify the topics or ideas that the research may be related to
  2. Describe the actions that will be taken and studied and articulate a rationale
  3. Write action research questions related to the action
  4. Create a plan for data collection
  5. Create a timetable to guide the research

Embracing It All

The most important belief related to teachers' work is that attention should be placed on students' learning and not on what should be taught.


The most critical belief related to individuals themselves is that changing and improving is a journey and not a series of events.


Teachers do not need to implement them all at the same time. Teachers can select innovations on the basis of how well they match their own belief system, their access to resources, their working environment, and other constraints posed by their supervisors or programs.


What is important is that teachers embrace the innovations as evolving learning experiences rather than as discrete techniques to be mastered, and that they see learning as a journey toward becoming true learners of their own profession.

Becoming A Better Teacher: Eight Innovations That Work

This book is dedicated to teachers who continue to inspire, to colleagues who believe in teachers, to those who remind us of what is important, and to those who know how to shape words


Copyright 2000 by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)

Published 2005 by Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458

Mary Garcia

PO Box 372

Paul, Idaho 83347