Driving Student Engagement

Palm ES- Gonzalez, Lerma, Mason

PDU Goal

The special areas team will implement strategies that are designed to increase student engagement by:


  • Building positive relationships with their peers and with their teacher
  • Improving student engagement through higher order thinking skills
  • Increasing SLO scores by 10%
  • Implementing strategies that will engage students

PDU Resources

Book Study: Critical thinking strategies guide higher order thinking skills

Critical Thinking for Life (2009) Mentoring Minds, L.P.

Author: Sandra Love, Ed.D. & Michael L. Lujan, M. Ed.

Focus of PD: Implementing higher-order thinking skills


Book Study: Teach Like a Champion

49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College

Author: Doug Lemov Forword by Norman Atkins, 2010

Focus of PD: Technique 20, The Exit Ticket


Book Study: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle Grades K-12

Location: Palm Elementary School

Author: Chris Biffle

Focus of the PD: Focusing on teaching challenging kids

Higher Order Thinking Skills

In this critical thinking strategy, we have revisited Bloom’s Taxonomy. According to the author, the taxonomy can be used to design questions and guide instructional activities. It allow us to develop assignments that promote higher-level thinking (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). The revisions of the taxonomy included revisions to the names of the levels of thinking from nouns to verbs, since verbs depict action and thinking s an active process. Synthesis was also moved to the highest level of thinking because they believe that this type of thought included creative and critical thinking. The revised taxonomy steps include:

1. Remember

2. Understand

3. Apply

4. Analyze

5. Evaluate

6. Create


The purpose of this strategy is to promote and develop higher-order thinking skills and actively engage students in learning.


Using open ended questions has allowed us to challenge students to think critically and to draw a solution to a question. These questions are designed for discussion where students learn to ask the right questions. For example: What are the key components of an underhand serve and why is it important to follow the cues in order?

Students will use creative thinking to visualize the outcome of their own perception.


Creative thinking is the ability to imagine or invent something new or interesting and combining ideas from two or more existing ideas. Four ways of creative thinking include: Fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.


  • In art, asking open ended questions has helped students understand shapes, patterns, colors, themes, and primary colors and has allowed the students to think critically and become critical when looking at art work. This has given them ideas to create their own art, work making art more approachable and less scary. One example, is Mondrian. This artist is the father of modernism and he shows his idea of what the beauty of art is on lines and colors. His art consists of horizontal and vertical lines and only using five colors.
  • In music class, the teacher using a wide range of open ended questions, especially in new songs. The goal is for students to look for form , time, signature and rhythm. Some questions include: What picture is the composer trying to paint? To answer this question, students share thoughts on the emotions the composer is trying to convey.
  • The following are some of the questions created by the students during and muscular strength and muscular endurance activity in the physical education classroom:

    What is the difference between muscular strength and muscular endurance? What are some muscular endurance activities? What are some muscular strength activities? How can we improve both muscular strength and endurance?


The main purpose of this selection is to promote and develop higher-order thinking skills and actively engage students in learning. Using open ended questions challenges students to think critically to draw a solution to the question. These questions are designed for discussion where students learn to ask the right questions.

For example: What are the key components of an underhand serve and why is it important to follow the cues in order?


Students use creative thinking to visualize the outcome of their own perception. Creative thinking is the ability to imagine or invent something new or interesting and combining ideas from two or more existing ideas. Another example used in class are group discussions. The students are divided into partners and then distributed two definitions. Together, the students read the content. Next the partners brainstorm and develop a question about the definitions. Teacher is constantly walking throughout the activity area facilitating the activity. Next, every group shares and discuss the definitions and their question. Then, we repeat the process until student complete the highest level of thinking; synthesis. As they are discussing, the teacher walks around and lends support to the groups and checks for understanding and critiques students to make sure critical information is being shared. The comments that are being shared by the teacher are specific and directly related to the process. At the end of the activity, the students reflect to conclude.


The charts below represent SLO scores in Art and Music class with percent changes in pre and post-test scores


Source Title: Critical thinking strategies guide higher order thinking skills

Critical Thinking for Life (2009) Mentoring Minds, L.P.

Sandra Love, Ed.D. & Michael L. Lujan, M. Ed.

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The Exit Ticket Strategy

The purpose of this strategy is to end a lesson with a single question and to solve it before exiting the class. This is a type of formative assessment which allows students to leave class with an idea about the content taught in class. This allows them to select from a variety of sources presented to them throughout class time. The strategy is a continuous process, it is part of classroom procedures. Students will not be able to exit the classroom without the exit ticket.

Using the exit ticket strategy allows us to question students using essential questions displayed through a projector. This allows us to identify problem areas. It helps to identify the effectiveness and quality of the lesson. Furthermore, it shows data that focuses on the key part of the objective. If the student gets the question incorrectly, then I’ll know why they got it wrong. The easy thing about these questions is that they give me an immediate idea of how the students did on the core part of the objective.

The easy part of using exit tickets is that they do not take up much time. They are quick questions which are designed to yield data. The questions are not quizzes and do not count as a grade, so students are not worried about them when called upon. After we analyze this data, the information is critical to design the next lesson. It is okay to show the data to the class on the next lesson. We have found it easier to discuss as a class the difficulties in concepts that were taught. It allows us to re-teach when we are struggling.


The charts below represent SLO scores in PE class with percent changes in pre and post-test scores & overall growth percentage in art, music and PE


Title: Teach Like a Champion

49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College

Author: Doug Lemov Forword by Norman Atkins, 2010

Strategy: Technique 20, The Exit Ticket

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Class Yes Strategy

The purpose of this strategy is to gain an understanding of the main parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex controls reasoning, planning and decision making. Motor cortex- in the mid-section of the brain is the most reliable memory area. Visual cortex- back of the brain called "seeing brain". It is referred to as the most trustworthy memory area. The objective of the book is to show these areas all work together. It explains the concept of repetition and how repetition equals (dendrite- like branches on a tree trunk) growth which in turn equal learning.

In a discussion regarding repetition, we concluded that it is important to have a routine established in the classroom. The author explicitly explains that students learn by repetition. According to Biffle, this will activate the prefrontal cortex - focusing the students' attention.


The strategies were applied in the classroom during class whole group class discussion. The strategy we used is called “teach-okay”. Studies have shown that humor decreases stress, boosts immune defenses, relaxes muscle tension, decreases blood pressure and modulates pain. So laughing is good for us and our students. In addition, it deactivates the fight or flight defense mechanism in the amygdala. The objective of the strategy is to incorporate the “tickler” as they like to call it. Think of this strategy like an attention-getter.


We measured the effectiveness of our implementation through successful observations and tallies. Teacher says: Hey class! Students: Hey coach! Teacher says: Hey kids! (in deep voice) Students: Hey coach (in deep voice) Teacher says: Hey kids (in high pitch voice) Students: Hey coach (in high pitch voice).


According to Biffle, in order for students to fully comprehend the class-yes strategy, it takes a minimum of 15-20 repetitions in an hour. In the 45 minutes we have class, we try to be as repetitive as possible. One of Biffle’s quotes states, “If repeating yourself bugs you, don’t go into teaching. Teaching is repeating.” Students need consistency and variety to keep them engaged. Therefore, changing your tone of voice will gain students’ attention. For example, some tones could be high, low, funny, serious, growling, robotic, froglike, super-fast, super slow, or even pretend angry. The goal is to lighten the mood and get some laughs out of the students. Another enjoyable quote taken from the book states, “She taught because she enjoyed seeing her students happily learning.” And “Teaching is a performing art.”


The charts below represent responsiveness to the Class Yes Strategy & the average number of reminders to refocus


Title: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle Grades K-12

Location: Palm Elementary School

Name of presenter: Chris Biffle

Focus of the PD: Focusing on teaching challenging kids

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Future Plans

One of the focus points our PART concentrated on was trying to help build student's character. Since the special area classrooms allow for student socialization, we believed it was an appropriate topic to research and intend to implement strategies for the improvement of character development. Throughout the school year we have continued to use SEL. This was one of the programs we used for our PART last school year. This year, SEL has continued to improve and develop important social skills to help students become responsible citizens. Not only in school but also in the community. A great deal of socialization takes place in the special areas classroom. Therefore, it is important for our team to observe and incorporate skills and strategies to help understand the student interactions and classroom environment. We will continue to build on the strategies we have implemented and we will strive to improve our SEL core competencies.


In the future we will:

  • Continue to use the Class Yes strategy to engage students in learning
  • Continue sharing ideas in special area meetings
  • Focus on character development and improve social skills