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Ontem — 29 de Novembro de 2022

Which Blended Learning Model Should I Use?

Por Catlin Tucker

I get this question all the time in coaching and training sessions! First, let’s be clear about the definition of blended learning.

Blended learning is the combination of active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline to provide students with more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning.

Tucker, C. (2022). The Complete Guide to Blended Learning. Solution Tree.

Next, let’s review the taxonomy of blended learning models, specifically the rotation models.

Blended Learning Models

The rotation models work well in a physical classroom, on a hybrid/blended schedule, or in a remote learning situation (as long as offline learning activities are integrated into the student’s remote learning lessons). It’s that flexibility that makes these rotation models so attractive and versatile!

Now that I’ve defined blended learning and reviewed the spectrum of blended learning models, let’s shift to the question at hand.

How do I decide which blended learning model to use?

I encourage teachers to consider three questions when deciding which blended learning model to use for a lesson or sequence of lessons.

  1. What are the learning objectives or desired outcomes?
  2. What are the students’ needs, learning preferences, language proficiencies, etc., in your class?
  3. How do you want to use your time in the class?

These three questions are the best place to start when deciding which blended learning model to use. The answers to these questions clarify lesson objectives, take learner needs into consideration, and help teachers identify the best use of their time and energy in a lesson.

Let’s explore each rotation model and think about them through the lens of these three questions.

The Station Rotation Model

The station rotation model is composed of a series of stations, or learning activities, that students rotate through. This model has three types of stations: a) teacher-led, b) online, and c) offline. The teacher-led station makes it possible to differentiate instruction, modeling sessions, guided practice, and feedback to better meet the needs of small groups of learners. The online and offline stations allow students more control over the pace and path of their progress through learning activities. They may work individually or collaboratively at these stations, directing their learning and accessing peer support.

Desired Outcomes

Students practice and apply specific concepts and skills

Students communicate and collaborate effectively

Students work independently to navigate learning tasks

Students practice their self-regulation and social-emotional learning skills

Learner Needs

Students will benefit from differentiated instruction, models, and practice

Students will benefit from a small group dynamic where they can access peer support

Students need to practice their communication and collaboration skills

Teacher Time & Focus

Provide differentiated instruction

Lead interactive modeling sessions

Guide practice and application

Give feedback as students work

Facilitate small group discussions

The Whole Group Rotation Model

The whole group rotation model rotates the entire class between online and offline learning activities. This is an updated version of the lab rotation model because increased access to devices in classrooms has made moving from a classroom to a computer lab unnecessary in most schools. The whole group rotation aims to bring a high level of intentionality to the decision about what happens online versus offline. The teacher can lead whole group mini-lessons, demonstrate a process, or model a strategy or skill for the whole class. The offline activities can be collaborative and generate productive noise without being distracting or problematic. The online portions of the lesson allow students more control over the pace and path of their learning and free the teacher to work with individuals or small groups of students.

Desired Outcomes

Introduce the class to a new concept, skill, process, or issue

Pique student interest, drive inquiry, or assess prior knowledge

Gather diagnostic or pre-assessment data to gauge student needs, skills, or abilities

Allow for personalized practice using online software or programs

Learner Needs

Students will benefit from engaging in conversation or learning activities with peers

Students need time to self-pace through practice online

Individual students will benefit from time with the teacher for re-teaching or additional scaffolds and support

Students need time to make progress on a piece of writing, performance task, or project

Teacher Time & Focus

Present information or model something for the whole group (little to no differentiation)

Pull individual or small groups of students for additional instruction and/or support

Observe students as they communicate and collaborate to provide feedback and informally assess speaking and listening skills

The Flipped Classroom Model

The flipped classroom model shifts the transfer of information online with video so that students can control the pace at which they consume and process new information. This frees the teacher from the front of the room and allows them to spend more time supporting students as they apply and practice in the classroom.

Desired Outcome

Allow students to self-pace through new information

Dedicate class time to practice and application where students can access teacher and peer support

Make information more accessible by posting it online where learners can pause, rewind, and rewatch; add closed captioning; slow down the speed of a video

Learner Needs

Students will benefit from controlling the pace at which they engage with new information

Students may benefit from repeat exposure to explanations, instruction, or models

Students will benefit from more time in class to practice and apply with the support of their teacher and peers

Teacher Time & Focus

Provide support, scaffolds, and feedback as students practice and apply

Pull individual or small groups of students who need significantly more support or customized explanations into a small live instruction session

The Playlist Model

The playlist model is a sequence of learning activities designed to move students toward a clear objective or outcome. Teachers can use the playlist model, also known as the individual rotation model, to teach a concept, strategy, skill, process, or walk students through the parts of a multistep performance task or project. This model is ideal for any learning sequence where students benefit from variable time on task.

Desired Outcomes

Students control the pace of their progress through a learning sequence

Students work independently to navigate learning tasks

Students practice their self-regulation and social-emotional learning skills

Students reflect on their progress

Learner Needs

Students will benefit from variable time on task

Students will benefit from differentiated learning paths

Students will benefit from one-on-one conferencing with their teacher

Teacher Time & Focus

Conference with individual students at key moments in the playlist to review formative assessment data, provide feedback, discuss their progress, and make adjustments to their individual playlists

Embracing Our Role as Architects of Learning Experiences

Just like architects design different structures to meet various needs, teachers must design different types of lessons to meet specific objectives and student needs. This requires that educators develop confidence using a collection of instructional models.

For years educators have treated the whole-group, teacher-led model like a metaphorical swiss army knife, but it doesn’t work for every situation. One instructional model will not work for every set of learning objectives or desired outcomes. Instead, teachers need to cultivate a toolbelt full of flexible models they can choose from to meet the needs of their students, ensuring that all students progress toward firm standard-aligned learning goals.

Antes de ontem

From Information Transfer to Student Discovery

Por Catlin Tucker

Too often, teachers are trapped at the front of the room, transferring information. This information typically takes the form of a teacher-led whole-group lecture or mini-lesson. Unfortunately, live lectures and mini-lessons present myriad barriers that may make it challenging for students to acquire and comprehend the information presented.

Students may have been absent and missed the lesson before and feel lost as new information is presented. They may be tired, distracted, and struggling to stay attentive. The pace of the information being presented may be too fast or too slow. Students may not have the background knowledge or language proficiency to understand the material. These barriers are one reason to question the value of spending large chunks of precious class time at the front of the room transferring information.

It is also frustrating as a teacher to spend significant time covering content and unpacking complex concepts, issues, and processes for students and realize a large chunk of the class does not understand the material. Often, this results in teachers spending even more time reviewing content they’ve already gone over.

When teachers carry the burden of transferring the bulk of the information in a class, they do not allow students to discover information for themselves, work collaboratively with peers to make meaning, or control the pace of their learning.

 If your classroom is teacher-directed, you take the responsibility for the design of instruction and the transfer of information to students. This influences students, as they internalize that it is the teacher’s job to share information and it’s the students’ job to observe their own education.

–Tucker & Novak, The Shift to Student-led

In The Shift to Student-led, Dr. Katie Novak and I unpack ten teacher-led, time-consuming, and often frustratingly ineffective workflows and reimagine them to allow students to lead the learning. Workflow shift #1 focuses on moving from information transfer to student discovery. The chapter establishes the challenges of transferring information to a whole class, dives into research, and presents multiple strategies teachers can use to position students as active agents in the learning process. The goal is to give students more opportunities to work individually and collaboratively to discover information and make meaning for themselves.

That doesn’t mean teachers won’t ever present information in the form of a lecture or mini-lesson, but we would love to see a more balanced approach where learners cultivate the skills necessary to acquire and process information on their own.

To learn more about this shift, check out our new book, The Shift to Student-led. If you are interested in a discounted bulk order of 10 or more books, complete this form.

The Shift to Student-led: Reimagining Classroom Workflows with UDL and Blended Learning

Por Catlin Tucker

I am thrilled to announce that Dr. Katie Novak and I teamed up to write a second book exploring the synergy between Universal Design for Learning and blended learning! In this second book, The Shift to Student-led: Reimagining Classroom Workflows with UDL and Blended Learning, Katie and I wanted to accomplish two goals. First, we want teachers to rediscover their joy and reengage in this profession. Second, we want students to develop into expert learners capable of sharing ownership of learning so teachers are not doing the lion’s share of the work.

Why did we write this new book?

The last few years have left many teachers exhausted, frustrated, and disillusioned with this profession. They are drowning in work and unrealistic demands. The status quo is not serving them or their students. They need concrete strategies and resources they can use to reimagine their approach to this work so that it is sustainable and rewarding. 

Students also need to learn how to engage in the learning process fully. In many classrooms, students are still occupying the role of silent observer and consumer. They are not challenged to develop their metacognitive muscles, assess their work, provide each other with substantive feedback, and communicate their progress with the people in their lives. That translates into students who are not invested in their learning. Learning is something that is happening to them. They are much like fans sitting in the stands watching a game unfold on the field. Instead, students must be active, engaged participants in the learning process. This is the only way to cultivate expert learners who are resourceful, strategic, motivated, and self-aware. The more students actively engage in all parts of the learning process, the less pressure there is on the teacher to do all the work. 

This book identifies 10 time-consuming, teacher-led, and frustratingly ineffective workflows and reimagines them using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and blended learning. The goal of each workflow shift is to position the student as an active agent and blossoming expert learner to make these workflows more sustainable and effective! We want teachers to view students as partners in learning and arm them with the strategies and skills necessary to share the responsibility for learning with us.

This book is jam-packed with specific strategies, templates, and resources teachers can use to take what they are learning and implement these shifts immediately! We include “reflect or discuss” questions and application activities at the end of every chapter, making it the perfect read for a single teacher or a great book study text for a group of teachers!

Blended Learning and the 5Es Instructional Model

Por Catlin Tucker

Too often in education, students are given answers to questions they did not ask and solutions to problems they have never encountered. This can lead to learning experiences that feel irrelevant to and disconnected from their lives beyond the classroom. To combat this reality, I encourage teachers of all grade levels and subject areas to check out the 5Es instructional model to promote and support student-driven inquiry, discovery, and problem-solving.

If you are thinking, “Isn’t the 5Es instructional model a science thing?” You are correct. Roger Bybee and his team originally designed the 5Es for the sciences, but it is a flexible model that can be used across grade levels and subject areas. That flexibility is what I find so exciting about this model.

Even though the 5Es instructional model is not listed in the taxonomy of blended learning models, it can fall under the umbrella of blended learning if teachers design the experience to strategically combine active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline. This model also invites teachers to blend individual, self-paced tasks with collaborative group tasks to encourage the learning community to construct meaning.

A Blended Approach to the 5Es Instructional Model

Let’s look at what a blended learning approach to the 5Es Instructional model might look like in your class!


In this first stage, we can engage our learners by piquing their interest, encouraging them to access and share their prior knowledge, and asking them to brainstorm questions, wondering, or predictions.

Offline Activities

  • Small group discussion: Students share their prior knowledge on the topic of the inquiry
  • Carousel brainstorm: Students write questions, predictions, or wondering on poster paper around the classroom
  • Freewrite: Students reflect in writing on the topic or essential question driving the inquiry

Online Activities

  • Asynchronous discussion: Students engage in a video-based conversation on Flip or a text-based chat in your learning management system (LMS)
  • Brainstorm: Students post questions, wondering, or predictions on a Jamboard or Padlet Wall
  • Pique interest: Students explore a visual online (e.g., video, infographic) and complete a see, think, wonder” thinking routine on a digital slide deck

This engagement stage is ideal for connecting learners and encouraging them to engage in conversation or collaborative tasks that set the stage for the rest of the inquiry cycle.


Exploration takes time, so I always caution teachers not to rush students through the explore stage. Ideally, exploration combines online and offline activities to provide learners with various resources to draw from as they attempt to understand complex topics, issues, or problems.

Offline Activities

  • Make observations of a phenomenon and take notes
  • Conduct an experiment and document the findings
  • Interview a family member, friend, or community member

Online Activities

  • Explore teacher-curated online resources (e.g., articles, videos, podcasts)
  • Conduct online research

Exploration may be more accessible for some students to do independently or with a partner. Teachers can include student agency and meaningful choice by allowing learners to decide which resources to explore and whether they want to work alone or with a classmate.


During the explain stage, students must articulate their learning in a clear and cogent way. They also need to listen actively to their classmates so that they can learn with and from each other. The explain stage allows students to test their ideas against the group. It can help to reinforce their ideas or challenge them. This stage is critical to the process of meaning-making.

Offline Activities

  • Small group discussions
  • Pair share
  • Fishbowl discussion

Online Activities

  • Asynchronous online discussion
    • Video-based with Flip
    • Text-based in your LMS

It is important to remember that real-time discussions may present barriers for some learners. Students may need more time to process or struggle with anxiety. Giving students a choice to discuss their learning as part of a small group or post their thoughts online provides flexible pathways so all students can share their learning in a way that works for them. I suggest you ask students to capture their learning from these conversations in notes or a visual/written reflection.


After students have had time to share, listen, and process, it’s time to take that learning and do something with it. You can ask students to make connections to synthesize and surface their learning, challenge them to apply their learning individually or collaboratively, and/or engage in review and practice to reinforce the new learning.

Offline Activities

  • Complete practice problems, respond to writing prompts, or work with manipulatives
  • Organize and display their learning and the connections between concepts visually
  • Work with a group to tackle a new or novel problem or challenge, applying their new learning

Online Activities

  • Practice and review with an online program, like Kahoot!, Quizizz, or Quizlet
  • Organize and display learning in an infographic, flow chart, or concept map using digital tools
  • Engage in collaborative problem-solving in breakout rooms or asynchronously in shared digital spaces (e.g., Google Slides)

The elaborate stage is a challenging stage of the inquiry cycle because students are attempting to organize their learning mentally and transfer it. As a result, this stage benefits from differentiated tasks at different levels of academic rigor and complexity or levels of support and scaffolding.


The fifth and final stage focuses on assessment. The primary goal is to measure student progress toward learning objectives and desired results. My favorite approach to assessment at the end of a 5Es student-driven inquiry is a performance task or project. I prefer these authentic forms of assessment that allow students to demonstrate their learning more dynamically. We can provide learners with agency and meaningful choice at this stage of the inquiry cycle if we present a simple choice board with a few options for how students demonstrate their learning. That way, all students feel confident they can communicate their learning effectively.

In addition to evaluating students, we can use this final stage of the inquiry cycle to encourage students to reflect on their learning and provide feedback about their experiences.

Offline Activities

  • Tactile, hands-on performance tasks to demonstrate learning
  • Written reflections
  • Verbal or written feedback in a high/low format

Online Activities

Including a reflective practice requires students to pause to think about what they learned, how they learned it, and what they are still wondering. Student feedback provides critical information about what worked well, what was unclear or challenging, and what we might modify before the next inquiry cycle.

A 5Es instructional model can enhance a unit by inviting students to investigate a high-interest question or problem they are curious about. It can run parallel to instruction providing students with opportunities to control the pace and path of their learning. Alternatively, it can be the sole focus of several classes, freeing teachers to conference with students or conduct side-by-side assessments.

Is Your Class Like a Staff Meeting?

Por Catlin Tucker

Last week, I began a training session on universally designing blended learning by asking teachers to reflect on and discuss the following question. “What is your biggest pet peeve about staff meetings?” This question led to a vibrant and boisterous conversation! The teachers had no shortage of gripes about staff meetings.

The group said sitting through long-winded presentations covering too much information was overwhelming and boring. They pointed out that much of the information could have been delivered via email. The information provided often felt irrelevant to their particular teaching assignment. They were frustrated that meetings were frequently derailed by questions specific to a single teacher’s experience and agreed that the same teachers seemed to talk at every meeting. They groaned when describing the tediousness of sitting through endless questions because teachers were not paying attention during the first explanations, requiring that administrators repeat themselves and the content. They wanted time to interact with colleagues, take the information provided at the meetings, and act on it. The teachers agreed that their time would have been better spent elsewhere.

After facilitating a share out of their thoughts and feelings about staff meetings, I made the point that many students have the same complaints about their experiences in classrooms. Teachers spend too much time presenting information and not enough time allowing students to interact or apply what they are learning. The information is not always specific to their needs. They point out that the same students dominate discussions, asking and answering questions while the rest of the class is quiet. They are often bored in classes because they are not actively engaged in the learning.

So, how do we avoid running our classes like a staff meeting?

#1 Be strategic about what you present in person.

When coaching teachers, I encourage them to ask themselves, “Do I plan to say the same thing, the same way to all students?” If the answer is “yes,” I encourage them to record a video explanation or model and allow students to self-pace through it. If the answer is “no,” I suggest they facilitate small group differentiated instruction in a station rotation lesson at their teacher-led station. You’ll notice there isn’t a whole group instruction option.

The whole group, teacher-led, teacher-paced approach to instruction is rife with barriers that make it challenging for all students to access the information presented. Students may have auditory processing challenges or attention deficit disorder. They may not have the background knowledge or vocabulary to understand the information. The pace at which the information is presented may be too fast or too slow. They may simply be daydreaming, distracted, or absent. Many of these barriers can be eliminated when we use other forms of media to transfer information. Can the information or instruction be delivered via a digital text, video, or podcast? If students read an online text to acquire information, they can expand the size of the text, look up unfamiliar words, or translate parts of the text if English isn’t their first language. If they are watching a video or listening to a podcast, they can pause, rewind, and rewatch or relisten to sections.

If our goal is to make learning accessible, inclusive, equitable, and engaging, we must be strategic about how we use our class time. Technology transfers information exceptionally well, so let’s leverage that to free ourselves from the front of the room and encourage learners to engage actively in learning activities.

#2 Prioritize Interaction and Application in Class

Like teachers in a staff meeting, students crave opportunities to engage with one another. Learning is, in part, a social process. Students need time to interact with each other in class. They must discuss and collaborate with diverse partners to develop a deep understanding of complex concepts. They are also more likely to successfully hone specific skills if they can access peer and teacher support as they practice and apply. The key is to design lessons that position the students, not the teacher, at the center of the experience.

#3 Differentiate the Experience

It’s tempting to tune out of a staff meeting when it feels like the information isn’t relevant. I have sent my fair share of emails and text messages during staff meetings when I was bored and disengaged. The same thing happens in classes when teachers present information or assign tasks that are not within their students’ zones of possibility. We have to collect and use formative assessment data to differentiate lessons to ensure we are meeting students where they are at in terms of their needs, skills, abilities, and language proficiencies. Without assessing prior knowledge and regularly checking for understanding, it is nearly impossible to effectively differentiate the learning experience.

From Whole Group Lessons to Blended Learning Models

Using blended learning models is an effective way to shift control over the learning experience from teachers to students. Blended learning is the combination of active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline to give students more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning. These models allow teachers to design student-centered learning experiences that prioritize student autonomy and agency, differentiate effectively using informal and formal data, and give students more control over the pace and path of their learning to remove barriers.

All of these pillars of high-quality blended learning–student agency, differentiation, and control over pace and path–can ensure our classes do not feel like students are sitting through a staff meeting. Instead, these models encourage learners to be active agents in the classroom involved in every aspect of the lesson.

Station Rotation Model The station rotation model is composed of a series of learning activities that students rotate through, including a teacher-led station, an online station, and an offline station.

This model frees the teacher to work with small groups, differentiating instruction, models, and support while creating opportunities for small groups of students to work together to discuss, investigate, collaborate, practice, and create.
Whole Group Rotation Model The whole group rotation model rotates the entire class between online and offline learning activities. The whole group rotation encourages teachers to pair each learning activity with the best learning landscape for that activity–online or offline. 

This model allows the teacher to guide whole group modeling sessions or present mini-lessons while also freeing them to work with individuals, pairs, or small groups during the online learning activities. Online learning activities can also be differentiated and personalized for learners at different levels.

Flipped Classroom Model
The flipped classroom model inverts the traditional approach to instruction and application. Teachers record video instruction, and students self-pace through the recordings, pausing, rewinding, and rewatching as needed.

Class time is used to encourage students to practice and apply with teacher and peer support.
This model frees the teacher to guide practice and application with additional scaffolds, reteaching, and feedback.
Playlist or Individual Rotation Model The playlist model is a sequence of learning activities designed to move students toward a clear objective or desired outcome. A playlist can be used to teach a concept, strategy, skill, process, or walk students through the parts of a multi-step performance task or project. Students control the pace of their progress through a playlist with periodic check-ins or conferencing sessions with the teacher.

This model encourages the teacher to focus on providing individualized support as learners progress through the playlist.
Blended Learning Models

Staff meetings are a part of every educator’s life, but they are so tedious to sit through because they often fail to feel relevant, engaging, or a great use of our precious time. Students may feel the same way in classrooms where the lessons are teacher-centered and teacher-paced. They are much more likely to lean into the lesson if they have meaningful choices, the information is presented at a level they can access, and they have opportunities to interact with each other. Exploring other models designed to blend online and offline learning provide pathways to providing students with a much more dynamic, differentiated, and equitable learning experience they enjoy.

Classroom Routines Eliminate Chaos and Confusion

Por Catlin Tucker

Classrooms with clear systems, routines, expectations, and workflows run more smoothly, eliminating behaviors that can derail a class. Our work as educators is not simply to teach students content and skills related to our subject areas. It’s our responsibility to cultivate independent, self-directed learners capable of sharing the responsibility for learning with us, their teachers.

As we integrate more technology and online learning into our courses, students must develop stronger self-regulation skills and the ability to drive their learning. This is easier to do when students know what to expect in both their physical classroom and online learning environment. This is why establishing and maintaining clear classroom routines and procedures is critical. It helps students develop confidence in navigating both the space and the learning activities.

Begin Every Class with a Welcome Routine

When I coach teachers who request help with classroom management, the first question I ask is, “Do you start each class with a welcome routine?” Beginning class with a consistent student-directed welcome routine is the best way to eliminate unproductive behaviors at the beginning of class and maximize our time with students.

The goal of a welcome routine is to get students to 1) enter the room and take a seat, 2) access the activity (online or offline), and 3) get started without any prompting from the teacher.

The benefits of a student-directed welcome routine include:

  • Giving teachers the time to greet students at the door as they enter.
  • Improving classroom management. 
  • Eliminating downtime as teachers deal with administrative tasks (e.g., taking attendance).
  • Providing consistency and structure for students who struggle with anxiety.
  • Prioritizing tasks that might get neglected in a normal lesson (e.g., self-assessment or retrieval practice).

The activity or task can change daily, but the routine of entering the classroom and accessing the welcome task must be consistent. Some teachers use the welcome routine for retrieval practice or spiral review, others encourage students to write in response to prompts, while others use it to develop metacognitive skills, like goal setting and reflection.

Establish Clear Protocols and Classroom Procedures

Clear workflows, protocols, and procedures eliminate unnecessary chaos and confusion in a classroom. It is critical that students know where to:

  • Access work (e.g., videos, resources, handouts)
  • Submit work (e.g., digitally via LMS or physically in a class bin or tray)
  • Find and complete absent work

It is helpful to provide video overviews of these workflows and post them in your LMS or on your class website so students and families can review the expectations for accessing and submitting work. Teachers can create short video tutorials with Screencastify or Loom to provide a clear explanation. If a student joins the class late or needs to revisit a workflow, they can watch the video.

In addition to the literal and digital workflows in a classroom, students need to know where to get supplies and how the technology and materials in a classroom should be used, treated, and sanitized.

Technology Tools

Students need to know: 

  • Where to find devices & headphones
  • How to log onto the device
  • What to do with the device when working offline or when the teacher makes an announcement (e.g., close it or tilt the screen)
  • Whether shared tech needs to be cleaned
  • Where in the room they can charge devices

Learning Materials

Students need to know: 

  • Where basic materials are stored (e.g., paper, pencils, scissors)
  • How to clean up materials provided for a specific activity (e.g., station work)
  • How materials, like manipulatives, get cleaned or sanitized (e.g., disinfectant wipes)
  • What to do if materials are missing or broken

Teachers using blended learning models should consider how they will transition students between learning activities. For example, if teachers are using the station rotation model, they can project a timer so students can track how much time they have for a task. When the time allocated for a specific task is over, teachers can use a simple 1-2-3 transition strategy like 1) wrap up and clean up, 2) stand behind your chair with your belongings (until everyone is ready), and 3) walk to the next station. Without clear transition strategies, movement around the room can suck up precious instructional minutes.

Set Up Your Classroom Spaces to Support Learning

When setting up our classrooms, safety and accessibility should be top priorities. Some teachers have more room to work with than others. In a perfect world, teachers want to arrange their rooms to:

  • Minimize the distances students need to move between learning activities. 
  • Create open spaces and clear pathways between workstations (e.g., wheelchairs, crutches). 
  • Have a clear expectation for backpack placement.
  • Keep anchor charts at eye level for visually impaired students and to eliminate unnecessary movement.

Once teachers have set up their space to increase physical safety and accessibility, it’s helpful to think about how we are arranging the furniture to support learning. When I coach teachers, I encourage them to set up the furniture so it reinforces the task students are doing. For example, tables grouped together suggest that students will be collaborating so conversation and interaction are encouraged. By contrast, if desks are arranged in rows, it suggests that students will be working independently.

Use Your Furniture to Reinforce the Task

I realize teachers do not always have access to furniture that is flexible or moveable. For years, I had bulky two-seater desks that were heavy and hard to move. I positioned them in an L-formation running the length of both sides of my classroom. When students were working independently, the desks stayed in the L-formation. When they were working in groups collaborating around a shared task, they swung one side of the desk around to create one big table group. It wasn’t ideal, but teaching is one make-it-work moment after another. So, when you are planning your lessons, think about whether the furniture is set up to reinforce the task or create management issues.

End Every Class with an Exit Activity

As a coach working in various classrooms, it’s not uncommon for me to observe students packing up with several minutes left in class. Once they’ve put their instructional materials away, many spend the last minutes of class chatting or crowding by the door. Given how short on time teachers always feel, this pattern of student behavior doesn’t sit well with me. I want teachers and students to maximize their time together, and an exit activity can keep students working until the end of class.

An exit activity should provide closure to the lesson, collect formative assessment data teachers can use to measure how successful the lesson was at meeting learning objectives, and/or encourage a reflective practice. You can end class with a simple 3-2-1 activity that asks students to share 3 things they learned, 2 questions they have, and 1 thing that surprised them. You can tailor the actual prompts to work for your specific lesson or group of students. Alternatively, you can have students complete an exit ticket designed to gather formative assessment data or ask students to reflect on what they learned, how they learned it, and what they are still confused about.

The goal of the exit activity is to have students pause to think about their learning in an intentional way before packing up and heading off to the next class. This routine can create a higher level of awareness about the impact the work they are doing in class is having on their content knowledge and skill set, while also providing you with useful information about their progress.

It does not matter what grade level you teach–kindergarten or 12th grade–students need to practice routines and procedures. Like most things in education, the more time we invest on the front end in establishing clear systems and workflows, the more effective and efficient our classrooms will run. Not only will we have more time to dedicate to working directly with learners, but they will have the structures in place to be more confident, independent, and self-directed.

Set Up Your LMS to Ensure Student Success

Por Catlin Tucker

You probably spent significant time setting up your physical classroom to welcome your students back to school. Did you dedicate the same time and intentionality to setting up your learning management system (LMS)? You’re not alone if the answer is a sheepish “no.” The good news is it’s not too late to set up your LMS to support your students this year!

Setting Up Your Digital Classroom

Your LMS is your digital classroom and should complement and enhance students’ work in your physical classroom. You’ll want to set it up so students can confidently navigate that space to access resources, check due dates, submit work, communicate with you, and engage with one another asynchronously.

This post will review important things to consider as you organize your LMS.

Organize Your Course Content

Backward design your units and organize them in digital folders. Using backward design to plan and organize your units:

  • Creates clarity about what you and your students are working toward.
  • Serves as a roadmap for your work with students.
  • Helps you to identify the “must dos” in your curriculum.
  • Makes it clear what video instruction and models students will need to be successful.
  • Encourages you to use target standards, skills, and concepts to guide lesson design.
  • Aligns learning objectives with assessments.

Begin by identifying the learning outcomes or desired results for a unit. What do you want students to know, understand, or be able to do at the end of the unit?

Once you have clarity on what you and your students are working toward, decide how you will assess student progress toward those learning objectives. What assessment evidence can you collect to measure their progress? Aligning your desired results with your assessment strategy (formal or informal) makes it easier to organize the path (or sequence of learning activities) to move students toward those desired results.

Finally, use the folders in your LMS to organize the video instruction and models, learning activities, and resources students need to progress through the unit. Consider using subfolders for each week labeled with the dates that students will be working on items in that folder. This allows for a higher degree of self-pacing and helps students stay organized. 

Creating Digital Folders for Each Unit

Depending on the LMS you are using, you can explore features like completion rules” in Schoology or requirements” for modules in Canvas that require students to complete particular tasks in the folder before progressing to the next task. For example, you can require students to watch a video and then take a quiz or participate in an online discussion to assess their comprehension of the content. You can set up your completion rules or requirements to require that students earn a particular score on the quiz or post their response to the discussion question before advancing to the next task in the folder. These features make it possible for you to transfer control over the pace of their progress through a unit to students.

Create Clarity with Your Calendar

You and your students are juggling a lot! Your calendar is the best way to keep everyone on the same page and reduce confusion about assignments and due dates. Use your class calendar to make sure students and their families can see:

  • The beginning and end of each unit
  • Due dates for assignments and projects (include links to assignment descriptions and documents)
  • Events (e.g., Back-to-school Night, Open House, field trips)
  • Virtual conferencing sessions (if applicable)
  • Office hours (if applicable)
  • The end of the grading period

As you create events, remember to utilize the features inside your calendar to provide the necessary instructions, information, descriptions, resources, etc., that students and their families will need to navigate an assignment or participate in an event successfully.

Utilizing The Features in Your Class Calendar

Your online calendar can also double as your digital planner. Check out this blog post to learn how you can transform your Google calendar into a flexible and robust digital planner.

Engage Students in Online Discussions

Your LMS is not only an excellent place for organizing course content and transferring information, but it can be a space where students engage with one another in meaningful ways. Your online discussion functionality presents an opportunity to give every student a voice in the class dialogue. We all know that whole group discussions do not provide all students with the opportunity to participate. The same vocal students often dominate discussions, while our shy students, those who need more time to process, and students struggling with anxiety may never have the opportunity to share their ideas. That’s why balancing in-class discussions with online discussions can create avenues for all students to have a voice in the conversation.

Online discussions:

  • Engage students in purposeful conversations around complex issues and texts. 
  • Expose them to different perspectives and points of view.
  • Improve their understanding and retention.
  • Drive deeper thinking. 
  • Shift students from consumers of other people’s ideas to producers of their ideas.

When you design your online discussions, I suggest incorporating the following five tips to increase student participation.

5 Tips for Increasing Student Participation in Online Discussions

Students will need support and practice (lots of it!) to get good at engaging with each other online, so you’ll need to provide explicit instruction on what you expect from their interactions. How long should their responses to the initial question and replies to each other be? What strategies can they use to ensure their responses are substantive and meaningful? How can you encourage students to assess their participation in online conversations regularly?

Provide Powerful Feedback with Digital Tools

Your LMS should also provide a space for you to interact with students and support their progress toward learning objectives. Feedback may be the most powerful (yet underutilized) tool in our teaching toolbelts. Despite the powerful impact that feedback can have on student progress, it is easy to neglect because it is time-consuming to give. Utilizing the digital feedback tools in your LMS (e.g., audio and video feedback) can help you streamline the feedback process and support students as they work on an assignment or task.

Research suggests that using media beyond text comments positively impacts the student’s perception of the quality of feedback. Students who received audio feedback perceived that feedback as more thorough, detailed, and personal than text feedback (Voelkel & Mello, 2014). Students also reported being more motivated by audio and video feedback because it was clear and personalized (Voelkel & Mello, 2014; Henderson & Phillips, 2015). Interestingly, teachers also reported higher levels of engagement when giving video and audio feedback. Explore the audio and video options for providing feedback in your LMS to maximize the impact of that feedback while saving you the time it takes to type out detailed explanations.

Your LMS should be a digital extension of your classroom that empowers students to drive their learning. The time you invest in setting up your LMS and understanding the functionality available to you and your students will pay dividends this year!

Are you interested in learning more about setting up your digital classroom to empower students? You can watch the free webinar I presented for the Modern Classroom Project!

Social-Emotional Learning Part V: Social Awareness

Por Catlin Tucker

This is the final blog in this social-emotional learning (SEL) series designed to create clarity about the five SEL core competencies identified in the CASEL Framework and how to develop these skills in your classroom. I believe SEL skills should be integrated into our curriculum and class culture, not treated as an add-on or separate from the learning in our classrooms. Cultivating SEL skills benefits academic success, mental health, quality of relationships, self-regulation, and classroom management. So, the time we invest in developing these social-emotional learning skills will pay dividends over a school year.

This final blog focuses on social awareness and helping students to appreciate the diversity of people, perspectives, cultures, and social norms around them.

What is social awareness?

CASEL defines social awareness as the ability to “understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.” Social awareness includes the ability to:

  • Take another person’s perspective and evaluate a situation from their point of view
  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion for others
  • Recognize and appreciate other people’s strengths and show gratitude
  • Understand different social norms and how they impact people’s behaviors in different settings and situations
  • Evaluate the demands and opportunities presented by different situations
Social Awareness

To help students cultivate social awareness in classrooms, educators should consider the following questions:

  • How often are students asked to consider other perspectives and discuss why a particular person or group might feel or behave a certain way?
  • How am I helping students to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings to develop compassion and empathy?
  • Am I encouraging students to learn about the various social norms at play in our school or the larger community and how they impact the way people behave in a given situation?

Benefits of Developing Social Awareness

Heightened social awareness can reduce friction and help students to appreciate their peers’ perspectives and strengths, making collaboration and group work positive and productive. Research indicates that developing social awareness can:

  • Reduce feelings of distress and frustration
  • Positively impact classroom management and the quality of student relationships
  • Improve the students’ perceptions of themselves and others (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor & Schellinger, 2011; Taylor, Oberle, Durlak & Weissberg, 2017).

So, how do we help students develop social awareness?

3 Strategies Designed to Help Students Develop Social Awareness

Strategy #1: Cross the Line

Cross the Line is an exercise designed to help students appreciate the diversity of experiences held by a group of individuals. It highlights the similarities and differences between people and their life experiences. This activity helps students understand the impact of prejudice, stereotypes, and bullying.

The activity requires a high degree of trust between the teacher or facilitator and the students involved. The students line up against one side of a room or open space (e.g., yard, gym). Then the teacher or person facilitating the activity reads a series of statements, ranging from the relatively innocuous “You play a sport” to the more personal ones such as, “You have been picked on our bullied at school.” After each statement, students who have had that experience walk across the Line and stand facing the other side of the room. As students stand facing each other, they can see who has had a similar or different experience from them. This can help them develop empathy and compassion for one another.

After the exercise, asking students to reflect on their experiences is essential. You can encourage them to write or draw their reflections. Regardless of the strategy you use, provide students with prompts to guide their reflection.

  • What did you learn about yourself and your peers as you crossed the Line?
  • What was most surprising?
  • Which statements were most painful given your past experiences? Were there times when it was tough for you to cross the Line?
  • How did what you learned about your peers impact how you will treat the other members of this class?

This exercise can be emotional for students, but it is a powerful strategy for raising awareness about the other individuals in their class community. Operation Respect has a resource that teachers can reference to learn more about this activity.

Strategy #2: 4-Corner Debate

The 4-corner debate strategy helps students appreciate the variety of perspectives and opinions in a class. During this activity, each corner of the classroom is labeled: 1) strongly agree, 2) agree, 3) disagree, and 4) strongly disagree. The teacher will read statements like, “Most people are good,” “The United States should limit immigration,” or “Solar energy is the most promising renewable energy source.” Students consider their perspective on the statement and stand in one of the four corners of the classroom that aligns with their point of view.

After students have clustered in the corner that aligns with their thinking, the teacher facilitates a share-out, inviting students in each corner to share their perspectives. The goal is to help students appreciate different points of view and understand how a person’s culture, past experiences, and background have shaped their thinking about various topics.

Like the Cross The Line activity, the 4-corner debate should be followed by a reflective practice to encourage students to think more deeply about the experience.

  • What points did your peers make that you had not considered before?
  • Did your thinking about these statements or issues shift or change as a result of this activity?
  • How has your life experience impacted your thoughts about these statements or topics?

Strategy #3: Peer Feedback

Peer feedback can help students to recognize and appreciate each other’s strengths and demonstrate compassion. Too often, feedback is viewed as a “teacher responsibility.” However, in a learning community, all members should play a role in providing thoughtful and substantive feedback.

Peer feedback is most effective and constructive when it is focused. To ensure students are successful in recognizing each other’s strengths and providing each other with specific suggestions for improvement, they need clear guidelines for giving feedback.

Teachers can use sentence frames to structure focused feedback, provide students with a choice board of options for how they can respond to their peers, or they can transform a rubric into a vehicle for peer feedback.

If you want to learn more about how to structure peer feedback, check out this blog.

We have an opportunity to approach this school year differently with a focus on building strong learning communities and helping students to develop the skills necessary to thrive socially and academically. Cultivating social-emotional learning skills can happen in the context of our curriculum to deepen our students’ understanding of themselves, the content, and their communities.

Social-Emotional Learning Part IV: Relationship Skills

Por Catlin Tucker

The previous posts in this social-emotional learning series focused on self-awarenessself-management, and responsible decision-making. These skills fall under the umbrella of intrapersonal skills. Intrapersonal skills are cultivated inside a person. We’ve explored strategies designed to help students:

  • Manage their emotions.
  • Practice stress management strategies.
  • Set academic, personal, and behavioral goals.
  • Evaluate the urgency versus the importance of tasks to prioritize items on their to-do lists.
  • Weigh the benefits and consequences before making decisions.
  • Reflect on how their actions impact themselves and the people around them.

This post on relationship skills shifts the focus to interpersonal skills, which require a person to interact with others. Interpersonal skills include our ability to communicate and collaborate, engage in negotiation and compromise, manage conflict and listen actively, and understand another person’s experience and feel empathy for them.

Relationship Skills

What are relationship skills?

CASEL defines relationship skills as the ability “to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.” Relationship skills include the ability to:

  • Clearly communicate ideas and listen actively to others.
  • Work collaboratively with diverse groups of people to accomplish a task.
  • Engage in conflict resolution and be willing to compromise when working as a team.
  • Ask for help and provide support, assistance, and/or leadership when needed.

To help students cultivate relationship skills in classrooms, educators should consider the following questions:

  • Am I explicitly teaching communication skills (e.g., how to engage in an equitable conversation, respectfully offer a different perspective, and listen actively)?
  • How often am I designing learning experiences that require diverse groups of students to work collaboratively?
  • How can I help students resolve conflicts in a kind and respectful way?

Benefits of Developing Relationship Skills

Strong relationship skills are fundamental to the healthy functioning of any group or learning community. Positive relationships “create an environment in which children feel competent, independent, and akin to others, which increases their motivation” (Thijssen, Rege & Solheim, 2022). Research indicates that developing relationship skills impacts:

  • Student engagement with the learning activities
  • Academic outcomes
  • The student’s ability to adjust to changes in their learning environment
  • The quality of the student’s relationships with one another and the overall classroom management (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Klem & Connell, 2004; Roorda, Koomen, Spilt & Oort, 2011; Thijssen, Rege & Solheim, 2022)

So, how do we help students develop relationship skills?

3 Strategies Designed to Help Students Develop Relationship Skills

Strategy #1: Academic Discussions

When students engage in academic discourse, they have an opportunity to exchange ideas, ask questions, and make meaning as part of a learning community. However, the whole group, teacher-led discussions are not equitable. They do not allow all students a voice in the class dialogue. Instead, I would encourage teachers to explore small group, student-led discussions, and online asynchronous discussions.

Synchronous Small Group Discussions VS. Asynchronous Online Discussions

The benefits of discussion include:

  • Connection to a learning community.
  • Exposure to different perspectives.
  • Opportunity to make connections between ideas shared.
  • Drive deeper thinking around topics, texts, and issues.
  • Improve understanding and retention.
  • Practice in-person and online communication skills.
  • Shifts students from consumers of other people’s ideas to producers of their own ideas.

4 Corner Conversations

Teachers can use a “4 Corner Conversations” strategy for in-class small group discussions. As the name suggests, each of the four corners of the classroom has a small group of 6-9 students engaged in a conversation. The teacher can supply the discussion questions or ask students to write a couple of questions they would like to discuss in the small group. When they join their discussion group, the expectation is that students will:

  • Sit in a circle
  • Bring materials, annotations, and notes (if needed)
  • Take turns asking questions
  • Spend time discussing each question
  • Finish with a short self-assessment of their participation

4 Corner Conversations give every student a chance to participate in the discussion without each idea being filtered through the teacher. This helps students develop their communication skills while also improving their grasp of the topics they are studying.

Online Discussions

Online asynchronous discussions can be text-based in a learning management system (LMS) or video-based with a platform like Flip. Online discussions, unlike in-person conversations, allow everyone an equal opportunity to participate. Students who are shy, need more time to process, or are managing social anxiety may find it easier to respond thoughtfully to a discussion prompt and reply to peers online.

Below are four tips to ensure your online discussion questions are engaging and provide multiple entry points into the conversation for learners at different levels.

If students are going to be successful engaging in small group student-led discussions or online discussions, they need explicit instruction, modeling, and practice, practice, practice! These discussions will take time to develop depth, but the payoff is students who are able to communicate effectively in order to learn with and from each other.

Strategy #2: Collaborative Group Challenges

Collaboration and teamwork are critical relationship skills. Students need regular opportunities to work together around shared tasks that require creative problem-solving, social negotiation, and clear communication. As pictured in the table below, there are several strategies teachers can use to engage students in collaborative tasks designed to position them at the center of the learning experience.

Jigsaw Activities This cooperative learning strategy requires each person in a “home group” to become the expert on one aspect of a topic or one section of a text. All students in a class assigned the same subtopic or section of text work together to build their expertise. Then they return to their home group so each member can share out what they learned and teach their group members.
Reciprocal Teaching This instructional activity asks groups of students to engage in a reading session where each person focuses on employing a different strategy as they read the text together. The four strategies or roles include summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting.
Building Background Instead of transferring information to students via a lecture or mini-lesson, a building background activity positions the students to work in small groups researching a topic, moment in history, famous person, scientific phenomenon, literary movement, etc.

Students work collaboratively to make sense of the information they are finding online and create an artifact to share their learning (e.g., digital document, slide deck, infographic, or artistic timeline).
Real-world Challenges Linking student learning to real-world problems, issues, or challenges makes learning more relevant and interesting. Real-world challenges encourage groups of students to tackle complex and often messy problems using strategies and processes they have practiced in the classroom.

For example, a quirky website called has a huge collection of bizarre math problems. They are perfect for encouraging students to apply their mathematical thinking to real-world situations. 

Strategy #3: Conflict Resolution Role Playing

Conflict is unavoidable. Students bring their past experiences, cultural norms, personalities, and personal preferences into the classroom. It is essential to help students build empathy for each other and resolve conflicts in a kind and constructive way.

Role-playing exercises position the students as active agents in the learning process and provide them with the opportunity to be creative. Role-playing also encourages students to evaluate situations and consider how they might respond.

Step 1: Group students and have each group write a scenario where two or more students encounter conflict. What is the situation? Who is involved?
Step 2: Ask groups to exchange scenarios and practice performing a short skit or scene acting the scenario out.
Step 3: After each group performs their skit or scene, encourage each group to huddle up and discuss the scene. What was causing the conflict? What information did the different people involved need to understand the other perspectives? What misconceptions or assumptions were causing the conflict to escalate? What would have helped the people involved to understand and empathize with each other?
Step 4: Allow each group to share their thoughts about the scene and what was really happening. Then brainstorm a list of strategies the participants could have used to avoid the conflict or work through it in a kind and constructive way.
Step 5: Encourage students to spend a few minutes reflecting on the exercise and what they learned.

These routines and strategies help students develop the skills they need to interact with other members of the learning community in a kind, constructive, and productive way. Developing these relationship skills creates learning communities where students are comfortable sharing their ideas, engaging in collaborative tasks, and taking academic risks.

My next blog post will focus on the final competency of social awareness!

Social-Emotional Learning Part III: Responsible Decision Making

Por Catlin Tucker

In my last two posts on self-awareness and self-management, I explored strategies for helping students identify, understand, and regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The next social-emotional skill is responsible decision-making. This competency requires students to take their heightened self-awareness and ability to manage themselves and make responsible choices about how they respond to different situations and interact with others.

What is responsible decision-making?

Responsible decision-making is the ability to assess a situation, understand the benefits and consequences of different responses, consider what is ethical and safe, and make kind and productive choices. Responsible decision-making includes the ability to:

  • Be open-minded.
  • Exhibit curiosity about situations and people.
  • Analyze a situation and the information available before making a judgment or decision.
  • Think about and evaluate the consequences of a particular choice or decision.
  • Consider how their actions will impact other people and/or their community.
  • Reflect on how their actions, behaviors, and decisions affect their well-being and the well-being of others (e.g., family, peers, school, community) (CASEL).
Responsible Decision-Making

To help cultivate responsible decision-making in classrooms, educators should consider the following questions:

  • How can I help students evaluate situations to identify the potential benefits and consequences of different decisions?
  • How can I support students in cultivating an open mind and curiosity when faced with unfamiliar situations?
  • What strategies might help students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills?
  • How can a regular practice of reflection help students understand the impact of their actions and choices on themselves, the people around them, and their communities?

Benefits of Developing Responsible Decision-Making

Research suggests that when students are better able to make thoughtful and constructive decisions, this skill positively impacts:

  • A student’s academic success.
  • The quality of a person’s relationships with others.
  • A person’s ability to empathize.
  • A person’s willingness to share with others.
  • Classroom management, promoting positive behaviors and reducing unproductive behaviors.
  • Mental health and rates of anxiety (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor & Schellinger, 2011; Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015; Zins & Elias, 2006).

So, how do we help students make responsible decisions?

5 Strategies Designed to Help Students Make Responsible Decisions

Strategy #1: Co-construct Classroom Agreements

Instead of handing students a syllabus with a set of class rules, engage your students in the process of co-constructing classroom agreements about behaviors. Students have valuable prior knowledge on this topic they can draw from. They know what makes them feel safe and supported in learning environments. They also understand what makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable taking academic risks in a classroom. Teachers should encourage students to draw on their prior experiences in school to compile a list of behaviors and norms they believe will establish and maintain a high-functioning learning community.

Reflect on Past Experiences Ask students to think about a time when they felt safe sharing their ideas, taking risks, and engaging with classmates. What about that class or learning environment made them feel comfortable? When have they felt uncomfortable sharing their thoughts, taking risks, or engaging with peers? What caused them to feel unsafe?
Collaborate with Peers to Identify Key Norms Encourage collaborative groups to discuss their prior experiences in school and identify three norms they feel are critical to establishing and maintaining a safe, supportive, and productive learning community.
Share Out and Create a Class Set of Agreements Ask one person in each group to share their group’s norms and explain why these norms should be added to a class set of agreements.

Once each group has shared their norms, give students time to review them (e.g., silent gallery walk) and add dots to the five norms they think are most important. Add the 5-10 norms with the most dots to the class set of agreements.

When the class has defined a set of class agreements, document those expectations for behavior and post them, so they are easy to reference.

This process gives students ownership over the creation of class agreements. They are more likely to comply with and respect expectations for behavior if they have played a role in creating them. A list of co-created class agreements is also more likely to reflect what they care about regarding their interactions with each other.

Strategy #2: Collaborate to Create a Clear Path of Consequences

When consequences are unclear, it can create unnecessary power struggles in the classroom. If students are to accurately assess the potential consequences of their actions or choices before making a decision, the path of consequences needs to be clear.

You can articulate a clear path of consequences for missteps in the classroom and online for your students or engage the class community in this process. If you identify a path of consequences for students, make sure to review those with your class and post those consequences somewhere that students and families can see them. Again, the goal is clarity. We want students to know what will happen if they violate an expectation for behavior in your class.

1st misstep: Verbal redirect
2nd misstep: Move student to an alternative seating area (e.g., floater desk apart from collaboration)
3rd misstep: Move the student and ask them to complete a safe space reflection; follow up with a conversation about the behavior
4th misstep: Move the student, ask them to fill out a safe space reflection, discuss the behavior with them, and communicate with the family about the student’s behavior in the class

It is helpful to engage the class in exercises that encourage them to think about potential missteps in class or online and work to define a reasonable consequence for that action. This exercise encourages students to think critically about unproductive or unkind behaviors, their impact on others, and appropriate consequences for those behaviors.

Strategy #3: Use the Urgent vs. Important Matrix to Guide Decision Making

Learning to decipher between what is important and what is urgent is a critical skill for students when deciding how to use their time and focus their energy.

Important tasks are those that help students make progress toward personal and academic goals they value. By contrast, urgent tasks are those that demand immediate attention or action. Some important tasks are urgent, while others are not. Too often, people focus on urgent tasks instead of important tasks because the consequence of not completing an urgent task is immediate. The urgency of an assignment or task may make it feel important when it actually is not.

You can help students to begin to assess the tasks on their proverbial plates and think critically about which category of the “important versus urgent matrix” they fall into. This can help students prioritize tasks and make responsible decisions about how they use their time.

A routine of categorizing tasks using the matrix above encourages students to assess various tasks to determine which items on their to-do lists will help them make progress toward goals they value.

Strategy #4: Frayer-style Well-being Analysis

Students may not consider the impact of their choices on themselves or the people around them. Yet, the CASEL Framework points out that students should reflect on their role in promoting personal, family, and community well-being.

You can use a Frayer-style reflection to get students thinking about how they are positively impacting their personal and academic well-being as well as the well-being of their families and communities. This exercise encourages them to think about their actions and decisions and how they influence important aspects of their lives.

Alternatively, you can have students engage in a conversation with a peer, reflect in writing, or record a video explanation to explore the impact of their choices and actions on others.

Strategy #5: Role Playing Exercises

Role-playing exercises position the students as active agents in the learning process and provide them with the opportunity to be creative. Role-playing can be leveraged to encourage students to evaluate situations and scenarios to consider how they might respond. It provides them with a safe space to practice weighing the benefits and consequences of different decisions.

As with most things in a classroom, I’d prefer to see students play an active role in generating the scenarios, performing the scenes, and engaging in discussion with peers about the best ways to respond in a particular situation.

Step 1: Group students and have each group write a scenario they can imagine a student their age facing in school (or their lives beyond school) that would challenge them to make a tough decision.
Step 2: Ask groups to exchange scenarios and practice performing a short skit or scene acting the scenario out.
Step 3: When each group performs their skit or scene, encourage them to pause or freeze at the moment when a big decision needs to be made. Encourage each group to huddle up and decide how they would respond and why they think that response would be the best course of action given the situation.
Step 4: Allow each group to share their thoughts about how the person faced with the decision should respond. Facilitate a discussion among the groups about the potential benefits and consequences of each response.
Step 5: Encourage students to spend a few minutes reflecting on the exercise and what they learned.

These routines and strategies do not require significant time, but they help students learn how to assess a situation, consider other people’s points of view, demonstrate empathy, and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of different choices to make responsible decisions. The ability to make kind and constructive choices can positively impact their academic success and the overall functioning of the learning community.

My next blog post will focus on the competency of relationship skills!

Social-emotional Learning Part II: Self-management

Por Catlin Tucker

In my last blog post, I said self-awareness is a foundational social-emotional learning skill. If students are unable to identify their emotions, thoughts, and values and recognize how they influence their behaviors, it will be challenging for them to develop the other SEL core competencies. As students understand themselves on a deeper level, they’re more likely to be successful in developing their self-management skills.

What is self-management?

Self-management is the ability to regulate one’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in various situations to achieve a particular outcome, goal, or aspiration. Self-management includes the ability to:

  • Delay gratification, postponing an immediate reward in favor of a greater reward that comes later.
  • Manage one’s stress in a healthy way.
  • Be motivated to pursue challenging tasks.
  • Enjoy the agency to make meaningful choices in order to accomplish goals (CASEL).

To help cultivate self-management in classrooms, educators should consider the following questions:

  • What strategies can I provide to help students manage their emotions and reflect on the impact of their actions?
  • How can I support students in cultivating stress management strategies?
  • How can a regular practice of goal setting impact student motivation over time?
  • Which planning and organizational strategies will support students in taking ownership over their learning?

Benefits of Developing Self-management

A large-scale study found that “self-management is a better predictor of student learning than are other measures of socioemotional skills” (Claro & Loeb, 2019). Research suggests that when students are better able to manage themselves and their behaviors, this skill positively impacts:

  • Graduation rates (as compared to using standardized test data).
  • Academic achievement.
  • Self-efficacy, or confidence in one’s ability to complete work or navigate complex tasks.
  • The quality of a student’s relationships with other members of the learning community.
  • Classroom managment (Claro & Loeb, 2019; Duckworth & Carlson, 2013; Jones & Jacob, 2014).

So, how do we help students develop the ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors?

5 Strategies Designed to Help Students Develop Self-management

Strategy #1: Setting Academic, Behavioral, and Personal Goals

Setting goals is key to helping students develop their metacognitive muscles to better understand themselves as people and as learners. A regular goal-setting routine encourages students to identify academic, behavior, and personal goals they want to work toward. It asks them to think about what is required in terms of their actions and behaviors to make progress toward their goals.

As much as teachers value goal setting, it can be challenging to make time for this routine. Depending on the age of the students, teachers may want to begin each week by asking students to set a single goal they want to work toward. Teachers working with older students may want them to set a few goals to focus on for the length of a grading period or unit of study.

Regardless of your approach to facilitating goal setting, it’s important to:

  • Provide students with a consistent format for thinking about and recording their goals.
  • Model this process with a think-aloud so students understand how to set realistic goals for themselves.
  • Dedicate class time to goal setting to communicate the value of this routine.
  • Use the students’ goals during conferencing to ground your conversation about their progress.

Strategy #2: Prioritizing Tasks with To-do Lists

As adults, many of us use to-do lists on paper, online with tools (like Google Keep), or an app on our phones to keep track of everything we need to get done in a day or week. A to-do list helps us prioritize the most important tasks to ensure we are spending our time and energy in places that will have the biggest impact. A to-do list can also function to ease anxiety simply by naming what needs to get done. Checking items off a to-do list creates a sense of accomplishment, motivating us to continue working through the list.

Students juggling multiple classes and myriad assignments with varying due dates will benefit from making to-do lists; however, they may not have any practice with this routine. Teachers can support students by dedicating class time to the creation of to-do lists and modeling how to prioritize items on their to-do lists. Similar to the goal-setting routine, it’s best to provide students with options for how to record their lists (e.g., online or offline) and give students class time to practice. This can happen as a welcome task routine or an end-of-class activity.

Strategy #3: Reflecting on Missteps

Missteps and mistakes are a part of the learning process. Students need opportunities to reflect on their choices and behavior to understand how they impact other members of the learning community. Simply reprimanding students is unlikely to help them develop their self-management skills. Instead, pairing a consequence with a reflective practice can help students to identify why they behaved in a certain way and how that behavior may have impacted other people.

We can ask students to complete a safe space reflection form when students violate a class agreement or expectation for behavior to encourage them to think more deeply about the incident. Once they’ve had an opportunity to reflect, we can meet with them to discuss what happened, why it happened, and how the students might respond differently to a similar situation in the future.

Strategy #4: Conducting a Retrospective

A retrospective, or “look back,” is a strategy that encourages students to consider four questions.

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What lessons have I learned?
  • What am I struggling with, confused by, or wondering about?

The goal of a retrospective is to encourage students to reflect on their work, so they can create an action plan to build on their successes and implement changes for improvement.

A retrospective can happen any time during the school year (e.g., end of a semester or unit) to encourage students to reflect on their experiences and make adjustments to improve their academic performance and behavior in class.

Strategy #5: Enjoying Agency with “Would You Rather” Choices

The ability to demonstrate personal and collective agency is another dimension of self-management. Students need to be able to make meaningful and appropriate choices about their learning experiences. However, many students spend their days in classrooms where they may not get to make any decisions about what they learn, how they learn, or what they create to demonstrate their learning. As a result, many students may be uncomfortable making decisions and benefit from practicing this skill.

In a mini-episode of my podcast, The Balance, I described a simple “would you rather” strategy I encourage teachers to use to build at least one meaningful choice into each lesson or learning experience. This simple strategy makes giving students agency more sustainable and manageable while helping students develop confidence in their ability to make meaningful decisions about their learning.

Instead of designing a choice board with six or nine options, which may feel overwhelming, teachers can provide students with one choice between two options during the learning experience. This requires less time to prepare while still giving students agency. It’s worth our time to prioritize student choice because it positively impacts self-management skills and improves retention, transfer performance, and motivation.

These routines and strategies do not require significant time, but they help students learn how to manage their feelings and behaviors to positively impact their academic success and the overall functioning of the learning community.

My next blog post will focus on the competency of responsible decision-making!


Social-Emotional Learning Part I: Self-awareness

Por Catlin Tucker

In my previous blog post titled “Social-Emotional Learning Series: Cultivating Skills All Students Need to Thrive,” I identified classroom management, lack of engagement, and general student apathy as challenges that plagued the 2021-2022 school year. Teachers have an opportunity to approach this new school year differently by dedicating class time to cultivating social-emotional learning skills that are critical to a high-functioning learning community. In this blog post, we’ll explore the first competency of social-emotional learning: self-awareness.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is a cornerstone of social-emotional learning. Without self-awareness, students struggle to manage themselves, make responsible decisions, build healthy relationships, and understand and empathize with others. 

Self-awareness is a multifaceted competency that encompasses a person’s ability to:

  • Identify their emotions, thoughts, and values and recognize how they influence their behavior.
  • Be aware of their interactions, feelings, and relationships with others.
  • Understand one’s strengths, limitations, and weaknesses.

To help cultivate self-awareness in classrooms, educators should consider the following questions:

  • What routines can help students to identify their emotional state to better understand themselves from day to day?
  • How can I help students reflect on the connection between their feelings, thoughts, values, and behaviors?
  • What classroom routines can help students to develop higher levels of self-efficacy and confidence? 
  • How can I help students to identify and utilize their personal, cultural, and linguistic assets?

Benefits of Developing Self-awareness

Dedicating time and energy resources to cultivating self-awareness benefits individual students and the ability of the learning community to function in a healthy, positive, and productive way. Research suggests that when individuals see themselves more clearly, the benefits include:

  • Higher levels of confidence and creativity
  • Improved decision-making skills
  • More effective communication and collaboration with others
  • Stronger relationships 
  • More likely to demonstrate integrity 
  • More persistence when completing complex tasks
  • Healthy psychological well-being (Eurich, 2018; Sutton, 2016; Feldman, Dunn, Stemke, Bell & Greeson, 2014).

So, how do we help students develop self-awareness?

5 Strategies Designed to Help Students Develop Self-awareness

Strategy #1: Start Class with Check-ins 

Begin each class with an informal conversation or check-in activity. Teachers can dedicate time to a whole class check-in with each student sharing their response to a prompt. If that is too time-consuming, teachers can put students in small groups and allow them to check in with a handful of peers.

A regular check-in routine that asks students to share their feelings and experiences builds community and empathy while also helping students feel more comfortable engaging with their peers when working on academic tasks.

Click to access this slide deck.

Strategy #2: Feelings Graph

Encourage students to take a few quiet moments to take an inventory of how they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

  • Are they tired, stressed, happy, hopeful, or frustrated?
  • What is causing them to feel this way today?
  • Did something happen that impacted them positively or negatively?

Once they’ve had a chance to gauge their feelings, ask students to graph their emotional state on a piece of chart paper and write a short reflection explaining why they put themselves at a particular spot on their graph.

Tracking how they feel over time can help students identify trends in their emotional state and gain clarity about the people, routines, situations, and interactions that positively and negatively impact them. If they understand how different variables affect how they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally, they can make choices that will positively impact them.

Strategy #3: Model Stress Management Strategies

Rates of stress, anxiety, and depression are rising (Pincus, Hannor-Walker, Wright & Justice, 2020; Wan, 2020). Helping students practice stress management strategies can help them deal with their anxiety and stress in a healthy way. When woven into the fabric of their days at school, breathing, meditation, and mindfulness routines can help students develop the skills necessary to manage their stress and build confidence in navigating challenging situations.

Educators can begin one class each week focusing on a mindfulness activity to help students check in with themselves and hone the skills necessary to deal with moments of stress and anxiety.

Strategy #4: Who am I? Thinking Routine

Project Zero developed this thinking routine to encourage students to explore their identity and the identity of others. It “encourages students to reserve judgment, take time to find out more about what they see and/or hear, and explore more deeply and broadly other people, and develop a greater understanding of similarities and differences.

Strategy #5: Practice Mindfulness STOP Skill with Role-play

Role-play asks students to assume the identity of a person placed in a situation or scenario that mirrors something they might encounter in the classroom or in life. The scenario might challenge them to think about how they would react if a classmate made a rude comment, they received a low score on an important assignment, or they had to work in a group with a student they did not like.

As students engage in a role-play scenario, encourage them to practice the mindfulness STOP skill of:

  • Stopping or pausing before responding or reacting.
  • Taking a deep breath and becoming aware of their breathing.
  • Observe what is happening inside their bodies and what is happening around them.
  • Proceed mindfully based on the information they learned from checking in with themselves and taking a moment to observe the situation.

These mindfulness activities do not require significant time, but they are more likely to positively impact a student’s level of self-awareness when teachers carve out time each day or week to dedicate to these routines. Teachers should consider dedicating time during a welcome routine to these exercises. Beginning the first 5-10 minutes of class a few times each week with an activity designed to boost self-awareness or encourage mindfulness can help students get comfortable identifying their feelings and thinking critically about the impact of their interactions with others.

My next blog post will focus on the competency of self-management!


Social-Emotional Learning Series: Cultivating Skills All Students Need to Thrive 

Por Catlin Tucker

The focus on learning loss and getting kids “caught up” after two years of online, concurrent, and hybrid learning distracted educators from the critical work of developing the skills students needed to be part of a thriving learning community. The result was a frustrating school year mired in discipline issues and unproductive behaviors. 

Almost every teacher I interacted with last year said the 2021-2022 school year was the most challenging of their careers. They reported discipline issues, lack of engagement, and general student apathy. As frustrating as those issues were for teachers to navigate, the source of those behaviors was not a mystery. Many students had not been in a structured academic environment for two years. Students transitioned from a high degree of control over their environments and time to classrooms where they had little or no control. The pandemic has also introduced myriad social and emotional stressors that negatively impacted students. 

Social-emotional Learning

This year we have an opportunity to approach the school year differently with a focus on building strong learning communities and helping students to develop the skills necessary to thrive socially and academically. 

Schools emphasized social-emotional learning (SEL) during the pandemic to support students struggling with social isolation and trauma. Yet, it often felt like an add-on instead of an integrated part of the class curriculum and culture. Helping students develop their social-emotional skills is critical to creating classrooms where students have both the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills necessary to navigate complex learning tasks. Students must develop the skills and confidence required to project their social and emotional selves within a learning community. This requires that teachers explicitly teach and model these skills, integrate routines that actively engage students in refining these skills, and provide feedback on student progress in relation to these skills.

CASEL Framework

The CASEL Framework presents five competencies at the heart of social-emotional learning. I am writing a 5-part blog series between now and the start of the new school year. Each blog will focus on one competency with the goal of sharing concrete strategies and resources teachers can use to cultivate these skills in their classrooms. 

I want to support educators in approaching the upcoming school year differently. Instead of jumping right into content and curriculum, I’d like to see educators begin the school year with a focus on building strong learning communities. This requires that we help students cultivate the skills they need to “develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Investing time and energy into cultivating these critical competencies will pay dividends over the school year and, ultimately, improve the quality of student learning and interactions. It also has the potential to eliminate many of the unproductive behaviors and frustrating issues that made the 2021-2022 school year so challenging for teachers.

✨Available Now✨

Flipped Classroom Mini-course Now Available!

Por Catlin Tucker

Shift the Transfer of Information Online with Video

In my post titled, “Could Doing Less in Education Give Everyone More?” I identified teacher talk as the biggest barrier to human connection in the classroom. The more time teachers spend at the front of the room transferring information, the less time they have to sit alongside individual and small groups of students to facilitate learning and support their individual progress toward learning objectives.

Teachers can use the flipped classroom model to create more time and space to connect with learners by shifting the transfer of information (e.g., lecture, mini-lesson) online with video. The flipped classroom model allows students to control the pace of their learning and maximizes engagement in the classroom.

Benefits of the Flipped Classroom Model

  • Students control the pace at which they consume and process information.
  • Students and their families have 24/7 access to video instruction.
  • Teachers spend less class time repeating instruction.
  • Absent students or students who transfer into class have access to missed instruction.
  • Closed captioning and control over video speed can increase accessibility.
  • Teachers are freed to move around the room, engaging directly with students.

As teachers prepare for a new school year, the summer is a perfect time to create videos for the instruction they find themselves repeating over and over again each year. Those foundational explanations that students often need repeat exposure to are the perfect place to start when recording videos because they pay dividends, saving teachers precious class time!

When should teachers make a video?

If teachers are planning to say the same thing the same way to everyone, I suggest they make a video and allow students to self-pace through that instruction. Then teachers can use precious class time for more dynamic and differentiated learning experiences.

Flipped Classroom Model Mini-course

I’ve developed a mini-course to help teachers 1) create effective instructional videos and 2) build dynamic, student-centered learning experiences around those videos. This mini-course has 9 lessons with videos, templates, resources, and “your turn” application activities to help participants put what they are learning into practice. The goal is for participants to leave with a high-quality instructional video and a 3-part blended lesson that builds engagement around that video content.

Below is a preview of the course content.

  • Introduction: The Flipped Classroom Model
  • The Flipped Classroom Model: How do I decide when to make a video?
  • Making Your Instructional Videos
  • The Flipped Classroom Model: How long should my videos be?
  • How-to video: How do I use the animation feature in Google Slides?
  • Blending Video into a Dynamic, Student-centered Lesson
  • Three-part Video Lesson: Pre-video Activity
  • Three-part Video Lesson: Engage Students During the Video
  • Three-part Video Lesson: Post-video Activity

If you would like to purchase this mini-course for multiple teachers on your campus to support self-paced learning this summer, fill out this form for a group rate! You’ll be contacted directly to coordinate a bulk purchase of licenses.

Want to learn more about the flipped classroom model? Check out this blog!

First-Year Teachers: Reflecting on the 2021-2022 School Year

Por Catlin Tucker

Can you imagine if the 2021-2022 school year was your first year in the classroom?

Given the challenges of the last year and the staggering number of teachers leaving this profession, I wanted to talk with two of my previous graduate students who were wrapping up their first year of teaching. I wanted to hear about their experience…challenges, successes, and lessons learned.


“Every day there are a new set of challenges which keeps this profession exciting.” Joe

Procedural Knowledge Learning how to take attendance and navigate a new campus.
Classroom Management Creating a classroom environment where students are engaged but also following class agreements and norms.
Differentiation Meeting the wide range of needs, skills, and abilities in a classroom to ensure all students have the support they need to make progress.
Grading Setting realistic expectations about what gets graded and balancing teacher assessment with routines where students self-assess.
Pressure to Make Every Lesson Exciting Understanding the difference between engagement and entertainment and keeping expectations about lessons realistic.


“I am so shocked and surprised at how forgiving the students are…If I try something and it fails, they are forgiving and will power through. They almost put in more effort if they know it’s not going well because they want you to do well. So that has been just the best kind of surprise.” Joe

Realize You Don’t Need to Be Perfect Keep in mind that students are forgiving and want you to do well. They will understand if a lesson doesn’t go well. Taking risks and failing makes it less scary for students to take risks and fail.
Collect Feedback from Students Use feedback forms helps you to better understand what students are thinking, feeling, and experiencing. The responses can be surprising and validating.
Ask Students to Create Norms for a Task Engage students in the process of articulating what they think will make a particular activity successful (e.g., student presentations, small group discussions, collaborative tasks).
Embracing Routines Maintain routines beyond the classroom (e.g., working out, journaling) can keep you feeling balanced, healthy, and energized.
Being Strategic About How You Use Time Leave work at work. Designate days to stay after school late and work in your classroom and days when you leave after school to engage in activities that help you to relax and re-energize.

Lessons Learned

“We so badly want these lessons to just land and for the students to get the most out of them that it can be frustrating when we feel like it didn’t work.” Carina

Capture Quick Reflections Make notes on lesson plans at the end of each day, noting what went well and what needs to be reworked or reimagined to avoid repeating lessons that didn’t engage students.
Start Every Class with a Check-in Begin every class with a community-building check-in question or icebreaker for students to discuss or respond to in writing at the beginning of class.
Repeat Expectations and Norms Choose two or three non-negotiables (instead of compiling a long list of class rules), publish them on the wall, revisit them weekly, and follow them to a tee.
Advocate for Your Needs If you’re overwhelmed by the workload, ask for help from a colleague and talk to leadership to avoid burning out.
Know That It’s Okay to Say “No” Set realistic expectations for yourself. If you are asked to do something that will lead to an unhealthy work-life balance, feel confident saying, “no, I cannot take that on right now.”

To retain high-quality teachers in education, it is critical to ask about their experiences to understand what is working for them and what is not. That is the only way to make changes on a campus or in a district that are likely to have a positive impact on teacher engagement and the job satisfaction experienced by a staff.

You can check out other episodes of The Balance on Apple Podcasts, Podbean, and Spotify!

Could Doing Less in Education Give Everyone More?

Por Catlin Tucker

While listening to Shankar Vedantam’s podcast Hidden Brain episode titled “Do Less,” I kept thinking YES! We need to do less in education! We need to stop adding to teachers’ already full plates and start thinking about how subtracting or taking things away might improve our teachers’ and students’ lives.

Vedantam talks with Dr. Leidy Klotz about the power of subtraction. They discuss how removing, streamlining, and simplifying have led to positive change. However, humans have an innate drive to innovate. Innovation often leads to creating more or adding to what already exists. This trend is evident in most school districts and classrooms. School leaders identify priorities and adopt new initiatives without dedicating equal time and energy to identifying things that can be removed or eliminated.

Let’s explore some examples in education where doing less can give teachers and students more.

Less Breadth, More Depth

Teachers are asked to cover a massive amount of content in a school year. There’s pressure to cover course standards, teach the adopted curriculum, keep up with rigid pacing guides, prepare students for standardized exams, and post a particular number of grades in the grade book each week.

This pressure to cover curriculum can make moving away from teacher-led, teacher-paced whole group instruction scary. As a result, teachers spend significant time at the front of the room talking at students instead of allowing students to engage in the messy and often time-consuming work of exploration, meaning-making, and discovery.

Even though most teachers recognize that teacher-led instruction relegates students to a passive and consumptive role and is not the best way to engage learners, they feel trapped by the bombastic pressure to “get through” their curriculum. What is the point of covering content if students don’t understand it and will not remember it?

Teachers need the space to encourage deep learning by engaging students in constructing knowledge through student-centered learning activities where they have more control over their learning experience. Students must do the heavy cognitive lift of asking questions, engaging in conversation, researching and exploring, creatively problem solving, and collaborating around shared tasks.

Asking teachers to cover less would allow them the time and space to explore different instructional models that leverage technology to differentiate and personalize learning, cultivate social-emotional learning skills, and incorporate metacognitive skill-building routines into their classes.

Less Talking, More Connecting

My research identified that the depth and quality of a teacher’s relationships with students significantly impacted their work engagement. Relationships are built through meaningful interactions between the teacher and learner. When students hang out in our rooms at break or lunch and chat informally with us, we get to know them and, often, feel more connected to them because of those interactions. Yet, those teacher-learner interactions can and should be happening daily in the classroom.

So, what stands in the way of human connection in the classroom? Teacher talk. The time teachers spend talking at the front of the room is the biggest barrier to human connection. When facilitating blended learning workshops, I encourage teachers to ask themselves a question before they present information in a mini-lesson or lecture. Are you planning to say the same thing the same way to everyone? If the answer is “Yes,” I encourage them to make a video. Shift that explanation online, allow students to self-pace through it, and use that valuable class time to work directly with small groups or individual learners supporting their specific needs.

The less teachers talk at the front of the room, the more time they can dedicate to tasks like feedback that typically happen outside the classroom. Feedback is how students feel seen and supported, but it is easy to neglect when teachers feel pressure to cover content. Instead, using video strategically and exploring blended learning models, like the station rotation model, can help teachers create the time and space to give timely, focused, and actionable feedback in the classroom as students work. Not only can this lighten a teacher’s workload, but the act of providing real-time feedback can help teachers better understand where students are in their progress and help them develop their relationships with learners.

Less Grading, More Designing

Too many teachers are spending their evenings and weekends grading. It is exhausting and not a particularly enjoyable task. It’s no wonder so many teachers are frustrated and disillusioned with the profession. They do not enjoy work-life balance because of the massive amount of work they take home.

There is a real fear driving the practice of grading everything. Teachers worry that if there is no grade attached to the work, students will not do it. I understand the rationale, but it’s problematic. Instead of using points and grades as a carrot to entice students to do the work, how can we get students to see the value in their work?

Instead of spending hours grading, I’d love to see teachers invest that time into their design work. Unlike grading, a teacher’s work as the designer of learning experiences is a cognitively engaging task that demands creativity and intentionality.

When I facilitate blended learning workshops, teachers express concern about the time it takes to design student-centered learning experiences with the various models. It’s true that it takes more time to architect a student-centered lesson that invites learners to make meaning as opposed to standing at the front of the room telling students everything we know about a topic. Yet, the time we invest in our design work should free us to spend our precious class time engaging with students and supporting their progress toward learning goals.

Why Should We Talk About Doing Less in Education?

Teachers are exhausted and leaving the profession in droves. Hiring and retaining high-quality teachers will demand that schools think about how to make this work more sustainable and rewarding. Continuing to add to our teachers’ workloads will only result in high levels of teacher burnout and attrition from the profession. Instead, school leaders should be asking, what can we remove? How can we give teachers more breathing room and flexibility?

Instead of assuming that the best way to solve every problem is to add something new, it’s time to start tackling issues in education by considering what we might remove or eliminate. Subtracting might be the best solution for re-engaging our teachers and students!

4 Trends to Watch in Education

Por Catlin Tucker

Last month, I delivered a keynote on the future of education. It’s a vast topic, so I focused on four trends likely to impact our work as educators.

  1. Continued growth in blended and online learning.
  2. Districts confront record-high teacher turnover.
  3. Students continue to struggle with trauma and learning loss.
  4. Increased concerns about equity and access.

As school leaders prepare for the 2022-2023 school year, these four trends can help them identify district priorities and create a strategic plan for the year ahead.

Trend #1: Continued Growth in Blended and Online Learning

The pandemic pushed teachers and learners online out of necessity. By fall 2020, 69% of districts offered a virtual school option, up from 27% before COVID, and 30% of district leaders, administrators, and teachers expect to see significant growth in blended learning (Arnett, 2021).

Blended Learning

Some of the factors contributing to this growth include:

  • Keeping class sizes lower to limit transmission of COVID.
  • Accommodating students in quarantine.
  • Providing alternatives for immunocompromised staff and students.
  • Dealing with staff shortages.
  • Capitalizing on financial investments into devices and wifi infrastructure made during the pandemic.
  • Increasing interest in flexible, technology-enhanced instructional models.

A challenge associated with the increasing growth in blended and online learning is that survey data indicates, “Many current approaches to remote and hybrid instruction aim to replicate the conventional classroom experience online” (Arnett, 2021). However, traditional approaches to instruction fail to maximize the benefits and affordances of the online learning environment. Designing learning experiences for blended or online learning environments demands a high degree of intentionality about what students do synchronously versus asynchronously. To optimize blended learning and online learning, educators need professional development focused on designing student-centered learning experiences that blend active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline.

Trend #2: School Districts Confront Record-high Teacher Turnover

Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers due, in part, to the strain of the last three years. When surveyed, 77% of teachers report feeling somewhat or extremely exhausted. 33% of teachers say they are very likely to leave the profession in the next two years, up from 13% before the pandemic (Hanover Research, 2022). Hiring and retaining high-quality teachers will be a challenge for school districts in the upcoming year.

Reciprocal Nature of Engagement, Job Satisfaction, and Self-Efficacy

As districts grapple with high levels of teacher turnover, it is essential to understand the connection between work engagement, job satisfaction, and teacher self-efficacy (Granziera & Perera, 2019). Teachers have faced shifting teaching and learning landscapes in the last three years. They transitioned online with little warning and, in many cases, no training to prepare them for teaching online. This negatively impacted their feelings of self-efficacy or their confidence in their ability to do this work well.

The rough transition online and the challenge of engaging students learning in home environments that may not have been conducive to online learning created myriad obstacles for teachers. Student engagement and teacher engagement are reciprocal, so it is not surprising that the lack of student engagement online had a devastating impact on teacher engagement (Roth, Assor, Kanat-Maymon & Kaplan, 2007; Tucker, 2020).

When teachers finally returned to classrooms, they faced new challenges, including concurrent teaching, hybrid schedules, students re-entering schools with trauma, substitute shortages, and fears about contracting COVID. All of this made an already challenging profession more exhausting and stressful.

Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers will require that school districts compensate teachers well for this demanding work. They also need to support teachers in their continued learning and growth with high-quality professional learning opportunities that help them develop high levels of self-efficacy.

Trend #3: Students Continue to Struggle with Trauma and Learning Loss

As schools reopened, there was a focus on learning loss, and educators felt pressure to make up lost ground and get students “caught up.” Unfortunately, the pressure to address learning loss may have overshadowed the more significant issue of students returning with trauma after two years of social isolation. 49% of students reported feeling “depressed, stressed, or anxious to the point of interfering with their learning.” 71% of teachers said that student morale was lower than before the pandemic (Hanover Research, 2022).

After two years of remote learning, students needed to be reacclimated to an academic learning environment. They needed to feel connected to a supportive learning community where they felt welcomed and safe. Although social-emotional learning (SEL) has been a frequent talking point in education, it needs to be woven into the fabric of our students’ classes.

CASEL Framework

The CASEL Framework for SEL provides a concrete path for applying evidence-based SEL strategies to our students’ daily lives at school. Educators who focus on integrating SEL skills into their classes can help students manage their emotions, make responsible choices, consider the impact of their behavior on others, and develop healthy relationships. When students develop their SEL skills, they can also take a more active role in their learning, sharing the responsibility for learning with their teachers.

As we approach the 2022-2023 school year, teachers and students will benefit from a focus on SEL, not as an add-on but rather as a skill set integrated into every subject area, to create more robust learning communities and help students develop the skills necessary to thrive in schools and beyond.

Trend #4: Increased Concerns about Equity and Access

Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education, said, “While COVID-19 has worsened many inequities in our schools and communities, we know that even before the pandemic, a high-quality education was out of reach for too many of our nation’s students and families.” The pandemic exacerbated existing inequities and has had a disproportionally negative impact on students from underserved communities, including communities of color, multilingual learners, and students with disabilities. Moving forward, Cardona emphasizes the need to “create more culturally and linguistically responsive and inclusive learning environments for all students.”

In the last two years, my focus has been on helping school districts and teachers leverage Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and blended learning to create more accessible, inclusive, and equitable learning experiences for all students.

UDL and Blended Learning

UDL is a framework grounded in brain-based research and provides “concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities” (CAST, 2022).

While working with Dr. Katie Novak on our book UDL and Blended Learning, we focused on exploring the synergy between these two frameworks. We explore how blended learning models can make implementing UDL more manageable and sustainable.

Universally designed blended learning is grounded in four fundamental beliefs:

  1. Learner variability is the norm, not the exception. Students are different in terms of their skills, abilities, learning preferences, language proficiencies, backgrounds, and interests. As a result, a one-size-fits-all learning experience will never address the variability in classrooms.
  2. Teachers must design learning experiences that strive to remove barriers. Almost every instructional strategy presents obstacles for someone. For example, a student with auditory processing disorder may have difficulty taking in and remembering information presented in a mini-lesson or lecture. Students who are shy or experience social anxiety may struggle to participate in discussions. Since students struggle with different learning activities, the best way to remove barriers is to prioritize student agency, giving them meaningful choices.
  3. All students can reach firm, standards-aligned goals; however, the pathways they take to get from point A to point B may be different. Students will likely need different levels of support and guidance to make progress toward firm goals. If our goal in education is to create more equitable learning experiences, students will need different inputs (e.g., teacher time and support) to reach a particular output or learning goal. Blended learning models provide teachers with multiple structures to provide students with different pathways while freeing the teacher to work with small groups and individual students.
  4. We must strive to cultivate expert learners who are resourceful, strategic, motivated, and self-aware. These students can share the responsibility for learning with their teachers and take an active, engaged role in their learning.

The two aspects of education that will not change in the future are 1) learner variability and 2) technology. Given these realities, schools must help teachers understand how to universally design blended learning to honor learner variability and maximize the impact of technology in classrooms.

The summer is a time to reflect, refocus, and prepare for a new year. After the challenges of the last school year, it is critical that school leaders focus on preparing teachers to begin the 2022-2023 school year with the skills they need to design and facilitate equitable learning experiences that integrate SEL and leverage technology to better meet the needs of all learners.

Arnett, T. (2021). Breaking the Mold: How a global pandemic unlocks innovation in K–12 instruction. The Christensen Institute. Retrieved from

CAST. (2022). About Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). What Is the CASEL Framework? Retrieved from

Granziera, H., & Perera, H. N. (2019). Relations among teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs, engagement, and work satisfaction: A social cognitive view. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 58, 75–84. 

Hanover Research. (2022). 2022 Trends in K-12 Education. Retrieved from

Roth, G., Assor, A., Kanat-Maymon, Y., & Kaplan, H. (2007). Autonomous motivation for teaching: How self-determined teaching may lead to self-determined learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(4), 761–774.

Tucker, C. (2020). Teacher engagement in full-release blended learning courses. [Doctoral dissertation, Pepperdine University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

U.S. Department of Education. (2021). Department of Education Announces Actions to Advance Equity in Education. Retrieved from

Conducting a Retrospective of the Year

Por Catlin Tucker

A retrospective, or “look back,” is a strategy that can be used by school leaders, professional learning communities (PLCs), and teachers to engage a group in a structured reflection and brainstorming session. A retrospective can happen any time during the school year (e.g., end of a semester or unit) to encourage a reflective practice, gather feedback, and make adjustments to improve a group’s experience.

A retrospective strives to answer four questions:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What lessons did we learn?
  • What are we struggling with, confused by, or wondering about?

The goal of a retrospective is to encourage a group or team to reflect on their work, so they can create an action plan to build on their successes and implement changes for improvement.

If you are a school leader guiding your staff through a retrospective, a coach facilitating a retrospective for a PLC, or an individual teacher using this strategy with your students, you may want to use a digital tool, like Jamboard or Padlet. A virtual platform makes it possible for participants to share their reflections in a digital space where they can see and interact with each other’s ideas. If you are using a Padlet Wall, like the one pictured below, select the column feature to organize responses under each of the four questions. Once participants post their ideas to the virtual wall, they can heart or comment on each other’s virtual post-its.

Use the columns feature in Padlet for your retrospective

If you prefer Jamboard, I suggest creating a slide for each question to ensure the group’s responses to each question are organized and easy to navigate.

Create a slide for each question using Jamboard

If you prefer to make this a more tactile experience, you can segment a whiteboard into four sections or post each of the four questions in each of the four corners of a room. Then participants can capture their reflections on actual post-it notes and add them to the board or wall.

Once you’ve decided on the strategy you will use to facilitate your retrospective, you will want to follow the steps below to maximize the effectiveness of this activity.

5 Steps to Facilitate a Retrospective with Your Team

Step 1
Reflect & Post
Review the four questions with your group of teachers or students and give them time to reflect on the year and capture their thoughts on digital or physical post-it notes. Ask the members of your group to post their responses to each question.
Step 2
Silent Gallery Walk
Once everyone has posted their thoughts, give the group time to do a silent gallery walk of the responses to see what other members of the group had to say in response to each question.
Step 3
Review & Cluster
As the facilitator, you will want to identify ideas that were repeated by multiple people to identify trends in the responses and cluster similar responses together.
Step 4
Discuss & Brainstorm
Once you have reviewed the responses with the group and clustered the similar responses, group participants into smaller groups of 3-5 individuals. That way, they can engage in conversation and begin to identify the most important items from the board to create an action plan for next year. Each group should collaborate to identify:
✨3 things that are working well that the staff or class would like to see continue.
✨3 things that are not working that need to be reimagined.
✨3 struggles, questions, or wonderings they want to explore further.
Step 5
Create an Action Plan
Ask each group to spend time discussing and brainstorming solutions they think can help the group reimagine the three things that are not working. Encourage each group to collaborate to come up with creative solutions!

As groups discuss the aspects of their work or their experience that did not go well, encourage them to capture their ideas on an action plan document, like the one pictured below. Ask them to brainstorm ways they think this thing could be reimaged and challenge them to identify what would be needed to make those changes (e.g., resources, a shift in mindset) and how they would measure success as this change is implemented.

Click to copy

The beauty of this final step is that the school leader, coach, or teacher facilitating the retrospective can tap into the collective intelligence of the group to generate ideas for how to improve everyone’s experience moving forward. The ideas generated during the retrospective can be captured, saved, and then referenced at the end of summer as school leaders, coaches, and teachers prepare for a new school year!

✨Calling all coaches! ✨

Registration is open now!

Join the summer cohort of my blended learning coaching course!

“This was an excellent learning experience for me. As a coach and as a PD leader, I took away many concrete examples that I can use with my staff.”

Who is this course for?

  • Instructional coaches
  • Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs)
  • Administrators who provide feedback
  • Teacher leaders and teacher mentors

What can you expect from this course?

  • Enjoy 10 self-paced online modules! Learn whenever or wherever you want this summer.
  • Self-pace through video instruction on coaching strategies and blended learning models.
  • Explore a blended learning coaching framework.
  • Access strategies, templates, and resources to support implementation.
  • Submit your model lessons for personalized feedback from Dr. Tucker.
  • Participate in two 2-hour synchronous sessions facilitated by Dr. Tucker.
  • Join a Google Classroom where you can participate in online discussions with coaches all over the world!
  • Earn a certificate of completion.

Station Rotation Model Mini-Course Now Available!

Por Catlin Tucker

This school year has been intense! Teachers are eager to rest, recharge, and hit the reset button! Many teachers use the summer break to take stock of the year and reflect on what they want to do differently in the year ahead.

As teachers reflect on this challenging year, it’s important to remember why many of us entered this profession in the first place. We wanted to spark a life-long love of learning in our students. We imagined energetic classrooms full of curious students eager to learn. As I discovered early in my career, that reality is hard to manifest in a teacher-led classroom where students have little control over their experience. Students are more likely to be motivated to learn if they enjoy higher levels of autonomy and agency!

As teachers plan for the next school year, I’d love for them to add an instructional model to their teaching tool belts that allows them to:

  1. Facilitate differentiated small group instruction.
  2. Prioritize student agency.
  3. Integrate technology to drive critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity!

That’s why I am excited to announce the release of my first mini-course focused on the station rotation model!

This mini-course has 11 video lessons complete with templates, resources, and “your turn” application activities to help participants put what they are learning into practice. The goal is for participants to leave the course with a high-quality station rotation lesson they can use immediately.

The course will also provide information on classroom management, grouping strategies, and tips for maximizing the success of the station rotation model. It will also address concerns about large class sizes and short class periods! Check out the curriculum below!

If you want to purchase this mini-course for multiple teachers on your campus to support self-paced online learning this summer, fill out this form for a group rate! You’ll be contacted directly to coordinate a bulk purchase of licenses.

Want to learn more about the station rotation model? Check out this blog.

Side-by-Side Assessments: Grading With Students

Por Catlin Tucker

After years of coaching and working with teachers, there are two things I consistently encounter that cause imbalance in the classroom and beyond.

  1. First, teachers spend significant time at the front of the room talking. The more time teachers spend at the front of the room transferring information and orchestrating the lesson, the less time they have to work alongside students.
  2. Traditional grading practices rob teachers of the time they need to design dynamic lessons and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

#1 Teacher Talk is a Barrier to Connection

In previous posts, I’ve focused on this first point by encouraging teachers to use blended learning models and strategies to free themselves from the front of the room. When designing lessons where teachers want to transfer information via a mini-lesson or lecture, I encourage them to ask themselves, “Am I going to say the same thing to everyone?”

  • If the answer is “yes,” they should make a video and allow students to self-pace through that instruction. When teachers use video to transfer information, they shift control over the experience to the learner. Students can pause, rewind, and rewatch.
  • If the answer is “no,” and the teacher plans to differentiate instruction, that can happen in small groups as part of a station rotation lesson.

The goal is to shift the transfer of information online using video and other resources (e.g., podcasts, curated online resources) and free the teacher to spend more time facilitating learning. If teachers are not trapped at the front of the room during the lesson, there are myriad ways they can use that time.

#2 Traditional Grading Practices are Exhausting and Unsustainable

This brings me to the second thing I’ve learned as a coach. Too many teachers are grading everything. They worry that if they do not grade everything, students will not do the work. This approach to grading creates massive amounts of work for the teacher, who may have anywhere from 30-170 students.

I have shared the flowchart below before, but it is the strategy I used as a teacher and now use as a coach to rethink how teachers use their finite time and energy.

I want to focus on that last leg in the flowchart. Suppose the work is an assessment or finished product, like an essay, performance task, or project. In that case, the teachers should focus their energy on grading that finished piece with a standards-aligned rubric, but they should not spend hours writing comments, suggestions, and corrections on that finished piece. Teachers should give feedback when students are working on the assignment, not at the end of the process when they will not act on the feedback.

Some teachers balk at the suggestion of using a rubric and not writing comments because that isn’t how they’ve approached grading in the past. Even though most teachers dislike grading, many are hesitant to explore alternatives to their current approach. Despite the initial hesitation, the teachers I’ve coached quickly realize there is a more effective and sustainable way to grade: side-by-side assessments.

Side-by-side Assessments

I began using side-by-side assessments after reading a quote by Margaret Heritage, who said “the word ‘assessment’ comes from the Latin verb ‘assidere,’ meaning ‘to sit with.’ This word origin implies that in assessment the teacher sits with the learner, and assessment is something teachers do with and for students rather than to students.”

I remember having an “ah-ha” moment when I read this. It made absolute sense. Why was I grading at home in isolation? If the grades were worthy of going in the grade book, why wouldn’t I carve out time in class to facilitate side-by-side assessments so students could understand why they were getting the grades they were getting? I also saw an opportunity to use grading as a strategy to develop my relationships with students and to lighten my load.

Setting Up for Side-by-side Assessments

As with most things in education, preparation is key to implementing the side-by-side assessment strategy. You will feel more prepared if you move through the following steps:

  • Step 1: Identify an assignment or assessment that would benefit from a side-by-side assessment. Use the flowchart above to be strategic about what you grade.
    • Note: Teachers should reserve this strategy for large-scale assessments and finished products. If you feel bogged down by smaller assignments that fall into the “practice and review” category, engage your students in self-assessment. They (not you) should think critically about their work, identify errors and areas of strength, and collaborate with classmates to correct their assignments.
  • Step 2: Develop a standards-aligned rubric with 2-3 criteria that you can share with students. A simple standards-aligned rubric with a limited number of criteria will make side-by-side assessments manageable for you time-wise, and it is less overwhelming for students.
  • Step 3: Design a lesson that does not require you to facilitate the learning experience actively. You can use a choice board, choose your learning path adventure, playlist, hyperdoc, or 5Es student-centered inquiry.
  • Step 4: Set up a space in your classroom where you can meet with individual students for side-by-side assessments while also seeing the rest of the students at work.
    • Note: If you are working online with students, host individual conferencing sessions or open a breakout room to facilitate these conversations.
  • Step 5: Decide on a “target time” for each side-by-side assessment to ensure you get through them all in the time you’ve allotted. Remember, these do not need to happen in a single class period and may extend over multiple periods.

Facilitating Side-by-side Assessments

When it comes time to facilitate the side-by-side assessments, I encourage you to do the following:

  • Begin the class by explaining the purpose or value of this approach to grading. Why do you think this approach to grading will help students?
  • Explain the routine and ensure students know what they need to bring with them when you call them up for their side-by-side assessment.
  • Transition students into the self-paced, student-centered lesson.
  • Set your timer at the start of each side-by-side assessment.
  • Conduct a think-aloud as you review the students’ work.
    • What are you noticing?
    • What aspects of the assignment are particularly strong?
    • What is absent or in need of development?
  • Circle language on the rubric that aligns with what you are seeing in the student’s work.
  • Finish by asking the student if they have any questions.

You may find students will ask for support or additional instruction. In that case, add their name and request to a list. These are assessment sessions, not instruction sessions. You won’t have time to provide personalized instruction given the limited time you will have with each student, but you can document those requests. Then, you can reference those notes to design follow-up lessons that aim to provide targeted instruction and support to close gaps or address student concerns.

As teachers prepare for the final weeks of the school year, this can be a powerful way to approach grading final projects and authentic assessments. Side-by-side assessments turn grading into an opportunity to connect with learners and create transparency around the grading process, which often feels opaque from a student’s perspective. It can also eliminate the need for teachers to spend the better part of the first week of summer break grading assessments and projects. And as everyone in education can agree, teachers need their break this year to rest, recharge, and push the reset button!

For a deeper dive

Read more about side-by-side assessments and other strategies designed to create more balance in your work!

Replacing Exams with Performance Tasks

Por Catlin Tucker

End-of-the-year assessments can be anxiety-producing events for students. These final assessments attempt to cover massive amounts of information and do not allow students the opportunity to communicate what they know in a way that works for them.

Unlike a traditional exam where questions typically have one correct answer, performance tasks are complex, multifaceted, and open-ended, yielding a variety of possible outcomes or products. They can also allow students to demonstrate their learning in creative, engaging ways that feel relevant to their lives.

Performance tasks ask students to apply their learning in dynamic ways. Teachers can design performance tasks to allow for a high degree of student agency. Student agency refers to the students’ ability to make key decisions about their learning. When I work with teachers, I encourage them to consider the following ways to build student agency into a performance task.

What: The Topic or Subject Provide students with different scenarios to choose from or allow them to select an aspect of a larger topic or subject to focus on for their performance task
How: The Process Invite students to make process decisions about how they work through the performance task (e.g., steps they move through, materials they use, sources they access for information)
Why: The Product Make sure students understand the “why,” or the purpose, of the performance task and allow them to decide what they want to create to demonstrate and share their learning

Using a simple “would you rather” approach to the design of your performance tasks can provide students with meaningful choices that can help them feel more confident completing the task. Teachers may present two different scenarios from which students choose. For example, a math teacher can offer two different real-world math challenges, while a science teacher might present two separate scientific issues.

Once students have selected the scenario, challenge, or issue, they will feel more confident sharing their learning if they get to decide what they create or produce to demonstrate their learning. Below are some examples of the products you can encourage students to create!

#1 Infographics

Infographics are a visual display of information that rely on images, charts, and graphics to communicate a message. They are ideal for any performance task that requires students to conduct research, field work, or experiments. Students can create an infographic using a digital tool or offline using poster paper and colored pens.

#2 Podcasts

Podcasts are sharable audio files. Podcasts have exploded in popularity in the last decade and provide an avenue for students to craft a compelling story designed to communicate information. Students can produce and publish a podcast exploring a topic, issue, event, or person they have spent time learning about or investigating. Podcasts can range from 10-60 minutes in length and require a fair amount of preparation to be compelling.

#3 Websites

Websites are a dynamic way to display a variety of media. Students can build a digital portfolio of their work through a performance task or create an informative website pulling what they learned into a resource for an authentic audience.

#4 TED-style Talks

TED Talks are recorded speeches that run 18 minutes or less. TED Talks are designed to spread powerful, thought-provoking ideas. Students can focus their TED-style talks on raising awareness about a complex concept, idea, problem, or issue. They require detailed preparation as students write a script and design a compelling visual in the form of a multimedia slide show to accompany their talks. Then they record their speeches to share with the class or a larger online audience by uploading those talks to YouTube.

#5 Children’s Book

Children’s books are notorious for unpacking complex ideas and communicating profound messages through the use of simple language and captivating images. When students write a children’s book to demonstrate their learning, they must use language and drawings effectively to make what they learned through the completion of a performance task accessible for a younger audience. This requires that they have a strong understanding of the concept, idea, problem, or issue.

Assessing Performance Tasks

When teachers build student agency into a performance task that serves as an assessment, students may produce various artifacts to demonstrate their learning. They will express and communicate what they know or can do in different ways. The variety of products they create causes many teachers to question how they should assess this work since it takes many forms. However, if teachers are clear on the standards, skills, and/or content knowledge they are assessing, then the actual product students create should not matter. Teachers are not assessing the product. They are assessing what the product reveals about the students’ knowledge and/or skill set.

For example, I was coaching a government teacher who wanted to provide students with a choice board of performance tasks to choose from for their final exam. She was clear that she wanted to assess the following:

  • Analysis and depth of ideas
  • Quality of support and evidence
  • Clarity of ideas and organization

So, it did not matter whether the students chose to assume the persona of a newscaster reporting on a historical event, create a political cartoon paired with a detailed explanation of the symbolism and meaning of the cartoon, or write an argumentative essay delving into a historical issue, she was going to use the same rubric to assess all of the finished products. Below is the rubric we created for her performance task assessment. To read more about designing standards-aligned rubrics to assess a variety of products, check out this blog.

Since different students will have different strengths and preferences, it is important to give the a choice about what they create. However, if providing a variety of options in a choice board format feels overwhelming, teachers can use the “would you rather” design to make prioritizing student agency feel sustainable.

For more on making student agency sustainable, check out this mini-episode of my podcast, The Balance.

✨Online Professional Learning✨

Wish you could relax in your PJs with a hot cup of coffee while you pursue your learning this summer? You decide when, where, and how much time you spend learning with my online courses.

School leaders looking to support teachers in self-paced, online learning focused on blended learning models can request a quote for bulk licenses of my course to provide teachers with flexible learning opportunities this spring and summer!

3 Strategies That Position Students to Take Responsibility for Their Progress and Behavior

Por Catlin Tucker

The final stretch of the school year between spring break and the last day of class presents unique challenges. The sunshine and spring weather impacts the students’ ability to focus. Teachers and students are exhausted and ready for a break. Despite the distractions of springtime and the general fatigue we all experience this time of year, teachers know it is critical for students to push themselves to finish the year strong in these final weeks. So, how can we keep students engaged, working hard, and following expectations for behavior as the end of the school year approaches?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. I believe a focus on metacognitive skill-building can be a powerful way to combat student apathy. We need to help students take an active role in thinking about their learning. They need to take responsibility for their actions, work, and behavior. Below are some strategies I encouraged my graduate students to explore, modify, and use with their students.

#1 Short-term Goal Setting

As the end of the year approaches, asking students to set short-term goals can help them identify things they care about achieving personally, academically, and behaviorally. Teachers can begin the week with a short-term goal-setting exercise and then end the week by asking students to revisit those short-term goals to reflect on the progress they’ve made working towards them.

In the mad dash to finish the school year, it is easy for students to feel overwhelmed by the volume of work they have to do. Students are likely juggling various performance tasks and final projects for their classes while preparing for final exams and end-of-the-year assessments. Goal setting can help them frame and focus their energy and effort in directions that make this work more manageable.

#2 Safe Space Reflection Form

Students make mistakes. Missteps in a classroom happen. Teachers can handle these moments to position the learner to pause and reflect on what happened, why it happened, and how it impacted other people in the class. Instead of simply receiving a consequence, students should have to engage in a reflective practice so they understand themselves and provide their teachers with a more accurate understanding of what happened and why it happened. Often negative behaviors in a class have less to do with what is happening in the room and more to do with students’ lives beyond the classroom.

Below is a simple safe space reflection form that teachers can copy, modify, and use to encourage a reflective practice in moments when a student violates an established expectation for behavior. Read this blog for more on classroom management and creating a positive and productive learning community.

#3 Weekly Family Updates

Keeping families informed about their student’s progress in a class is a herculean effort that falls almost exclusively on the teacher. As the end of the school year approaches, we do not want families to be surprised by their student’s grades in a class.

One way to keep families informed and provide a powerful incentive for students to maintain focus is to dedicate class time each week to having students write their families an update on their progress. Depending on the age of the students, this update can take the form of an email, an audio recording, or a shared digital slide.

Below is an example of an email template or audio script.

Hello [name of the person receiving the email or audio update],

In the last two weeks, my high has been [insert a description of an assignment, task, behavior, interaction, routine, or self-management skill that reflects significant improvement or development]. This high makes me feel [insert an explanation of the impact]. 

A low, or an area where I feel like I need to spend more time growing and developing, is [insert a description of an assignment, task, behavior, interaction, routine, or self-management skill that needs additional work, practice, or development]. To continue making progress in this area, I will need to [action plan for continued improvement and/or request support].

If you have any questions or comments, please [insert directions for how parents can reply]. 


[your name]

Alternatively, teachers can ask students to complete a digital slide and share it with parents giving them viewing or commenting access.

These routines shift the responsibility of thinking about academic performance and behavior from teachers to students. It is essential that students identify goals they care about, reflect on missteps in the classroom, and communicate regularly with their families about their progress. These routines can help them assume a higher degree of accountability for their academic performance and behavior in the final weeks of the school year.

Choose Your READING Path Adventure

Por Catlin Tucker

“Why do we have to read so much in here?” I have fielded this question from students several times over the years. By the time my students reached high school, many were disillusioned with reading. They found it tedious, challenging, or boring. I understand why so many students feel this way, given that reading is often a one-size-fits-all experience. Teachers select a text or pull from an established curriculum and require that all students read the same text at the same pace. Teachers often ask them to process the text and share their learning in the same way as well. Teachers may lead the entire class through a guided reading or ask students to read the text independently in silence or for homework.

This one-size-fits-all approach to reading does not acknowledge or address learner variability. Students may be in very different places in their reading and comprehension skills. A diverse class of learners is also likely to enjoy a wide range of texts on various topics. Some students might enjoy reading informational texts on supercars or video games, while others might enjoy reading about space or sports. It’s next to impossible to interest all students with the same text, be it fiction or nonfiction. So, how do we get more students to read? How do we design reading experiences that entice learners to wrestle with complex texts and make meaning on their own? The answer…give them agency and meaningful choices!

The more autonomy and agency a person enjoys, the more likely they will be motivated to complete a task. Competence also plays a role in motivation. If students feel confident in their ability to complete a particular task or learning activity, that positively impacts their motivation. One way teachers can help students develop a higher level of competence is to allow them to make process decisions. How do they want to engage with a text? How would they like to make meaning and share what they learned?

I’ve written about the choose your learning path adventure format before, and the more I play with this idea, the more applications I can imagine. Let’s explore what a choose your reading path adventure could look like!

Design a Choose Your Reading Path Adventure

Step 1: Identify Target Reading Standards and Skills

When I work with teachers to architect learning experiences, the first step is to identify the target standards or skills we will use to frame and focus our design work. A teacher might select the following standards to focus on for this reading adventure.

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and make logical inferences; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Once we have identified the target standards and skills, we craft clear, student-friendly learning objectives we can share with students. For example, an objective might read, students will be able to identify the main idea in a text and use details from the text to explain how that main idea develops. The goal of the learning objective is to make the desired result or destination clear. What is it that students are working toward? What do we want them to know, understand, or be able to do at the end of this experience?

Step 2: Select a Collection of Texts for Students to Choose From

When we have clarity about the desired results of the choose your reading path adventure, it’s time to select texts. Not all students enjoy reading the same text, so we select a range of texts from which students can choose. The texts can all be the same type of text, informational or literary, depending on the class or the target standards. However, it is crucial to choose informational texts that focus on various topics or literary texts in different genres to appeal to readers with different interests and reading preferences. If you have access to a digital repository of texts, you may also consider giving students the opportunity to explore the collection and choose the text they are most interested in reading.

Step 3: Provide a Range of Strategies They Can Use to Engage with the Text and Make Meaning

For years, I made all of my students annotate the texts they read in my class to ensure they were actively engaging with those texts. When I asked students for feedback on the class, they made it clear that they did not enjoy annotating. Even though annotating worked well for me as a reader, I had to acknowledge that it might not be the best strategy for all readers to engage with a text. So, I started giving students options for how to engage with texts, ranging from creating concept maps to completing thinking routines to drawing sketchnotes. As soon as I allowed students to decide how they wanted to engage with the texts we read, the number of students reading actively increased significantly.

Once students have engaged actively with a text, they need time to make meaning. In a traditional teacher-led learning environment, this may take the form of a whole-class discussion or a worksheet with questions about the text. Both of these strategies are teacher-led, teacher-paced, and present barriers for some learners. Students are more likely to experience higher levels of competence if they select the strategy they want to use to make sense of the text they read. Some students might enjoy engaging in a small group discussion while others may prefer to create a sketchnote, visually displaying the big ideas in the text.

Step 4: Provide Multiple Means to Allow Students to Share Their Learning

We know not all students will effectively communicate what they learned in the same way, so we want to provide them with multiple means for sharing their learning. Some students might enjoy writing, while others prefer to record a video explanation or create a graphic. Allowing students to decide how they want to share what they learned from the reading is more likely to yield stronger products.

Step 5: Build The Choose Your Reading Path Adventure

I recommend using a choice board format or a digital slide deck to build a choose your reading path adventure for students. A choice board, like the one pictured below, may be a familiar and easy-to-navigate option for those just getting started.

A digital slide deck has the advantage of allowing teachers to insert video directions, instruction, or models into each slide to guide students through the process. This may make it easier for younger students or those who need more embedded support to navigate the various steps of their choose your reading path adventure.

Ultimately, a choose your reading path adventure provides students with agency and meaningful choices throughout a reading experience. They decide what they read, how to engage with that text and make meaning, and how to share what they learned. Teachers can also invite students to decide whether they want to work alone or partner with another student who has selected the same text.

As students self-pace through a reading path adventure, teachers can work with an individual or a small group of students. They can spend this time providing differentiated or personalized instruction on specific reading comprehension strategies, engaging students in conversations about their texts, provide feedback on an assignment in progress, or facilitating conferences about individual student progress. The goal is to lean on the choose your reading path adventure to create time and space to work directly with students to differentiate and personalize their experiences.

Classroom Management: Creating a Positive and Productive Learning Community

Por Catlin Tucker

“Are we going to talk about classroom management?” Several of my graduate students asked this question last week as we prepared to enter the final month of our methods course. It was clear that as they approached the end of their work in the Masters in the Arts of Teaching program that they felt unprepared for this aspect of teaching. I understand the anxiety. It is hard to teach if the class is acting out and exhibiting distracting behaviors or jeopardizing the safe space learners need to take academic risks.

I am not a fan of the idea that teachers must manage students; instead, I’d like to focus on supporting students in learning how to manage themselves by developing their self-regulation skills. However, even if the goal is to help students regulate their own behavior and emotions, the teacher plays an essential role in that process.

Marzano and Marzano (2003) wrote an article titled “The Key to Classroom Management” that asserts “the quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management.” The article explores three specific teacher behaviors that lead to the most effective teacher-student relationships, thus resulting in stronger classroom management.

  1. The teacher’s ability to provide “strong guidance regarding both academics and student behavior.”
  2. The teacher’s ability to demonstrate concern for students’ needs and to partner with students in the learning process.
  3. The teacher’s ability to be aware of high-needs students and respond appropriately, adjusting their responses based on the student.

Let’s break these down and explore what these teacher behaviors look like in practice.

Provide Strong Guidance Regarding Behavior

First, teachers must establish clear expectations for behavior. I believe this is best done by engaging the class in co-constructing agreements. Students have valuable prior knowledge on this topic they can draw from. They know what makes them feel safe and supported in learning environments. They also know what makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable taking academic risks in a classroom. So, teachers can ask their students to draw on their prior experiences in school to compile a list of behaviors and norms they believe will make the classroom community feel safe, supportive, and productive.

Step 1: Reflect on Past Experiences
Ask students to describe learning environments that have made them feel safe sharing their ideas, engaging with classmates, and taking risks. What was it about those classes or spaces that made them feel comfortable? Then, ask them to describe a moment in school when they did not feel comfortable sharing their ideas, engaging with classmates, or taking risks. What has happened in those moments that made them feel unsafe or uncomfortable?

Teachers can give students multiple means to capture their reflections to remove barriers. Some students may prefer to reflect in writing, while others might like to record a video or draw a concept map or sketchnote.

Step 2: Collaborate to Identify Key Norms and Behaviors

  • Create small groups of students.
  • Give them time to share and discuss their past experiences.
  • Encourage them to identify three norms or behaviors they think are critical to creating and maintaining a safe learning environment.
  • Ask them to write their norms or behaviors on a paper or post them to a virtual post-it note wall, like Jamboard or Padlet, and have one student ready to share their norms with the class.

Step 3: Create a Class Set of Agreements

  • Ask one person to share their group’s three norms and briefly explain why these norms should be added to a class set of agreements.
  • Once all norms have been shared, give students time to review them (e.g., silent gallery walk). If they captured their norms on poster paper or post-it notes, ask them to put dots on the five norms they think are most important. If they posted their norms online, ask them to heart or post a comment to the norms they want to select. Creating a heat map with dots, hearts, or comments helps the learning community identify the norms they value most.
  • Compile the top 10 norms into a class contract of agreements for students and parents to read and sign.

Teachers may want to facilitate this process for general class norms and specific norms for activities like discussion, collaboration, transitions, and independent work.

Create a Clear Path of Consequences

Once the class community has established agreements to guide their interactions and behaviors, teachers should establish a clear path of consequences. The more transparency teachers create around what will happen if a student is disruptive or violates a class agreement for behavior, the less likely a consequence will result in a power struggle in the classroom.

When working with a class that was about to begin using the station rotation model, I engaged the group in the activity above to identify behaviors they thought would make rotations runs smoothly. Then I asked groups of students to discuss a series of consequences they thought were appropriate for disruptions or disrespectful behavior during the rotation. The series of consequences pictured below is what they came up with as a class.

  • First disruption: The student receives a verbal warning asking them to correct the behavior and stating how that behavior is negatively impacting the learning environment.
  • Second disruption: The student moves to a “floater desk” apart from a group to work on their own for the remainder of the class.
  • Third disruption: The student has a conversation with the teacher about the behavior and completes a safe space reflection about what led to the behavior and how they can avoid it in the future.
  • Fourth disruption: The student contacts their parent or guardian by email or phone to explain the situation.

Another activity I like to facilitate is “What’s the consequence?” It asks students to identify specific missteps that might occur in a specific situation, like online discussions or collaborative group work. I ask them to work in groups to describe possible missteps or negative behaviors. Then they switch documents with another group and discuss what they believe would be appropriate consequences for each misstep.

This activity aims to raise awareness about specific behaviors that are not productive or might make other students feel uncomfortable engaging with each other. Teachers can decide if they want to pull from this activity to create consequences for missteps during a particular learning activity, like discussion or group work.

Be Assertive and Consistent

Engaging the group in the co-construction of class agreements and a path of consequences are important steps in cultivating a supportive and positive learning community, but missteps will happen. Students are learning to regulate their behavior and their emotions. Making mistakes is a natural part of that process. So, teachers will need to navigate those situations without damaging their relationships with learners. Teachers must also keep in mind that they will have high-need students who may require more delicate interventions. For example, I had a student with an emotional disturbance IEP and working with him in moments when he violated a class agreement required more fitness.

Below are some tips to keep in mind when managing these moments:

  • Do not ignore bad behavior.
  • Use physical proximity and eye contact to signal that behavior is not okay.
  • Be consistent with consequences.
  • Don’t talk over students.
  • Ensure the interventions are less disruptive than the behavior you are trying to correct.
  • Avoid public power struggles by pulling students aside to discuss a distracting or negative behavior.
  • Be respectful and clear about the why. Why is this behavior unacceptable? How is it negatively impacting the learning community?
  • Engage parents or guardians if negative or distracting behaviors continue.

Classroom management presents an opportunity to engage the class community in conversations that help them develop a higher level of awareness about their behavior and what is expected of them in an academic setting. If teachers view their students as partners and engage them in defining class agreements and consequences, students are more likely to comply with the expectations because they have played a role in articulating them.

Classroom management can feel tricky to tackle as a new teacher, or even for many established teachers. It’s tempting to jump into “covering curriculum” at the start of the year instead of laying a firm foundation for what is expected as the class community engages with each other to make meaning and collaborate around shared tasks. This foundation takes time to build, but it pays dividends as students work to make meaning and collaborate around shared tasks. The more safe, supportive, and positive the learning environment, the more likely students are to take risks and authentically engage with each other.

Balance Instruction and Feedback with Blended Learning

Por Catlin Tucker

Teachers have three primary roles – designer, instructor, and facilitator. When I facilitate blended learning workshops, I ask participants to think about these three roles and identify the role they spend the most time and energy in. The responses always yield the same results. Most teachers dedicate significant time and energy to their instructor role, explaining complex concepts and processes and modeling specific strategies and skills.

A teacher’s role as the instructor is a valuable aspect of their work; however, it can consume so much class time that teachers neglect their role as facilitators supporting students as they work. I would like to see teachers balance the time they spend on instruction with the time they spend facilitating learning and providing feedback as students attempt to do something with that instruction. It is in the moments when students are practicing and applying that they encounter obstacles, have questions, and need additional support.

Hattie’s and Timperley’s (2007) research on feedback identified it as having a significant impact on student achievement and learning. Despite a growing body of research on the power of feedback, it is easy to neglect in classrooms because teachers feel pressure to cover content. This pressure results in teachers spending large chunks of time at the front of a classroom talking instead of working alongside students.

The challenge for teachers is figuring out how to create the time and space necessary to prioritize feedback. Blended learning can help!

First, we have to deal with the reality that teachers spend a lot of time at the front of the room talking. How can we leverage blended learning to be more strategic about the form instruction takes in classrooms? I encourage teachers to consider the following question.

The Flipped Classroom Model: Using Video Strategically

If teachers plan to say the same thing the same way, demonstrate the same process, or provide the same model for all students, I encourage them to use the flipped classroom model and make a video. That way, students can control the pace they consume and process that instruction. They can pause, rewind, and rewatch a recorded explanation or model.

A video can also make instruction more accessible. Instead of following along from the back of the classroom where it might be challenging to see what is projected on the front board, students have the information close up. Adding closed captioning to videos can remove barriers and boost comprehension. If students are viewing a video on YouTube, they can adjust the speed of the video to make it easier to follow along.

The Station Rotation Model: Providing Differentiated Direct Instruction

Effective use of differentiated instruction “has been proven to successfully promote the equity dimension of instructional effectiveness by providing all students with the opportunity to improve their achievement levels” (Valiandes, 2015). If teachers plan to differentiate their instruction to meet the specific needs of a group of students, I recommend using the station rotation model to work directly with small groups of students.

The station rotation model moves students through a series of stations: teacher-led, online, and offline. This small group dynamic makes it possible for teachers to provide specific supports and scaffolds to aid comprehension and focus on texts, problems, or examples within each group’s zone of possibility.

Embracing Our Facilitation Role & Prioritizing Feedback with Blended Learning

A more strategic approach to instruction frees teachers to invest more time and energy in their role as facilitators of learning. I often compare the teacher’s role facilitating learning to the work of a coach. Coaches watch players as they practice and provide specific, actionable feedback to support their development. In the same way, teachers should dedicate the same time and attention to feedback as they do to instruction. We can spend all day telling students how to do something, like write a thesis statement, solve a type of problem, or analyze a primary source. However, when students attempt to apply what they are learning, they need support in the form of feedback.

Dedicating class time to feedback demands that teachers design lessons that do not rely on them to deliver instruction live or orchestrate the entire learning experience. My favorite blended learning models for providing real-time feedback are the station rotation and the playlist models.

In a station rotation, the teacher-led station is devoted to giving focused feedback on a specific element of the students’ work. The teacher may jump in and out of digital documents leaving comments, suggestions, and linking students to additional resources to help them develop and improve their work. Alternatively, the teacher can carousel around the group if students are working offline, providing written or verbal feedback.

If teachers use the playlist model to allow students to self-pace through a series of learning activities designed to move them toward a clear objective, they can build “teacher time” into the playlist. When students reach a “teacher time” block on their playlist, they meet with the teacher to receive feedback on their work and discuss their progress on the playlist. During these one-on-one sessions, the teacher can personalize the playlist, making the necessary adjustments to ensure the student continues making progress toward learning objectives.

Not only does dedicating time to giving students feedback improve learning outcomes, but it provides valuable insight into student progress and can result in stronger teacher-learner relationships. When teachers build time into class to provide feedback, they better understand where each student is in their journey toward mastering skills and understanding concepts. This understanding of individual student progress makes it easier to differentiate instruction, supports and scaffolds, time on task, and the academic rigor and complexity of tasks to ensure all students continue making progress. Ultimately, feedback is how students feel seen and supported in a class. As a result, dedicating time to feedback can help teachers develop stronger relationships with their students.

Hattie, J., and Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Rev. Educ. Res. 77, 81–112. doi: 10.3102/003465430298487

Valiandes, S. (2015). Evaluating the impact of differentiated instruction on literacy and reading in mixed ability classrooms: Quality and equity dimensions of education effectiveness. Studies in Educational Evaluation45, 17-26.

Want to learn more about blended learning and the station rotation model? Check out my online, self-paced courses–Getting Started with Blended Learning and Advancing with Blended Learning. School leaders looking to support teachers in self-paced, online learning focused on blended learning models can request a quote for bulk licenses of my course to provide teachers with flexible learning opportunities this spring and summer!