Building Learners: The Pieces and Parts (Part 2 of 2)

Last week’s Part 1 post: Purposeful Instruction: Creating Conditions for Biggest Impact On Growing Readers

This week is Part 2: The Pieces and Parts: Thoughtful, Effective, and Efficient Planning

Community ConversationSo how can teachers purposefully plan to help students make meaning, get the biggest “bang for their buck”, while working towards an approach that encompasses all mentioned above?  Here are some tips to consider.

Start with the students, not the standards.  

  • Analyze student work and anecdotal notes from observations and conversations and decide what students need next and what part of the framework would scaffold their thinking the best to maximize student learning with the least amount of support.  
  • When we focus on the students first, we make more meaningful connections to the standards for the students — We will in fact personalize learning.  

Plan with the end in mind.  

  • Share those learning outcomes with the students so they are aware of the expectations.  They need to be a part of the goal setting process.  
  • Make the work purposeful and authentic, and connect with learners outside of your classroom.  Make sure students are aware of your purpose, this will inspire and engage.
  • There are so many variables to consider, and we often rely on the chance that the learning experiences we have created for our students will work the way we intended.  However, consider what Pasteur said: “Chance favors only the prepared mind”.  When we have planned with depth and breadth around a theme or topic, we will be more able to nimbly shift our feedback in a way that offers continuous instructional support that is on the cutting edge of each student’s learning.  

Take learning and meaning deeper.

  • Consider using what Nell Duke calls “conceptually coherent text sets” for read aloud, shared reading, and guided reading to take students students deeper into a content area or topic and enrich the literacy experience.  
  • Some books within the set should be outside of what we would normally select as an instructional level for the students.  By engaging in the text set, students can navigate through more challenging texts because of an ongoing understanding of the content, exposing students to such aspects new writing structures and elaborations on a topic.  
  • Fountas and Pinnell offer a free comprehensive resource of themed texts sets across the school year for each grade level here.

Give specific feedback to students.

  • Be explicit so students know what steps they need to take in order to be successful.  Give them the chance to do so.
  • A number, score or grade doesn’t mean much on its own when trying to move students forward.  All students see is a grade and then build irrational walls that block their own progress.  Instead, put the focus of assessment feedback on the “next steps” for learning.

Pull a common thread through your instruction so students can make connections across content/disciplines.

  • Connect the focus of your reading or writing workshops to all areas of the Literacy Framework to help students make connections and transfer knowledge from one context to another. Pulling a common thread through instruction has the potential to lessen the amount of planning we need to do because we are going deeper with one theme or topic.
  • Connecting the thread to all levels of support are critical to effective intervention.  Without this connection, intervention supports end up being a fruitless exercise for both the student and the teacher. Communicate regularly with the other teachers who support students in your classroom.  Share teaching points and thought about instructional next steps.
Carrie Higginbotham is currently an instructional coach at Hilliard Crossing Elementary.  She is currently in her 14th year of teaching.  Her passions include literacy, creativity, mathematics, and learning in general.



Herb Higginbotham:  I am the principal of Alton Darby Elementary in Hilliard, Ohio.
I am in my 10th year of teaching, and I love working with kids of all ages. I am passionate about innovative learning, technology, and helping students understand how they learn best as they work to achieve their learning goals. I believe the key to creating successful educational experiences is to always focus on what is best for kids.