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Structures for Teaching and Learning in High School and Middle School

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So, you want to become a high school or middle school teacher. You may love French, physics, mathematics, language arts, social studies... But whatever the subject, you want to pass on your love and passion to young people. Perhaps you even see yourself being a change agent, transforming adolescent lives through your classroom practice. But how? This book will show you structures for doing the work of teaching (the work of knowing, planning, teaching, assessing, and reflecting) in a powerful and transforming way. We strive not to simply tell about different ways to teach in high school and middle school, but to illustrate the journey of teaching and learning through examples, case studies, interviews, and artifacts taken from real classrooms.

Critically, our stories are told by authors who are themselves in the process of becoming teachers. This book is specifically designed for those who are, or will soon be, placed in student-teaching or practicum settings under the "live" supervision of mentor teachers or other experts. If you are an experienced teacher, you may find it enlightening to revisit teaching as seen through the eyes of new professionals. If you are becoming a teacher yourself, we hope you find in this book the voices of distant colleagues to connect to and learn from. Either way, we hope that these stories draw you further into the teaching life that takes place in high schools and middle schools.

Getting Grounded in Your Teaching Context[edit | edit source]

Knowing Yourself as a Teacher[edit | edit source]

Many of us live one-eyed lives
—Parker Palmer

We teach many things: content, children... But most of all we teach who we are. Knowing who we are as teachers is the foundation of our practice. This form of self-study can be scary; who knows what we will find out? Yet we cannot deny that to be truly present to children, we must bring ourselves into the classroom. Our desire to be real with children means we cannot hide behind methods, strategies, or curriculum. This desire for personal authenticity conflicts with the fact that teaching isn't really about us; its about the children and the subjects we teach.

Knowing your Professional Context[edit | edit source]

What I see happening here is a set of tools and activities that will help you learn your placement.

Your Community[edit | edit source]


Your School[edit | edit source]


Your Classroom[edit | edit source]


Your Students[edit | edit source]

Early and Middle Adolescent Development[edit | edit source]

You have already had Human Development. I have a couple of book ideas here such as:

  • Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers, Chap Clark
  • Landscapes of Betrayal, Landscapes of Joy: Curtisville in the Lives of Its Teenagers, Herb Childress)

Becoming a Culturally Competent Teacher[edit | edit source]

I know you are already going over this information in lots of courses. I'll just put a book or two here for now.

  • Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders

Here is a video my mother suggested that every teacher should see. It is of a little boy speaking to 20,000 teachers and he is quite charismatic.

Knowing the Students In Your Setting[edit | edit source]


Instruction for All Learners[edit | edit source]

Educational Equity[edit | edit source]

Differentiated Instruction[edit | edit source]

Supporting Literacy and English Language Learners[edit | edit source]

Universal Design[edit | edit source]

Creating a Safe, Supportive, and Inclusive Classroom Environment[edit | edit source]

Essential Questions, Goals, Learning Outcomes and Standards[edit | edit source]

Principles of Reverse Design[edit | edit source]

Essential Questions and Goals[edit | edit source]

Learning Outcomes and Standards[edit | edit source]

Differentiated Instruction and Learning Outcomes[edit | edit source]

Here is a link to an article outlining some current techniques for integrating arts across the curriculum. I found it to be quite interesting and very helpful!

Assessment--Designing Evidence of Learning[edit | edit source]

Trustworthiness in Assessment[edit | edit source]

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of having kids come up with what they plan to accomplish or want to commit to doing for a particular project or unit. I think having students come up with what they think of as high quality work (essentially designing their own rubric) at the beginning of the assignment, and then holding them accountable to their own expectations will give them a better sense of empowerment and enthusiasm for their own learning.

One issue with the trustworthiness of assessments is that assessments influence what is taught. Assessments are designed to measure student learning under some curriculum, but as the linked page describes, after assessments are implemented, teachers change the curriculum to suit the assessment. The original assessment is then no longer measuring what it what designed to measure (i.e., student achievement under the first curriculum) and is instead measuring how well teachers can match their instruction to the assessment. This is also called teaching to the test.

Another issue with the trustworthiness of assessments is, even supposing that they accurately reflect student achievement, that the assessment test may be indicate that the students are succeeding on the assessment even though students are not truly succeeding. I have witnessed this on a small scale on an entrance assessment used at a college. Incoming students were achieving very high scores on the math entrance assessment. As a result, they were placed into more advanced math classes. But then they struggled in those classes, despite the entrance exam results indicating that they were prepared. In this situation, there was a mismatch between what the entrance exam rated as success and what the students' subsequent classroom instructors rated as success. A similar point was made to a larger scale issue, that of standardized testing in Oregon.

This problem, though, seems to be an issue of calibration more than a true blow to the trustworthiness of assessments, and from my (probably very optimistic) standpoint, I would think that the gathering data about student success rates on the test versus student success rates in classes could help to tune the test to accurately reflect the level that we want.

Authentic Assessment[edit | edit source]

A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills -- Jon Mueller
What does it look like?
An authentic assessment usually includes a task for students to perform and a rubric by which their performance on the task will be evaluated.

In contrast to "Authentic Assessment", traditional assessment relies upon forced-choice methods such as multiple choice tests, fill-in-the-blank, true/false, matching, etc.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Here is a site that has a good scoring rubric for the student inquiry process that is broken down by grades ages K-12.

This might be useful because it is generic and can be used for inquiry (one of the more obvious ways to initiate authentic learning) in any subject.

Here are some authentic assessments in mathematics, including examples from geometry (at various levels), algebra, and probability/statistics.

Here is a collection of assessment rubrics that are subject-specific and general.

Here are some more examples. There are not many example on this page, but in many cases the teacher who devised the assessment has written an evaluation of how students handled the evaluation (mostly mathematics related examples, but some from social studies also).

Reflective Assessment[edit | edit source]

My experience and the benefits received from reflective assessment:

Going into my undergraduate practicum I believed that the way that I taught would always get through to all the students. I always have been able to connect with students because sometimes I still feel like one of them. I feel that I relate more to them than your average teacher and I see this as true for a couple of reasons:

  1. I'm not too far off myself from graduating high school
  2. I'm still a kid myself in many ways
  3. I've grown up in a teaching family and around teachers all my life.

As I continued through my practicums at the elementary, middle, and high school levels I came to the realization that many students need different ways to be taught. Being able to assess yourself in a non-parcel way using Reflective Assessment to improve student learning, strengthen your instruction, develop ourselves as professionals, etc., will enable you to improve the teaching and the environment for the students. I learned to do this just through getting more experience and continually trying to improve teaching.

Rubrics and Scoring Guides[edit | edit source]

Rubrics and scoring guides serve several functions. First, they help us align our assessment tasks with the learning outcomes and goals. Second, they help clarify for ourselves and students what the expectations are for a given assignment or project. Always provide your students with the scoring rubric as part of the assignment.

Rubrics generally provide a set of criteria against which a performance or other assessment will be judged. For example, a written essay may be evaluated on grammar, spelling, punctuation, and so on. Rubrics also often provide descriptions of different levels of achievement related to each criterion. For example, an essay may be judged "perfect," "good," "fair," or "poor" in terms of the criterion of spelling depending on how many misspelled word are submitted in the essay. Finally, rubrics provide a clear mapping of criteria to the desired learning outcomes. For example, a criterion may be created to assess the learning goal "student makes correct use of personal pronouns."

The types of criteria and achievement levels used depends on the judgment and creativity of the teacher.

Here is a link for ideas on assessment.

Examples and Resources[edit | edit source]

  • Rubistar. A website on which you create rubrics for project-based activities
  • Assessment Rubrics. A resource that links to articles about why and how to use rubrics, and also some examples.
  • Here is a website of a school that has lots of different rubrics and scoring guides that I find to be very helpful.
  • A collection of assessment rubrics, some that are content-specific and some general.
  • Here is a website for how to go about collecting data using direct observation, including some examples of observation guides.

Six 'Best Practices' for Teaching[edit | edit source]

Reading as Thinking[edit | edit source]

Representing to Learn[edit | edit source]

Small-group Activities[edit | edit source]

Implementing Small group activities into your own curriculum.

Reasons for having small group-activities:

  • Easier environment for students to learn.
  • Able to get more done
  • Can access more avenues to learning
  • Teacher can be on a more personable level with the students

Samples of ways to work your class in small group activities.

  1. Create learning centers around your classroom and create center rotations with students breaking up into smaller groups and rotating to different stations. This takes the focus off the teacher and the class becomes student-centered.
  2. If available use teacher aides and split the class up.

Classroom Workshop[edit | edit source]

Taken From: Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12 by Harvey Daniels & Marilyn Bizar


A classroom workshop is a working laboratory/studio where students truly learn by doing and classrooms are no longer locations of transmittal of information. It is the ‘pedagogical embodiment of constructivist learning theory’.

Teacher Actions: modeling own thinking, investigating, conferencing with students one-to-one, compact mini-lessons

Student Actions: choose individual or small-group topics for investigation, inquiry, and research; collaborate with classmates, keep their own records, self-evaluate, take responsibility of their whole learning process (from topic selection to producing/sharing)

Generic Workshop Schedule (single, 50 minutes, any subject):

  1. Mini-lesson (5-15 min): teacher demonstrates an element of type of work students will pursue during the session.
  2. Status-of-the-Class Conference (5 min): each student announces his/her choice of work for the session (can include approved alternatives)
  3. Work Time/Conferences (20-30 min):
    1. Students: work on their plan of action (experimenting, researching, reading, writing, talking, conducting interviews, using manipulatives)
    2. Teacher: I). Models her own way of ‘doing’ the work, II). Classroom management/overseeing, III). Conducting individual/small-group conferences
  4. Sharing (10 min): students discuss/present their work or the teacher can offer a mini-lesson based on her observation of how the class went

For more information, visit the ‘Workshop Model’ here.

Types of Conferences:

  • Process Conference: what are you working on? How is it coming? What are you going to do next?
  • Statues-of-the-Class Conference: whole-group conference that is held at the beginning, where students orally state what they will be doing
  • Topic Search Conference: helping the student develop a list of possible interests (brainstorming) while the teacher records their thoughts/ideas
  • Read-Aloud Conference: students read a part of their piece to the teacher, pausing to edit and comment on their own work for problems/ideas.
  • Summarizing Conference: through summarizing, students have the chance to reflect on the ‘big idea’ of their thinking strategies/work habits (their product is not looked upon).
  • Content Conference: conversations focused on the ideas, meaning, or content inside a project
  • Dialogue Journal Conference: an informal note/conversation between student and teacher on class readings/activities
  • Editing/Publication Conference: student and teacher do the task of editing together; a small section to demonstrate the editing process
  • Evaluation Conference: review the strengths/weaknesses of a finished work and then a write-up of specific goals for the next project
  • Student’s Choice Conference: student takes ownership/responsibility for the direction of the conference
  • Small-group Conference: teacher takes on the role of ‘thinking coach’ as discussion takes place
  • Peer Conference: as students understand the process of teacher conferences they can undergo any conference type with a peer

Reading - Writing Workshop:

  • Reading Focus: help students learn to read independently for their own enjoyment and to connect to the text in a meaningful way
  • Writing Focus: help students make connections in writing/reading with the text, themselves, and the world
  • For an example of a complete daily schedule, workshop overview, strategy lessons, curriculum outcomes, guided/independent/shared reading & writing, see here
  • For a modern way to launch your own Writing Workshop, see here

History Workshop:

Science Workshop: Below is an example of what the "workshop" model might look like in a science class.

Focus (10 mins): How can we determine the mass of a regular shaped object?

Mini-Lesson (25 mins): Students will receive an introduction on handling the triple beam balance. The teacher will review all of the components of the triple beam balance. Students will have a handout to fill in as the parts are being reviewed.

Work Time (10 mins): Students will work in groups of two using a triple beam balance to determine the mass of two regular shaped objects. Students will record their data and construct a step-by-step procedure of the methods they are using to determine the mass of the two regular shaped objects.

Closing: Students will share their data with the class (whole class share) and point out any difficulties or techniques they applied in using the triple beam balance.

Homework: Write your first draft of the procedure for determining the mass of a regular shaped object.

Math Workshop: for an example rationale, definition, foundation, components, and scenarios of a math workshop, see here

Art/Drama Workshop:

Foreign Language Workshop:

Authentic Experience[edit | edit source]

What is authentic learning?

"Authentic learning is a pedagogical approach that allows students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the learner (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999). The term authentic is defined as genuine, true, and real (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1998). If learning is authentic, then students should be engaged in genuine learning problems that foster the opportunity for them to make direct connections between the new material that is being learned and their prior knowledge"(In Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal).

An authentic learning experience is a constructivist teaching/learning model which calls for learning that is:

  • Hands-On: Students are actually allowed to perform an assigned task as they construct meaning and acquire understanding.
  • Minds-On: Activities focus on core concepts, allowing students to develop thinking processes and encouraging them to question and seek answers that enhance their knowledge and thereby acquire an understanding of the physical universe in which they live.
  • Authentic: Students are presented with problem-solving activities that incorporate authentic, real-life questions and issues in a format that encourages collaborative effort, searching for information/feedback from informed expert sources, and generalization to broader ideas and application.

Passive learning experiences are thought to be inconsistent with real life because they are not relevant, and therefore not authentic. Arguably, students can regurgitate things they have been taught, but do not necessarily understand what they have learned because information is not presented in a relevant manner that allows students to make connections between new knowledge and prior learning.

In essence, encouraging or facilitating an authentic experience for students allows students an opportunity to be presented with relevant, hands-on opportunities in order to help them learn/acquire the appropriate educational objectives applicable to the course/level of school they are in.

For different points of view and some interesting examples of authentic learning in action- please see the following citation/URL:

Christensen, Marvin. Critical Issue:Providing Hands-On, Minds-On, and Authentic Learning Experiences in Science. (1995). North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. [1]. Retrieved 3 September, 2008.

Offered below is the citation and URL to a very helpful online journal site that presents more in depth information on the following characteristics of authentic learning:

  1. Literature background
  2. Key characteristics of authentic learning
  3. Example of an authentic learning activity and a useful description and breakdown of phases.
  4. References for more information on authentic learning.

Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal: a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC Volume 6, Issue 1, Winter 2003ISSN 1097 9778. URL

Integrative Units[edit | edit source]

Taken From: Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12 by Harvey Daniels & Marilyn Bizar

What does integrative units refer to?

The term integrative units has to do with teachers moving away from single subject instruction and toward multi-subject/multi-disciplinary instruction that is more focused on inquiry and issues and topics that are relevant and real to students.

What is the problem with single method teaching?

When teachers approach teaching by focusing on each subject individually, it can leave students with a disconnected view of knowledge and information as it pertains to the real world. In reality of course, real-life issues and the knowledge that goes with them are not compartmentalized or separated. In essence, real life we are confronted with calls for us to draw on a multitude of knowledge, strategies of thinking, and ways of knowing.

What are teachers doing to integrate subjects in school?

They are creating cross-curricular investigations and units that require high levels of inquiry. Think holistic vs. separated. The most prominent project funding this effort is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that donates money to programs that are authentic and tied to real-life.

How does the use of integrative units actually look like/play out in schools?

Many times, interdisciplinary instruction is attached to teacher-chosen themes or units such as dinosaurs, the solar system, or insects. Often literature, history, and art, etc., are integrated into these themes.

What are some of the problems with integrated units?...to be continued

Here is a link to an article outlining some current techniques for integrating arts across the curriculum:

Unit and Lesson Planning[edit | edit source]

This whole section is really oriented around the work sample process.

Describing, Analyzing, Interpreting, and Deconstructing Evidence of Learning[edit | edit source]

Assembling Evidence of Becoming a Teacher[edit | edit source]