More Metacognition Please

Thinking and Awareness

Like many teachers, I strongly believe in the significant benefits of metacognition in the learning process. Not only can developing students’ metacognitive skills boost academic achievement (Hattie, 2009), but being self-aware and able to self-reflect will benefit students in their future professional and social lives. Indeed, the colleagues whom I have most admired, both in education and outside, continuously evaluate their approach to their work and are always considering how they could do better in the future. As a result of this belief, I have tried to build students’ metacognitive skills by using self-reflections, surveys,and reflective journals. However, I feel that my instruction of metacognition lacks consistency and impact. Therefore, in this post I will look at some practical ways to make metacognition a regular feature of my teaching.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is often defined as ‘thinking about thinking’; however, this definition is too vague for teachers wanting guidance for regularly developing these skills. Therefore, a more comprehensive definition is when a learner “plans, monitors, evaluates, and makes changes to their own learning behavior” (“Getting Started with Metacognition”, n.d.). This definition emphasizes that use of metacognitive strategies is not limited to the end of an assignment or a test, but also a key part of planning how to tackle a challenging task and how to monitor progress toward a goal. Asking students questions (see some example questions below) before and during tasks is an effective way to embed metacognition throughout the learning process rather than just as a post-test or assignment reflection.

3 Steps of Metacognition
Source: Getting Started With Metacognition

My ultimate goal for developing students’ metacognitive skills is for each student to have a wide array of strategies at their disposal for completing a task. Then each student can choose the most appropriate strategy based on the task or their preferences or skills. As a result, students will develop an awareness of what strategies help them learn most effectively. This means more of a focus on how students learn rather than just on what they learn. These are the transferable skills I want to teach.

How can I teach it?

A key finding from the research is that explicitly teaching about metacognition can lead to increased student achievement (Hattie, 2009). Teachers can start by having students define metacognition and give examples. One way to do this is by using a metaphor such as that of ‘driving your brain’ (Wilson & Conyers, 2018). Examples such as slowing down for difficult situations or speeding up when it is safe might make the idea of metacognition more tangible for students. Teachers can also incorporate lessons on how the brain works including relatively recent findings from neuroscience that learning can physically change the nature of the brain. Another key reading or viewing activity could involve comparing fixed versus growth mindsets. Taking the time to teach how we learn can get even the most skeptical students to recognize the value of metacognition for effective learning.

Source: Edutopia

Another precondition for effective teaching of metacognition is to create a safe learning environment where confusion and questioning are considered essential steps for deep understanding. Students need the confidence to tell their teachers and peers when they don’t understand. Furthermore, students need to identify their own level of understanding to ensure a deep, transferable and lasting understanding rather than mere familiarity with the content. Building this type of classroom culture requires strong student teacher relationships.

To ensure you give students enough time to develop their metacognitive skills, teachers can allocate a set time each week for this purpose. Using the last 10 minutes of the week is a good routine otherwise it is all too easy to put off a reflective activity to the next week. During this set time, students could write a learning journal using prompts such as the ones below. However, to truly integrate it into the class, these metacognitive activities should not just be done at the end of the week, but they should also be integrated throughout the lesson sequence. For example, journal entries can be written before a task to identify and evaluate potential strategies to complete the task or they can be written midway through a task as students pause to check their progress and potentially re-evaluate.

Students also need to be able to specifically name the strategy they are practicing whether it be monitoring comprehension, questioning, or predicting. This will create a shared language for teachers and students to more effectively discuss the use of different learning strategies.

After introducing or discussing a specific strategy, teacher questioning in a class discussion can get students to consider how the cognitive strategies could be applied to other subjects, to students’ future careers or even to their social lives. This might help increase relevance for learners thus increasing their commitment to practice and develop them.

In addition to teacher-made learning goals, students can set their own personal learning goals (Marzano, 2010). I have previously done this with students as part of a writing portfolio. Then, with written feedback or through conferences, teachers can give specific feedback on each individual students’ goal. This type of goal setting can be expanded to other strands of class such as reading comprehension, speaking and listening.

A particularly useful instructional strategy for modelling metacognition is using a think aloud. I can explain to students how I would approach the task and what strategies I would use. For me, this will help encourage metacognitive processes both before and during learning not just at the end. Over time, students can start to use think alouds between each other as think-pair-shares, small group or even whole-class discussions.

Example Metacognitive Questions

Below is a list of questions that can be asked during different stages of the a task.


  • What do I already know about this topic?
  • Have I done a task similar to this before?
  • What strategies were effective when I did that task?


  • What am I confused about?
  • What aspect of the task am I have the most difficulty with? What will I do to solve this?
  • How am I going with the task? Am I on track to reach my goal for the task?
  • What should I do next?
  • Would a different strategy be more effective here?


  • How can I do it better next time?
  • My personal goal for next assignment is …
  • What specific action(s) would improve your performance based on the feedback you received?
  • How can I apply this to other subjects or other areas of life?
  • Did I get the result I expected?
  • What aspects of my exam preparation worked well that I should remember to do next time?
  • What did you learn from working on this task — about the content, topic, process, and/or yourself?


While most teachers agree that teaching, modelling, and practicing metacognitive skills is an essential part of learning, it can be difficult to know how to incorporate these skills into daily learning activities. For me, the key is to plan metacognitive questions with each activity to ensure sustained practice of these difficult but important skills. Using a combination of the strategies above can help make teaching metacognition more tangible for busy teachers.

As I have discovered, students need lots of time to be able to explicitly discuss and evaluate their thought processes especially ESL or EAL students. Therefore, it is OK to start slowly when introducing metacognition into your course. However, with sustained practice and the belief from both teachers and students that metacognition is a skill worth developing, improvements can definitely be made by all students.

Extra Resources

This metacognitive checklist from Cambridge could be helpful for teachers trying to incorporate more m/cog in their classrooms.



Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Milton Park, UK: Routledge.

Marzano, R. J. (2010). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Getting started with Metacognition. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2019, from

Wilson, D., & Conyers, M. (2018, February 21). Building a Metacognitive Classroom. Retrieved February 10, 2019, from







Establishing Classroom Rules & Procedures

I have previously written about the importance of building a positive classroom environment in which all students feel respected and valued. I have also written about the need to use positive and negative strategies to reinforce rules and procedures in the classroom. Today I wanted to write about establishing classroom rules and procedures. I am partly writing this blog post as a reminder to myself about the behavioural expectations for my new classes. Often I realize that I would like my students to behave in a particular way, such as when they are doing station rotations or how they write their homework, and then feel disappointed that they didn’t meet my expectations. Then I realize it is my fault that I didn’t make those expectations clear to the students. Thus, I hope this blog can be a reminder to me for every first week of school ahead.

Before beginning on the rules part, I think that effective class management is primarily built on two factors. The first is having strong teacher-student relationships built on mutual respect. The other key element of an effective classroom is to ensure you have engaging, age- and level-appropriate lessons that link your class content to students’ own life experiences or interests. Boring or dull classes will result in student disengagement, boredom and then behavioral issues. Both of these factors requires teachers to know about student likes, interests, preferences, learning styles.


First, just a quick note on terminology. According to Marzano (2007) rules are more general expectations of student behavior. For me, these include rules such as “Respect Teachers and Students”. Procedures, on the other hand, are more specific descriptions of the behavior that will meet the rules.


As Wong and Wong (2009) note, the main problem in classrooms tends to be a lack of established rules and procedures rather than poor student discipline. And the best time to establish rules and procedures is in the beginning of the semester, ideally from the first class (Marzano, 2007; Wong, 2009). Research also suggests that more experienced and effective teachers spend more time establishing rules and procedures at the beginning of a new class (Marzano, 2007) and then frequently reinforce those rules until they become automatic for the students. Think of the time used to establish class rules and procedures as an investment. Although initially it uses valuable class time, it will eventually lead to more time for learning.


Example Classroom Rules

I have made the following rules for my high school class. The rules are few in number and cover broad types of behavior. When introducing the rules, I discuss the rationale behind the rule. I think this is especially important when teaching teenagers. I have found that students agree with these rules and they like the security of knowing what is expected of them during different classroom activities.


Once the rules are established, teachers need to consistently reinforce the rules. Teachers should immediately state the rule that is being broken calmly and then apply the consequence. Ideally, students should know what these consequences are beforehand. Teachers should also follow the rules themselves especially rules such as being respectful.

Classroom Rules 2018-19.docx

Procedures to meet your Expectations

The establishing of rules is reasonably self-explanatory, but for me the key part of an effective classroom management system is clear procedures. Students need to know what behaviors will be consistent with the rules. Wong (2009) notes that effective teachers clearly show students how to follow a procedure. This can be done by explaining the procedure, demonstrating it, getting students to make examples and non-examples, reinforcing the procedures when done correctly, correcting when the procedure is done incorrectly and reflecting on how well students followed the procedures. By doing this, students should know how the teacher expects them to behave when doing all types of common class activities such as entering the classroom, transitions between activities, individual work and group work. Of course there will be slip ups with students forgetting to follow the procedure, but it is our job as the teacher to help them do it again correctly. I remember this instructional video where the teacher asks students to line up outside the classroom and enter completely quietly. He said that sometimes he does it multiple times until the students follow the procedure correctly. Another idea for correcting student behavior that does not follow the procedure is to ask students “What’s the procedure?”. After they explain it, then they demonstrate it correctly.

Below is a list of procedures I have come up with that can address potential problem areas. I have made a list because I often forget these and only realize when they are not meeting my expectations

Procedures to establish include:

  • How to begin class? In my class, this means having your notebook, textbook, dictionary, and homework diary on your desk. Students should also have their notebook open to where we left off last lesson, and ideally they can be doing a quick review.
  • How to hand in homework? I like my homework, which is usually drafted in their notebook to be placed on a shelf when they leave the class.
  • What to do if you can’t do your homework or it is late? I ask students to tell me before or outside of class if they couldn’t do their homework and then I can either help them or arrange an extension.
  • How to format your homework? I want a title, date and I like it double spaced, so that I can make comments or suggestions easily.
  • How to organize my notes? Students should have a binder and any worksheet should be dated and placed in the front of the binder, so that the most recent notes are the most accessible.
  • How to store materials and belongings? Students should have a clean desk with only my 4 materials on it. Other books or notes should be put in their lockers or bags.
  • How to get my attention in class? Raise your hand and wait silently. Do not yell out, hand flap or stand up.
  • How can I get permission to go to the bathroom? Make a ‘time out” signal and wait for me to nod.
  • What to do if you are absent? Students should come and see me to get the materials before the next class or they can get their friend to get a copy of the materials.
  • How to contact me? Either come up to my office or send me a message on our school’s online grading system.
  • How to move around class during an activity? Walk around class without touching, pushing running or punching. Follow limits for how many students at different stations.
  • How to take notes from a lecture or reading? Use Cornell style notes. For reading, highlight and annotate passages.
  • How to work in groups? Be respectful, divide up the responsibilities, come to me if a student is not doing their share of the work.
  • How to have class conversations? Raise your hand, speak in English, ask other students what they think. Actively listen to the person who is speaking.
  • What to do when you have finished work early? Add new words to your vocabulary notebook, help your partner, go to the extension materials, start your homework or work on your assignments for my subject, write a reflective journal entry.
  • How to do think-pair-share? Students should be silent when they think. They can write down any notes (sometimes I make them write notes). Students should ‘pair’ in a low voice, taking turns and responding to each other’s ideas.
  • How I will get everyone’s attention? When I say ‘Can I have your attention’, everyone, whatever they are doing, should pause and look at me for instructions.


For me, the main takeaway with establishing rules and procedures is that teachers need to plan ahead and think in detail about the types of activities that happen in their class and then think about how they expect their students to behave during those activities. Then teachers, just like how they teach their content effectively, should explain, demonstrate, model, practice and reflect the procedures until they become establish routines in your classroom. And while it helps to establish rules and procedures in the beginning of the semester, it is never to late to make changes when something is just not working


Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching: a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.

Pre-Assessment in the ESL Classroom

Beginning a new unit of an EAL/ESL class with a pre-assessment is an effective method to determine each student’s prior knowledge or skills. This data can then be used to inform future instruction such as how to differentiate instruction and how to group students based on their different abilities. It allows teachers to make data-driven decisions rather than just relying on assumptions (Pendergass, 2014). Pre-assessments are particularly useful when teaching English in international contexts as students have already been exposed to a variety of different vocabulary, grammar structures, and skills in different schools. Pre-assessing helps teachers quickly determine what students know and need to know and therefore avoids wasting precious class time teaching what students already know.

Types of Pre-Assessments

There are a number of types of pre-assessment, both traditional and more innovative. One of my preferred types is the pre-quiz. Ideally, this quiz should cover the same language or content objectives as the end of unit test (Johnson, 2011) but it shouldn’t be counted for grades.  Pre-quizzes allow you to easily compare a student’s progress from this initial assessment to the end of the unit assessment. It is also has the advantage of clearly showing students the learning goal – the knowledge or skill they are expected to master by the end of the unit.

Image Credit:  Genius Hour

Another option for a pre-assessment is starting a new topic with a KWL or KWHLAQ. In this graphic organizer, students write what they already know (K) and want they want to learn (W). In the KWHLAQ, a 21st century adaptation of the KWL, students also have to write how they will find out (H). While KWLs may reduce anxiety compared to a pre-quiz, students might find it hard to write down what they already know or reluctant teenagers might need some prompting by the teacher.

If you are bored of pre-quizzes or KWLs, you can also use graffiti. In this activity, students use color markers to jot down or draw anything they already know about an upcoming unit of study or write down any questions about the topic. It is useful for starting a new thematic unit in an EAL class, but it is less useful for checking

Image Credit:  Facing History

understanding of a grammatical structure. The students use large poster size paper so that multiple students can be writing at one time. This poster can be displayed during the whole unit, so students can compare what they knew before with what they know at the end of the unit. The advantages of using this type of pre-assessment is that it is easy to prepare, allows students to be creative, and also gets the students moving around the classroom. It also gives students who are shy more opportunities to express ideas that they might not want to share in a whole class discussion.

Differentiation Strategy

At the beginning of a unit on comparison and contrast writing in my Grade 10 EAL class, I will get students to do a quick pre-quiz on comparison and contrast vocabulary. This, in addition to paragragh organization and city vocabulary, is the main learning objective for this unit. This unit builds toward the final assessment which is a paragraph comparing two famous cities.

The pre-assessment for this learning objective will be a simple 10 minute gap fill to see if students can use a variety of vocabulary to express similarity and difference. An alternative option could be to ask students to write a paragraph comparing two countries. Providing a word bank of key vocabulary can ensure students use the target language otherwise the pre-assessment may not provide any useful data to measure students use of this particular language objective. While I’m checking the pre-assessment, students will watch this video comparing New York and Paris and make a Venn diagram comparing the main differences.

I will then divide the students into 3 groups based on my rubric:

  • Group 1 are those who can use a wide variety of comparison structures accurately (Good or Outstanding on the rubric)
  • Group 2 are those who demonstrate some variety of structures accurately (Satisfactory on the rubric); and
  • Group 3 are those who cannot use a variety of structures accurately (Needs Improvement on the rubric)

Each group will be given a different task sheet that has their instructions.

Group 1

After watching the video, this group will use their Venn diagrams to discuss the differences between Paris and New York. The students will also look up new vocabulary on their dictionaries and be asked to conisder other differences not shown in the video. Students will then draft a paragraph comparing New York and London. In the following lesson, students will peer review another member of this group’s paragraph using the same rubric as the final assessment paragraph. They will then discuss improvements with their partner, before submitting to the teacher as a formative assessment. The teacher can follow up or further extend students in student-teacher conferences or through written feedback.

Group 2

Likewise, Group 2 will use their Venn diagrams to discuss the differences between Paris and New York. However, this group will be given the key vocabulary from the video such as ‘neon lights’, or ‘architecture’ as well as comparison and contrast words such as ‘likewise’, ‘whereas’ and ‘however’. These students will use the vocabulary words and comparison signal words to discuss the differences first, before drafting the paragraph.

Group 3

Group 3 will be given sentence frames to scaffold the use of comparison and contrast vocabulary. For example, students might be given strips of paper with example sentences such as:

“Paris has ______________ whereas New York _____________.”

“New York has lots of ____________. However, Paris doesn’t have ______________.”

“New York’s architecture is ____________ than __________________.

This group will first use the sentence frames and then use the same structure to create their own sentences about Paris and New York. I will usually spend the majority of my time with this group. Once students have created lots of sentences using a variety of comparison and contrast, I will give them a paragraph template with a topic sentence and a comparison and contrast word bank containing the target vocabulary.  While students in group 1 or 2 can do peer evaluations, I will have conferences with students in this group to help them evaluate their own paragraph. Within this group, I can give extra support to low proficiency ELLs and students with special needs. These students can also use a computer to type their paragraph and I can provide feedback using the track changes feature on MS Word.

Another option to divide students into groups is by dividing them into surface, deep, and transfer groups as has been done in this flowchart.Pre-Assessment to Groupings

Tracking Student Progress

Between the pre-assessment and the end of unit test, it is necessary to check student progress and ensure they are extending their learning.

Depending on the length of the unit, this can be done through regular formative assessments such as exit tickets, journals, or questioning where students can show their understanding against the unit goals. To check students’ ability to use a range of comparison and contrast vocabulary accurately, I will have them do another gap fill with different vocabulary (as an exit ticket), get students to peer evaluate their New York vs. Paris paragraphs, self-evaluate a new paragraph comparing two new cities, and then finally publish the final paragraph comparing two cities of the students’ choosing.

One way I would like to track student learning is by charting student scores on a graph for the pre-assessment (see image below) and then for each of the formative assessments above using the same rubric (Marzano, 2010). For each learning goal, there will be four different levels of understanding such as ‘Needs Improvement’ (1 point), ‘Satisfactory’ (2 points). ‘Good’ (3 points) and ‘Outstanding’ (4 points). In the pre-assessment, many students will get ‘Needs Improvement’, but after more scaffolding in ability based groups and more feedback from formative assessments, students will hopefully progress to a demonstrate a higher proficiency of using the comparison and contrast vocabulary. This is very motivating for students and also provides excellent data to discuss progress with students or parents (Marzano, 2010).

Marzano Charting Progress image
Image Credit: Marzano (2010)


Donaghy, K. (2014). Paris and New York. Retrieved June, 11, 2018 from

Johnson, B. (2011, June 2). Pretesting Students and the KWL Strategy. Retrieved June 9, 2018, from

Marzano, R. J. (2010). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Pendergrass, E. (2014). Differentiation: It Starts with Pre-Assessment. Retrieved June 9, 2018, from

PBL for Grade 10 Marketing

In this blog post, I will consider how to provide effective feedback to students completing a marketing project as part of my Grade 10 Business Studies class. Project Based Learning (PBL) provides a perfect vehicle for teaching business and especially the topic of marketing as it allows students to learn the content and then apply it to a real-life situation. In this project, students will demonstrate their knowledge of marketing by making recommendations to a struggling local business about how to use marketing to attract more customers. The project aims to meet content standards in the Ontario Curriculum including “identify the four Ps of marketing and apply the strategy to market a product”. It also aims to address a number of key cross-curricula competencies such as oral and written communication, problem solving, and critical and creative thinking. Here is the project description and below is the rubric that I provided the students.

Marketing Project Rubric

Assessing PBL

I would like to use a range of assessment strategies for this project including self-, peer-, and teacher feedback. After giving students the rubric and the key problem, I would initially like students to create their own individual learning goal. This could be to further investigate an aspect of marketing or improve their ability in a key competency such as group work or written/oral communication. This could be scaffolded by having a series of prompts to help students identify these personal learning objectives. I could then schedule individual conferences with students during the length of the project to monitor and help them achieve these goals.

Another key element of the assessment for this project is to for students to write metacognitive reflections in a project learning journal for each week of the project. I would provide them with prompts and I would especially focus on 21st century skills such as asking questions to assess the effectiveness of group work. I could also ask students to discuss their individual contribution to the group in their learning journal in order to increase individual accountability.

Individual student content knowledge can still be assessed through more traditional assessments such as exit tickets, quizzes, and small tests. For each part of the assignment, I will provide a small ‘chunk’ of input (like a lecture or readings) that is directly relevant to completing the assignment. Afterwards, I will do a quick check using one of the above strategies to ensure that each student understands the content. Students who cannot demonstrate an understanding of the particular chunk can have a follow up mini-lesson or teacher conference.

A type of formative assessment I would like to include within the first week of the project is a “need to know list” (Weyers, 2013). In this type of formative assessment, students make a list of what they feel like they need to know or what problems they might face in order to complete the project. In my classroom, I could place a big poster with the project name and the main task (driving question) on the back wall. Then students could put up post-it notes with questions or concerns about how to do the assignment. I could decide how many students have the same question by doing a thumbs up, thumbs down check for understanding. Student needs can be addressed in subsequent classes either on a individual basis, in groups or with the whole class if the concern is widespread.

Students will also evaluate their peers by doing a gallery walk. In this assignment, I would have students put up their SWOT analysis on the wall and then get other groups to give feedback using sticky notes. Students who received feedback could then evaluate the quality of that feedback in their project learning journals. Additionally, I would evaluate students on their comments as part of their grade for

I will evaluate students by getting students to send drafts of small parts of the assignment each week for feedback. I could also have weekly team meetings with each group. This would be a chance to ask some questions about how they are managing their time, how each member is contributing, and see what challenges they are facing.

Previously I have made project grades overly-focused on the finished product, but in this project I have balanced grades for the process and for the final product. For the process part, students are graded on the quality of their self-reflections (based on a rubric), the quality of the peer evaluations they give, how groups use peer evaluation to modify their product, and on a teacher evaluation of the process. The teacher evaluation could include an evaluation on how they met milestones, how they collaborated and how they dealt with any challenges rather than just be based on an evaluation of the finished product.


Formative Assessment in My Classroom

Research clearly shows that frequent formative assessments such as exit tickets or observations are one of the most effective strategies for increasing student achievement (Marzano, 2007). Planning these assessments after each learning experience is an effective way to monitor student progress against learning objectives. It can also guide teachers on how to move forward with the content or skills that students can already demonstrate or to review content or skils for which students are struggling. Another benefit is the data obtained from these assessments can provide authentic feedback on the effectiveness of my own teaching.

Tech tools

One way to make the inclusion of formative assessment easier for busy teachers is to use the vast array of technology to collect and evaluate data obtained from formative assessments. Using websites such as Kahoot, Edpuzzle, Quizziz and Google Forms and Google Classroom take the hassle out of giving and then collating formative assessments. Another big advantage of using technology to check student understanding is that students get real-time feedback. Research shows that achievement increases when students get feedback they can immediately put into practice (Finley, 2014). One particularly useful piece of technology that one of my colleagues has suggested using is Google tools such as Google Polls or Google Forms. These polls can be done quickly as pre-quizzes, exit tickets, or student surveys on individual devices and then the website automatically analyzes the data. One of the best functions of these tools is to automatically send extra material to individual students based on what questions they answered incorrectly. This offers personalized learning that truly meets specific individual student needs and is incredibly convenient for the teacher.

Low tech Classrooms

However, as my colleagues have reminded me, paper and pen collection and recording Collating Exit Ticketsof formative assessment can be equally useful in low-technology contexts. After collecting data using an exit ticket or a pre-quiz, I evaluate students’ ability to demonstrate the learning goal by using a simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet such as the one I used here for Business Studies. While this is more time-consuming than using online tools, I feel that it really helps me understand how students are doing in relation to specific goals.


My Favorites

My favorite type of formative assessment are exit tickets. These require students to answer a question directly related to the lesson’s learning objective. The exit ticket should be done in the last 2-3 minutes of class or alternately done as a bell ringer in the following class. I would also like to use the 3-2-1 exit ticket as an alternative to the content based exit ticket.

3-2-1 Exit Ticket
Image Credit: https://readingstrategiesm 1

My other favorite formative assessment is the pre-quiz. This is very useful when teaching English language learners in an international context as most students in middle or high school have already been exposed to a substantial range of different grammar structures and vocabulary. Using pre-quizzes effectively avoids teaching students something they already know and prevents teachers assuming knowledge of a language point that students simply don’t have.

I would like to try some different types of formative assessments including using observation more effectively. This type of formative assessment involves having a systematic plan or checklist when observing and evaluating students based on a specific content, language, or social learning objective. The teacher can observe behavior such as body language or peer/ group discussions and then use these observations to provide specific strategies to address observed weaknesses. I would also like to try getting students to write 1 minute sentences as a summary of class content, get quick feedback by using the 1-5 hand and use the ‘share’ part of Think-Pair-Share to check understanding and give real-time oral feedback.

Plan for future instruction

One specific area I would like to improve is to improve how I use data from formative assessments to inform future instruction. Effective teachers use this data to constantly adjust their teaching (Davis, 2015 ). I would like to use the data on formative assessments to provide additional support for students such as breaking them into a small group for additional instruction while students who have demonstrated mastery can move on to a productive task.


Davis, V. (2015, January 15). Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from

Finley, T. (2014, July 30). Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from

Marzano, R. J. (2010). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Strategies for Reinforcing Classroom Rules and Procedures

After building positive relationships with your students and clearly establishing rules and procedures, teachers need to ensure effective classroom management through using a series of consequences. These consequences include positive reinforcement when students meet behavioral expectations and punishments when students fall short of your expectations. In this post, I would like to consider a range of classroom strategies to promote a positive learning environment with minimal disruptive behavior.

Positive Reinforcement

In order to maintain a positive and safe environment for English Language Learners, I try to make positive reinforcement the centerpiece of my approach to classroom management. Positive reinforcement provides recognition that the student followed the rules or procedures. The first reinforcement strategy is to verbally praise the students such as by saying “thank you Mike for your contribution”, “that’s a fantastic question Michelle” or “thanks for sharing Jason”. This form of recognition is overt, public and efficient and is a powerful motivator for students. It also has the advantage of reviewing the rule or procedure for other students who might not be following the rule or procedure so well (Marzano, 2007). While some have argued that overly praising can turn students into praise junkies who lack intrinsic motivation, giving too much praise is not a problem if the praise is specific and genuine. An alternative option is to make the praise private by talking to the student outside the classroom or as a quick aside during class. I often ask students to step outside of the classroom for a minute and then give them some positive feedback about the way they are participating or for outstanding homework. At first students are apprehensive about meeting me outside, but I often see them smiling at their friends as they return to the classroom. Praise can also be provided non-verbally through a simple gesture such as a thumbs up. Making the positive reinforcement private might avoid embarrassing a student by drawing everyone’s attention to their behavior.

Another powerful strategy that is often overlooked by busy teachers is a positive phone call home. Praising a student’s effort or improved study habits to parents will mean that the student gets positive reinforcement from both the teacher and their parents and this will motivate them to continue the positive behavior. As a high school teacher, I generally prefer providing reinforcement by praising students or discussing positive behavior with the parents rather than using a more tangible form of recognition such as a whole class reward system. I think that the former are more powerful forms of recognition and foster students’ intrinsic motivation.

Responding to Misbehavior

 Unfortunately, students do not always meet your expectations and sometimes they might slip into the habit of breaking classroom rules and procedures. However, I believe the best way to reduce disruptive behavior in the classroom is trying to prevent potential behavioral problems before they become disruptive. This strategy is often referred to as ‘withitness’ (Marzano, 2007). One of the key parts of this strategy is for teachers to be aware of what is happening outside of the classroom as this will probably have an impact on student behavior. For example, if a student got in trouble from another teacher, did badly on a test, or is fighting with their closest friends, the student’s behavior will probably be affected. Teachers can address this directly by having a quick conversation with the students to show understanding and also be mindful of the student’s emotional needs while teaching the class. During class teachers should also pay close attention to unusual student behavior such as students with aggressive body language or a dejected facial expressions. Being aware of these potential problems can help prevent poor behavior before it actually occurs. Another way a teacher can demonstrate withitness is by frequently and systematically moving around the class even when the teacher is lecturing. Standing close to students who you think might misbehave is a simple, but effective way for preventing poor behavior.

However, before punishing students for not following classroom rules and procedures, teachers should try to work out the underlying causes of the misbehavior (Degeling, 2012). It could be that the class is too difficult or easy, that the students are bored, or that the student is having some personal or family problems that make it hard for the student to focus. Rarely is it that students want to disrupt class. Trying to be empathetic and making an effort to understand the misbehaving student rather than just immediately punishing them will show that you really care.

Another key piece of advice for classroom management is to always have a plan about how to handle students who break the rules. This will stop teachers being reactive when dealing with problems and potentially being inconsistent (Wong & Wong, 2009). This plan should have a number of graduated steps where the punishment increases as the offending behavior continues or becomes more severe (Marzano, 2007). Below is a flowchart I developed to show how I will respond to misbehavior.

The first step is a stare and this can be followed by a gesture such as a ‘put it away’ gesture or a ‘be quiet’ gesture. These steps can be done while continuing to teach, so valuable class instructional time isn’t wasted on discipline. If the misbehavior continues the teacher can move closer to the student again while continuing to teach. The teacher might also privately reprimand the student if appropriate or possible. Degeling (2012) suggests that this can be done in a non-confrontational way by approaching the student from the side rather than the front, crouching down and using a soft, but firm voice when reprimanding the student. If the student continues to misbehave then the reprimand should be public and direct including which specific rule or procedure the student is continuing to break.

If the negative behavior persists, teachers can start using direct-cost consequences which are explicit and concrete punishments for breaking classroom rules and procedures (Marzano, 2007). My preferred option here is to move the student to a quiet place in the classroom to continue their work. The aim is to separate the disruptive student until they have demonstrated a willingness to rejoin the classroom activity. Separating students is preferable to sending students outside as the student can continue to learn. Another step here is to involve the parents. This could involve a meeting with parents and the student to identify and agree about the negative behavior and then make a plan to try to reduce the negative behavior. Having parents and the student involved in developing a plan that includes rewards for improved behavior and punishments could help to reduce the inappropriate behavior.

Behavior Flowchart

Ultimately, effective classroom management is one of the most important traits of a successful teacher. A successful strategy is dependent on firstly building the foundation of a positive classroom learning environment where students feel individually respected. Additionally having clear learning objectives and engaging activities are also crucial in reducing disruptive behavior. However, the nature of teaching teenagers means that there will be times when the teacher needs to use a range of classroom management strategies to reinforce positive behavior and address negative behavior. When using these strategies, teacher should be aware that every student is unique, so it might be necessary to try a range of strategies to see which one works for the particular student.


Degeling, J. (2012). Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom. Retrieved on May 2, 2018 from \

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching: a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.


Contrasting Approaches to Creating High Performance Learning Environments

Today I will consider two entirely different approaches to establishing a high-achievement learning environment. In the first video ‘Roller Coaster Physics’, the teacher uses a learner-centered approach using project based learning (PBL) whereas in the second video’, the teacher adopts the whole brain teaching approach. Both approaches are extremely effective in engaging the students in high level content while effectively managing the learning environment.

 Video 1: Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action

In the video ‘Roller Coaster Physics’, Grade 5 teacher Donna Migdol uses a range of teaching strategies to create an engaging and high level lesson (Roller Coaster Physics). In the beginning of the lesson, Migdol clearly explains the objective is to “design an optimal roller coaster with the longest ride” (Roller Coaster Physics). Establishing and communicating a clear goal helps increase student achievement (Marzano, 2007). This goal uses the highest order thinking skill, create, according to Bloom’s taxonomy of learning (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) and this communicates to students that the teacher believes the students can apply the content to real-life novel situation.

The activity to design a roller coaster also adopts a number of features from the PBL) teaching strategy. The lesson begins with an essential design question or task, which is to design the longest roller coaster. This is engaging because it has real world application.

Another feature of PBL that Midgol uses in this lesson is practicing cross-curricula skills in addition to physics content (Roller Coaster Physics). One example of this is how she requires students to use math to make a budget and track expenditure when designing their roller coaster. The design of the lesson also requires students to use key 21st century learning skills such as collaborating and problem solving. The former is evident by requiring students to share their individual roller coaster design features with their group and then, through a process of consensus building, find the best combination of each roller coaster design features. I like how student-centred this approach is, as students discussed the benefits and drawbacks of different design features while the teacher facilitated the classroom discussion.

Successfully achieving the goal also requires students to solve real world problems. I particularly liked the idea of adding a financial constraint into the task so students have to decide as a group which materials they will use in their roller coaster. The addition of this financial constraint makes the task more realistic problem rather than just providing them unlimited resources.

Another feature of the lesson was the teacher’s expectation that students use physics specific vocabulary such as ‘clothoid loops’ and ‘centripedal force’ when sketching their roller coaster. This further extends students. Also during teacher-student interactions, students usually answer teacher questions by using topic specific vocabulary such as ‘kinetic’ and ‘potential energy’. Ensuring the students use precise vocabulary to get an answer completely correct is a characteristic of a highly effective teacher (Lemov, 2010).

The success of the lesson is also due to effective classroom management. It is clear that the teacher has already established classroom rules and procedures for working in groups. During the lesson, the students seem familiar sharing opinions, turn taking, actively listening to their peers, and assigning different responsibilities themselves when working in a group. This suggests the teacher has previously established these routines, so they have become norms. Additionally, the fact that students are clearly highly engaged in the task means that the teacher does not have to reinforce rules or control students during the lesson.

Video 2: Whole-brain Teaching

In this video, a 9th Grade Geography, Ms Mackens, teacher uses whole brain teaching (WBT) to teach about finding exact location using latitude and longitude (roxishay, 2011). The teacher effectively uses the WBT approach to effectively manage classroom behaviour and engage the students.

The use of WBT for classroom management is quite effective. In particular the teacher uses a number of elements of WBT to ensure smooth transitions. To get the class’s attention when they are doing individual or group work, she uses the “class-yes” technique to quickly get them focused so that she can give some further instructions (roxishay, 2011). Another example of an effective transition is the move from direct instruction to peer teaching. This is extremely efficient with the teacher just clapping twice and saying “teach”. It is clear from the speed of the student responses to different WBT prompts that the students have practiced these routines many times and they have become almost automatic.

The teacher also manages behaviour by referring to the rules when she needs to reinforce classroom rules or procedures. However instead of giving a lecture or reprimanding the students, she prompts students by saying the number of the rule and then the students chorally state the rule with its accompanying gestures. Another feature of the classroom management that can be seen in the video is the use of a scoreboard to reward good behaviour. Ms. Mackens reward the students for good behaviour by giving them a point on the scoreboard and then everyone celebrates with a “woo-hoo” (roxishay, 2011). This positive encouragement motivates students to follow the classroom rules and procedures.

The use of physical gestures to demonstrate latitude and longitude is an effective way to make learning physical as well as auditory. This technique in WBT is called mirror hands (beginner – whole brain teaching, n.d.). Students then mimic these gestures to explain to their peers. In the video, the teacher provides the content in small chunks through direct instruction and then has students reinforce their learning through teaching the person next to them. This could be a good time for the teacher to observe students using the gestures and explaining the content to check understanding.

The emphasis on peers teaching each other is one way in which the teacher establishes high expectations for her learners. She trust them to teach each other the content as well as realizing the teaching this content to a peer is one of the most effective ways to learn.

Setting high performance Expectations in my classroom

After watching these two quite different videos, I thought about how I could use some of the approaches and techniques to enhance my middle and high school ESL classes here in China.

The most important improvement I would like to make is to make my classes more learner-centred by doing more authentic tasks. The use of a task that requires students to apply knowledge to solve real-life problems is highly engaging and this makes maintaining classroom discipline much easier. Poor student behaviour is often a result of classes that do not engage learners, and therefore when presenting content, teachers should ensure the students will find it interesting and relevant. I preferred the more learner-centred approach of Ms. Migdol than the WBT approach of Ms. Mackens, which was still quite teacher-centred.

One element from the WBT approach that I liked was the use of key words for transitions to quickly get the students’ attention. The call-response pattern of ‘class-yes’ is very efficient and when it is practiced numerous times it becomes a routine which saves countless class hours. While I felt like some of the call-response patterns of WBT might be a little patronizing for high school students in my learning context, I do think that having clear signal words to efficiently signal a change in activity is a more efficient use of class time. I also like how when a rule or procedure is broken, the teacher just prompts the students with the number of the rule and then the students explain the rule. I think this will help students internalize the rules and help students to get clear feedback when their behaviour does not adhere to the rules.


Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Beginner – Whole Brain Teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2018, from

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach like a Champion. San Francisco, Jossey Bass

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching: a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

RoxiShay. (2011, May 31). Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – the basics. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from

Teacher Channel (n.d.). Roller Coaster Physics. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2018, from