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Best Practices and Assessments for Learning

Best Practices - a technique, method, process, activity, incentive, or reward that is believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. Wikipedia

Assessments for Learning (Formative Assessments)- assessments, not tests, that serve to help students learn more and teachers learn more about what to do next. Teachers use the classroom assessment process and the continuous flow of information about student achievement that it provides in order to advance, not merely check on, student learning, and students have an active role in assessing their own learning.  Stiggins

See our Differentiated Instruction page for more strategies

  • 14 Things Teachers can do to Increase Student Achievement
  • 31 Ways to Connect with and Manage your Students and Classes
  • ABC Review:  From a container, students draw tiles with letters on them.  Then students need to make a statement about the topic beginning with the letter.  For example, A - August Rosenhof discovered the first amoeba.  B-Bacteria is eaten by amoebas. F- Food vacuole digests the food. etc.
  • Anticipation Guides: Great for making sure students get exactly what you want them to get out of reading nonfiction text.
  • Assessments - What and Why
  • Attendance Questions - get everyone focused and participating as soon as the bell rings
  • Building Relationships
  • Cell Phone Review/Textas Shootout Review -See it in action be clicking on the Wanted poster 
  • Centers:  Have students work through different skill centers and check their groups' or the individual's work with a key.  If the group or a student does not make a certain % or misses more than a certain number of questions, they must meet with the teacher to discuss why they missed it and receive reteaching. 
  • Classroom Checks/Status of the Class:  Fast, easy strategies to see how the class is learning. 
  • CLOZE:   Works on reading comprehension by omitting words from a passage.  A word bank can be provided.  Once students have read a passage, make a paragraph highlighting the important concepts.  Leave words out that require students to focus on what they've read.   Example
  • Corners:  Used to review, summarize, discuss, "express, and listen to various opinions on a topic, honing listening, critical thinking, and self-expression skills. The teacher can make each corner of the classroom represent a stipulated view. For example, three possible corners could constitute For, Against, and Undecided relative to a topic. Students move to the corner that represents their viewpoint. Next, students discuss their opinions, or respond to a comment, within their corners. This could first be done in pairs, and later with pairs joining other pairs to make groups of 4, or with subsequent changes of partners to form new pairs. Students can begin by summarizing their earlier conversation to their new partner(s). Summarizing or repeating ascertains whether the listener listened and understood, and helps validate the ideas of former speakers. The views of all members in one corner can be aired for the benefit of the entire corner after ideas have initially been exchanged in smaller groups. For example, students stand in a circle in the corner, and each person summarizes what the person on their left said. Asking students to summarize what another person said encourages them to listen to others, since if they haven't listened, they will not be able to complete this task. After students have finished their in-corner discussions, they can rotate around to other corners in order to share their corner's viewpoints. One way to do this is for the teacher to randomly select two representatives from each corner to go to another corner and summarize their corner's viewpoint. They can rotate to all other corners, making their presentation to each new corner; these presentations can be performed within specified time limits to give all representatives an equal chance to speak. The final step could include randomly choosing students, other than rotating representatives, to report to the class on what was expressed, heard, or learned. "
  • Divide and Conquer:  Great for math and English classes and for differentiating the instruction.  Divide the class into groups.  Each group has a section of the board to write on.  Each group is given different problems to solve or sentences to diagram or...One member from each group goes to the board and solves the problem, but the group may help.  The teacher can easily monitor all groups.  A contest can be made to see which group correctly answers all of the questions first.
  • The Essential Question:  One question written on the board each day that  "causes genuine and relevant inquiry into the big ideas and core content; provokes deep thought, lively discussion, sustained inquiry, and new understanding as well as more questions; requires students to consider alternatives, weigh evidence, support their ideas, and justify their answers; stimulates vital, on-going rethinking of big ideas, assumptions, and prior lessons; sparks meaningful connections with prior learning and personal experiences; naturally recurs, creating opportunities for transfer to other situations and subjects,"  such as " Why did that particular species/culture/person thrive and that other one barely survive or die?  How does what we measure influence how we measure? How does how we measure influence what we measure?   Is there really a difference between a cultural generalization and a stereotype?"  How do authors hook and hold onto readers?  Look out the window.  What do the clouds tell you about the weather today?  The answer to the question is the U of KUD.
  • Even Dozen:  Used to summarize, synthesize, or review in small groups. 
  • Exit Tickets:  Students write on a post-it note what they still feel they need more work on and/or what they feel they mastered that day.  Stick it on the door on their way out.  Teacher can ask a few questions that must be answered on their exit ticket.
  • Fast Five:  Ask five short questions at the beginning or end of class. These can be done daily and used to review past skills and check for understanding of new ones.  The teacher could even throw in a question about a new skill or standard to check for prior knowledge.  Students hand these in, and the teacher can quickly assess what needs to be done in the classroom.
  • GIST and Twitter:  1.  Select a short passage, chapter, or story but display only the first paragraph. 2. Have students write the GIST of the passage in 20 words or less.  3.  Continue this process with all of the paragraphs in the passage. 4. Combine all of the GIST statements into one of 20 words or less, making sure to keep all of the important information.  (Students may work in small groups.)  5.  Have students post their final GIST on twitter.  Then as a class, discuss and decide which are the best ones and why.
  • Homework Checkers:  Place students in groups (according to which assignment they had if differentiated instruction is used).  Students discuss the answers and come to an agreement on which ones are correct and why.  Students staple all of their work with the final correct version on top.  The teacher can collect the groups' stapled work to quickly see who did the homework and if any skills need more focus or if any student(s) need more help.
  • Hot Seat:  Using post-it notes, write questions and stick them underneath the students' desks or chairs.  Great for a review or check for understanding.
  • Instructional Strategies - an online list of strategies with examples
  • Instructional Strategy Templates
  • Jigsaw:  Reading strategy where groups read different parts of a text and then put the pieces together to complete a meaningful puzzle of information.  One way to do this is to divide class into groups. Each group member is assigned some unique material to learn and then to teach to his group members. To help in the learning, students across the class working on the same sub-section get together to decide what is important and how to teach it. After practice in these "expert" groups, the original groups reform and students teach each other.   Teachers can also have each group read a different section, and each group expertly teach its section to the class.
  • Marzano's Instructional Strategies
  • Math Practices:  a booklet of best practices for math.
  • Move It or Lose It:  A great way to review, practice skills, and wake students up.  Again dry erase boards can be used and this can work with groups or with individual students.  Decide upon some kind of reward and tell all students they will receive this.  Then, take the students to a hall or large area.  Ask students questions, and each time the students get the correct answer they get to move up a step.  Students who reach the finish line first keep the reward.  The others lose it. 
  • Paper Plates Create: a collaborative assignment used to teach steps, parts, and understanding of concepts.
  • Paperless Classroom:  If you've got dry erase markers and desks or windows, let the students write on them.  They love the change, checking their progress is easy, and cleanup is a breeze. Just use paper towels and some spray if necessary. A word of warning, red doesn't erase easily off of desks.  You can always purchase shower board at 8 to 12 dollars a sheet and easily cut at least ten large mini dry erase boards for the students.  They also love using these, wipe clean with a paper towel, and all students have to do is hold up their board, so you can check their answers.  Hint: Give them two minutes to draw a picture and have the class vote on the best.  That will get the urge to get off task out of the way.
  • Pick One:  Ask students which assignment out of a selection of assignments they want the teacher to grade.  For instance, pick which one of their DGP weeks or which one of their journal writings, or which question or questions on their homework, or... 
  • PQR2ST+:  Format for students to read, take notes, and study.
  • Props:  Walk around your house and load up a container with stuff.  You don't even have to think how it relates to the novel or play.  Students will then pick an item.  Then tell the students they must find a way to connect the item either literally or symbolically to the text.  You'll be amazed with their answers. 
  • Questions Only: Used for nonfiction and literary texts, students respond to text in a unique way.
  • R.A.F.Ts:  Role, Audience, Format, Topic - encourages writing across the curriculum, great hook to begin a unit of study, assessment at end of unit, review, differentiation.  You must make sure that all options match the KUDs, skills, or concepts you want them to know.
  • Ranking:  In this strategy, students are asked to analyze components of concepts they have learned and then rank them according to a set of criteria they determine as they manipulate the information. For example, imagine that students have learned about the causes of the American Revolution. You will list the events that led up to the American Revolution and have students rank them according to their order of importance. You could also list descriptive words/descriptive language found in a passage and have students rank them according to depth or intensity.

  • Reflections:  Bright Ideas, 3-minute Buzz, Reflection Pyramid

    • RoundRobin Brainstorming:  "The class is divided into small groups (4 to 6) with one person appointed as the recorder.  A question is posed with many answers and students are given time to think about answers. After the "think time," members of the team share responses with one another round robin style. The recorder writes down the answers of the group members. The person next to the recorder starts and each person in the group in order gives an answer until time is called.     
    • The Simple Stuff:   Easy, quick best practices:  Write the Understandings of the unit on the board in their language, display student work, decorate the room and make it easy to move around in, write what the students will learn on the board in a style they will understand, use a variety of materials, focus on real-world applications, no down time, use a variety of teaching strategies, post the expectations for class behavior, make the procedures and routines consistent so transitions are smooth, the classroom is well organized and neat, relate lessons and examples to life, move around the room, model the skills for students, incorrect responses from students are dignified even celebrated as learning opportunities.                                                                                                                                              
    • Sociograms: Used to visualize key concepts in nonfiction and fiction.
    • Socratic Seminars:  a student-led classroom discussion
    • Somebody Wanted But So:   Helps students with plot, conflict and resolution, as well as character motivation.  Somebody (character) Wanted (goal, motivation) But (Conflict) So (resolution).
    • SQ3R:  Used with textbooks or articles with headings.
    • STEPS:  Strategies Toward Exceptional Performance of Students, a comprehensive selection or strategies for all classes from teachers and national organizations such as the College Board, the National Council of Social Studies, and the National Center of Education Evaluation.
    • Students are Thieves:  Students should preview the text selection by looking at the Title, Headings, Introduction, Every sentences, Visuals and Vocabulary, End of chapter questions, and Summary.  Explanation and Student sheet.
    • Summarizing Strategies:  12 different strategies for any class.
    • Take the Phone on a Vacation: Janet Ricker's students are studying about other biospheres.  After using their text, cha-cha, and Google to learn about the climate of a region, they then dress their phones for the trip to their chosen spot.   Recently, her students made khanga's, traditional dress for Tanzania.  Students put a Swahili quote and its English equivalent on the Khanga.  This also correlates to her biology students' study of Jane Goodall's work in Gombe, Tanzania, and her chemistry students' study about the extraction of gold and natural gas in this region.  Mrs. Ricker has also seen parkas, swimsuits, hiking gear, to name a few, in other lessons.  This strategy can be used with characters from a story, authors, famous mathematicians, scientists, athletes, types of cells..... Student can then do a brief style show and share their findings.
    • Team Pair Solo:  "Students do problems first as a team, then with a partner, and finally on their own. It is designed to motivate students to tackle and succeed at problems which initially are beyond their ability. It is based on a simple notion of mediated learning. Students can do more things with help (mediation) than they can do alone. By allowing them to work on problems they could not do alone, first as a team and then with a partner, they progress to a point they can do alone that which at first they could do only with help." 
    • Team statements; Blackboard share:  Students first think about a stipulated topic alone, such as What can we do to rectify economic disparities?, or What can we do to alleviate gender based job discrimination?. After students have had time to think, and perhaps take notes if they wish, they share their ideas in pairs or small groups. Next, students again work alone and devise one statement that reflects their view. Students then alternate presenting their individual statements to each other, allowing other students in their group to ask for clarification, or further information. The team then creates a Team Statement that represents an opinion everyone in the group agrees with relative to the topic. After this, (some or all, depending on class size) groups in the class share their team statements orally, or in writing, with the rest of the class. One simultaneous method of reporting, called Blackboard Share, is a structure that can be used at this stage. Blackboard Share requires the teacher to section off portions of the blackboard equally for groups to use. After groups write their Team Statements on the board, these can be viewed/discussed by the entire class. If not all teams share (such as in very large classes), one technique is for the teacher to randomly choose only some teams to share. Since no team knows in advance which teams will share, all prepare in the event they are called on to share. Team Statements is designed to give students practice in self-expression, consolidating views, and reaching a consensus despite differing opinions. Blackboard Share can be used to have students simultaneously summarize any individual or team view or result in writing for the whole class.
    • Think, Pair, Share:  Involves a three step cooperative structure. During the first step individuals think silently about a question posed by the instructor. Individuals pair up during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third step, the pairs share their responses with other pairs, other teams, or the entire group.
    • Think Differently :  Right-Angled Thinking
    • ThinkTacToeThink-Tac-Toe plays off the familiar childhood game. It is a simple way to give students alternative ways of exploring and expressing key ideas and using key skills. Typically, the Think-Tac-Toe grid has nine cells in it like a Tic-Tac-Toe game. The number of rows and cells can, of course, be adjusted.  No matter which choices students make, they must grapple with the key ideas and use the keys skills central to the topic or area of study.  In other words, whichever choices the student makes, he/she should be addressing the same KUDs as the others.  Allow students to complete any 3 tasks--even if the completed tasks don't make a Tic-Tac-Toe.  Adaptations:  Assign student tasks based on readiness.  Create different Tic-Tac-Toe boards based on readiness.  Create Tic-Tac-Toe boards based on learning styles or learning preferences.  Create Tic-Tac-Toe boards based on Multiple Intelligences.  
    • Thinking Maps Online:  The thinking maps in word documents. Ways to use them in subjects.
      • Biology
      • Use a flow map to describe processes such as mitosis & meiosis. Then use a double bubble map to compare them!
      • Use a bridge map to show relationships between organisms and their ecosystems.
      • Math
      • Use a bridge map to show relationships between equations or formulas.
      • Use a brace map to break formulas down into parts.
      • Use a tree map to classify different types of angles, shapes, etc.
      • History, Government, Economics
      • Use circle maps & double bubble maps together to explore different viewpoints, fact versus opinion, compare types of government & economic systems.
      • Use flow maps to show important historical events or a multi-flow map to show the causes and effects of major moments in history.
      • English, Foreign Language, ESL
      • Use a flow map to show progressions in time (verb tenses) or intensity (cool, cold, freezing).
      • Use a tree map to classify different kinds of words (formal vs. informal / negative, positive or neutral connotation) or to identify the essential elements of a story.
      • Use a brace map to break a word into parts. (or a verb tense, phrase, sentence, etc.)
      • Use a bridge map with pictures to explain how analogies work. Use a double bubble map to understand metaphors.
    • Three 3's in a Row:  With this strategy, create nine questions based on concepts students have learned. These questions are then typed three to a row on a nine square grid.Students then walk around the room asking their peers to answer only one question at a time. The students who ask the question, write the answers. Make sure that students write their own answers. Students repeat this process three times so that by the end of the session, each student has spoken with 3 other students. The answers are then discussed as a class. Remember that the key to this activity is the type of questions that you create. Yes and no questions do nothing to prompt discussion or deep thought. Create questions that require students to compare and contrast, show causal relationships, synthesize, evaluate, and analyze information.

  • Timed Pair Share:   "Students pair off, then number off, 1-2. The teacher chooses a number, 1 or 2, to speak first. That student speaks about a specified topic for a specified length of time. The other student listens quietly and can nod or smile, but cannot speak or interrupt the speaker. After the allotted time has elapsed, the other student speaks for the same period of time on the same, or another, stipulated topic, with her or his partner in the listener role. After both partners have had equal opportunity to speak, the teacher randomly chooses a number of students, and asks them to summarize what their partners have said. (In a small class, all students could perhaps report.)"
  • Timeline Makers for Students:  Free online timelines students can make and print.
  • True/Not True Hold-Ups:  Many of you may have used this strategy before. However, what follows is a variation on this strategy. In this strategy, True with Modifications, and Unable to Determine based on Information Learned is added to True/Not True. Students are given a sheet of paper and it is divided into four quadrants. Students write True in one quadrant, Not True in another quadrant, True with Modifications in another quadrant, and Unable to Determine  in the last quadrant. Give students a prompt and they respond to the prompt by showing which quadrant they believe is True, Not True, etc. What is interesting about the additional choices are that few things in life are black and white, and the additional choices gives room for discussions regarding issues that are not black and white. Create prompts that lead to a rich discussion; that could be done in groups or as a class. Consider the following prompt: Is it ever a good thing to lie? A rich discussion could easily follow such a prompts. Students first discuss with partner or group, responses are shown, and the further discussion follows.

  • Wake Up!:  Susan McNabb has some tried and true ways of pumping O2 into students' brains.
  • Wise Sages:  Great for introducing new material.  The teacher announces the topic. "We are going to learn about volcanoes. What do you wonder about volcanoes? What do you already know about volcanoes? Think about it." In teams, students generate questions (teacher may provide questions) by writing each question on a separate ThinkPad slip (post-it note). "Write what you wonder or what you know about volcanoes in the form of a question, each on a separate Think-Pad slip. Come up with as many questions as you can in three minutes."After students are done generating questions, they read all their questions individually. If they know the answer, they become a Sage for that question and initial the back of the paper.  Student #1 starts by selecting one question he or she does not know the answer to. Student #1 reads it aloud to the team. He or she flips it over and selects a Sage to answer the question.  The selected Sage shares the answer or what he or she knows about the topic. When finished, any other Sage can add on. Teammates can ask Sages related questions and probe for more information.  The next student picks another question and they repeat the process. If a question does not have an initial on the back, no one knows the answer. The question is set aside for teams to investigate the answer later.
  • AFLStudent Item Analysis: The student is responsible for evaluating what was missed and why.
  • AFLMoodle:  If you've got a Moodle site, check out the surveys.  They are great for assessing the forum, the class, or the assignment.
  • AFLGoal Setting for Tests:  Have students evaluate what skills, terms, items, or...they have mastered, still need to review, and/or need additional help understanding.
  • AFLMath Problems Student Self Assessment: Students analyze if they have everything needed to solve and explain math problems.
  • AFLMath Assignment Rubrics:Grading options that help evaluate learning.
  • AFL Teacher Self Assessment of Assessments: How good are your assessments?
  • AFLA Rubric for Rubrics:  Is yours ready for prime time?


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