Norwood Public Schools:

Best Practices for Teaching and Learning

This page is maintained by Dr. Alexander Wyeth, Assistant Superintendent for the Norwood Public Schools. Suggestions for improvement are always welcome.

Connections with Current Work: For more information on Homework and Grading Best Practices, NPS educators should have access to the following shared Google Folder: "Homework, Grading, and Reporting"

Habits of Mind: THE Essential Question

12 Things Kids Want from Their Teachers by Angela Maiers.  Educators & Staff: You Matter!...Especially when you help each student believe that s/he matters, counts, is important, and has something special to offer others and the world.

Characteristics of Gifted Students

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” Mark Van Doren

On the power of teaching:

"I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized." --Haim G. Ginott

On preparing students for the 21st century:

"We don't want students to regurgitate the information we present; we want them to invent new ways of putting facts together. Besides invention and innovation, students need to demonstrate problem solving, creative and critical thinking, leadership and collaboration, and global awareness and communication. Students who exhibit these skills are empowered to take control of their own learning. They are creators, not simply absorbers." -- Hertz and Aungst, Educational Leadership, February 2011. A related article: "Rigor Redefined" by Tony Wagner, Educational Leadership, October 2008.

7 Principles of Effective InstructionClick on the link.

Essential Focusing or Probing Questions for Lesson Planning:

  1. What am I teaching? What do students need to know and be able to do by the end of this lesson, class, unit, term, and year? What is essential for students to master; what is nice to know? Have I selected "must know" content from the curriculum frameworks (the State's Common Core/Learning Standards) in a way that allows me to go deep with the learning? Have I clearly and repeatedly communicated these expectations to all my students so that they know them?
  2. Why am I teaching it? Do students understand why the lesson's content is important to learn? Do I have an authentic, convincing reason (not "Because you will be graded on this" or "You need it for next thing we do.")?
  3. How am I teaching it? Are students actively engaged in the learning process? Who is the primary worker/learner: me or the students? Where possible and appropriate, do students have some choice or control over what they learning (This builds buy in, supports internal motivation)? Why am I teaching it that way? Is there a different, more effective way to reach students?
  4. How will I know my students are getting it? Am I checking for understanding often enough to make corrections in time? Do my assessments measure what is most important for students to understand and master?
  5. How will my students know they are getting it, or not? Am I providing frequent and concrete (actionable) feedback (without penalty)(formative) to students so they can make corrections in time?
  6. What will I do differently if they are not getting it, succeeding, learning?

Other Critical Elements to Effective Teaching and Learning:

  • Set clear, achievable personal learning/achievement goals with students (individualize as much as possible). Finds ways for them to take charge of their own learning!
  • Give students as much say (choice) as possible in determining and setting their learning goals for the year/semester/month/unit. We want students to become responsible for their own successes.
  • Provide students with concrete examples (exemplars) of what proficient and exemplary work looks like for the work at hand.
  • Provide frequent low stakes (e.g., ungraded) feedback to students on their progress relative to limited, well defined set of goals, standards, and exemplars.
  • Emphasize assessment for learning. De-emphasize or eliminate external motivators (grades, candy, bonus points, extra credit, material rewards, etc.) and develop internal motivation.
  • In a standards-based program it is very important to separate academic outcomes/achievement from behavioral outcomes (e.g., don't average attendance "grades" in with test grades). Two excellent articles to read: Article on grading practices: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov11/vol69/num03/Five-Obstacles-to-Grading-Reform.aspx, esp. Obstacle #5.

    Article on homework practices: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov11/vol69/num03/Making-Homework-Central-to-Learning.aspx, and accompanying flowchart: http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_201111_vatterott_Flowchart.pdf

  • Differentiate content, process, and product as often as possible to provide students with different pathways to learning based on their interests and learning styles.
  • Collaborate with your colleagues to improve everyone's practice. Model effective learning.
  • Make as many connections as possible: Connect with kids; connect kids with the content; connect content areas; connect content to the everyday world.
  • If something doesn't work, try something else. Take a risk. The administration encourages and supports innovation!
  • Most importantly, ask for feedback often from your students. What is working for you, what is not? What did you learn today? What are you still confused about? This lets kids know you care, are willing to listen to and hear them, and are willing to try something else so they, and you, can be successful. Here are two feedback forms you can use or modify: Short Student Feedback Form, Long Student Feedback Form.
  • Success breeds more success.  Failure can shut kids (and you) down. See "The Science Behind Thinking" below.
  • Laugh often; make your passion for the content tangible; have fun!

Habits of Mind:

An Essential Question for us all (teachers, administrators, parents, coaches, etc.): How are you/we helping students develop these "habits of mind," these essential outcomes of effective teaching and learning, human growth and development?  Here's a one page list of the habits.  And here is another resource for teachers: Teaching the Habits of Mind.

To see some best practices in action, search the Teaching Channel, a great resource!

Thousands of Online Lessons: You must check out this Khan Academy site for some excellent subject matter content videos that you can use with students to introduce or reinforce a lesson. You could assign a video for homework or have a substitute show a video or two if you are out.

Another Great Source of Well Designed Lessons with Multimedia Resource Links: Teachers' Domain by PBS LearningMedia. You can filter by grade and subject matter! Check it out.

Other helpful resources for all teachers:

Characteristics of Gifted Students

Mindsteps. It's Free.  Seven Principles of Effective Instruction

TeacherVision. Lesson plans, printables, and more. Working with Emotionally and Behaviorally Challenged Students

Tips for Managing Student Behavior


The Science Behind Thinking 

Studying the science and biology behind student thinking, or pedagogy, is the key to understanding why students' confidence biologically stimulates their thinking.

When students feel confident, the brain releases endorphins that trigger faster neurological connections. The increased cognition speed helps students think clearly and logically, which leads to improved problem-solving abilities.

On the other hand, when students feel stress, their brains undergo neurological inhibition, placing mental blocks. This slows down their thought processes and is the root of anxiety and frustration. When this inhibition occurs, students are unable to think clearly and will generally give up on a specific task (from ASCD Education Update, July 2013). 

Also see this short video on "How the Brain Learns"


Some models and places where extraordinary education (learning and teaching) is happening: 

What can we do here in Norwood to replicate some of these powerful learning practices? Who is willing to take the risk and give it a go? Ask your principal and Dr. Wyeth for support.

Edutopia: Schools That Work and Project-Based Learning and Technology Integration

Coalition of Essential Schools and CES Resources

Harvard School of EducationActive Learning Practices for Schools (ALPS) and What It Looks Like

National School Reform Faculty. This site has many excellent protocols for looking at teacher and student work among others!

Big Picture Learning


Here are some excellent articles and resource books for all teachers:

This is an essential read for all involved in educating others: Understanding the Keys to Motivation to Learn, by Barbara L. McCombs.

This is a two pager about how kids view their intelligence and its impact on their learning. Having a "growth mindset" vs. a "fixed mindset" makes a huge difference! (Carol Dweck's book Mindset is well worth reading): 

Education and the Role of the Educator in the Future -- Phi Delta Kappan, December 2010/January 2011 (V92 N4).  Speaks to how the teacher's role needs to change to prepare students for 21st century.

20 (Self-)Critical Things I Will Do to Be a More Equitable Educator.  Identify several of these powerful suggestions to keep in front of you or to use as personal goals.

Best Practices Website (with a content literacy and math focus):  This short weekly professional development site is worth subscribing to. Check it out!

The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skillsby Jon Saphier, Mary An Haley-Speca & Robert Gower, Research for Better Teaching, 2008.

Instruction For All Students, by Paula Rutherford, Just ASK Publications & Professional Development, 2008.

Why Didn't I Learn This in College? Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century, by Paula Rutherford, Just ASK Publications & Professional Development, 2009.

Teach like your hair is on fire! (A motivating book by this title on teaching by Rafe Esquith, Viking Press, 2007). It's about teaching 5th graders in an impoverished Los Angeles school.  The message: If you care, you can engage and reach hard to reach kids.  It is filled with good ideas for hooking students into learning.