What I’m Reading This Week: New Strategies!

Hey, fellow teachers: have you ever planned and prepped what you thought was an AMAZING lesson, only to teach it and have your students not connect to it well at all? When I think back to the days when I began teaching, I tend to be critical of myself for this reason. Though I feel like I had some great lessons with good levels of engagement, I also had some lessons that were less than award winning in terms of student engagement, interaction, and concept building. When I would begin a new concept, I tried to explain it first, but I can think of several times when I turned around from lecturing and writing on the whiteboard to see the blank stares on my poor students’ faces! This is how I imagine these moments:

We’ve all had those challenging days in our classrooms, right? (Ok, hopefully, not like that example!) Looking back and sometimes even now, I realize that I needed a set of strategies that could help students at various levels of learning to get the most out of a lesson with new concepts and vocabulary.

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So, in ‘what I am reading this week’, I pose the question: what can I add to my teaching toolbox to increase student engagement and improve retention and understanding of a new concept or vocabulary for kids with a variety of gifts and challenges in learning?

One sample from what I discovered this week included a video example of * Dr. Anita Archer’s lesson for an eighth grade geometry class. She did an amazing job using explicit instruction, making me wish I’d watched this before my weaker moments beginning this profession!

After watching her lesson, I could put several key points in my teaching toolbox, and I think you might find them useful, too, fellow teachers. I loved how she included several levels of engagement, including garnering responses from the whole class, having students draw the examples of definitions on their own slates, and then having the students turn to respond or explain to pre-assigned neighbors. During these types of engagement with the information, I also appreciated her use of explicit instruction, that she ‘promoted the use of math vocabulary’ (Archer, 2017) and gave her students more accurate terminology as they were having dialogue about the material. “Students with learning difficulties and disabilities often struggle to learn these types of associations” (Okolo, 2017), so this master teacher showed me the tool of “listing critical attributes with definition… Students can then list the attributes to determine if an exemplar is an example or a non-example” (Archer 2017). Lastly, Dr. Archer also was looking for responses from her students “using examples and non-examples” of their vocabulary (Archer, 2017). Her use of explicit instruction strategies proves valuable in really ensuring both students who master the information easily and students who struggle to comprehend, remember, and apply the knowledge can engage with the new vocabulary. I feel like I can definitely apply some of these strategies when I’m explaining new concepts for reading pitches and rhythms in my music classroom, but they certainly could be used for any content you may teach.

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Maybe you’ve already used the strategies Dr. Archer presented, but if you’re like me and need more tools to ensure your students aren’t yawning from non-interactive boredom and that they are truly learning from what you are teaching, maybe you’d like to check out another resource I’m reading this week? On her website, * Cultofpedagogy.com, Jennifer Gonzalez explains her strategy of using Concept Attainment. No matter what content you teach, her great ideas could be applied to any content at any level. Gonzalez explains that instead of just giving your students the definition of a new concept, you should first give them examples and non-examples. In light of visual art instruction, “Instead of providing any terminology or any kind of definition, you could simply tell students that you’re going to study a new style. To learn the style, you’ll show them paintings that use that style, and paintings that don’t- Yes and No examples” (Gonzalez, 2013). If you’re thinking this might be just another strategy that would take extra time and thought to implement, there is research to back this one up! The author explained, “This strategy uses two (classroom practices) from that list: identifying similarities and differences… and generating and testing hypotheses” (Gonzalez, 2013). She framed it as a way to bring students into what is presented to them, almost like having to solve a mystery in their learning (Gonzalez, 2013), and I know that would intrigue my students. Bringing this element of mystery and deeper thinking and comparison into what my students are learning would be yet another great tool that I definitely plan on using.

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If you’re looking for a teaching strategy specific to vocabulary, I’m reading one more resource about growing this very tool. Todd Finley’s blog on Edutopia focuses on * 8 Strategies for Teaching Academic Language. One of my favorites that he introduces is to use summary frames. “Students read a section of text to themselves before verbally summarizing the passage to a partner” (Finley, 2014). They can use sentence frames to do this, filling in the blanks of premade sentence starters. I think this would be a great way to get my students talking about a variety of ways to learn, like listening to a piece of music, and then telling their partner about what they heard or what the composer intended to say through the music. It would be a great way to give my struggling learners a simplified path to discuss what they heard and what they thought or felt when they listened. Finley also gave the strategy to “Dynamically Introduce Academic Vocabulary” (Finley, 2014). When I read it, it seemed simple enough, but I hadn’t thought of, as he wrote, to give kids “first encounters with vocabulary sticky. Use the word in a funny or personal story. Show a short video from VocabAhead that features 300 SAT words and categories vocabulary by grade level (Finley, 2014). Just merely explaining new vocab to my students didn’t stick in their minds. If we were to use this tool, our students could relate to their own experiences and stories, giving them another pathway to put their new info to use.

Do you have other resources or tools you use in your classroom beyond what I’ve found here? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please click the speech bubble icon to the right and leave me a comment!


Archer, A., Dr. (2017). Explicit Instructions | Effective and Efficient Teaching. Retrieved July 03, 2017, from http://explicitinstruction.org/video-secondary-main/secondary-video-4/

Finley, T. (2014, January 02). 8 Strategies for Teaching Academic Language. Retrieved July 03, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-strategies-teaching-academic-language-todd-finley

Gonzalez, J. (2017, March 04). How to Use the Concept Attainment Strategy. Retrieved July 03, 2017, from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/concept-attainment/

Hughes, J. (Director). (1986). Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [Video file]. USA. Retrieved July, 2017.

Okolo, C. (2017). Explicit Instruction. Retrieved July 03, 2017, from https://d2l.msu.edu/d2l/le/content/576255/viewContent/4999485/View