Are We Leaving Instruction Behind?


by Genevieve Graff-Ermeling and Bradley A. Ermeling, Educational Leadership authors

A few years back, we worked with a high school staff that had embarked on a journey to create and use standards-based benchmark assessments. are-we-leaving-instruction-behAdapting a protocol developed by research partners at the University of California-Los Angeles, the teachers focused on how they would use the assessment results to guide interventions for individual students and continuing instruction for the whole class.

After sorting through priority needs from assessment data, the protocol asked teacher work groups to address two questions: “What are we going to teach?” and “How are we going to teach it?”  As we worked with the teachers, it became clear that they were skilled at addressing the first question–but initially, nearly every work group had trouble articulating and exploring the second question. When given guidance and more time for collaborative inquiry, however, the teachers began to develop detailed plans and ideas to address the “how” of instruction–plans and ideas born of their experience, enhanced by team members, and refined through discussions with instructional support staff.

For many U.S. schools and classrooms, intense focus on assessment and intervention has left behind crucial questions about the “how” of teaching. In our article “Every Lesson Needs a Storyline” in the October Educational Leadership, we share examples of the ways in which powerful, thorough lesson planning–which includes developing a design rationale and a lesson storyline–can enrich teacher collaboration. To make such detailed lesson planning practical, we suggest that teacher teams choose selected lessons for collective study and reflection. When combined with thoughtful use of standards and assessments, this kind of collaborative inquiry can revitalize teacher work groups and provide better instruction for all students.

Genevieve Graff-Ermeling ( is assistant head of school for teaching and learning, Concordia International School, Shanghai. Bradley A. Ermeling ( is an independent educational consultant and member of a research team from the University of California-Los Angeles and Stanford.