ASCD Professional Learning Services in Action: Four Steps for Working Smarter for Your Students


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This post is part of a series highlighting ASCD Professional Learning Services, how they can be customized and implemented, and the success stories of schools that have leveraged the services to support teachers, school leaders, and students.

By Andrew Miller

APLS Miller Working Smarter 300x300In working with teachers to implement the Framework for Intentional and Targeted Teaching® (FIT Teaching®) strategy and other instructional practices with schools that have partnered with ASCD Professional Learning Services, I find that a key theme keeps emerging: working smarter, not harder. We, as educators, have a lot on our plates, both in and outside of school, so we need to approach effective instruction with a purpose—to work smarter for ourselves and for our students. Sometimes we work ourselves too hard and we don’t even know it. We make mistakes and provide whole group instruction when small group instruction is needed. We try to increase engagement but we forget to create a climate where all students can learn. Let’s try to avoid such mistakes by following these four steps for working smarter.

Build the Culture

We know that great learning can’t happen without a great climate and culture—both within a classroom and throughout an entire school. Students and stakeholders need to feel welcome when they walk into the building. This happens with a warm reception at the front office, school tours, celebrations of learning, and the like. It’s important that we not forget this. Great instruction needs a great climate, and it can also help build a great culture of achievement for all students.

Know Your Purpose

If we don’t know where we are going, we may not get there. Students should know what they are learning and why they are learning so that they have a focus. Teachers should also have a clear understanding of what and why students are learning so they know what to scaffold and what to assess. After observing a history lesson with a teacher at Anaconda High School, I noticed there was an activity at the end of the day that, while interesting, seemed disconnected to the purpose of the lesson. In fact, the teacher was concerned about having enough time for everything that day. We reflected and talked, and she came to the realization that this activity wasn’t needed that day but could be used on another day depending on the purpose for learning. By knowing our purpose, we can ensure we are working smarter to plan and implement instruction.

Assess Your Students

Let’s be clear here: I said assess, not grade. Assessment can vary significantly, from low-stakes exit tickets and “clickers” to drafts and RAFT (role, audience, format, and topic) projects.

If we assess our students and their learning, based on our purposes and objectives, we can determine where they are on their journey and plan accordingly. We can give students the right feedback. We can delve deeper to find out if there are errors in student learning or if students simply made mistakes. With assessment, we can decide whether instruction is needed or simple prompting, cueing, and questioning will move students toward mastery.

Select the Right Instruction

From assessment, we can decide next steps to “feed forward” in the instructional process. Although these decisions often happen after a lesson is complete, an assessment during a lesson can allow us to make on-the-spot decisions on what students will need. While watching a math teacher at Anaconda High School, I noticed that he recognized that students were not doing well with the independent practice during a lesson. He stopped and moved back to focused instruction to address the gap and build confidence in his students. This was a great example of the right instruction at the right time.

If we work smarter, we can avoid teacher burnout. If we work smarter, we are giving students what they need. If we work smarter, we can build relationships and know our students.

Reflect on these strategies and set some goals for next year. How do you (or will you) work smarter for your students?

Visit the ASCD website to learn more about the principles of FIT Teaching®.


Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? He is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development needs, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.



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