Teachers Using What They Know To Increase Student Learning - Steve Barkley

Teachers Using What They Know To Increase Student Learning

Instructional leaders and coaches need to create opportunities for teachers to engage in reflection that identifies their ongoing learning about students and critical thinking that applies their learning to extend student success (continuous improvement). This is the process that should be built into professional learning communities and instructional coaching conferences.

Here are a series of questions I used recently to facilitate such a conversation with a school’s vertical PLCs:

In what area are you observing your students making the greatest overall learning progress?

 What are the students doing (student behaviors) that you believe is producing their learning success?

 What did you do/are you doing (teacher behaviors) that initiated or supports those student actions?

 What are the next steps (goals) in this area?

As the members of the PLCs listened to each other and clarified teacher observations and insights I asked that they identify common elements.

Here are some of the areas where this group of teachers identified exciting student progress:

Social and emotional growth in pre-school children

Independent reading in primary students

Student thinking occurring in Math Talk  and student pleasure in thinking

Genius Hour activities in Social Studies

genius hour


Here are the common elements that emerged from their discussions:


*Higher student control/decision making and responsibility

*Student initiative and independence

* Student risk-taking to make mistakes

*Students’ growing confidence to keep going without initial success

*Students assisting each other when struggling emerges

*Increased student effort including time investment and repetition


* Risk-taking….letting go of control

*Holding high expectations

*Teaching process and strategies

*Creating an environment that is safe, calm, encouraging with physical and emotional support

* Celebrating ….effort, perseverance, problem solving that precede achievement

Our next step was to identify an area where students were not exhibiting the same learning behaviors that were present here and therefore not making the desired progress. This group of teachers identified that writing was an area they wished to improve. Our discussion then moved to what teacher behaviors and actions we might draw from the above list to initiate the desired student behaviors.

Some early ideas for experimentation were to:

Increase the pre-writing activities to be more like Math Talk activities where students have more conversation and thinking out loud before being asked to write individually

Have primary students do more story- telling

Create reasons to write….first and fourth grade students writing to each other as pen pals.

Ask older students to mentor younger students’ writing.

Build writing into extensions of math talk or genius hour activities.


Here is another set of questions you can use to lead a PLC reflection and critical thinking conversation:

*In what area are you finding that your students’ progress overall is insufficient to reach the goals you have set?

*What are the student learning behaviors needed to produce the learning outcomes you want?

*What student behaviors are now present?

*What are you doing to gain the desired student behaviors? What are you finding?

* Do you believe you should stay with what you are doing or try something else? Why?

By having someone prepare a few reflection and critical thinking questions prior to the PLC session you will find higher engagement and increased insights for advancing student success. Taking action is more likely to follow, increasing teacher satisfaction in the PLC process.


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