Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Crux of the Implementation Gap: Strategies Should Support LEARNING, not Assessment

One of the highlights of my #ASCD13 experience last month was chatting with the authors of the Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core.

My Nerdy Fangirl Pic with the Core Six Authors

Not only does the book provides teachers with a succinct series of strategies for promoting meaning-making in any subject, but it also clarifies one of the most common problems that teachers face:


We know the research, we know what to do, and we STILL don't get results. WHY?

Well, it's related to the implementation gap. And, in the Core Six, the authors offer a very clear explanation of how this happens:
If you want to get results, you need to treat each strategy as a learning strategy rather than an end of learning assessment; make sure students have clear criteria for comparing items; and guide students to deeper thinking in phases.
Basically, we use strategies to collect data about student performance without actually using the strategies to explicitly teach students how to deepen their thinking.

Let's consider an example I saw last week.

The teacher read a story to students as they sat on the rug. After reading the story, she said, "Now we are going to compare and contrast." Students took a venn diagram graphic organizer back to their seats and proceeded to fill it out while referencing their version of the story. Then the teacher moved throughout the room and offered assistance to students. At the end of the lesson, students shared what they wrote. However, the teacher wasn't satisfied with their responses.

After talking with the teacher, we redesigned the lesson to include more modeling and scaffolding for students. Instead of using compare and contrast as an assessment strategy, we used it as a learning strategy. To begin the lesson, the teacher read a story to students on the rug. As she read, she carefully modeled how to put appropriate comments in each area of the Venn Diagram. After reading (This is the important part, folks...) she showed them 3 different Venn Diagrams that compared the same story to 3 different levels of expertise. The teacher asked students, "Which one shows the deepest thinking? How do you know?" Then students spent about 10 minutes discussing what deep thinking looks like when you are comparing and contrasting 2 different things. From here, students could choose any brief text (at their reading level) to try out some deep thinking with the compare and contrast strategy. The lesson ended with students sharing their responses and self assessing their work.

The quality of student responses between the before lesson and the after lesson was quite astounding. To get the benefits of research-based strategies, we must help students analyze and honor the thinking that's required for success.

So, remember: 
Strategies work best when we use them to scaffolding thinking, not measurement.


  1. Thanks for this post! I have a great principal with whom I have been having this very same continual conversation; she sent me a link to this post. I am glad she did! As a fourth grade teacher, I have been doing some deep reflection about this issue of reading strategies being misunderstood as an end instead of a means. I have always felt uncomfortable with the way that the prevailing wisdom presents strategies. We focus on them as the outcome! I appreciate you adding more to my thought-artillery!

  2. Thanks for reading, Annah! I used to teach third grade, and I also had to do some serious reflection around my teaching of reading and reading strategies. I'd love to hear anything that you try in your classroom around these ideas. It helps me to learn! ;-)



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