IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Posts tagged achievement

Start the Year With a Priming Plan

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom students take charge of their own learning, guided by a masterful teacher who puts a bridge in place to ensure their success. That first week or two of school is your opportunity to prime your students for success in your classroom. The Priming Plan is the key to a powerful and rewarding school year.


There are three things you should accomplish in your Priming Plan:

  1. Have students build familiarity with all of the structures you will use to put them in charge of their own learning.
  2. Build in them a sense that they can succeed at high levels.
  3. Gather some assessment data regarding both academics and social interaction to use to make decisions.



Your classroom is outfitted with a resource table, help board, peer expert board, and other structures to support learning. Students will use rubrics to drive their learning, activity lists to access rich and diverse opportunities to learn what’s on the rubric, and folders to organize their work and communicate with you. They will sign up for small-group, mini-lessons and limited resources. They will negotiate with their peers to set times for group work, pairs work, and individual work, and note that on a schedule they’ll create to guide their actions. Your classroom will be set up with various areas, and maybe even flexible seating options, so that students will have a place to work quietly, join a small-group mini-lesson, have a discussion, work collaboratively, and more. Find a creative way to engage students in learning all of this. Consider a scavenger hunt with areas set up with how-to sheets or videos made by you or past students. Create an adventure where they have to find the clues to solve a mystery. Write a book or story about your room where students fill in parts related to how they work as they explore the classroom. Start with an easy rubric and activity list to help them through the early days. (For more on the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, read Students Taking Charge.) 


Students’ Belief in Themselves

John Bargh conducted research in which he had college students walk down a hallway to a testing room, unscramble words into sentences, and walk out of the room and back down the hallway. Students who unscrambled words that related to old age, such as shuffleboard, bingo, Florida, and retirement, were primed with old age; they left the room walking more slowly than their peers who unscrambled words that did not prime them for old age. Malcolm Gladwell shares powerful stories from research about priming students in chapter 2 of his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, referencing the phenomenon of “priming” — using auditory, visual, or tactile cues to nonconsciously shape behavior and thought. The words you use, whatever hangs on your walls, and the way you arrange your classroom all send messages to your students. How will you prime them for success? Have them pick out favorite quotes? Fill your room with gritty phrases? Have them write about the things they are good at? Consider using a Great Student Rubric (check out all three versions on the IDEportal) rather than hanging a list or rules to which they must comply. Spend time priming students to feel good about themselves and their prospects for the year.


Assessment Data

Your curriculum has prerequisites that you assume students have learned in prior grades. Find out! Offer short quizzes and activities to determine how prepared your students are for your curricular goals. Capture data on students’ learning habits and executive function skills. Rather than engaging a group of students for the entire Priming Plan, as you would in an Authentic Learning Unit (ALU), have students engage with one another through a variety of pairings and groupings. Get a sense of the students who work well together and whose styles complement one another. This will help you set your home groups for the first ALU.

While you may not dive into curricular content as quickly as you might otherwise, the time you spend ensuring the students understand how to use all of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom and building a sense of ownership over their learning will leave you well ahead of your prior pacing after a month or two into the school year.

A well-designed Priming Plan will make your year!  Here’s a planning guide to help you. Go change the world!


See also, “Starting the School Year: Priming Plan vs. First ALU

A Classroom is Like a Swimming Pool

How do you create a culture of creativity and problem-solving while addressing all of the curriculum standards? As you may know about IDE Corp., we love using metaphors and similes to rethink “school” (e.g., “teacher as ferry; teacher as bridge”). So let’s consider the infinity pool: a swimming pool that gives the impression of endlessness and offers exploration while providing supportive boundaries.

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is all about Students Taking Charge, that is, having choice and voice within safe boundaries. Let’s break down some of the structures and strategies:


  • Teachers consider the curricular standards and design a problem-based task students could accomplish if they mastered those standards. They design a rubric to provide students with clearly articulated expectations. Teachers present the task and rubric to students at the start of the unit, driving the learning! The task and rubric provide a certain set of boundaries, like a pool, to keep students safe within the realm of the curriculum (because, that is what’s expected in schools these days, unless you’re going rogue!).


  • An activity list offers a variety of differentiated learning and practice activities to support students in mastering the curricular goals; however, students decide which to use, when to work on them, and with whom they will work. Students have a lot of choice and voice as they “swim” around the learning environment.


  • Teachers facilitate learning, helping students make decisions about their learning paths, providing direct instruction, and probing thinking to move students to higher levels of understanding.


  • Every Authentic Learning Unit (ALU) that begins with a task and rubric results in students’ demonstration of knowledge through the creation of some sort of product or performance. If the product or performance itself is not a part of the curricular goals, teachers should allow students to present in a variety of ways. For example, if you’re teaching poetry writing, students may be limited to writing a poem; but if you’re asking students to present a solution to designing a zoo habitat for an animal, you can allow them to present that through a written proposal, video, multimedia presentation, scale model, or any other means, because your curriculum is about habitats, not presentations.


The structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom are what enable the freedom. Within those structures, students are empowered to explore, make decisions, be creative, and invent. Make your classroom a swimming pool, metaphorically speaking, that is. Change the world!

Standardized Testing Super Bowl Style

Yesterday’s historic Super Bowl win by the Patriots was an amazing example of grit and the can-do attitude that students need to take the state standardized tests. The Falcons were poised to win: with 17 minutes to go, they were leading 28 to 3; no team had ever come back from that far down to win; they had the game in the bag. What happened?

The Patriots had grit; the Falcons’ confidence shook. The Falcons were highly capable, with great players who know how to play the game well; but they lacked the can-do, fail-forward, grit that the Patriots had. It’s a good time of year to reflect on this and make sure your students walk into standardized testing with great grit!

About that test! Please answer the following question:

Ciò che è due più tre?

The answer to “what is two plus three” is five. Chances are, you know that content, but you might have been thrown by the question being written in another language. If you know the romance languages, you might have worked somewhat to figure it out and arrived at the answer of five, but it took you more time than if it were written in your native language, assuming you don’t speak Italian.

I believe many students know far more than their standardized test scores indicate, but the act of test-taking is not natural for most students. It is, therefore, important to spend some time before standardized testing helping students build familiarity and grit, so that what they know in their heads actually translates to the paper or computerized test situation. Here are some ideas:

1- Build test-taking familiarity. Throughout the year, provide students with tests similar to the format and test-taking conditions they will encounter on the state tests. I was once struggling with an earth science course (I admit I didn’t pay attention in class). I bought the state’s practice book, took the first test and scored a 20%. Without looking up the incorrect answers, I took all of the tests in the practice book. I then went on to take the actual test and scored in the high 80s. Familiarity with the test helped me greatly. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students are used to working collaboratively, talking, moving around, putting their names on a help board. None of this resembles the test-taking formality of standardized tests. Teachers must simulate test-taking conditions prior to state tests to ensure students are not overwhelmed by the situation so much that they can’t put what’s in their brains on the answer sheet.

2 – Build a “can do” attitude about strategic test-taking: looking for clues and insights to reading the questions and answering them; knowing where to place an emphasis. Use a superhero approach that fits for the age level, like _____ School’s Mutant Ninja TestTakers. Imagine if students considered the characters and their strengths, and related that level of grit to test-taking success! Imagine if they went into the test with superhero powers on their mind.

3 – Inspire your students with positivity! The worst thing you can do to a losing team is tell them they’re losers; that just demoralizes them. Coach Belichick didn’t go into the locker room at half time and tear down his team; he told them to “keep doing what we’re doing; play like we know how to play and not to think about what happened.” He inspired them to achieve the greatness he knew was inside them. Pump up your students to let the world know how much they know. You may have heard of the teacher who wrote inspirational #growthmindsetmessages on students’ desks. On test day some schools are known to have their teachers line up at the entrance and high-five students as they’re walking in.

4 – Get students learning from students! Students in Jessica Lutzke Heck’s class at Chester W. Taylor Elementary School take their roles as peer experts very seriously. They must first be vetted by Jessica to ensure that they know the content well enough to teach it. (Create a vetting quiz of questions like those on standardized tests.) Then they must submit a lesson plan consisting of four items:

  • The example they will use to instruct the group in the skill and the points they will make
  • The example they will use for guided practice
  • The example they will use for independent practice
  • How they will assess their group’s mastery of the skill

Identify key content and set up your students to teach one another through a week or two of small-group, mini-lessons using a student sign-up process. Imagine just lots of small group sessions run by students. Students learn well from one another; and they learn by teaching others. Ensure all students have the opportunity to conduct a small-group, mini-lesson.

5 – Prepare for greatness! Share with your students how great athletes prepare for competition: get a good night’s sleep; eat a good (non sugary) breakfast; and drink water (all good for the brain.) Inspire them to be as great as they are. In preparation for the test, try this activity. First, cover your desks/tables with butcher paper on which to write. Then put students into groups of 3-4 and ask them to recall everything they’ve learned this year about the subject, discuss it as a group, and write it on the paper. Challenge them to see how much they can fill in within 15 minutes. Then ask one student at each table to stay while everyone else moves to new tables. Let the remaining student answer any questions about what is on the paper for the others, then have them all continue to add content. After three rounds, bring the group together and comment on your observations: how much they remembered, key insights they may have had, and talk about any content that was glaringly missing. Let students know that they know what’s on the test: they just have to let it out!

Sometimes it’s not a matter of students not knowing content; it’s a matter of familiarity with the situation, and grit! OK, as the state tests approach, go change the world!

#LATICinsights: Social Learning Environments Accelerate Literacy Development

fotolia_kids-collab_xs_croppedIf you want to build literacy skills, leverage the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as a social learning environment. Consider that students engage in problem-solving as part of a learning community in which they engage with teachers, outside experts, and one another. They spend their day speaking, listening, reading, and writing! It’s a veritable literacy playground, if you set it up well.

Problems and Solutions word on wooden table

Through the solution-finding process, students discuss what they know, what they need to learn, how they will learn, what they’ve found out, possible solutions, and how they will present the solution to others. In addition, the structures of the classroom provide myriad opportunities for teachers to build literacy skills outside of deliberate literacy instruction.

When I ask students what they like about the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, they invariably mention the ability to choose what they do when. That freedom is enhanced through literacy. Given students are motivated to control their own time and learning activities, teachers can use that motivation to deliberately build literacy skills. post-it-tenacity

  • Use your notes in the two-pocket folder to build vocabulary by using a word and then defining it.
  • Model strong language use on your activity list. Instead of saying, “Read article on water cycle and draw your own,” say, “Peruse (read thoughtfully) the article on the water cycle and illustrate a depiction of your own.” Instead of “Write down your ideas from reading the story and meet with a group member to share ideas and agree on one main take-away,” say, “Generate and capture in writing your insights upon reading the story; meet with a colleague to collaborate on determining one, key insight to glean from the story.” If you want students to build language skills, you need to model them. Create a culture of literacy!
  • Have students use a design process to work through a problem, keeping a design notebook in which they write their findings and ideas. (The problem itself will promote reading.)
  • When you facilitate, ask students to tell you about what they’re doing and why. Engage in conversation! Introduce vocabulary words there as well.

Below is a grid on just some of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom through which teachers can build literacy skills.


Deliberate and purposeful use of language in the classroom paired with maximizing opportunities for students to speak, listen, read, and write are foundational to building a culture of literacy. Add to that direct instruction in literacy through learning activities; small-group, mini-lessons; and concept-based benchmark lessons, and you have the formula for accelerating literacy development. And with strong literacy skills, you can … change the world!








Hour of Code for Raising Student Achievement

As a former computer programmer, who believes that programmers run the world, I have a particular fondness for the first full week in December, known as “Hour of Code.” Coding deserves a lot more respect than it gets for raising overall student achievement.

Coding is the art and science of giving commands to a computer to make something happen. For students, it often focuses on moving characters or objects around a screen to accomplish some task, or giving commands to a robotic device to have it carry out specific tasks, such as picking up an object or moving. The Hour of Code site has many coding activities in which students (and you) can engage.

You can think of Hour of Code as an introduction to the field of computer science. However, the academic skills students will build during that hour are powerful. First, they will be exercising many executive function skills. The highlighted skills below are just some that stand out; you could actually highlight almost every executive function skill as being addressed through coding. As you plan or use existing coding activities, map them to executive function skills to see how you robust your coding activities really are.


Coding also building reasoning skills, which are essential to student achievement. Here are just three types of reasoning supported by coding:


For a more comprehensive list of types of reasoning skills, visit the changing minds website.

Try some of this year’s Hour of Code activities and think through how each one builds executive function and reasoning skills, both key to increasing student achievement. Then consider building coding opportunities into your classroom or course throughout the year. Promote coding; change the world!

Problem-Based Learning at Chester W. Taylor Jr. Elementary in Zephyrhills, Florida

zephyrhills-article-on-cwtes-2nd-gradeThe Zephyrhills Free Press in it’s November 10th edition describes how second grade students at Chester W. Taylor Jr. Elementary School in Zephyrhills, Florida created dozens of “unique, handmade brochures” to help encourage tourism to their city.  The brochures are the end product of an authentic and relevant problem-based learning unit developed by teachers during training with the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom. Based on the book “Students Taking Charge” by Dr. Nancy Sulla of IDE Corp., Chester Taylor Elementary “adopted this method of teaching three years ago”.  Second grade teacher Marabeth Ward comments “that she has seen great improvements in the students already”.

Ward describes her students as “more invested in their work and determined to learn” and her teaching as “a lot more student-driven”. She says her students are learning “life goals that are going to translate as they get older”. “I really love it,” said Ward.

Learn more about the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

Founded by Dr. Nancy Sulla, IDE Corp. offers a comprehensive instructional model that is the synthesis of the best research available on student achievement. IDE consultants work with school districts around the country to help them shift paradigms and design new approaches to instruction.  IDE Corp. has been providing instructional and organizational consulting to schools since 1987.

#LATICinsights True North

Illustration of old fashioned nautical compass, isolated on brown background.

In navigation, “true north” is the direction to the Earth’s axis. It differs slightly from a compass’ magnetic north, and from a map’s grid north. So it takes some reflection, calculation, and adjustment to find. In life, the metaphor plays out to mean finding one’s authentic life and living it to one’s fullest potential. So I thought I’d relate it to the plight of a teacher running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, in relentless pursuit of the greater purpose of ensuring learning for all students.

In #LATIC, true north would be a set of beliefs to which you are striving, always pointing. They include:

  • All students can learn at high levels; it is a teacher’s job to help them figure out their personal path to success.
  • Engagement is key to learning: not compliant engagement merely through activity choice, but that which comes from grappling with real world problems that give purpose to instructional activities.
  • Students must be empowered through responsibility and choice in order to build executive function and be prepared for life beyond school.
  • Direct instruction in rigorous content is essential and is provided through carefully crafted learning activities; web-based activities; how-to sheets; and small-group, mini-lessons.
  • A teacher’s role during class is to facilitate: ask probing questions, challenge thinking at deeper levels, gather assessment data to drive further activities, and be a key part of a student’s learning process.

As you continue to design and perfect your classroom learning environment, keep your sights on true north. Check the daily decisions you make against the beliefs held by Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Teachers.


#LATICinsights: Protocols for Powerful Engagement

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, the teacher is a “bridge builder,” creating structures that allow students to take charge of their own learning. It’s important to ensure that at any point in time, you can look at a student and know what is going on in that student’s mind. Is real learning taking place?

Protocols can help! A protocol is a set of guidelines for interaction. A strong #LATIC bridge builder provides students with protocols. A direction sheet with clear steps to follow to complete an activity is a protocol for how students will engage with information toward learning. As students engage in group work and discussions, protocols can ensure that they are getting the most out of the experience.

You can teach students proper “rules of engagement” for discussions to make them productive. Once students build the skills, they will be able to schedule and engage in discussions on their own. Here is an example of a protocol for a group discussion (If you would like a pdf of this protocol and the others mentioned in here, please contact us using the box on the right.):


This protocol references a placemat activity to begin the discussion and a Six Hats and PMI chart for consensus building.

Thnsrflogoe National School Reform Faculty has a great collection of protocols to use with students. The key is to provide the “bridge” structures to allow students to take charge of their own learning.

That frees up the teacher to facilitate and engage in important discussions around content rather than organizing student action. Empower your students; change the world!





#LATICinsights: Cultivating Rigor

When you first learn to design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you are faced with the paradigm shift of launching each unit of study with an authentic, open-ended, real-world problem to solve. You start by thinking through the problems students could solve at the end of a five-week unit if they learned everything. Designing the problem-based task statement is just the beginning.

Imagine the task as the gift box that excites students to delve into all of the rich and diverse opportunities to learn. Your next step, therefore, is to fill the unit by building a collection of learning opportunities. My latest video discusses this metaphor in more detail.

Learning opportunities include whole-class lessons, small-group lessons, teacher facilitation, and learning activities. Much of the learning in a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom takes place through learning activities, rather than teacher dissemination of knowledge through lessons. Unlike activities to practice learning, learning activities should be narrowly focused on a skill or concept, include step-by-step direct instruction, and provide the student with some level of feedback. When designing learning activities, consider the following:

  • What is the grade level standard to be met?
    • All students must meet this standard.
  • What prerequisites would be needed?
    • Some students may need help in mastering prerequisites first, but they cannot stop there; they must achieve the grade level standard.
  • What learning activities can you find or design that provide concept exploration or direct instruction in skills, including a variety of learning modalities, related to the standard?
    • Differentiation should include not only cognitive differences, but learning style differences.
  • What supports/scaffolding could you put in place for students, such as partner work, how-to sheet or video, peer expert board, help board, and teacher facilitation?
    • Once involved in an activity, how can you ensure students will meet with success?

Rigor means ensuring that all students are learning at high levels of understanding and application of at least the grade-level standards. With LATIC students taking greater responsibility for their learning, teachers are freed up to engage more powerfully through facilitation toward greater rigor. Make your gift to your students complete with powerful opportunities to learn. Change the world!

#LATICinsights: Driving Achievement Through a Product or Performance

What would most motivate you to learn how to calculate the perimeter of a space?fence-bubble

  1. Someone tells you to learn it.
  2. You want to fence in an area of your yard and need to know the distance around it.
  3. Someone tells you you’ll need it for your future.

I don’t know about you, but I would pick b! Clearly, I learned a lot in school just because someone told me to learn it; and I also forgot it after the test.

David Sousa’s research on the brain, from his book, How the Brain Learns, points to the need for information to make sense and have meaning in order to be stored in long-term memory. Concepts and skills out of context make no sense and have no meaning to the brain, thus, the reason I promote the use of problem-based learning to drive instruction.

The core of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is driving instruction through an authentic, open-ended, problem. Real-world problems are the best! The purpose is to ensure that learning makes sense and has meaning. The keys to designing a powerful, motivating task are to make it:  

  • Standards-aligned (It’s too easy to have a great task that doesn’t get the job done!)
  • Open-ended, meaning there is no one right answer
  • Authentic, meaning the situation occurs in real life
  • Have an audience, that is, someone to whom the student could present the solution
  • Ensure that the task is aligned well with students’ interest so that they are engaged (grappling) rather than compliant

You might have students:

Once you have your problem, and have your students hooked, you must then fill their days with rich and diverse opportunities to learn, so they can, in fact, design the product or performance. Your problem-based task is your strong foundation. Create great problems for your students to solve; change the world!