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Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Posts tagged LATI

#LATICInsights: Teach Consensus-Building!

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students have many opportunities to make decisions that affect groups, including when to meet, the roles different group members will take, which solution is best for a problem, how to present the solution, and so forth. It’s a perfect opportunity to teach young people how to build consensus rather than relying on the easier, but more dangerous, majority-rule voting.

The problem with majority-rule voting is best summarized in a quote generally attributed to Ben Franklin, “two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” In classrooms, and society, the losing side is often angry and subsequently focuses time on how to get others to take sides.

The alternative is to work toward consensus and ensuring that all group members can, in the least, “live with” the decision. The ability to reach consensus will help children during their school years and well beyond throughout their lives. You can use a variety of classroom tools to teach consensus. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “Love it, hate it, live with it” – As students make group decisions, rather than voting, they state one by one if they love the decision, hate it, or can live with it. If even one person hates it, the discussion continues to find a decision for which everyone can say they love it or can live with it.
  • DeBono’s PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting ideas or questions) – As students ponder a decision, they stop and take 3-6 minutes to independently jot down two aspects they like about it, two they don’t like about it, and two questions or ideas related to it. They then discuss their entries for each of the three columns. Often, the final decision lies in the third column.

  • Placemat Activity – Students sit around the “placemat” and enter their decision and supporting ideas in an outer area of the paper. They then discuss and, when they arrive at consensus, they put the decision in the middle of the paper. All students then initial it to confirm that they agree with the decision.

  • De Bono’s Six Hats – This is a great tool for looking a decision from a variety of angles. When a group is stuck, they individually jot down ideas for all six hats.

The time spent helping students learn consensus building will pay off through a more productive classroom climate and have lasting effects for society at large. Change the world!


Facilitation: It’s Not Data Gathering; It’s Teaching

What does the term “teacher as facilitator” really mean? Facilitating learning is what adults do naturally with young children. The parent observes the child and starts asking questions and making connections. When a child grabs a blue block, the parent says, “blue” perhaps followed by “what else is blue?” pointing to multiple items that are blue. Then the parent moves on to another color. Meanwhile the child is grappling with what makes those blue items different from these red items, and learning follows. If the sky grows dark with clouds, the parent may ask what that means and then follow with the idea that it means rain may be coming. The next time dark clouds appear, the parent prompts the child with a question as to what that means. Teachers need to mirror this process while facilitating learning at all levels.

While teachers will gather formative assessment data during facilitation and ensure that students are on task, the most important role in the facilitation process is helping students to learn. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, much of the facilitation process involves teaching! When you enter the room, it should be difficult to find the teacher, who is invariably sitting among the students teaching through facilitation.

The “learning hourglass” (introduced in It’s Not What You Teach But How) depicts three stages of learning that should be addressed during facilitation.

Creating a “Felt Need” to learn: The first step is to ensure the student is motivated to learn the content. We learn best when we feel a need for a skill or concept. When you sit next to a student to facilitate learning, determine if s/he is ready to learn the next skill or concept. If so, you might ask a “what if?” question to trigger awareness on the part of students. For example, if a student is adding up pennies, you might ask what would happen if you took ten pennies and gave him a dime? He wants to make sure he’s not being cheated, so he has a “felt need” to figure out if it will be the same or not. If a student has determined that photosynthesis is the process through which plants produce energy, you could ask, “So how do you think the process is affected when you have a pine needle versus an oak leaf?” The key to teaching is to trigger a felt need so that the student’s brain is more likely to engage in learning.

Acquisition: The brain learns by making connections to existing knowledge. If I know how to add, then successive addition of the same number of items leads me to the concept of multiplication. In order to construct meaning, students need to “grapple” with content, exploring in terms of what they already know, identifying gaps in what they know, and figuring out what they don’t know. For example, if you understand the economic concepts of supply and demand, you might engage in a simulation where you realize that some product sales remain steady in spite of price changes (such as food and gas) while for other products, a price increase causes a drop in demand, because people view these products as a luxury. Thus you begin to understand the concept of elasticity. It’s important to lead students to grapple with content by asking them questions, for example: “Even though the price of milk went up by fifty cents a gallon, the store is selling just as much. Why do you think that is?” If a student is struggling with a skill or concept, you might suggest other learning resources such as a video, a learning center, or attending a small-group lesson. IDE Corp.’s Five Levels of Facilitation Questions can offer suggestions for asking questions that move toward higher academic rigor. The key is to help lead the student to learning.

Retention: Once the student “gets” a skill or concept, it’s important to ensure s/he engages in practice and application in order to increase retention. Ask questions that prompt applying content to a different situation. Look for opportunities to refer back to previously learned content. For example, as students learn about literary devices and find out that metaphors and similes are examples, ask to what other category they belong, to reinforce the concept of figurative language. The key is to help ensure that the learning is retained.

Print out a copy of this Guide to Facilitating Lasting Learning to use as a reminder during facilitation. The Facilitation Roadmap is also a helpful tool for identifying how to help a student learn.

So, sit down with a student, facilitate learning, and 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!

Three Levels of #LATIC Implementation

I have great respect and appreciation for teachers who work hard to shift their paradigms and practices to design Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms. The multi-year process requires that they move through three levels of innovation implementation:

Level I) The Framework

As a foundation, the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is a combination of Authentic Learning Units (ALUs) and a collection of structures. The first step in design is to create a compelling problem-based task for the unit, followed by a rubric to provide clearly-articulated expectations. Creating activity lists of required, choice, and optional activities builds student responsibility for learning, as do structures, such as: the Help Board, Peer Expert Board, and Resource Area. All of this becomes the first level of design in shifting to a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

However, students may not show the desired achievement gains without . . .

Level II) Purposeful Learning Activities

As students encounter an unknown skill or concept on the rubric, they should be able to look at the activity list and find a variety of ways to learn, such as through: videos, how-to sheets, learning centers, and more. The challenge is that conventionally, a teacher presents the content to the whole class and then assigns activities to practice what they’ve learned. In Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms, teachers minimize the amount of whole-class instruction; however, they must still provide direct instruction through a variety of venues, Therefore, once teachers have the foundation, they turn to creating and improving upon their library of learning activities. This improves student achievement, however, to raise the level of academic rigor so that students build deep understanding of content and can apply it to new situations, you need . . .

Level III) Masterful Teacher Facilitation

The role of teachers in Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms shifts to engaging with students “in-the-moment” as they pursue learning goals. Teachers help students learn to self-assess, set goals, manage time, and select appropriate learning resources. They work from the Help Board to assist those in need of help. Most importantly, they probe students’ thinking through “what if?” questions and content-rich conversations. They observe and listen to students, synthesize the data, determine the natural next step for a student, and then provide guidance. It’s difficult to locate teachers because they’re sitting down with students.


It’s important to move through to include all three levels of implementation. Take the worthy journey to design classrooms that are the embodiment of Students Taking Charge, and change the world!

#LATICinsights: Form Follows Function

The term “form follows function” derives from an article by American architect Louis Sullivan entitled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. To summarize the meaning:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

The influence of the factory-model of efficiency had a profound impact on schooling, in spite of the fact that churning out products has little to do with nurturing thinking. Classrooms today still resemble the factory approach of individual seats set in rows, though in recent decades schools have worked to modify that by clustering desks or placing them in a circle. What must happen, however, is that schools need to rethink the function of schooling and outfit classrooms accordingly.

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students engage in learning in a social environment, as collaborators as well as individual content masters. Students are actively engaged in a variety of activities throughout the day; and while short, whole-group lessons are a part of the day, they are nowhere near the bulk of the day. Therefore, the form of the classroom should address the various functions related to student work. Students can then move seats and sit in a variety of areas for the whole-group lesson. Here are a few considerations for furniture purchases:

1. To create a culture of collaboration, ensure an unbroken surface among collaborators. Round tables ensure that equals sit around a table with an unbroken surface, thus not designating any area as belong to any member, and not having any member at the head of a table. I recommend 42″ tables for most four-person collaborations as it allows for discussion with lower voices than the more common 48″ tables. A clover table is a great “hybrid” — students sit at the indent, 42″ apart, while surrounded by a little more table space with a 48″ diameter at the longest side.

2. For pairs discussions, and for speaking activities in a world language classroom, use smaller, 32″ café tables. A smaller table allows two students to converse with one another without adding to the overall noise level of the classroom. It provides a form that follows the function of a one-on-one conversation.

3. Consider high-top tables, particularly in middle schools. Students who are experiencing growth spurts and hormonal changes often need to move around and shift position during the class period. A high-top table allows students to continue to engage in learning whether they choose to stand or sit. While working, you’ll see students stand, sit, and stand again without interrupting the conversation.

4. For individual work, consider using some individual desks, perhaps placed in an area of the room away from the collaborative areas. Standing desks can be useful as well; a recent Forbes article pointed out the value of standing desks for energizing the brain.

5. For small-group discussions of, for example, the current problem students are trying to solve, consider soft-seating such as couches and comfy chairs so students are engaging in what feels more like a living room. Students can sign up to reserve the discourse center for their group work.

6. Teacher facilitation is an important part of the learning experience, and, while students are working, teachers should be moving around from table to table, area to area, to partner with them in the learning process. While facilitating, teachers should sit with students (or stand alongside them) rather than hover over them. To accommodate this activity, a stool makes a great seating option for the teacher. Teachers can carry around a lightweight stool or have several set up around the room.

7. For conferences; small-group, mini-lessons; and book discussions, you might want to use a rectangular table, allowing for a more formal environment with, perhaps, a group leader.

These are a few ideas for furniture that fits within the generally accepted ideas for classroom furniture. However, more and more school furniture companies today are developing unique options for various activities. Just consider the function, and find the appropriate form to match that function!

Here are some “tweeted” options from our client Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms (click on the image for the full tweet):




Desks with writeable surfaces


A variety of areas in third grade

Student-created areas

And more . . .


Meditation is to Teaching . . .

Happy New Year! The January return to school is always accompanied by resolutions and energized educators looking to continue to make that difference in the lives of their students. It’s also a time when people are determined to take time to take care of themselves: going to the gym, daily meditation, reading more novels, etc.

My last blog post of 2016 focused on the quest for innovation. For my first of 2017, I thought I’d use meditation as a metaphor for teaching. The purpose of meditation is to achieve deeper levels of consciousness, positioning one for greater success and happiness. The purpose of teaching is to achieve deeper levels of learning and understanding, positioning one’s students for greater success and happiness.

When meditating, you sit up very straight, elongating your spine, which takes deliberate effort. However, you then begin to relax most of your muscles, from your head down to your toes. The infrastructure of your spine supports you; the part of your body that expends energy to work and move relaxes into a calm state. I like to think this describes a well-run Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

The “spine” of the classroom is the infrastructure you put in place: the problem-based tasks, rubrics to guide students, activity lists, how-to sheets and videos, resource area, help board, peer expert board, and more. Setting up your infrastructure takes deliberate effort. However, the “muscles” that you have used to ensure everyone is working, gather students, give directives, handle behavioral issues, hand out papers, etc. can now relax, knowing that the students’ actions are supported by the infrastructure. That leaves you to now relax into the classroom environment and use your mind to help move students to deeper levels of understanding through your facilitation.

You can observe students in action; ask clarifying questions to assess their level of understanding; ask higher-order, probing questions to push their thinking; offer suggestions for their work plans; offer instruction when they’re stuck; and more. If the spine is strong, the muscles can relax. So to enjoy the mental stimulation and conversations between teacher and student in the classroom, take steps to strengthen your infrastructure.

Wishing you all the best for 2017!

#LATICinsights – Avoiding the No-Man’s Land of Innovation

Innovation requires a shift in mindset and action, sometimes taking you outside of your comfort zone. As you design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you will no doubt find times that you are outside of your comfort zone. Your tendency might be to drop a structure that doesn’t seem to work for you or your students. Don’t do it!

In the game of tennis, players first played at the baseline. The ball would cross over the net, bounce in the court, and as it approached the back line, the player would hit it back. Over time, the game, and tennis racquet fotolia_tenniscourt_xstechnology, evolved, and the net game was born. The player would run up to the net and hit the ball as it crossed, not waiting for it to bounce first. For some players, this was natural and comfortable. For others, being at the net was stressful, and they would begin to back up, fearing they would miss the ball. The problem is that if they backed up to just the middle of the court, they would find themselves in what tennis folks call “No-Man’s Land” (the center of the court between the net and the baseline.) The balls would bounce at their feet and they could not hit them.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, if teachers back up and drop a structure here and there, they end up in #LATIC No-Man’s Land. The classroom will not run as smoothly and the students may not achieve to the desired levels. The key is, you can’t drop a structure because each one has an important reason for being there, and the structures support one another. Take a look at the list below. This represents just some of the many structures that make the classroom work.


As you innovate, be sure to lean in, embrace the change, reflect and adjust, but keep moving forward. When something appears to not work, it’s usually because a structure or strategy is missing. Rather than reverting to former methods, find out what’s missing that needs to be added. Avoid No-Man’s Land! Innovate and 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!








#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!