May 23: Questioning and Discussion Techniques

2.1 Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques. This component of program standard 2, Instruction, highlights the importance of the teacher utilizing a variety of questioning strategies and discussion methods to engage students in learning. Conversations are an imperative part of learning process: by discussing concepts and beliefs with others and using feedback from others to refine those concepts and beliefs students are able to cement their understanding and learn more than they would in the absence of conversations. The teacher is responsible for creating an instructional environment that utilizes conversation and provides students with the opportunity to inquire about and discuss what they are learning amongst their peers and with the teacher. Internship has introduced effective ways to enhance questioning and discussion techniques in the classroom.


A curriculum the Social Studies department uses at my school is the Choices Program created in partnership by Brown University and Watson Institute for International Studies. Not only is this curriculum excellent because of it’s design to connect historical events with contemporary issues, it also provides students the platform to discuss history, participate in historical issues, consider multiple viewpoints, and formulate arguments to express their views on those issues (Brown & Watson). My mentor teacher had the class participate in a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) during their Imperialism unit. An SAC is exactly as it sounds; it provides students with a controversial topic from history, in this case King Leopold of Belgium’s treatment of the people of the Congo, to discuss within a structured conversation aided by academic primary and secondary sources from that period of time. The students are each assigned a perspective that they are to defend and are then grouped with students from differing viewpoints to discuss the issue as members of British Parliament. Together, the students are to come up with a consensus but only after presenting their stance and preparing questions to ask their opponents. In this learning task students are actively questioning and discussing history while learning about the various values, interests, and priorities that impact both the past and present (Brown & Watson).

SAC graphic organizer to aid students in their discussion and questions.

SAC graphic organizer to aid students in their discussion and questions.

While the students participated in the SAC, I was able to circulate around the room to each group and listen to their conversations. I was so impressed with how engaged they were in the discussion, how thoroughly they argued their stance, as well as how high quality their questions were that they prepared for their classmates. They were also glad to respond to the questions I posed while I visited each group as I aided them in considering a different perspective.


A few other questioning and discussion strategies I observed and used during internship include gallery walk, conver-stations, and Socratic seminar.

  • Gallery walks encourage questioning and discussion in small groups as students walk around the classroom to view the various pictures or prompts displayed around the room and respond to them. Responses will vary from emotions to clarifying questions and require the student to formulate their own ideas about what they are seeing or reading. Sometimes, if the image or prompt is particularly difficult, students discuss it and collaborate to develop some sort of understanding. Each text that is provided to them in the gallery walk will begin a discourse that will be drawn upon during the rest of the learning segment and will continue to aid them in their understanding of the central focus. I have used this to introduce a unit and also used it as an opportunity for students to explore the lasting effects of Imperialism.
  • Conver-stations are a strategy similar to a jigsaw as students discuss a question in a group and, after having time to discuss the question, are moved into another group to discuss a different but related question. This provides the opportunity for students to have a deeper conversation about a given topic and brings a wide variety of perspectives into the conversation because of the movement of students from one group to another. This is not only a great way to get students talking, but it is also easy way to help students to generate ideas for essays.
  • Socratic seminar is one of my favorite methods for discussions and questioning. When preparing for a seminar, I provide my students with a reading and reflection questions, but I also require them to develop their own question(s) to bring into the conversation. Providing them with questions to consider ahead of time, and requiring them to prepare their own questions, gives the seminar a starting point and from there students have meaningful conversations about the topic. Even more student generated questions are brought up throughout the discussion as it is the nature of seminar. During my time teaching World History, my students had a very meaningful conversation about the atrocities of WWII as they considered who should be held responsible for the Holocaust and other crimes from that period of history. Students were able to bring what they learned during the unit into the conversation, articulate their opinions, consider varying perspectives, and determine their understanding of responsibly in their community, country, and world.


One thing I truly enjoy about education is the opportunity to discourse with students as they seek to understand the world. I cannot imagine a classroom without conversations and I would like to continue to utilize discussion and questioning techniques in my lessons. I made questioning and discussion techniques my goal for the 2nd semester of the school year. My administrator, who had a similar goal, shared with me some of the strategies she uses (like conver-stations) and I tried them out knowing that the more I use them the better I will get at employing them. One area in particular that I would like to improve is selecting more controversial readings for seminars as I tend to avoid conflict, particularly in my religion classes as faith can be such a sensitive topic for students. I don’t want my fear of conflict to take away from my student’s faith journey and their need to grapple with challenging issues in light of their faith. But on the topic of controversies in faith, I am looking forward to developing a curriculum similar to the Choices Program for the Religion department at my school. Religion is such a rich content area with such a complex history that students can engage with meaningfully through conversations and I look forward to making those conversations the center of my instruction in years to come.


Brown University & Watson Institute for International Studies. (n.d.). About the Choices Program. Retrieved May 23, 2016, from The Choices Program website:

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May 19: Communicating with Families

Teacher communicates with families about students’ progress on a regular basis, respecting cultural norms, and is available as needed to respond to the family concerns. This component of standard 7 Families and Community emphasizes the importance of culturally appropriate communication with families regarding student academic and social performance that is transparent and proactive as well as the willingness to work with families to address concerns about individual student performance. The family plays a significant role in the education of students and with ongoing conversation teachers and parents can work together to support all types of learners and their various needs. The primary means of teacher-family communication at my school are email and a cloud-based application, student information system (PlusPortals) which includes homework, grades, progress reports and teacher/class information; parents and teachers mutually use these modes of communication to discuss student progress and concerns which typically focus on grades.


The school wide policy for responding to emails and voicemail is 24 hours and the expectation for updating PlusPortals is daily for homework, in class handouts, and notes as well as every 2 weeks for inputting grades. Grades are live, so student academic progress is communicated immediately with smaller assignments and up to 2 weeks after students submit larger assessments. PlusPortals is an incredible resource for families and students to work together to keep on top of assignments, use the calendar to see what is upcoming, and reach out to the teacher when needed.

Image 1.1 PlusPortals homework assignment information, due dates, and downloads.

Image 1.1 PlusPortals homework assignment information, due dates, and downloads.

I have found that being proactive when it comes to student performance saves the family, student, and teacher time and grief in the long run. It is also important to follow-up with families who have raised concerns about their student as my mentor practiced by sending a follow-up email after our meeting with a mother about her student. Just before my internship began, my mentor and I met with this particular parent along with the student’s counselor and administrators to openly discuss concerns she was having in what my school refers to as a staffing. It was helpful going into internship knowing more about the class, and the mother’s concern for her son, and helped me to be able to support his specific needs while I was the teacher. If I hadn’t taken the time to be present at the meeting and hear her concerns, I would not have been able to provide what her son needed. Being in contact with his mother helped her to support him from home, and together, we were able to see him make positive improvements academically and socially.

Image 1.2 Mentor teacher's email to parent to update student progress.

Image 1.2 Mentor teacher’s email to parent to update student progress.

Admittedly, I do need to work on reaching out to parents when I notice positive things happening in my classroom. It is easy to send an email when behaviorally, socially, or academically a student is struggling, but the positive interactions and achievements seem to be more difficult for me to reach out to parents about. I would like to improve in this area and I hope to be able to send weekly updates to all of the families highlighting what has happened in classroom that week, highlighting specific students each week, and updating them on what is to come. Positive communication is extremely powerful and I hope to be better at keeping my parents informed in this way. If I can take the time to send an email about a missing assignment, I can take the time to send an email applauding a student for their leadership, kindness, or willingness to take a risk in the classroom.

Image 1.3 Response to parent concern about assignments and performance.

Image 1.3 Response to parent concern about assignments and performance.

When it comes to communication, my rule of thumb is to always be positive and if I haven’t been able to reach out to a parent for something positive at first, being gracious and helpful always helps me to create a team effort between the parent and teacher. This is especially helpful if an email, or voicemail, are frustrating at first. And most importantly, when it comes to frustrating communications, it is best practice to walk away and come back to it at a later time rather than responding in the moment. I always like to thank the parent for sending me the email and if the student hasn’t raised a similar concern, I inform the parent that I am going to reach out to their student to discuss it further.

Currently I am drafting an email to my families to inform them of upcoming assessments and deadlines as well as offering helpful tips to the freshman parents when it comes to supporting their students for final exams. Even though I don’t expect any responses from parents, it is important to communicate these types of things to them as they directly correlate to student academic performance and even anxiety; I want to be a resource to my families so that they feel they can support their students from home without having me there to help them. Teaming with parents to support and encourage their students is a vital part of being an educator and there are always opportunities to reach out to parents and update them on student progress.

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May 18: Non-instructional Duties

Efficient systems for performing non-instructional duties are in place, resulting in minimal loss of instructional time. This component of standard 5 learning environment expresses the importance of developing and teaching classroom procedures to maximize time for learning tasks. Just as clear directions are important to ensure success on an assignment, non-instructional duties ensure time for learning along with order and predictability in the classroom. Not only do students know what is expected of them when a teacher takes the time to develop and teach their students non-instructional duties s they can also be self-advocates in their learning environment and their learning environment is more productive.


While some non-instructional duties such as grading and taking attendance are solely the teacher’s responsibility, other non-instructional duties can be taken on by the entire class in order to maximize instructional time. An example of a collaborative non-instructional duty that maximizes time for learning is creating a filing system to keep copies of daily work for students who were absent and teaching students to go to the file if the day they return to class to collect materials they missed in their absence. This system allows students to take initiative and enhances time for learning because students know what to do and where to go to find materials from when they are gone rather than going to the teacher  at the start of class, making it difficult for the lesson to begin for everyone else. This is one example of  a non-instructional duty that I have observed, and have tired, which allows the teacher and students to work together to accomplish important aspects of learning, such as collecting missing materials to say on track, that could hinder the learning environment.


Of the many systems created to smoothly handle non-instructional duties I have observed during my internship, a few stand out to me as worth implementing in my own classroom. These include:

  • Returning graded work
  • Collecting work
  • Cellphone management


One of my mentors utilizes a filing system for returning graded work to students. Each student has their own file and they have learned to check the file as they come into the classroom. Rather than returning assignments while students are working, which can be distracting as students can begin to obsess over scores and compare their grades to their

Graded Work File

Image 1.1 Filing system for returning graded work.

classmates’, the teacher created this procedure to streamline the process and taught the students how to use it. This maximizes instructional time because students are collecting their own work before or even after class which allows the students to stay on task during the class period without conversations about grades interrupting them. This also also enables the teacher’s time for supporting students in their learning because they do not need to return work to students during instructional time.



The same mentor also has an efficient system for collecting homework. The classroom has a numbered pocket chart hanging at the front of the room and each student has a corresponding number. By having students put their completed work in the pocket chart the teacher no longer has to wait on all of the students to have their work out to collect at once and no longer has to halt the class from transitioning to the next thing by waiting on

Image 1.2 Pocket chart for collecting student work.

Image 1.2 Pocket chart for collecting student work.

students. Just like the filing system for returning work, the students are responsible for turning in their work on their own at the start or end of class (depending on what the assignment is). This pocket chart system not only benefits the learning environment, it benefits the teacher’s time for grading and returning work because the work is in a numerical and consequently alphabetical order which streamlines the feedback, grading, and filing process.


Possibly my most favorite non-instructional duty solutions for cellphone management is cellphone “daycare”. Two of my mentors have a hanging shoe rack on the wall with each shoe compartment numbered; each number is assigned to a student and the students are taught, from the first day of class, to put their cellphone in their numbered compartment.

Image 1.3 Cellphone management system for eliminating distractions

Image 1.3 Cellphone management system for eliminating distractions

This brilliant system eliminates cellphone related distractions and disciplinary issues in the classroom while maximizing time for learning. Students are much more engaged in the learning tasks as they aren’t “sneaking” to check their phones and respond to texts throughout class time. Students also aren’t worried about someone sending a snapchat of them without permission which before cellphone daycare caused arguments in class. This system is a gift to the teacher because it eliminates one major distraction from the classroom, can help the teacher take attendance quickly, and determines who might have their cellphone in their pocket at the start of class, enabling the teacher to gently remind the students of the policy.


Over the course of my internship, and over the last 6 years I have spent in the classroom, I have learned a great deal about the learning environment and the importance of thinking through non-instructional duties to boost instructional time.  I already utilize bell-work to streamline the attendance process, a class handout file for absent students to collect work they missed, and group norms and expectations for all group work; each of these has helped me to maximize time for learning in the classroom. One area I need to work on is cellphone management. I plan to borrow the idea of cellphone daycare from my mentors, add it to my class syllabus, and use it in my classrooms next year. I plan to continue to find ways to streamline non-instructional duties and will continue to seek out ideas from my colleagues as issues arise in my classes. I already have a very limited time in my classroom with my students and want to organize my classroom in such a way that the time we do have is maximized and so I am able to complete all of my non-instructional duties.

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April 27: Formative Assessment

6.2 Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment. This standard emphasizes the importance of scaffolding assessments throughout a unit in order to collect data and improve student learning. The use of formative assessments is critical to the learning process as it helps the teacher to adjust lessons according to student learning and student needs. Formative assessments, both verbal and non-verbal, are used daily by the teacher to determine student progress. In my observations during internship as well as my practicum in the classroom, I have experienced formative assessments in a variety of ways. In particular, formative assessments are used as book-ends in the form of reflections at the start and end of class. In some instances, the entry task asks students to recall the learning target from the day before to connect previous learning to the current class. This not only helps to align lessons, it helps students to deepen their learning by making connections one day to the next. Exit reflections, typically in the form of an exit-slip or journal, provide students with an opportunity to share what they understood about the lesson and where they still need help as well as offer a platform for their voice in the learning process. I have used data collected in exit slips to reteach content to the entire class or to individuals the following day.

A fun and engaging formative assessment I utilize weekly is an online quiz called Kahoot. It is a multiple choice quiz which allows students to text in their answer, ranks their scores creating friendly competition, and allows the teacher to download a spreadsheet that records student answers for each question as seen in Figure 1. Kahoot is a great resource for assessing fact based knowledge, but when it comes to higher levels of thinking based on Bloom’s Taxonomy formative assessments need to allow students to analyze, evaluate, and create. Socratic seminars allow for students to discuss these types of questions and allows the teacher to assess their analytical, evaluative and creative knowledge that has been developing over the course of the unit. One of the guiding questions for my unit in World History asked students to consider who should be held responsibility for the atrocities of WWII, which they were able to discuss in a Socratic seminar. They did so by drawing on the facts that had been presented throughout the unit and by making connections to arrive at their own conclusions while also developing speaking and listening skills.

Formative assessments provide the teacher valuable information in regards to student learning and comprehension as well as how students perceive their learning. I could improve my formative assessments by using a wider array of assessments to collect data about student learning and provide more opportunities for students to self-assess. One way I could provide self-assessment opportunities to my students is by allowing them to chart their growth in their academic notebook to provide them a visual representation of what they know, what they learn, and how they grow over the course of the school  year.

Figure 1. Kahoot Results.

Figure 1. Kahoot Results.

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March 20: EDU 6361 Permeable Textual Discussion

Writing a lesson plan suited for discussion within the context of a research unit was challenging, but I think I found a way to have students discuss the research process in a meaningful and beneficial way. My students will be working together in small groups to evaluate their found sources using the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, purpose (CRAAP) evaluation process. Students will discuss sources using the language and questions provided by CRAAP and determine if the sources they found should be used to support their research topic or answer their chosen question. See the full lesson plan in the link provided below.

Textual Discussion

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March 7: EDU 6361 Grammar Lesson Plan

This lesson is an attempt to connect grammar instruction to the everyday instruction of the classroom. This grammar lesson, which focuses on compound sentences with explanatory statements, is how I would envision teaching students the specific sentence pattern in the context of writing a research paper. The lesson is a way of challenging them to develop their written language and use a variety of sentence patterns in their communication.

Grammar is not best taught in isolation, and this lesson allows for grammar to be part of the overall writing and revision process. Click the link to see the entire lesson.

Grammar Lesson

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February 22: EDU 6361 Unit Lesson Planning

To borrow from Smagorinsky, getting down and dirty with lesson planning (p.184). See my 6 week research unit, day-by-day by clicking the link below.

English 12 Research Unit Daily Lesson Plans

Smagorinsky, P. (2008). Teaching english by design: how to create and carry out instructional units. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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