The Strategic Teacher

The Strategic Teacher:
Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson

Harvey F. Silver, Richard W. Strong, and Matthew J. Perini

Grades K-12 $27.95

add to cart

Educators throughout state get thoughtful about instruction

By Matthew Tungate

Thoughtful Education professional development didn't make sense at first to Leigh Ann Stewart, 5th-grade reading teacher at Belmont Elementary (Christian County). That's probably because she wasn't taught thoughtfully, she said.

"We sat in classes where it was complete lecture, and if I got it, I got it and if I didn't, I didn't," Stewart said. "To pass a test, I usually memorized using acronyms. I think we just made it through (school) the best way we could."

Thoughtful Education, a professional development program based on the research and development of Harvey Silver, Richard Strong and Matthew Perini, calls on teachers to develop lesson plans based on the different learning styles of students, to better understand how students learn and to intentionally plan using strategies and tools that engage students in higher levels of thinking.

Since using Thoughtful Education practices, Stewart has discovered that she is a mastery learner - fond of lectures and practice. She found that her school's staff is heavily mastery learners and understanding learners, who use logic and inquiry to learn. There are not many interpersonal learners on staff who like group work and attention, or teachers who are self-expressive (creative and artistic) learners.

"For me, planning a self-expressive or an interpersonal lesson is the hardest," she said.

But another aspect of Thoughtful Education, collaborating with colleagues, helped her overcome that. Stewart asks teachers with different learning styles to help her plan lessons. "So we learned, as a school, to tap into each other," she said. "We became learners ourselves."

Learning styles

Jimmie Dee Kelley, Hardin County's director of curriculum and instruction/GT, said schools in her district were assessing learning styles but weren't changing their teaching before the district began incorporating Thoughtful Education practices into instruction. Now teachers incorporate a "task rotation," which includes activities for all four learning styles in their lessons.

Carol Burnett, front, and Terry Wilson work with other members of the kindergarten learning team at Lincoln Trail Elementary (Hardin County) to develop lessons about the environment as part of last spring's Earth Day celebration at the school.

KY Teacher Image

Photos by Amy Wallot

She said doing so is important, since most at-risk students have interpersonal and self-expressive learning styles. "But if the teacher's teaching doesn't ever get on that style, then the engagement piece is much harder to accomplish," Kelley said.

Principal Keith Henry said his staff at South Floyd High School (Floyd County) found that out after beginning to use Thoughtful Education in 2006.

Thoughtful Education requires answering five questions:

  1. What skills do students need to achieve at high levels?
  2. What strategies enable gains in performance?
  3. How do you address diversity in a way that is manageable and provides equal opportunity?
  4. How do you design units that motivate different kinds of learners while addressing skills and core content?
  5. How do schools become professional learning communities?

"We sort of teach our kids to the mastery learning style ... and all students weren't learning," which led to disciplinary referrals, Henry said. "Come to find out, 69 percent of our students were interpersonal learners."

Only 24 percent of the high school students were mastery learners. "That really woke our teachers up," he said.

South Floyd teachers changed the techniques they used most often. They began incorporating more techniques such as "visualizing vocabulary," where teachers give a word and students draw what it means to them.

"My teachers who are mastery learners cannot stand that activity. I can't stand it," Henry said. "But it's causing those interpersonal learners to deep process that vocabulary."

Joyce Jackson, senior associate and regional director of programs for the company that created Thoughtful Education, said teachers have to look at understanding learners better. "We think we're in charge of learning, and we're not," she said. "The learner is in charge of the learning. Educators ask themselves, 'How well did they learn?' and should be asking 'How do students learn well?'"

Jackson, a former Kentucky Highly Skilled Educator, said the Kentucky Core Content Test does a good job of using all four learning styles. For that and other reasons, it is important that all students learn to use more than just their dominant style of learning. "If we don't develop students' thinking skills in all four learning styles, we are not properly preparing them for the 21st century," she said. "The real purpose of school is to build competent workers who have mastered common skills and a common body of knowledge; creative problem-solvers who understand how to think and adapt; community contributors who can work well and learn within a team; and original producers who can tap into their own potential to create new and original products."

Strategies and tools

Kelley, the Hardin County director of curriculum and instruction, said Jackson's company has developed strategies and tools for teaching to each learning style that get students engaged, active and indepth. "Those are the three words that best describe Thoughtful Education. It moves the teacher from being the only one delivering learning to actually facilitating learning," Kelley said.

The strategies include compare and contrast, a fourphase process where students describe two things, compare them, draw a conclusion and then apply the information. Teachers also teach vocabulary using CODE: Connecting, Organizing, Deep processing and Exercising activities.

Stewart, the teacher from Belmont Elementary, said CODE and the "make a case" statement - where students use a three-column method to restate the question, write the correct answer and give proof - pulled her school out of decline.

The Five Pillars to Thoughtful Education:

  1. hidden skills that separate top achievers, such as reading and studying, thinking, communicating and reflecting
  2. sixteen research-based instructional strategies and a set of classroom tools
  3. manageable system for differentiating instruction based on four learning styles, including a learning-style inventory for students
  4. practical unit design that aligns standards, diversity, research and hidden skills to meet the needs of all learners
  5. professional learning communities

"Within that you imbed the critical vocabulary," she said. "That is how you write a three or four on an open-response question. Believe it or not, we perform better on open response than we do on multiple choice."

Central City Elementary (Muhlenberg County) kindergarten teacher Jennifer Renfrow said her school and district have been working on vocabulary and are beginning to work on compare and contrast. Vocabulary instruction is openended and moves away from worksheets, giving children a voice, she said. In kindergarten, teachers and students model a lot, using webbing and a "fist list," where students brainstorm a topic, then draw their hands and record their thoughts on the drawings.

"Thoughtful Education is very big on recording your thoughts, like reflective writing," Renfrow said. Renfrow also uses a vocabulary notebook. She writes a word and her students draw a picture to go with it. "That is non-linguistic representation, so that when they see that word they can think of their pictures," she said. "They're making those connections through their drawing. Anything that can make a connection with them is good."

"Reading for Meaning" is another strategy Kelley said helps set the stage for reading. The teacher makes statements and asks for agreement or disagreement from students to arouse their interest and get them thinking in a variety of directions. Students read, then re-evaluate their original statements, before giving supporting evidence.

Stewart, the 5th-grade reading teacher, likes to use a pre-reading technique called "Mind's Eye." She tells students 10 words from a story. Students ask questions, make predictions, draw a picture or describe how the words make them feel. Students then share what they chose using comparative thinking skills showing that the strategies naturally mesh, Stewart said.

Lincoln Trail Elementary (Hardin County) teacher Pam Goodin helps primary student Elizabeth Kaiden with an assignment on measurements as teaching assistant Yvonda Peerce, in background, uses a different learning-style activity to teach the same lesson to another group of students.

KY Teach Image 2

"They now are excited about what they are going to read. They now have a purpose for reading, and they now want to prove to their neighbor that they were right. I have them in the palm of my hand," she said. "It doesn't have to be reading - you could do that with any content area, with any grade."

Stewart's students' favorite activity is "Carousel Brainstorming." She puts chart paper around the room with a word, question, title or thought at the top. Students move from poster to poster writing what the word means to them.

"The key is if you're using your critical vocabulary and your combined document, everybody's engaged. You're hitting all the learning styles, and they're making learning their own - then you're good," Stewart said.

Teachers learning together

Thoughtful Education isn't just about innovative ways for teachers to deliver instruction. It's also about innovative ways to deliver instruction to teachers. It focuses on creating instructional learning teams, Kelley said.

Though schools implement learning teams differently, the principle is the same: a core group of teachers is trained in Thoughtful Education principles. Members of the group practice new strategies with one another, then teach those strategies to the rest of the teachers in the school. Teachers and administrators then watch each other teach and provide constructive feedback.

The key is planning, implementing and reflecting together. "Those pieces are very important, because if you try to implement without planning together, or you plan together but you implement separately, you're not going to get the richness and the growth that you're going to get when you do the three steps together," Kelley said.

Teachers may work together through "teacher rounds." A small group of teachers focuses on a standard and then each takes a different aspect (activate prior knowledge, set scene for new knowledge, activity or assessment) to present to students in their classes, Kelley said.

Teachers also receive feedback through "learning walks," she said. Teachers and school administrators walk into classrooms to look at engagement levels of - and interaction between - teachers and students. They use what they learn during the walks to provide feedback about instruction.

Stewart, a Thoughtful Education teacher leader for Belmont Elementary, said accepting both teacher rounds and learning walks was difficult at first.

"Going through this, we've been very frustrated, we've been very hurt. Then you get tough-skinned to it, and you realize it's not personal," she said. "Our school has grown tremendously from the communication and discussion."

Joyce W. Jackson, (502) 609-4425,