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The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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McTighe & Wiggins: How to Write a Master Plan for Student Learning
May 27, 2015
Grant Wiggins' family announced today that he passed away on Tuesday. We've shared many of his insightful articles and ideas over the years. This post is dedicated to the memory of a brilliant and committed man who understood learning deeply.
by Cathy Gassenheimer
Summer offers some opportunity for educators to relax, renew, and prepare for the next school year…hopefully in that order!
The April issue of ASCD’s Education Update offers tips for that third part of your summer vacation: preparing for the 2015-2016 school year. As you continue to work to improve instruction using Alabama’s College-and Career-Ready Standards (CCRS), this article offers some useful tips. Let me summarize.
Relying heavily on research from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins in the new ASCD/Arias book, Solving 25 Problems in Unit Design: How Do I Refine My Skills to Enhance Student Learning?, this short but resource-laden article, titled “Writing a Master Plan,” suggests five strategies teachers should consider when planning instruction.
  1. Establish an End Game
  2. Avoid Cotton Candy Curriculum
  3. Resist Information Overload
  4. Plan Out Loud
  5. Ditch the Daily Focus
Establish an End Game
As teachers begin to plan instruction, they need (as Wiggins/McTighe always remind us) to start with the end in mind.
What is it that students need to know and be able to do? How will it be measured? In what ways can the unit be planned so that students deeply understand the key concepts? And, importantly, how can students apply and demonstrate proficiency?
According to Jay McTighe, “Just like a coach plans with the game in mind, teach individual skills and knowledge with the performance in mind, not as ends in themselves.”Read More
Until We Listen to Research and Find Courage to Loosen Control, Our Students Will Not Excel
May 19, 2015
by Cathy Gassenheimer
Those of you who follow my blog posts know how much I value the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson. In fact, the first thing I do when a new issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership arrives is turn to her column and read it. I’ve never been disappointed.
Today, after reading her insightful comments in the May edition of the magazine (themed "Teaching with Mobile Tech"), my curmudgeon self rose up. Here’s what prompted my “curmudgeonness.”
Tomlinson began her column ("Mobile Tech: Great Potential, Great Challenges") by speaking to the great promise of mobile tech to make teaching “more efficient and manageable” and to personalize or differentiate instruction. Then she turned to the barriers of the effective use of technology:
“…teachers operate from a set of unconscious and powerful beliefs about teaching and learning that shape most actions and reactions in the classroom. Many, if not most of us, believe at some deep level that teaching is telling, learning is absorbing and giving back, curriculum is largely fact- and skills-based, students are largely untrustworthy, management is about control, and fair is treating everyone alike.”
My curmudgeon persona sighed but nodded while reading Tomlinson’s views.

I’ve had the good fortune to be in a lot of classrooms this past school year, and I’ve seen many riveting, engaging lessons where students are either sharing or bearing most of the cognitive load. Sadly, I’ve seen almost as many classrooms where the teacher is up in front lecturing or asking questions in rocket-fire fashion, expecting a single, certain “right” answer.
Curmudgeon Cathy wonders whether these educators have paid any attention to Tomlinson’s body of work on differentiated instruction, or Hattie’s research on effective teaching and learning, or Ron Berger’s work on student-engaged assessment.
Read More
Feeling Overwhelmed? What If You Could Be Convinced That 'Less is More'?
May 12, 2015
by Cathy Gassenheimer
During this time of year, almost any teacher would love to hear “less is more!” Wrapping up the year, testing, student assemblies and public events, grading, and all the rest – May just seems to demand more time. As a result, Facebook posts by teachers all across the country are beginning to count down the days until summer.
What can be done to make teaching less cumbersome and more engaging—for both educators and students? The authors of an excellent new book that came across my desk the other day have an answer: Less is more!
The book, Less is More in Elementary School: Strategies for Thriving in a High-Stakes Environment, is written by three educators from South Texas – Renee Rubin, Michelle Abrego and John Sutterby – who regularly deal with students of poverty and second language learners.
The authors suggest that the new standards provide a real opportunity for teachers to slow down, focus more on important concepts and deep learning, and engage students more effectively through interdisciplinary learning. In fact, they suggest that Alabama’s new standards can be used “as a springboard for creating a streamlined curriculum that does less, but does it better” (p. 4)
That statement certainly got my attention and the book moved from the queue into my hands. Soon I was tweeting as I was reading!Read More
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