Literacy and CCSS: Removing the Stigma from the Struggle

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have raised the bar significantly for our students. For this blog I want to focus on CCSS Anchor Standard 10, as it demonstrates one way in particular that these standards have raised the bar. Standard 10 establishes a staircase of text complexity, and expects that by the end of each year students (beyond the primary grades) are reading on grade level texts independently and proficiently. (This is in response to research by ACT that shows the ability to read complex texts is what separates students who are college ready from those who are not.)

The authors of the CCSS call for all students to spend more time reading complex texts, even if they fall at a student’s “frustration” level. This has generated controversy because much of the literacy research and practice of the past 30 years has been focused on making reading easier for kids, by doing things like simplifying texts or matching students with texts that they can read independently. The idea of struggling in literacy has traditionally had a negative connotation, with readers who struggle being renamed as “striving” readers in recent years.

Is Struggle So Bad?

Literacy experts such as Tim Shanahan have recently begun to question the wisdom behind reducing opportunity for readers to struggle with complex texts. While it’s definitely possible to find a text that is simply too hard for a student, research indicates we’ve been going overboard. Before seeing what students can do with these texts, we have identified many as “frustration” level and off limits. We’ve been telling them what complex texts mean instead of helping them figure it out for themselves.

Read more

Designing Lessons for Unique Learners

I love lesson planning. There is something magical about taking rigorous curriculum and making it accessible to all students. It’s an art and a science to blend your knowledge of subject matter, child development, and your students, and create a lesson for them. Regardless of how you plan now, I want you to know that Universal Design Learning (UDL) can help you do it better.

Universal Design for Learning is a framework that allows teachers to meet the needs of all learners in the classroom. With increasingly diverse populations of students, it’s never been more important to provide differentiated learning experiences in the same setting. Sometimes this variability may seem overwhelming when sitting down to plan lessons, but it doesn’t have to be. Regardless of how you plan now, I want you to know that UDL can help you do it better. Understanding UDL will help you to blend your knowledge of subject matter, child development, and your students, and create a lesson specifically for all of them.

How do I start?

The first thing you’ll want to do is examine the UDL Guidelines, a list of teaching strategies to consider before, during, and after planning. Checkpoint 8.1 reminds educators to “Heighten salience of goals and objectives” for students, but this is important for you as well. Knowing your goals and objectives before you plan is critical, so in addition to the Guidelines, have your Common Core or state standards handy. Choose your standard first, and then you’re ready to plan. That’s what standards-based design is all about.

Read more

Lesson Ideas: Mush Forward with the Iditarod!

The Iditarod, which stretches 975 miles from Anchorage to Nome, has all the hallmarks of a great story: difficult conditions, teamwork, perseverance in the face of obstacles, achieving an arduous goal… and dogs.

We’ve put together a list of resources dedicated to incorporating the Iditarod in your classroom. No matter what subject you teach, the Iditarod provides opportunities for real-life applications of course content.

The Iditarod starts on March 1st.

1. Mr. Hausman’s class makes real life predictions about the Iditarod using complex mathematical calculations in The Iditarod and Math.

More Lesson Ideas

One Thing All Successful Teachers Agree On

Recently, I was at the Teacher of the Year Annual Meeting where Teaching Channel had the opportunity to talk with former National Teachers of the Year and this year’s crop of finalists. There were many valuable takeaways from these conversations, but the one thing that all of them consistently brought up was this: We cannot improve and grow in our practice in isolation; in order to continuously evolve, we must open our classroom doors and accept constructive feedback from coaches and peers.

Practicing What I Preach

With this in mind, two of the educators I most respect, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, sat down together and watched one of my classroom videos, When a Lesson Goes Wrong. Using Teaching Channel’s Notes feature, they were able to offer thoughtful and specific feedback while helping me learn from this experience. If you’ve never used Notes, it’s a great way to collaborate with anyone, anywhere.

Read more

Lesson Planning: Completed Lesson and Unit Plans

Recently, I wrote a blog about 5 ways that we can learn through writing lesson plans. I also shared a resource collection of lesson and unit planning with 10 templates. We know that we can learn about lesson planning by writing out our plans and using templates, but we can also learn by reading the plans of other educators. Reading the plans of others gives us the opportunity to learn new ideas for great lessons. The resources in this blog contain tons and tons of completed plans to learn from.


Scholastic’s Lesson Plan Database hosts thousands of completed lesson and unit plans for grades pre-K-12 in all subjects.

Better Lesson, the National Education Association’s lesson plan site, features over 3000 Common Core-aligned lesson plans developed by teachers participating in the NEA’s Master Teacher Project.

More Lesson and Unit Plans

Teaching Channel Teacher Receives Presidential Award

We often feel in awe after filming a great teacher in action. We wish we could award each and every one of them a medal of honor for opening up their classrooms to let us document their work. They trust that we believe — like them — that perfection isn’t the goal here. It’s all about growing our practice so we can help students find confidence and success in their academic lives.

When we went inside Suney Park’s classroom at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, California, we knew we were in for something special. Besides being brave, she is a teacher who wears her passion for learning on her sleeve. She is fun, engaging, thoughtful, and as committed to her own growth as she is to her students’.

Recently, we found out that Suney will be awarded a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), one of the nation’s highest honors for teachers. We’re so excited for her! As part of her application, Suney submitted her video series on a climate change lesson. Today it is still one of our most popular. And in her classroom practice videos, you can see how thoughtful she is in planning an engaging lesson that relates to real-world issues. Her video “Learn by Leading” shows how she helps students take ownership of their own learning. In “Scientists & Scholars: What’s in a Name?” we see how she creates an aspirational environment that’s grounded in mutual respect and academic expectations.

Suney Park Lesson

Read more

Calling All Coaches! What We Learned in our December Survey

Calling All Coaches: Answer Challenging Coaching Questions

We’re always so grateful to the teachers who participate in our Tchers’ Voice surveys. You keep us focused on what’s most important to you. Our December Tchers’ Voice survey was about coaching, and it confirmed loud and clear that this is a topic you want us to dig into. So, let’s do this!

coachesBecause of your input, we’re adding resources and support for coaches. For starters, we are calling all coaches to come and share their coaching dilemmas and difficulties, and to help each other with advice and tips. That’s why we’ve added a new category in Q&A for Coaching. We hope you’ll come to Teaching Channel to ask your questions about supporting the teacher-coach relationship. We want teachers and coaches to share valuable tools and resources, and we hope it will help you gather more information on how this collaborative relationship can help teachers improve their practice.
Read more

10 Great Lesson Planning Templates and Resources

Editor’s Note: This blog was updated in December 2017 to provide new information and update expired links.

Recently I wrote about ways to learn through writing lesson plans. Though I believe there’s no right way to write lesson plans, I think it’s helpful to include a few essential components:

  • Objective/learning goal: What will students learn through this lesson?
  • Time: Estimate how long each part of the lesson will take.
  • Differentiation strategies: How will you support students who need extra help and students who need an extra challenge?
  • Sequence: Describe what will happen during each part of the lesson.
  • Assessment: how will you know what students have learned?

Click here for a downloadable Tch Lesson Plan Template based on the components listed above. You must be a registered user of the site to access it. Be sure to sign up or sign in to get your copy.

When writing lesson plans, sometimes using a template can help focus you on components of lessons you may have overlooked. In the sections below, I’ve collected a variety of lesson and unit planning templates for you to try out.


If you’re looking for a wide variety of lesson planning templates, head over to Pinterest. We’ve curated a variety of interesting format ideas for you on our Lesson Planning board. You can browse the site for additional ideas for your grade or subject area. Try out different templates and see which ones work best for you. There are lots to choose from!

Read more

Families Matter: Engaging Families to Strengthen Community

We all know the old saying, “An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” We use it to reference the similarities between parent and child, but trees are also an apt metaphor for families — as a tree grows tall and sprouts up and out, our family histories, stories, and traditions provide the nutrients a child needs to flourish. Who we are and where we come from matters, and if we look at the tree as the family — the strength, the life-giver — we want to make sure that we are tending the tree and enriching the environment that it grows in.

As educators we spend thirteen years poking, prodding and buffing the apples to be their best. But we can’t just focus on the apple. We have to remember the source: the tree, complete with a trunk, branches, twigs, leaves, and blossoms.

Kevin's Daughters Molly and Marlow

Kevin’s daughters Marlow and Molly

Research tells us that cognitive, social, and emotional development stems from the family. Study after study shows that parental involvement with school age children correlates to the success a child experiences as they move into adulthood. So we must find a way to build a trusting, collaborative, and receptive relationship between schools and families – both of which have much to offer.

What are we, as educators and school leaders, doing to help nourish families? Here are a few tips to make sure our students’ families are supported, productive and feel that we are all working toward our common goal of student success.

Read more