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David Fanning, Principal
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Teacher Handbook » 2.3 Pedagogical Policies

2.3 Pedagogical Policies

3. Pedagogical Policies

Effective Classroom Practices

The key to generating critical thinking and organization among students lies in our ability and our students’ ability to be good questioners, note takers, and writers. The following are some points on how to promote effective classroom practices to improve student achievement:
  • Remind yourself and your students that your purpose for being in the classroom is not “Just to give the teacher what he or she wants,” but to learn how to become critical thinkers and how to appreciate the subject being taught. Ideally, if the students are trained to problem solve, analyze, synthesize, apply, and evaluate material being covered, good grades will naturally follow.
  • Written homework should be assigned daily to each class. This homework should be monitored, reviewed and integrated into the lesson. Homework should occasionally ask the students to do some reading from which they are to formulate questions on their own. Research has shown that when a student poses his own question, he will retain the answer to the question. When teachers are the sole posers of questions, students are less likely to retain the correct answers.
  • When giving board notes, the pivotal questions should be written on the board along with the information generated from these questions. When students look back at their notes, it will be very helpful to see not only a body of facts and information, but the questions that generated this data as well.
  • Student notebooks should be monitored. On the days that exams are given you can use your time to inspect student notebooks to see if they are properly taking notes, organizing their work, doing homework and writing on a daily basis. Students should be required to use a standard 8 ½ x 11 loose-leaf binders for each subject class.
  • Students should be encouraged to ask questions. Praise should be given to those students who pose questions that stimulate others’ interest, and youngsters should be made to feel that curiosity and skepticism are good qualities. A model question sheet, in which students can learn what constitutes a good question in your subject, is helpful to students who would like to formulate their own questions but do not have the confidence to do so.
  • Increase the number of questions you ask that generate the higher order of thinking skills. Include in your lesson plans these pivotal questions. When youngsters give a one-word or brief factual answer, follow up with such question cues as How did you get that answer? or Why do you think so? or Go on. In each of your lesson plans, one of your instructional objectives should be devoted to a thinking skill. A lesson should be more than just a gathering of facts.
  • If we all focus on the quality of teacher and student questions, the quality and quantity of written student homework, and the condition of student notebooks, we will be able to promote critical thinking and improve student writing. These three areas are crucial to student achievement.

Lesson Planning

The development of lesson plans by and for the use of the teacher is a professional responsibility vital to effective teaching (UFT Contract). Every teacher must have a written lesson plan for every lesson, organized and arranged at his or her discretion.

Starting the Lesson

  • The beginning of the lesson is the most crucial part. It is here that students are motivated to attend class on time and pay attention for the remainder of the lesson. All your lessons must be planned with this in mind.
  • All teachers are responsible for clearing the areas outside of their classroom at the beginning of the period. They should usher their own students into their rooms and encourage others to more quickly to their classes.

Varying Methodologies
  • Our students come from different backgrounds and cultures. They have different learning styles. It is the responsibility of the teacher to vary instructional methods so that each of these styles is addressed. It is strongly suggested that both cooperative learning methodologies as well as direct instruction be incorporated into instruction as appropriate to achieve the instructional objective.
  • Teachers must also employ various methods of evaluation with students. These may take the form of tests, reports, essays, oral presentations, small group projects, class participation, etc. We must remember, however, that true student ability may not be demonstrated by and one of these and be sure we offer a variety of methods for students to demonstrate competency.
Board Work
  • It is school policy that the aim of the lesson is written on the board for every class, every day. The aim may be elicited during the lesson and then written on the board.
  • All homework assignments should also be written clearly on the board in a specified place that students would know to copy them as soon as they enter the room.
  • The chalkboard is a good place to emphasize key ideas, outline notes, define unfamiliar terms, and draw illustrations. Students tend to take board work very seriously and copy most board work just as your write it. Therefore, it is vital that your board work be organized and neat.
  • Do not write all your notes on the chalkboard or on handouts. Students must learn how to take notes not written down for them. You could provide the outline on the board and require that students fill in the details from the class discussion.

The Last Five Minutes
  • Every lesson should have a conclusion or summary. This can take many forms, among them:
  • Students can be asked to answer the aim question verbally or in their notes.
  • Students can be asked to summarize the most important items they learned during the lesson either verbally or in their notes.
  • Students could be asked to construct two or three questions that would elicit the most important points of the lesson.
  • Students could be asked to read back portions of their class notes.

Effective Questioning

One of the most important processes that occurs in a learning environment is that of asking and responding to questions. Many teachers inadvertently use questioning techniques that are highly exclusive of numerous children in the classroom. Effective questioning is a tool with which teachers develop logical thought, stimulate the imagination, bridge the gap between previous learning and new learning, and give direction to the learning process. When skillfully phrased and strategically used, questions become one of the teacher’s most flexible instructional tools. One the other hand, poor questions, and poor questioning technique interfere with learning by creating confusion, discouraging pupil involvement and inhibiting the sequential development of concepts. Therefore, it is important to update our skills and increase our repertoire of effective questioning strategies that are inclusive of all our students.

In traditional classrooms, teachers will ask a question and then call on an individual student to respond, while the rest of the class is expected to sit quietly and listen to the interchange. In some classes it is possible for days, weeks, and perhaps even months to go by with some students never sharing their thoughts or ideas verbally in class. Research has shown that it is very common for classroom teachers to do the following as well:
  • First call on a student by name, then ask that student a question. This automatically cues the rest of the class that they won’t need to answer that question.
  • Ask a question and expect an immediate response without waiting for the student to process the question or have any think-time before responding.
  • Call on the same 6 or 7 students habitually, often those whom the teacher can count on to respond with the answers the teacher wants to hear.
  • Call on low-achieving students with far less frequency than high-achievers.
  • Call on males with higher frequency with females.
  • Ask numerous questions that have a single answer that is either right or wrong, with a low percentage of open-ended types of questions being asked.
  • Ask a low percentage of questions that require higher level, critical-thinking skills.

Typically, teachers are unaware of their own pattern of questioning and are surprised, even appalled, when they monitor themselves as to who is or is not being called on, and with what frequency. Students are very quick to pick up on the teacher’s style and to assess the probability of their being called on; and, consequently, their need to participate and respond in that classroom. Below are effective questioning strategies and
techniques for today’s classrooms. They encourage high response opportunities for students, student accountability, critical/divergent thinking, and active participation – with everyone having a voice that is heard and respected. These are all strategies that are inclusive of every student in the class

General Characteristics of Effective Questions
  • They are kept short.
  • They are simply phrased and direct in language.
  • They are rephrased if not understood.
  • They require explanations and clarifications by students.
  • They are logically sequenced, the response to one question leading into the next, with each question calling for only one to two points in the chain of development.
  • They are designed to require pupils to think, rather than respond instantly with an association. Whenever possible, they elicit a sustained response rather than a one or two-word answer.
  • They are frequently personalized to grasp the pupil’s attention: “How would you explain to a classmate who was absent yesterday our method for changing common fractions to decimal fractions?”

Twelve Types of Questions to Avoid: The Dirty Dozen

Teachers sometime develop ineffective questioning habits that are difficult to break unless conscious examination in precisely what kinds of questions they have been asking takes place. Ineffective questions come in many varieties, and are ineffective for various reasons. We have all heard them, and have perhaps used some of them. Here is a brief compilation of the “dirty dozen”:

(1) The Multiple or Overlaid Question:
  • Example: What is the number above the fraction bar called, and what is the number below the fraction bar called? How do we reduce fractions?
  • Criticism: By asking for more than one response, the teacher is limiting participation to only those pupils who know all of them. Many more pupils might be able to respond if one question were asked at a time.
  • Suggestion: Ask the three questions separately, waiting until one question is answered before going on.

(2) The Vague or Ambiguous Question:
  • Example: How About rectangles?
  • Criticism: The question doesn’t direct pupil thinking in any particular direction. A multitude of irrelevant responses can be made.
  • Suggestion: What kind of angles do the sides of a rectangle form?

(3) The Choral Question:
  • Example: We multiply by 100? (Y—e—e—e—e—s)
  • Criticism: Pupils are not made to feel personally responsible for the accuracy of their responses. They are encouraged to hide behind the anonymity provided by choral response. Different responses to the same question are uttered together, creating confusion for individual pupils who many not know which one is being accepted as correct.
  • Suggestion: Do you think we were right to multiply by 100,………Joseph?

(4) The Leading Question:
  • Example: There are 6 fours in 24, aren’t there?
  • Criticism: A pupil who is not sure will promptly agree with the teacher without thinking about his or her response. The pupil has been invited merely to nod his or her head in acquiescence.
  • Suggestion: How many are fours are there in 24,……Sherry?

(5) The Tugging Question:
  • Example: The area of a rectangle is found by multiplying the length by the W____. W___! Come on now; it starts with a “W”.
  • Criticism: The questions reduce the discussion to a guessing game, often not even based on the subject matter but on the recall of words by virtue of their sounds.
  • Suggestion: How is the area of a rectangle found? OR: What two measures do we multiply to get the area of a rectangle?

(6) The Teacher-Oriented Question:
  • Example: Who can tell me the main causes of the Civil War?
  • Criticism: The question contributes to a feeling that the class is organized round the teacher, and that what is most important is satisfying the teacher’s requirements. It does not contribute to a group feeling of a class working together to learn.
  • Suggestion: What were the main causes of the Civil War?

(7) The Whip-Lash Question:
  • Example: The technique of giving hints as to the outcome of a story is called what?
  • Criticism: The pupils do not perceive the question as a question since it does not begin with an interrogative. It sounds as though the teacher is making a declarative statement. Only at the last word do pupils learn that they are being asked for a response, and thus have not time in which to think about it.
  • Suggestion: Include an interrogative word near the beginning of every question: What do we call the technique of giving hints as to the outcome of a story? (A good, thought-provoking follow-up would be, “Why would an author use foreshadowing?”)

(8) The Yes-No Question:
  • Example: Is the spread of ideas and technology from one culture to another called cultural diffusion?
  • Criticism: Every student has a 50% chance of answering correctly by merely guessing “yes” or “no”. The question does not encourage thought, nor does it encourage pupils to use the vocabulary they have learned.
  • Suggestion: What do we mean by cultural diffusion? (A good follow-up would be, “Give a specific example of cultural diffusion.”)
(9) The Echo Question:
  • Example: This painting is an example of Picasso’s blue period. What period in Picasso’s development does this painting represent?
  • Criticism: The question calls for the most rudimentary form of response: parroting. It does not stimulate thought, and a pupil can answer it correctly without really understanding the concept.
  • Suggestion: Wait for some time to pass before asking pupils to recall a previously developed fact.

(10) The Question Addressed to a Specific Pupil:
  • Example: Mary, can you point out the main parts of the digestive system on this chart?
  • Criticism: By starting with the name of a specific pupil, the teacher has turned the discussion into a one-to-one exchange. Other pupils are not encouraged to think about their responses, since the question appears to have been designed for only a particular pupil.
  • Suggestion: Ask the question, pause to give all pupils time to consider their responses, and then call on a particular pupil: Who can point out the main parts of the digestive system on this chart? Mary? (A good follow-up would be to ask different students for the function of each part as Mary points them out.)

(11) The Guessing Question:
  • Example: Is 25% equal to one-half or to one-quarter?
  • Criticism: Like the Yes-No question, this type of question limits thinking and creates a situation in which any pupil, regardless of his or her understanding of a concept, has a 50-50 chance of answering correctly.
  • Suggestion: What common fraction is 25% equal to?

(12) The Re-phrased Question:
  • Example: What name do we give a half-circle? I mean, when you draw a diameter, it divides the circle into two parts. What do we call each part? When a circle is divided into two halves, what do we call each half?
  • Criticism: Pupils are still dealing with the first version of the question when they are presented with second and third versions. While listening to these re-phrasings of the original question, thought is diverted and clarity is inhibited.
  • Suggestion: Ask one good question clearly expressed and remain silent while students are considering responses to it. For example: If a diameter is drawn in a circle, it divides the circle into two equal parts. What is the name given to each half-circle?

Pupil Responses

Related to the art of effective questioning is the skill with which the teacher reacts to, or accepts pupil responses. Pupils can be encouraged to formulate their responses in such a way as to make them of value to the entire class. Teachers can further encourage pupil involvement and enthusiasm in the learning process by the ways in which they use pupil responses. Here are some general guidelines.
  • Encouraging pupils to comment on each other’s responses involves pupils in the learning process to a greater extent than reserving the right to comment as an exclusive right for the teacher: Do you agree with Jennie’s explanation? How would you correct Bianca’s answer? What is another way of solving Renee’s problem?
  • Following up an incorrect response with sequence of questions designed to help the pupil correct his or her own answer is much more encouraging than merely dismissing the incorrect answer and having another pupil respond.
  • Appropriately underscoring pivotal responses is helpful to pupils by pointing out those key responses that are at the heart of the lesson. Recording them in the form of a summary on the board, commenting on their importance verbally, asking other pupils to rephrase or paraphrase them, are all ways to accomplish this.
  • Refraining from repeating pupils’ responses encourages pupils to address their responses to the class as a whole, rather than to one individual, the teacher. When the teacher becomes someone on whom the class can rely for the repetition of all pupil responses, it is no longer necessary for pupils to listen carefully to each other. Interaction between pupils is minimized, and the atmosphere of a teacher-centered classroom is fostered.
  • Resisting the temptation to be immediately responsive to pupils’ need by answering their questions directly encourages wider pupil involvement in the lesson. As much as possible, re-directing individual pupil’s questions for consideration by the whole class are to be preferred over one-to-one conversation between the pupil and the teacher. There are very likely other pupils in the room who can benefit from hearing the question, thinking about their own response to it, and hearing the answer.
  • Reacting to correct pupil responses in a variety of ways is much more encouraging and rewarding for pupils than acting in a consistent, habitual way, such as always saying “Good”.
  • Remaining flexible with regard as to what constitutes a correct response acknowledges pupils’ contributions to the lesson more sincerely than rejecting all responses other than the particular one that the teacher had in mind originally.
  • Encouraging pupils to ask as well as answer questions involves them even more deeply in the learning process. But this entails more than merely asking, “Are there any questions?” Sometimes individual pupils have to be drawn out when it is obvious that something is bothering them but their question is not forthcoming. When pupils do ask questions, it is important that they not be made to feel embarrassed or ridiculed for having asked them. The question should be given respectful consideration by the whole class, or, at least, answered sincerely in private. The pupil asking the question should not be made the subject of a cross-examination, the surest way of guaranteeing that he or she will never ask another question.

Essential Elements of Instruction and Questioning Technique

This section presents another way of looking at questioning in the classroom. It is based on a workshop given by Rob Bocchino, Change of Heart Associates, to Manhattan High School principals in the fall of 2001. It is one aspect of an approach to teaching called The Essential Elements of Instruction.

The premise of this method is that the usual method of questioning, even at its best, usually results on only about one-third of the students responding on a regular basis. This being the case, how does the teacher know if the rest of the students have learned the material?

The heart of this method is simple to state, hard to implement: Students often do not raise their hands to respond to a question. This goes against all past practice and the ingrained habits of both students and teachers.

Instead, Essential Elements of Instruction suggests the following method for asking questions:
  • Re-word all questions to encompass the entire class:
    • Old phrasing: Does anyone know the cause of the Civil War?
    • New Phrasing: I want everyone (all of you, each of you, everybody, etc.) to take the next minute to think about the causes of the Civil War.
  • In most instances, this newly phrased question is followed by an activity, not an immediate response to the teacher:
    • Please share your ideas with your partner.
    • Write down your ideas.
    • Write your ideas and then share them with your partner.
    • Whatever the directed activity, follow it up with: After you are finished, I am going to call on seven students (or five, or ten, or……) for a response.
  • Then as promised, call on the number of students specified.
  • A student may respond, “I don’t understand.” This student will be directed to listen to all the other responses and then will be called upon again.This method can be applied to students working in small groups. Students in the group share their responses with each other and one designated recorder/reporter reports back. The recorder/reporter position rotates among the group members. During the reportage part of the lesson, each group is asked to give part of the response. For example, Group 1 would give only one cause of the Civil War; Group 2 would give a second cause; etc.
  • Questions, as in all good past practice, need to be specifically worded, thought provoking and directed toward the objective of the lesson.
  • Good questions that are part of previously devised lesson plans can continue to be used, with the new inclusive phrasing.

The advantage of this method is obvious: Every student is engaged with every question. Simply put, there is nowhere to hide. When responses are called for, there is a high probability that a student will be asked and not “hands up” to hide behind. This method promotes student sharing and peer-mediated instruction. It makes every lesson student-centered. Finally, educational research has shown that this method tends to elicit more correct responses, more creative responses, longer responses and responses on a higher level of thought. Students also tend to retain information better and score better on assessments.

For more information:

Principles of Learning

When working for the New York City Department of Education, you come to realize that over the years, educational practices change. One year’s theme is forgotten the next, to be replaced by a different set of theories and ideas. When Standards-Based instruction and testing became part of our educational practice, they were based on The Principles of Learning, developed by the Institute of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh (1998). In the late 90’s, these principles were part of every workshop to help all staff learn about the theoretical underpinnings of standards-based instruction. Today, the Standards remain, but the Principles of Learning are rarely discussed. However, they have substantial value. By having a general idea of them, we can better reflect on our practice and improve our instruction. The following summary of these Principles is adapted from Getting Started in Standards-Based Planning (UFT, 1999).
Principle 1: Organize for Effort
Effort, not aptitude, determines student achievement. Student effort pays. Schools encourage it by setting expectations that can be reached through effort and by showing students their progress toward meeting the standard.
  • Students know what is to be expected
  • Students are given fair and credible evaluations
  • There is recognition for student accomplishment
  • Curriculum is geared to the Standards
  • Teachers provide expert instruction
  • Students are responsible for doing the work given
  • The expectations or results are fixed and pre-determined; different students will accomplish them in different ways in varying lengths of time.

Principal 2: Clear Expectations
Students must understand what they have to know and be able to do in order to meet the Standards, and these expectations must be the same for all students. To insure that all students have a fair chance to meet the Standards, they must be provided with a common, challenging curriculum and sufficient time and resources to meet the Standards. Students, parents, school and community must know the targets at each stage of learning. Students should participate in the setting of goals and evaluation of progress.
  • Standards are available and discussed
  • Models of student work are displayed, reproduced and discussed
  • Student judge their own work and the work of others
  • Intermediate expectations are specified
  • Families and community are kept informed of the expectations and of student progress.

Principle 3: Recognition and Accomplishment
Student work must be celebrated at regular progress points. Peers, teachers, friends and families are invited to recognize student performance.
  • Frequent recognition of student work
  • Recognition for real accomplishment, not just trying hard
  • Clearly demarcated progress points
  • Celebration with faculty and community
  • College and businesses recognize accomplishments

Principle 4: Fair and Credible Evaluations
Assessments are not based on the normal curve, but on absolute standards. The assessments are connected to the curriculum and to instruction.
  • Assessments referenced to Standards
  • Direct preparation for assessments (grading on absolute standards, not a curve)
  • Reports to parents and students on progress toward expected standards
  • Curriculum and assessments are aligned
  • “Public accountability” and “instructional assessment” aligned

Principle 5: Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum
In a thinking curriculum with academic rigor, students must demonstrate deep understanding of challenging content and apply this knowledge to solve problems. Students are expected to create high quality finished work and be able to explain how what they learned enabled them to find solutions.

Commitment to a Knowledge Core
  • An articulated curriculum that avoids needless repetition and progressively deepens concepts
  • Curriculum and instruction are organized around major concepts
  • Teaching and assessments focus on mastery of core concepts

High Thinking Demand
  • Students expect to raise questions, solve problems, reason
  • Challenging assignments in all subjects
  • Extended projects
  • Explanation and justification are expected
  • Reflection on learning strategies

Active Use of Knowledge
  • Synthesize several sources of information
  • Test understanding by applying and discussing concepts
  • Prior knowledge is used
  • Interpret texts and construct solutions.

Principle 6: Accountable Talk
When students are accountable, they take responsibility for their learning by listening carefully, building upon the statements of others and applying solid reasoning and rules of evidence to make and justify statements. With teachers in the role of coaches, students learn to recognize and challenge confusing or inaccurate information and request clarifications, evidence and additional explanations when they do not understand.
  • Talk is essential to learning
  • Talk must be accountable to: the learning community, knowledge, standards of evidence, standards of reasoning
  • Indicators of Accountable Talk: pressing for clarification and explanation; requiring justification of proposals and challenges;
  • recognizing and challenging misconceptions; demanding evidence for claims and arguments

Principle 7: Socializing Intelligence
We teach intelligence. When we teach intelligence, we help socialize intelligence; i.e., we give students the confidence to act capably and intelligently. This includes a set of Beliefs, Skills and Dispositions.
  • Beliefs: Intelligence is believing you have the right and obligation to understand things and make them work; it is believing that problems can be analyzed and that you are capable of making this analysis. Intelligence is learnable by living and working in an environment that coaches you in problem-solving skills; holds you accountable to using them well; praises you for using them; creates the beliefs and disposition that constitute intelligence.
  • Skills: Intelligence is having a tool-kit of problem-solving skills and good intuitions about when to use them; knowing how to ask questions, seeking help and getting enough information to solve problems.
  • Dispositions: Intelligence is habits of mind; the tendency to actively try to analyze problems, ask questions and get information.

Principle 8: Learning as Apprenticeship
The teacher is the “guide on the side” not the “sage on the stage”. This principle affirms that students learn best when they work with experts who continually model, coach, encourage and guide them. The learner learns by doing in the class apprenticeship model and the teacher consciously models the processes that build skills.
  • Learning environments in which students make products that meet quality standards; perform authentic assessments; evaluate and revise their work
  • Experts critique and guide student work
  • Learning strategies are modeled

Students with Special Needs (ELL and Special Education)

In recent years, significant changes have been made (and are still being made) in the laws and policies that govern the instruction of students with special needs. It is anticipated that you will receive future revisions in the policies below which you can add to this Handbook.

The history of the education of children with special needs over the past twenty years is based on the growing realization that most children, regardless of needs, learn better in “the least restrictive environment.” In accordance with federal law, this is a requirement, not a choice. Experience has shown that children with special needs gain skills at a faster rate in general education classes, when provided with the appropriate supports. We are trying to use different educational models to best meet the unique needs of each student. Any of your teaching assignments may include the following:

Mainstreamed Students
  • As required by law, service providers –general education teachers, special education teachers, counselors, speech therapists, etc., -- and parents and students themselves review the progress of special needs students annually. The outcome of this review is the preparation of an Individualized Instructional Plan (IEP) that specifies the extent of mainstreaming in accordance with existing laws.
  • Students who are mainstreamed do not receive support from either a paraprofessional or special education teacher assigned to the general education class.
  • They do receive support through a self-contained study skills class added to their program, opportunities to attend afternoon academies, and the assistance of a mainstream coordinator who facilitates the mainstreaming process. For programming purposes, mainstreamed students are coded with the same code as general education students. They have the option of working toward a general education or an IEP diploma.
Inclusionary (Integrated) Model
  • This model is based on the premise that students requiring special education services will have improved achievement if educated in the least restrictive environment, i.e., the general education classroom.
  • Special needs students in this program are designated to receive the additional support of either a special education teacher or paraprofessional in their general education classroom on a full or part-time basis.
  • In those cases where the special education teacher works in the classroom with the general education teacher, the program code for the student reflects special education. Teaching and grading responsibilities are jointly shared, determined by the teachers involved.
  • When there is a paraprofessional working in the general education class, the general education teacher should consult with the Mainstream Facilitator in the Office of Instructional Support Services, Room xxx, regarding grading criteria and other pertinent issues.
Resource Room
  • Students in this program are classified as general education students. All of these students receive their instruction in general education classrooms but have the additional mandated support of one period of Resource Room per day. The Resource Room teacher works on remediating deficit areas identified in the student’s IEP and reinforces specific academic strengths. The Resource Room teacher utilizes classroom textbooks, subject specific assignments, and exams from each student’s program to support instruction given in general education classrooms. A cooperative effort between the general educator and Resource Room teacher is critical to the success of the student. Test modifications may be administered in the Resource Room for these students as well as for all other special needs students mandated to have such test modifications.
Teachers of All Children
  • We are all teachers of all children, whatever model or method or theory. Students with special needs may require designated supports, additional time, and creative instruction to succeed. It is the responsibility of all of us to provide these so all students may meet graduation requirements. The more we provide for different learning styles in our instruction, the more students with unique needs will succeed.

NOTE: Failure to implement IEP mandates is a violation of federal law and is grounds for disciplinary charges that may lead to termination.