The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 108 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host


Host’s note: I did this episode a little differently from how I usually do it. I just made a list of bullet points, then talked it through into my microphone. That is this podcast, and this is the exact transcript. I ultimately cleaned it up and organized it, and that became this blog post. What is written below is just an exact transcript of the podcast episode.


Most of the time, I make every effort to produce work that is well-organized and supported by research, but every now and then, I need to just talk, and that’s what today’s episode is about.

I’m going to talk about a problem that I think is becoming an issue in more and more classrooms, why it’s a problem, where I think it comes from, and the simple things we can do to fix it. The problem? We’re expecting students to learn material without asking them to do much of anything with it.

Before we get started, I’d like to thank mysimpleshow for sponsoring this episode. mysimpleshow is this really cool online tool that allows you to create your own animated videos for free. It’s really easy, and FAST: You just write your script or upload your powerpoint, fine-tune the images, then add your own voice-overs to produce a completed video! It’s a perfect, easy tool for flipping your classroom and having students create their own videos. is now offering a FREE CLASSROOM plan with additional features just for educators and students. The plan offers collaborative explainer video making and full creative freedom for up to 50 students. To sign up, just go to and scroll down to the “Education” option.

Support for this episode also comes from Peergrade. Peergrade is a platform that makes it easy to facilitate peer review in your classroom. Students review each other’s work, while Peergrade takes care of anonymously assigning reviewers and delivering all the relevant insights to teachers. With Peergrade, students learn to think critically and take ownership of their learning. They also learn to write kind and useful feedback for their peers. Peergrade is free to use for teachers and students. And now, Cult of Pedagogy listeners can get 3 months of Peergrade Pro free of charge! Just sign up for a free 30-day trial, then redeem the code CULT to extend that free trial to 3 months. To learn more about Peergrade visit

I would also like to thank you for the reviews you’ve left for this podcast on iTunes. These reviews really help future listeners decide if this podcast is worth their time. So if you’ve enjoyed listening but you’ve never left a review, I would love it if you’d take a few minutes, head over to iTunes, and tell me what you think. Thanks.

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All right let’s do this. Here’s the issue, here’s the problem that I’m seeing, and I’m going to go back a couple of years to the first time I noticed this.

One of my kids was studying weather systems. This is the thing where it’s a high pressure system and a low pressure system and a cold front and a warm front. I do not know weather very well, so I’m trying to remember exactly what it was. I just know that we were trying to help her prepare for a test and also do some sort of homework, like answer a question, and she didn’t get it at all.

We were really frustrated, my husband I, because all we really had as materials to look for were just sort of the top half of this worksheet. So we were having trouble explaining it to her, and at one point I finally said to her, “You know, in your class, didn’t your teacher ever draw a diagram on the board?”

She said, “No.”

I said, “Did you guys ever do — to me this seems like the perfect thing for your teacher to grab a small group of kids and say, ‘OK, you three, you’re going to be a cold front, and then you three, you’re going to be a warm front. Come up to the front of the room, OK. And I want this group here, I want you to wiggle around really fast because you are, I don’t know, you’re going to have to fill in the blanks here, like high pressure or something like that. And this group, I want you to move really, really slowly.’ And so these two groups have labels. And then direct them to move in some way so that the kids can actually visualize how these systems interact and what happens when they collide and what kind of weather that creates?” To me, you could do a whole sort of physical demonstration, because this is a very physical process, and it seems like the kids would get it right away.

I said, “Did your teacher ever do anything like that?”

She looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “No.”

And I thought, Man, what a shame. I’m thinking if I was a science teacher and I was trying to explain, or a history teacher, trying to explain movements of people or systems or biological things or whatever it is, I would be doing these physical types of demonstrations all the time, because it seems like such a more effective and quick way to get these kind of abstract concepts into kids’ heads. We’re trying to teach things that are kind of concrete, or could be made concrete, in really abstract ways.

I said, “Well how did you learn this? How did you actually learn this for the first time?”

First of all, she didn’t really know what I meant, but she said, “Well, we just read the book.”

And I said, “What do you mean ‘we read the book’? Did everybody sit down quietly and read it and then the teacher talked to you?”

She’s like, “No. We just all opened it up to Page 36, and then she would read a little bit to us, and then explain something, and then we would read a little bit more, and then she would say something else, and that was it.”

And I thought, Oh God. Really? That was it?

And I said, “Is it like that all the time?”

She said, “Basically.”

And then the next activity that was planned was to do these worksheets where they had to sort of answer those questions, and then there was a test.

Now this was a couple of years ago, this was late in elementary school, and since that time, I’ve been seeing this pattern more and more and more as my kids have gone into middle school, and as they’re starting to head into high school, I’m seeing the same pattern where what I’m getting from them is that every day, for the most part, they’re getting materials sort of delivered to them in some really basic way, becoming more and more just like a PowerPoint, and the kids copy stuff down that the teacher tells them to write down from the PowerPoint, and then they have some sort of a worksheet where they’re sort of regurgitating what was on that PowerPoint and then after this cycle repeats for four or five times, then they have some kind of a test on it. And that’s it.

Now I’m going to stop for a second and just say that I realize that with these podcasts that I’m kind of preaching to the choir, that a lot of the people that are attracted to the stuff that I write and produce are interested in talking about education and get really deep and geeky about it. You all are probably already not having this problem in your class.

So when you’re listening to this, try not to get defensive. If you are already past this point and you’re not doing this, then maybe just listen to it as a check on your practice or maybe as a way to further improve what you’re doing. But I’m really, really hoping to reach teachers who do have this issue in their classroom, who are kind of skipping over what I think is an important step in the classic lesson plan.

So I’m going to review what I understand to be sort of a basic lesson plan format. And I’ve got it kind of in five basic steps.

We’ve got Step 1, which is some sort of an anticipatory set, we set objectives for the day, sort of like let them know what we’re going to be learning. And that’s usually a fairly quick step. And by the way, we could be getting a lot more creative with that, but that’s a separate episode.

Next step is some kind of direct instruction — a lecture, the kids do some sort of reading, they watch a video — something to where there is some kind of information or skill that is being input into their brains.

Step 3, guided practice and application of that content.

Step 4, independent practice and application of that content.

And Step 5, assessment.

In my opinion, and based on what I have heard from my own children and after speaking to a lot of teachers and teacher coaches who are kind of working all over the place, we’re kind of skipping some aspect of Step 3 and 4, the guided practice and application and the independent practice and application.

I feel like what I’m seeing is that we’re basically kind of mushing those two together and students are just basically doing some sort of a worksheet that spits back some version of what they just learned in the direct instruction. And that’s really it. So maybe we’re not technically skipping it, but we are shooting at such a low target or we’re doing it in such a cursory way that it’s not having the impact that it should be having.

We kind of go straight from direct instruction to independent practice — and I’m going to put quotes around “practice,” because the engagement in this material isn’t really happening — straight to assessment. And what we’re really missing are some opportunities for fun, dare I say it, engaging, and most importantly, sticky learning, learning that is actually going to endure, that it’s actually going to stick with them. I’m sort of shocked by how little anything is happening that is going to help really solidify this information. They’re not doing anything with the material. We’re just giving it to them and then asking them to give it back.

And since this first weather system example, I’ve just, I’ve seen it over and over again. I had to help another one of my kids study for a social studies test just the other day, and I had to look at the notes that were taken in class, and I didn’t understand the notes. I asked my child to explain the notes to me, and my kid couldn’t even explain them to me.

I said, “Well what does this bullet here mean?” I can’t even remember what it said. I said, “What does mean?”

“I don’t know. That’s just what she told us to write down. It was on the PowerPoint, and she told us to copy it down.”

I wanted to throw something across my house. Because, why? Why is that happening?

I need to say this too: I was a teacher. I was a teacher in middle school for almost eight years, and I know, I know, that we do things in the classroom and our kids misinterpret it or they misrepresent it in some ways. I can tell them something seven, eight, nine times, and then they say, “You didn’t tell us that,” or “We didn’t do anything,” or something like that. It’s maddening. So I get that, I get that when my child says, “Oh, I don’t get this. She just told us to write it down,” it’s highly likely that the teacher had this pretty thorough explanation of it and talked and then said, “Just write this down,” thinking that the kids were going to understand what that bullet meant later when they looked at it.

But the problem is if all this teacher did was explain, explain, explain, and then say, “Write this down,” if the kids never did anything to actually process that information, then it just didn’t stick. They have to do something besides just copy notes down and then do worksheets where they’re doing sort of super low-level work. They have to actually do something with the material.

Here’s what’s wrong with this, OK. There’s a couple of problems with this. First of all, most of the time it’s super low level. It’s low, low levels of Blooms. This is recall, recall, or maybe recognize, defining things, and that sort of thing. That doesn’t even align most of the time with the standards.

When I look at standards for subject areas like social studies and science, for example — and it’s going to seem like I’m picking on these subjects, primarily because I think in both of these content areas, they are made up of vastly overwhelming amounts of content that needs to be delivered to students — there’s not as much process and skill. There’s some in both of those subject areas, but a lot of it is just kids learning stuff and information. I do think this is a problem in other areas too, but the examples are probably going to be coming from those two areas.

When I look at standards for, say, eighth grade science and social studies, the standards most of the time are beautiful. They require students to analyze and sort of investigate and be able to explain pretty deep stuff, like why certain populations had to make the decisions they did based on scarcity of resources. When you read the standards, it sounds like kids are sitting around talking about some pretty complex stuff, and they’re not.

I mean, maybe, maybe on final assessments there’s one sort of open-ended question that’s asking students to explain this stuff. But I don’t think enough is happening in classes that are actually asking students to practice this type of thing.

So what I think is happening in a lot of classes is that kids are defining terms or they’re recognizing the definitions of terms, and they’re sort of answering pretty basic recall questions and then maybe doing that kind of higher-level processing in something that ultimately makes up maybe 10 percent of their grade on that final assessment. When really, the standard doesn’t even necessarily ask them to be able to memorize the facts and memorize the dates and memorize the names of who did what in what war. Most of the time the standards don’t even ask them to do that.

So to me, 100 percent of that assessment should be the analysis, and the picking apart of the situation, and really digging into the details and supporting it with details from that time. That’s advanced stuff, and we’re not asking them to do that advanced stuff. We’re asking them to just recall it.

Apart from it not really being in line with the standards and just being super low level, this kind of a pattern doesn’t really set kids up to learn this material like they should be learning it. And I think this has been a problem for generations.

So many of us can say that we don’t remember much of what we learned in school, especially when it comes to subjects like history. Clearly, my lack of understanding about how weather systems work is a good example of that. I’m sure I was taught that in school, and I probably took a test on it, and then I forgot it, because I didn’t really learn it, because I never had to really do anything with that information.

Another problem with this pattern of just information in then information out is that our kids aren’t actually learning it. And if we’re OK with that, then we’re basically saying that it’s OK for our kids to waste 12 years in school, because the information we’re teaching them isn’t that important to learn anyway, and that’s a problem.

Another issue with this way of spending our time in school and not having kids actually do anything with the material is that they hate school. The older my own children get, the more they just hate school. And I’ll ask them what they did, and I’ll ask them specifically about certain classes even just to see if I can drill down a little more, and they just can’t stand it. Every day is the same. I say, “What did you do?” “We took notes from a PowerPoint.” “What did you do?” “Took notes from a PowerPoint.” “Took a test.” “Took notes from a PowerPoint.” It’s almost never anything else.

And again, maybe they are underreporting, I hope they’re underreporting. But when I talk to friends of mine who spend a lot of time in classrooms who are instructional coaches or consult with schools and do a lot of observation, they confirm that that’s the vast majority of what is happening, particularly in the upper grades. And I’m even remembering a post that Alexis Wiggins wrote, this is Grant Wiggins’ daughter, awhile back, and I’ll link to it on my post. She spent maybe a day or a week or something shadowing high school students, and she was just blown away by how much time they spent just sitting there. And it was physically uncomfortable and hard to stay awake and a big wake up call for her personally.

I want to talk a little bit, before I start talking about possible solutions for this, about where this problem comes from. I think, based on the teachers that I’ve spoken to who recognize this problem, what a lot of them tell me, and this sounds right to me, is that one area, one problem with this, one reason it’s happening is that we are in an environment right now that is so driven by high stakes testing and data that they have to do stuff that produces data, they have to do this sort of cycle of information in, information out, assess, get a score, move to the next step again, repeat.

Teachers say that they would like to be doing more engaging activities, but their administrators require them to produce data. I think another requirement that’s coming from above is that I’m hearing more and more from teachers who are required to document the crap out of their day — super detailed lesson plans, all the way down to having to indicate what font size they’re using on something. I could not believe that.

When you have to do that much documentation every day, I think what that ends up doing, because nobody has the time for that, it ends up pushing teachers to go to packaged curriculum and just, OK, we’re going to do this unit, and this unit has these worksheets, and so I’m going to just deliver the information, the kids will do this worksheet, I can document that I did it, I can quickly get all this documentation done, and I don’t have to, I don’t have the time, basically, to create more creative stuff for them to do; this is my only choice, because I have to document everything in such detail. It’s easier to just say, “We’re doing Workbook 2, Page 7,” than to write up a full description of an activity and link to all your personally made stuff and whatever your administration is requiring you to do.

I think that’s part of the issue too, that the increased demands on teachers, it’s just, it’s pushing so much time, it’s squeezing their time so much that they feel like this is the easiest thing, to just go to this default setting of just use a bunch of worksheets and just get the content out there, cover it, and then test it, and then move to the next thing.

I also think that, and this came from another instructional coach of mine, somebody else who consults with schools, they believe that teachers just do not have sufficient tools in the toolbox for teaching. They literally don’t know enough strategies for doing this, for sort of actively engaging students in the content, that something’s going on possibly in a lot of teacher prep programs that just isn’t equipping teachers. They don’t necessarily know how to do something beyond direct instruction and some type of a simple worksheet or recall activity and then a test.

And this particular person said that teacher turnover is so high that it’s always brand new teachers coming in who just have very little preparation. I know that in some states, the emergency certification levels right now are so high that a lot of people in the classroom just don’t, don’t know enough teaching strategies to really know what else to do, so they kind of just go with the default.

So this problem is not necessarily your fault, and I’m talking to teachers. My hope is that by making you aware of it and giving you some simple tools that can fix it, we can start to combat it and make the situation better.

So let’s move on to that part, the “How do we fix it?” part.

There are a lot of possibilities for getting your students to actively engage with the material a little bit more than they’re doing. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it does not have to be complicated, time-consuming or fancy. We are just trying to help our students build more pathways in their brains, help them see patterns, help them connect to previous knowledge and also offer them some sort of novelty.

Novelty is actually a really big factor in learning. Students remember stuff if it is presented to them in a novel way. There were times in my classroom when I would simply stand in a different part of the room when I was about to give them some information, just because I could say to them, “Remember when I stood in that one corner and said this?” And they’d be like, “Oh yeah.” Novelty wakes your brain up. We can do some simple things in between the delivery of material and the assessment of material that actually gives our students a chance to interact with it, to process it in a different way, to perhaps practice and apply the information before we ask them to show that they’ve learned it.

Here are a couple of suggestions.

The first one is sorting. Any kind of a sorting activity is going to help them get a little bit of a better sense of the relationships between the concepts that you’re teaching them.

One really easy way is to organize things by similarities and differences. Anybody who’s familiar with Marzano and Marzano’s high impact strategies, that was the No. 1 strategy, I believe. Anytime students can take information in that they’ve just gotten and actually process it in terms of, “these things are similar, these things are different,” you can put things into categories, you can give labels to groups of things, anything that requires students to sort of build schema — which is sort of patterns where they can see how things are connected to each other — that is going to help them learn things better.

An early experience that I had personally with this was in my 20s. I was studying Spanish, and I was learning how to say nationalities, like someone is German, somebody is Costa Rican. I was learning how to say these things in Spanish, and they had different endings, and I was having trouble remembering the endings. So I had my roommate, who spoke great Spanish, I had him quizzing me. He started quizzing me for a couple of minutes, and I was getting some things right and some things wrong. He would say whatever it was, and I would answer it.

I was just sort of flipping through the cards at random, and then he said, “Let’s do this. Let’s put all the ones that end in -ense” — Canadiense, Costarricense. Some of them end in -ense, and those were the ones that I was kind of screwing up. He said, “Let’s just put all those in one category and figure out what those are.”

So we did that, we looked at what those were and kind of, I had flashcards, he put the cards on the floor, I think, and then we basically grouped them into three different groups based on how they ended. From that point on — and that took, I don’t know, two minutes — from that point forward, just from doing that, I started getting them all right after that. Then he scrambled them again and quizzed me, and I got it, because I had put them into those categories.

And we could do this type of thing with our content. Just having students sort of categorize things or label them or put them into groups, and with so many of these activities that I’m talking about, if you add a level of collaboration, have them do it in pairs, have them do it in a small group, that even boosts it further because not only are they doing it and benefitting from the knowledge and input of their peers, but that interaction, I can remember I did this, you know, with Joey instead of doing it with Heather or whoever. If you remember the activity that you did with this certain person, that builds in even more novelty, and so it’s more engaging than just doing it on a worksheet.

Any type of sorting with your content is something that can help.

No. 2. Another idea is any kind of kinesthetic work. Now this is the sort of simulation thing that I was talking about with the weather systems. So any time you can get something physical to happen to illustrate concepts, you’re going to help students understand those concepts better. There’s a fine line between doing this and doing something that I call a Grecian urn activity where it’s just sort of decorating and stuff.

I’m talking about doing things to help students understand concepts. They don’t have to take a long time. That weather systems simulation, that’s something that could take three minutes if it’s done really off the cuff and maybe 10 minutes if you really have it planned out well, maybe where kids are holding signs that say “high pressure system.” You might build it up a little so it’s got more structure, but it would not take a long time.

And this type of thing could be done also where you could have sort of role plays. If you’re teaching some sort of history concept and you’ve got a king in a chunk of your content who does bad things to people, choose some kid to stand up there, put a Burger King crown on their head and be like, “OK. Monty is the king right now, and you three here, you are the whatevers, and then you three go stand over here.” You could even re-tell the story that’s in the book in three minutes and have the kids literally move around and make faces and beg the king for things or whatever it is. Any kind of a quick role play, and from what I understand, the history of live curriculum actually has these simulations set up, but they could be done just real quick, just so that kids kind of have a little bit better of a memory.

You can also do sort of models with basic tools. In Episode 96 I talked to John Spencer about makerspaces and how can that even relate to content? He showed me some examples. You get some pipe cleaners and Lego and Play-Doh, and you could have the kids do the same type of thing. “Let’s just make a model of this thing in science,” whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be a two-week project. It could be a 10-minute activity, and then have the kids walk around and look at each other or just have them explain it to the teacher or something like that. Or have them take a digital photo of it, and then they have to point out the parts of it, anything where they’re trying to represent what they just learned in some sort of a physical model, that can help them remember it. Again, it can be quick. It doesn’t have to be long and fancy.

One was sorting. Two was kinesthetic work. Three discussion, all kinds of discussion possibilities. In Episode 28 I go through, I think, 15 different ideas or strategies for classroom discussion.

Ideally in any of these discussions, require students to take some sort of a stance on a bigger question, and then back that stance up. Do you think the king was wrong in this situation? Yes or no? Why? What would you have done if you were in this situation? Explain why.

There are all kinds of ways kids can be discussing your content, just a little bit, and having an opinion on it a little bit, and that will help them to remember it better.

One was sorting, two was kinesthetic work, three was discussion, four is graphic representations.

Any kind of graphic representation of the content will help. You can do these, your kids can do these, you can both do these. This can be something like a concept map, a graphic organizer. In Episode 81 we go through all different kinds of uses and research on graphic organizers, anytime they’re taking the content that was just words and getting to where they can picture it somehow in terms of how the concepts relate to each other.

Doodling also helps. In Episode 104, which was about note-taking, there’s a whole section on sketch-noting and sort of the benefits of doing some sort of sketch-noting and doodling. I would also caution you to not go too far with it, not turn it into an art project or require creativity or artistic skill or anything. The simplest stick figures doing the most simple, basic things can go so far to help students remember things. Having them do some sort of graphic representation is another way to have them process the content.

No. 5, another way is to have them do writing to learn, where they have to summarize, for example. You know, I see questions like this sometimes on these worksheets, and they’re not bad questions. But if they were done in a different way, instead of the kids going home and doing them, make that question the activity and say, OK. Here’s the question: How was this Native American tribe different from that Native American tribe? I want you to list three reasons and then list three ways that they were similar. Or, why did this tribe, why, in your opinion, did this tribe struggle in this way? Or something like that.

Instead of having them take it home and do it on a worksheet or just do it on a worksheet and turn it in and then you check that it was done and that’s it, have them write for a couple of minutes, let them research, let them collaborate with each other, and then have them share it, have them put them up on a wall and do a gallery walk or something. Have them actually think this through and write it out, and then get some feedback on that right away.

Or even have a couple kids read theirs and then let kids go back to their summaries and make some changes because they realize, “Oh, I forgot this important detail,” or something like that. They could also do short argumentative pieces. “What did you think about when this bad king did this thing? What would you have done?” Kind of like the role plays, but have them do it in writing.

Letting them process this information, it requires them to sort of go back to the original text and double-check and say, wait, am I using this person’s name right? Did I get it correctly? They could even be doing things like timelines, creating a timeline and working together to build that.

That actually leads me to the next thing that students could be doing. It’s just little mini projects, little things, instead of them being long things. I saw something on MiddleWeb that I’m going to link to. It was a history post or project, and I loved the way this teacher did this. I think you could do this for so many types of content.

They were studying early America and what this teacher had them do was make a poster, two posters. One poster was the two best leaders of early America, and the other poster was the two worst leaders, and they were writing it almost like a review, like a Yelp review, I think, maybe not, but they had to back it up, basically. And the kids could use their own rating system, and they had to explain why, with textual evidence from the text that they were learning from. They had to have an opinion and the processing of the visual stuff. They were probably never going to forget those four names.

It’s a way of interacting with the content a little bit, and it was something besides just, “Do a poster about George Washington.” “George Washington was born in this year, and he became president in this year … ” Man, if those projects never happen again, that would be a blessing for the world, because they don’t really teach the kids anything. But have them have an opinion or a stance on these types of topics and then create something that expresses that.

Anyway, you have to see this project. It’s something like that. It doesn’t have to be a three-week research project. It could be something really, really quick.

Two other things: No. 7, anticipation guides before a learning activity. This is something I don’t hear a lot about, and this is a great tool. Prior to learning about something, you ask students a couple of questions, and again, I’m going to provide a link to an example. You ask questions: Do you think this? Do you think that? Do you agree with this statement, yes or no? And these are all things that will eventually become uncovered in the content that they’re going to learn. And so they’re sort of already primed to be thinking about these questions and topics, and then when they get into the learning, then that stuff is either confirmed or refuted in the content. So they go back to the guides and sort of fill them out a little bit more saying yes or no, you have a text, you agreed with what I thought or not, and here’s what I think now based on what I read.

Really simple, a really simple way to get them a little bit more active, give them a little bit more of a stake in what they’re reading and learning, and then opportunity to process it afterwards. “Did I actually predict correctly? Did I learn something and change my mind about something afterwards?”

And then the very last thing, and this is going to sound like it’s not different from what’s already happening, but note-taking that has some structure, some discussion, some collaboration.

In Episode 104, which was very recent, it was a whole episode about note-taking, and note-taking really is an important ingredient in a classroom for learning. But there are definitely some right and wrong ways of doing it, or effective and less effective ways.

I think what’s happening, unfortunately, when we say “note-taking” in a lot of schools is that the teacher is just putting a PowerPoint up and the kids, from what my kids tell me, are copying what’s on the PowerPoint.

That is not really the same as high-quality note-taking to learn, where students are having to really process what they’re thinking and put things into their own words and possibly add some doodles to it to help them remember. I think in the case of the one child of mine who could not tell me anything about what the notes meant, we’re missing something. If they can’t explain their notes later, and it could really just be a matter of even if the kids are copying stuff from the PowerPoint, stop. Before you move to that next PowerPoint, have them turn to a partner and actually explain what’s on there. Because maybe they don’t know what they wrote down.

So again, sorting activities, kinesthetic work, some sort of discussion, have them do some kind of graphic representation, have them write to learn, quick little mini projects, use an anticipation guide before the learning activity, and better note-taking.

Enhance any of these with some sort of collaboration, and once they’ve engaged with the material a little bit, don’t forget about retrieval practice.

In Episode 79 we devoted that whole episode to retrieval practice. If that phrase is unfamiliar to you, please go and listen to Episode 79, because it is about the value of sort of quizzing yourself on material as a learning strategy. This is something that should be built into all classes and taught to students and done with students.

I’ve worked with people that used to take pride in how many students failed their exams. I did not have a high opinion of these people. They thought of themselves as hard teachers and they liked the reputation that they had.

I think these teachers got it all wrong, and when I was in the classroom I used to make every effort to make sure that all of my students would pass my tests, because to me those tests were as much a test of me as they were of my students. It was how well did I teach them? How well did I structure their learning experiences so that they really learned the material?

It’s not a matter of saying, “I covered it, I taught it, therefore they should have learned it,” and I hear that way too much. Just because you covered it, it doesn’t mean they learned it.

And I know that this is going to upset some people, but if you have a lot of students failing your exams but those students are in class and they’re showing up, then the problem is not them, the problem is you.

So I will just leave you with this: When planning your lessons, ask yourself if students are doing anything with the material, or if you’re just setting things up so it’s information in, information out. If it’s the latter, start adding in ways to have students engage with the stuff they’re learning. There are a lot of different ways to do it. Even though it adds a little bit more time, you’re going to see such big benefits. Not only are your students going to learn better, you will all, both your students and you, like coming to school a whole lot more.

For a written version of this podcast, visit, click podcast, and choose episode 108. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, and products, sign up for my mailing list at Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.