The Power Zone: Reference to Fundamental Five

Teachers must work the room.

Before I begin with the tenets of “The Power Zone,” coined by Cain and Laird (2011), authors of Fundamental Five, allow me to intercept my thoughts on the power zone, which I relate as “working the room.”

Teachers must be proactive in engaging their students from beginning of class instruction until the end of class instruction.

One of the effective ways of engaging students is to have lessons prearranged and to have extra mini assignments for students in case you encounter a five to ten minutes gap.

This preparation should relate to the current lesson at hand or be related to an assignment students are already familiar or have been previously introduced in your class.

When you can smoothly transition from one lesson to another without students sighing or closing their books because they realize class time is almost over, you will have already continued students’ learning by teaching lessons bell-to-bell.

Usually, trouble can transpire in the classroom with a five to ten minute gap. To prevent possible troubles, keep students working until bell or at most until only a minute or two is lagging, which is enough time for students to gather their books to depart your classroom.

As tempting as it may be to allow students to sit and do nothing or to mingle with their peers for five to ten minutes before the bell rings, do not allow it.

Five to ten minutes is enough time for students to venture off task into mindless or belligerent events. This insight is important to remember, especially if the students are elementary to middle school.

Students enjoy having fun, and depending on their dispositions, fun may mean hitting or belittling or running around the classroom. It happens. Young kids will be foolish because [it’s] fun to them.

As a teacher, you must proceed with teaching by timing your lessons for maximum effect.

To help you execute lessons in a conducive manner, you may “work the room.” By this expression, I mean remain in the midst of students’ learning by mingling with them, by circling about the classroom, by stopping by students’ desks, by asking students direct, specific questions.

You will discern that by stopping by students’ desks that indeed they have questions that may lead you to share the answers with them and the entire class because other students may also need the identical help.

Your stopping by a student’s desk also provides an opportunity to catch a student doing something great in which you may compliment him or her. Compliments are important for students to hear about themselves to the point that they willl continue to learn.

Additionally, working the room means looking professional. Students respect a teacher who appears “good enough” to teach them. While many students may rarely mention a teacher’s dress of style, there is research that supports that students notice teachers’ styles and that students learn best from teachers who look “good.”

Thus, while “working the room,” ensure that students enjoy your proximity by your displaying a fashion style of comeliness and professionalism.

You yourself will feel “smart” as a teacher “working the room” because you look “smart.” Of course, if you are an elementary teacher, one who stoops or sits on the floor with students, you might need to wear appropriate pants and comfortable blouses that fit you professionally and will not cause the slightest embarrassment if you should lean over.

Yet, middle or high school teachers may professionally dress with blazers and long sleeves and suits and ties and pearls and other appropriate styles of clothing.

If possible, a female teacher should never wear a dress above her knees without wearing stocking. She should not wear slip on / slip off dresses and flip flops or sandals showing toes with bare legs exposed: not professional. 🤔

Think upon these things.

Equally, if a male teacher wishes to command respect, in addition to his “working the room,” he should wear a tie: It simply adds to the professionalism of instruction and is the best way to proactively connect with students and motivate them to receive instruction.

“Work in the Power Zone” (Fundamental Five) is a similar idea to “work the room.” Cain and Laird express “location” as the fundamental idea of “Work in the Power Zone.”

The first location mentioned in Fundamental Five, where teachers usually situate themselves, is at the computer desks.

Working from their desks allows “teachers to instruct their students as well as conduct administrivia duties—check roll, grade assignments, enter grades, check emails. . . ” (P. 41).

Working from the computer desk also depicts teachers participating in no particular activity. Rather they watch over students from their desks.

The authors of Fundamental Five deem working from the teacher’s desk is the least effective way to teach a class. (How can a teacher use his or her “withitness” technique [watching out for troublemakers] sitting at his or her teacher-desk?) 😟

The second location where teachers teach is from the podium. Teachers may stand at a podium or stand in front of class or stand at side of the class. Either way, the teacher instructs as being the “sage” on stage: Teacher speaks: students listen. 👨

Still, teaching from the podium is not the best location to teach, although teaching from the podium is more effective than teaching from the teacher’s desk.

The best location, according to Fundamental Five, for teachers to teach is in the “Power Zone.”

Teaching in the power zone represents teaching within proximity of the students. Teaching where the students sit allows the teacher to monitor students while students are working.

Teaching in the power zone decreases discipline issues. When teachers are close by students while students complete assignments, many, if not all, students will remain on task, and even student achievement will increase because teacher monitors learning by working in the power zone.

Work in the power zone also allows the teacher to provide one-on-one instruction, which is a teaching tool necessary for some students who need the teacher’s validation, “You are completing the assignment the correct way.”

In the power zone, teachers position themselves right in the middle of the action. Teachers may respond immediately to instructional changes when they work in proximity of the students as well.

Teachers may conduct formative assessment on the spot. They may take good mental notes by being close by. . . They may visualize immediately the aid necessary to make a difference in student learning: “Yes, I see that you understand,” or “Wait, let’s solve the problem this way.” Working in the power zone aids instruction.

In essence, Fundamental Five, states that the teacher who spends a significant amount of instructional time in the power zone is better able to accurately address specific student misconceptions than they are able to address specific problems if they are not working in the power zone.

Teachers may also increase student success by helping students add depth and breadth in the construction of their assignments. Adding depth and breath is a skill many students renege due to not knowing how to add more information. Teachers may help students when they are near students.

Fundamental Five ends by urging teachers to make a commitment to working in the zone; to purposely arrange the classroom to facilitate teacher movement; to limit common distractions, such as turning off computer to not be disturbed by checking it while teaching; to purposely keep organized; to use time spending it among students to aid their learning” (p. 48).

Thus, you as a teacher must understand that to spend time in the power zone means to improve classroom instruction. You will be close enough to students to address and to assess.

Fundamental Five offers useful suggestions for aiding student-learning. Similarly, “work the room,” my added two cents, complements “work in the zone.” Teachers should be prepared for instruction; they should be professional in their demeanor; they should work within proximity of students, and they should maximize learning for all.

Working the Room or Being in the Power Zone will help you as a teacher shine by being among your students, and your students will learn effectively and appropriately just by being close to you. ✅


Cain, S. and Laird, M.(2011). Fundamental Five. Cain & Laird.

Cynthia Mathews

Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction

Classroom Teacher

How to Learn on Purpose: Fundamental Five

How to Learn on Purpose: Fundamental Five

Below are the Key Components of FSGPT (frequent small group purposeful talk):

  1. FSGPT frequent small group purposeful talk is a practice that allows up to four students to talk about an assignment after the teacher has provided instruction on the topic of assignment. Some research stipulates many students appreciate talking with their classmates more than they appreciate sitting quietly in a classroom listening to their teachers. Although students understand they must listen to instruction to learn–and many do listen–students nevertheless welcome every opportunity to connect with their classmates to complete assignments. Social psychology reveals that people need people, and education research supports the idea that students should work in groups where possible to help keep learning interesting and fun and meaningful. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

2. The teacher discusses the lesson for 15 minutes and then allows students to share with other students the lessons they have learned. Certainly, teachers must teach. They cannot pass the baton to students without first arming students with the tools they need for learning. Yet teachers should space their instruction in a timely manner and allow students to digest bits and pieces of the instruction. Once the teacher has spoken for 15 minutes, she or he should pass the baton to the students for them to further discuss with their peers the lessons. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

The students’ talks should last between 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Social psychology reveals human nature will allow only a few minutes for anyone to explain almost anything because most people’s attention span is ephemeral. Thus, speaking for 3 minutes or less so the other person may speak again is a civil way to be obedient to the others in the discourse. After three minutes of conversing with their peers, the students should transition the time back to the teacher, so that the teacher may proceed with the next lesson if apropos. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

3. The structure of “purpose talk” includes frequency, group size, seed question, and power zone. In order for the FSGPT to fulfil its intent, the structure must be adhered. In a fifty minute timeframe, students need at least three opportunities to share with their peers what they have learned.

Each teacher should decide on the frequency depending on the instruction planned for the day.

The size of the group should remain small so that every member in the group feels closely connected to the other members. To have students “turn to a neighbor” to discuss a lesson is helpful as well, but the idea is not as focused as an assigned group that is instructed what and how to participate in the lesson.

The seed question helps students to direct their attention on learning. The seed question should be what allows for students to think on levels that would be meaningful to them. For example, in teaching stories about animal life, a teacher might instruct students to respond to a similar question: “Under delicate circumstances, how would you help a lost puppy find its way home”? Students should be able to discuss ways to aid the situation through a few minutes of talking with their peers. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

4. Two disadvantageous variable: five or more students may preclude every student to participate, and a side conversation may become likely. Keeping within the minimal of two and the maximum of four students in a group allows for everyone to participate vis a vis. Otherwise, engaging five or six students in a group might inadvertently preclude some students or leave minimal time for all students to respond. The importance of every student talking is reason for grouping students. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

5. Seed questions guide students toward learning outcomes. Asking a direct question for students to discuss and share ideas keeps learning meaningful and interesting. The questions should embrace all levels of learning–knowledge to evaluation (Bloom’s taxonomy). The goal is to teach for learning. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

6. Power zone represents the idea that the teacher is remaining in the conversations by facilitating students’ discussions. Although students are listening and talking, the teacher’s responsibility is to monitor students and to probe them for further deep thinking if the three-minute time allows; otherwise, the teacher should walk within the groups to manage the functionality of the lesson. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

7. A classroom malady is feedback presented only by “adult-like” students, where “student-like” students rarely speak: the group of 2 to 4 provides opportunity for every student to share his or her opinion. Adult-like students can aid student-like students by explaining the lesson if student-like students need help in understanding the lesson. Students help one another rather than listen to teacher on an often basis.

A perfect scenario would be all students being the quality students many teachers expect; however, in a genuine classroom setting a diverse student body stands before the teacher. Thus, the teacher must depend on the students that enjoy sharing aloud and desire leading the crowd.

The teacher must also determine a means for stimulating all students to motivate themselves to participate in their own learning. Until the teacher reaches all students, she or he must rely on willing students–adult-like students–to help motivate other students to participate in class groups and /or discussions. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

8. Student retention is supported by students teaching a lesson. Teachers will attest that students will daydream for many minutes of class time, and to many teachers’ dismay, some students will place their heads on desks or wander about the classroom, especially if the teacher’s student management is weak. Thus, to help keep students entertained and in the “fun” mode for learning, students need to work with their classmates. Otherwise, students’ attention span may be short and only minimal learning gained. Students working together will aid their learning. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

9. Primacy / Recency [sic] Effect, “per learning, students tend to remember best the first lessons and remember second best the last lessons and remember least lessons that come just past the middle” (quoted in Fundamental Five, p. 56). This idea is a truth to reckon with because, if reminisced, the pictures the mind conveys will show that attention is greatest at the start of almost any event and is even greater at the end of almost any event because, well, it’s the end.

Regardless how delightful an event may be, an end to its delightfulness is desired at some point in time. A truce is a good thing. The lessons or the events that happen between the beginning and the ending are usually the lessons lost. Thus, a strategy is necessary to keep knowledge fresh in learners’ minds.

The best way to maintain the recency effect is to frame the lesson when students are alert. Critical instructional concepts and final demonstration of that concept are powerful. Additionally, allowing students to connect with buddies to share the goodtime, is necessary, and, again, entertaining and fun.

Therefore, the teacher should frame the lesson and place students in groups to keep them thinking and learning. Students will then remember lessons from beginning to end. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

10. A state change is a change in physical or mental state. By introducing multiple state changes during the course of a class period, the teacher may create multiple, vibrant starts and finishes at beginning and at end of class instruction.

A state change provides opportunity for the attention span of students to be guided. When a teacher instructs students, “Let’s stop what we are doing; turn to your partner and discuss. . .” (p. 59). This state change resets the students’ attention to continue to focus on the learning outcomes.

Again, 15 minutes of teacher instruction followed by 1 to 3 minutes of sharing within groups, keeps students on task and learning. PURPOSEFUL TALK PROVIDES THIS OPPORTUNITY.

Lastly, rigor and relevance can be applied to learning through Bloom’s Taxonomy. Applying rigor is an uncommon method of teaching, according to Fundamental Five, yet rigor can be aided by incorporating seed questions, sauntered with Bloom’s analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, which are the higher levels of learning.

Lastly, the authors of Fundamental Five recommend a chart to display questions, a chart that shows levels of questions per HOTS (higher order thinking skills). The chart that is situated in a conspicuous place inside the classroom allows ease for the teacher to recognize HOTS questions. The chart will be helpful for the teacher to use high level questions when time nears to engage students in explicit thinking.

Rigor may also be added by allowing students to bring their own relevance to their learning. The teacher does not mandatorily instruct on his or her own but instill autonomy in students themselves to elicit their own rigor and relevance.

The teacher may teach students how to monitor time when students are learning. Students may introduce a timer or a bell system as a warning that instruction stops when the timer rings, and questions and answers can be enforced.

By teachers teaching students to be responsible for their own learning, they give students the opportunity to be independent learners, and they save time for themselves to facilitate instruction.

Frequent small group purposeful talk solves many low level learning times by bringing to the learning force a chance for students to connect with others; a chance for them to learn independently; a chance for them to ask higher order questions and to respond to the questions; a chance for students to relieve their teacher of continual instruction; a chance for students to be motivated for learning; and a chance for students to increase their participation in classroom learning.

Fundamental Five displays a method for teachers to adopt a sensible style of instructing, so that teachers may help their students remain engaged in learning: Students then absorb the chance to listen, to learn, and to share. Purposeful talk provides this opportunity.

Cynthia Mathews

Dr. of Curriculum and Instruction

Classroom Teacher

Work Cited:

Cain, S. and Laird, M.(2011). Fundamental Five. Cain & Laird.

How to Write Critically: Fundamental Five

Let’s be honest. Many students do not understand how to write. Many students shun writing. Many students despise school because of writing. The research is proof. Look for it. The experience in the classroom is also the proof: Ask any teacher.

Authors of Fundamental Five—Sean Cain and Mike Laird (2011)—argue that teachers do not allow students to write enough in the classroom. They cite teachers seem to operate under the misconception that writing critically requires producing many pages, and because of the laborious work entailed in writing, teachers choose not to teach writing (p. 82).

Cain and Laird (2011) also claim teachers focus on the end product and that is the reason teachers misunderstand the power of the process of students writing critically.

Agreeably, many critics blame teachers for students’ lack of knowledge of writing, and some research supports this notion, as it seems reason enough to speculate if students do not understand how to write, then a great part of the reason must be the teachers’ fault since they are accountable for teaching writing, especially English teachers. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Maybe. Maybe not.

NOTE: Seminal research requires all core teachers to include forms of writing in their instruction.

In this post, the writer examines critical writing, not every day writing. There is a big difference.

Every day writing—taking notes, delineating content, filling in blanks, copying words—is not a form of writing critically.

According to Fundamental Five, writing critically is related to the taxonomy of Bloom’s, a hierarchical model used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity (1950).

Critical writing entails students to practice augmenting their thinking through a critical writing process that requires the students to take a subconscious idea, expand on that idea, connect it to other subconscious ideas, and bring that to the conscious level through the tangible level of writing (Fundamental Five, p. 82).

Specifically, according to Fundamental Five, critical writing practice includes a short comparison paragraph, a quick summary, a mind map, or even a formal essay.

These exercises provide opportunities for students to think critically about writing; the writing idea is for students (and teachers) to focus on the key term “critical,” which indicates the intent to distill abstract thoughts into concrete understandings (p. 83).

The benefits of writing critically support the literacy strands of reading and writing and speaking and thinking.

A quote in Cain and Laird’s book serves to explain the importance of literacy: “Any significant deficiency in reading entails a parallel deficiency in writing: Any significant deficiency in writing entails a parallel deficiency in reading” (Paul and Elder quoted in Fundamental Five, p 85).

The inference is that students need opportunities to read good literature to possess something tangible to write about.

These types of stories can be related to life or to students’ personal lives, and students would then be inclined to write.

Plausible, yes?

Still, Cain and Larid’s idea remains that teachers believe writing is too much for students to handle; therefore, they do not teach it.

Thus, how may the teacher’s perception of teaching writing be improved so that students will gain the appreciation for learning how to write critically?

I, as a teacher, understand the idea that teachers may have the erroneous mindset that teaching writing is laborious.

Still, many factors surround the absence of teachers teaching writing. For one, teachers are charged with many core duties, and unless teachers are English teachers, many other teachers must force time and space to include writing in their lesson plans.

For many non English teachers, teaching writing is equivalent to English teachers teaching science or math, which they probably do not understand.

Thus, many teachers proceed with what they understand how to teach, and writing—to a certain extent—gets left behind.

English teachers, on the other hand, indeed teach writing of some sort. To my knowledge, only in recent years had it been mandated that English teachers teach critical writing.

Many English teachers would agree that teaching writing is important, and they probably can provide proof of their students’ writings. After all, they are English teachers.

However, in conjunction to teachers not teaching critical writing, a setback to teaching critical writing is that, in many public schools, students have only a rudimentary level of understanding about writing, and majority students balk at writing anything that seems longer than a paragraph or two or three sentences.

Students push and pull against writing to the extent that some teachers relinquish the idea to teach students critical writing.

The remedy is clear, however, and that is to teach writing regardless of students’ dislikes, yet to teach writing in a manner that students will tolerate.

If students are comfortable with writing only a paragrapgh, then they should be allowed to write only a paragraph.

When students grow into their writing, they can venture toward writing two or three paragraphs and eventually write an entire essay.

Approaching writing by paragraphs allows students to benefit from Bloom’s Taxomomy.

Students may begin their learning of critical writing by showing their KNOWLEDGE and then by showing their COMPREHENSION.

Students may soon be taught how to add examples to their writing: APPLICATION.

Writing at higher levels, students may ANALYZE topics they have read by providing in-depth information through the application of quotes and the examination of their topics.

With more reinforcement for learning how to write critically, students can structure their topics creatively by applying the skill of SYNTHESIS and by illustrating many important literary critics’ point of views.

Finally, using Bloom’s Taxonomy, EVALUATION, students will be able to provide the implication for their writings.

If critical writing is taught using Bloom’s taxonomy and taught in intervals, perhaps by grade levels, or perhaps taught by spaced intervals throughout the school year, then students will increase their understanding of critical writing.

Of course, teachers will need to use creativity and to employ time management techniques to teach the different strands of literacy to make critical writing a success.

Thus, it makes sense to teach students how to think on deep levels through questioning: “Where have you seen a similar situation?” Why did this accident happen? How did the accident happen? What is the implication of the incident? What research supports your point of view?

As a teacher, ask higher order thinking questions, and guide students through responding to the questions.

Moreover, be patient with students because critical questions requires students to expound upon their comments, and many students have not yet learned to connect words to express themselves.

You as teacher must guide students to think and to write critically.

The emphasis is on teaching the literacy strands—in all contents—yet especially in English, so students will gain the knowledge they need to write critically.

Teachers must aim to teach writing more than not when they have a model to follow to help students with critical necessities of writing.

Many English teachers are naturally endowed with the skills required to teach critical writing. They may only need a reminder from themselves to do so.

Critical writing activity—connecting lessons to the real world—allows the teacher to stretch the rigor of any lesson, according to Fundamental Five.

There must be a level of accountability for engaging in critical thought. Teachers may teach and observe students to this very end: Teachers may observe themselves, and administration may observe and enforce the instruction of critical writing for all students and for every teacher. Non English teachers can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to take baby steps toward achieving this end of critical writing.

Fundamental Five has the right idea: Teach students how to write critically. Make the time to add critical writing assignments to lesson plans, and then implement the assignments.

Reminders for Teaching Critical Writing

  1. Make time to teach critical writing.

2. Embed literacy opportunities in every class.

3. Maintain the higher level of rigor for an extended period of time.

4. Work with other teachers to teach critical writing.

5. Allow students to write in their own way, and then add rigor for them to improve.

6. Apply creativity and time management to instruction.

Reference: Cain, S. and Laird, M. (2011). Fundamental Five. Cain and Laird.

For more ideas on curriculum and instruction, read Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction. Amazon.

Cynthia Mathews


Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction

How to Recognize Academics and Reinforce Behavior: Fundamental Five

How Recognition and Reinforcement Make Sense

Recognize and Reinforce, as it posits in the Fundamental Five, a book written by Sean Cain and Mike Laird (2011), is essential to student achievement.

The authors reveal that there are two sides of learning, and the sides are academic issues and behavior issues.

As a teacher, I agree that academic and behavior issues are the forces that drive classroom management and classroom instruction, for when students are successful in their learning and are behaved appropriately to continue their learning, magical, wonderful things can happen in a school setting.

“Academic success” must be a really big deal, Cain and Laird argue. Educators have opportunities to increase learning goals of students simply by recognizing the achievements of students, yet these are opportunities often missed in classrooms and schools overall, the authors lament.

At school, I have heard other teachers say they believe too much recognition given to students sends a false idea that some students are better than other students and that good students who achieve in academics rarely need recognition because they are naturally motivated to perform well in all their core classes.

I venture to refute teachers’ statements of this sort by noting how teachers overlook the truth that human beings appreciate compliments.

Research abounds in human psychology that a simple compliment, “You did a good job” or “I look forward to your presentations because they are always perfect to see,” are the types of compliments that influence students to continue to be their best.

Notably, an opposite effect can transpire in student motivation if students do not receive recognition for their successes.

Some smart students may believe their hard work is not important enough to continue if nobody recognizes their works’ quality.

Excellence takes diligence, and compliments are the motivation that helps the hard work to transform into completion.

Academic Reinforcement

Fundamental Five states that students should be recognized when they show forms of improvement in academics. If a student has usually earned D’s yet currently makes B’s, that particular achievement is worthy of noticing and celebrating.

In fact, to witness the success of a usually nonchalant student who appears to be transformed into a diligent student could serve as motivation for other “wannabe” excellent students.

Every little step of academic improvement is “a big deal” and deserves its place in the sun.

“Reinforcement of student work is required for certain levels of academic success,” says Cain and Laird. This idea is particularly important when instructing both the willing student and the sluggish student. “Yet, many teachers miss the opportunity to reinforce” (Fundamental Five).

As a teacher, I realize that academic reinforcement covers a lot of ground: Students must be called into attention to understand why they are learning a certain skill: Students must be shown precisely how to perform a certain skill: Students must be prodded during the process of learning a certain skill and must be congratulated for mastering the skill or pushed for continuing the skill.

Reinforcing student learning is in itself a skill that teachers must understand so that teachers may model perseverance for students in order that students will continue to strive for academic success.

Human beings are pronged to give up when lessons are perceived as too much or too difficult or too boring, says Albert Bandura, education expert on self-efficacy and student learning. Students need constant reminders of how to persevere in their education, and if teachers would only seize opportunities to motivate students to continue through a direct show of recognition and reinforcement, many students would endure.

The early stimulation of students’ mindsets helps students to reach their full potential at a time in their lives that is conducive to their cognitive growth. They would need no longer to wait until adult years to discern the importance of this awareness. Life can be difficult simply by missing out on important lessons that should have been reinforced during school.

“The benefits of academic recognition and reinforcement are many,” according to Fundamental Five. “The highlights of the effectiveness are primarily supported through research. A significant gain in student achievement—as much as 48 percent—has been illustrated to be influential” (p.72).

As a teacher, I believe my own motivational schema determines the type of reinforcement I need to continue a project, and based on my own common sense, I understand that I continue with an important project—difficult or not—when I earnestly aim to achieve it.

Similarly, being distinct persons of their own, students can also be reinforced to present stellar presentations if their school goals are recognized by their teachers. Many students shy from succeeding when they are used to not succeeding, and once a bad habit has become reinforced, it can be difficult to redirect it. Yet, teachers must try to redirect failure, as it is all too common that many students need the reinforcement to improve.

Moreover, academic reinforcement is a “Big deal” when instructing at risk students. To some “at risk” students, failure is a familiarity, and it becomes easy for them to embrace failure over time.

Yet, educators understand that reveling in ignorance is not the true way to academic freedom, and educators understand that embracing failure continually is not the road map to success, for educator themselves had to reinforce their steps to reach their own journeys of becoming educators: They understood hard work and effort and compensation.

Since educators realize the importance of academic reinforcement, they may use this knowledge as an opportunity to share with their students. Students need to understand the value of hard work without giving up, and educators are the ones to help them discern this value.

As important as reinforcement of academic success is for many school systems, so is the reinforcement of behavioral success.

Behavioral Reinforcement

Authors of Fundamental Five argue that personalization and specificity are the tools for educators to use when shaping behaviors of students.

Rather than teachers making broad statements in reference to students, teachers should make select statements to specific students whom they are addressing. The behavior in class becomes personal when a particular person is producing the problem.

Clarity is provided when a student understands that the teacher’s comments or principles are directed at him, not necessarily at the other students. “Specificity addresses the need to clearly state the behavior that warranted the attention” (Fundamental Five, p. 74).

As a teacher, I can share the power of this principle: For example, when a student is late to my class—say, at least twice noticed—I would stop the student before she sits at her desk and scold: “This is the second time this week you have arrived late to my class, young lady. . . I do not respect this type of behavior. . . Regardless of your reason for being late, please work it out so that you will arrive to my class on time, okay?

Although my directive is slated with a dominant tone, I use the word “okay” as a tag question to soften the shock and possible embarrassment I may have caused her, facing her peers. Yet, I direct my statement at her solely because she was the one who presented the behavior, and I needed to reinforce my teacher expectations.

Let’s consider another scene: As the late student walked in, I could have said, “Class, allow me to repeat one of my rules: Arrive to class on time.”

Although the late student may infer correctly the statement was aimed at her, the other classmates may not have noticed because they were working on an assignment. They may have been confused by the comment.

Thus, by clearly addressing the student who is at fault, the mistake can be clearly addressed.

Still, in some cases, a teacher may wish to apply the “ripple effect”: hence, reprimand one, teach all: It is a very effective behavior management reinforcement tool.

Yet, to avoid confusion and student possible complaint of “unfairness,” teachers should address the culprit at hand for positive reinforcement and for clarity.

Former students from college days may have learned about B. F. Skinner’s “Operant Conditioning,” which theorizes the consequences that certain behaviors influence chances of increased or decreased behaviors.

Thus, through reinforcement, the desired behavior expected becomes its realization through the desired behavior addressed.

In other words, when events are going right, a teacher should reinforce the setting: When events are not going right, a teacher should reinforce the right manner for the event to continue.

Most students need the continual guidance to follow the right rules, for when their mindsets are ready to behave they are usually ready to learn.


In my instructional book Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction (2016), I share with readers how they may motivate apathetic students through instruction (p. 76). I explain that students will feel apathetic at times and insist on being difficult but that teachers should create a motivational program of reward and discipline and stand firm through their teacher-voice and demeanor to reinforce their learning goals and classroom behavior plans.

Thus, similar to ideas mentioned in Fundamental Five, I am in agreement with its concepts about teaching and learning. Excellence must be recognize, for positive recognition is the main force for excellence to continue: Model behavior must be reinforced, for good behavior makes learning manageable and meaningful.

Many ideas shared in Fundamental Five are sound and helpful.

When student learning takes place, everybody wins—the student, the teacher, and the school.

Reminders from Fundamental Five:

  1. Address academic and behavior issues with clarity and specificity.
  2. Reinforce good behavior.
  3. Correct unacceptable behavior.

Suggestions for recognition and reinforcement from the author of this post:

  1. Learn students’ names as soon as possible to begin addressing students by their names when communicating with them.
  2. Work the classroom by walking around, scanning students’ assignments, and noting concepts to address.
  3. Praise a learning directive: “Yes! Your way shown is how to head your paper properly.”
  4. Say to students, “Thank you for following the rules of the class.”
  5. Compliment students when they have improved in learning a skill.
  6. Reinforce the statements “try it again” or “look at it differently” or “you still have time to figure it out” to motivate students to persevere in learning.

Cynthia Mathews, Teacher

Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction

Professional Development Consultant


Bandura, A. (2012). Self-efficacy Theory. Internet.

Cain, S. and Laird, M (2011). The Fundamental Five. Sean and Cain.

Mathews, C (2016). Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction. Amazon.

Posted by cynthiamathews

How to Apply Performance Based Learning to Instruction


How to Apply Performance Based Learning to Instruction

It’s time for students to realize that they can take control of their own learning. No longer must they be spoon fed every step of the way by their teachers before they can successfully complete a particular assignment.

Instead, students may receive only a general idea about a particular assignment and then be released into their own custody to complete it. This type performance based learning (PBL) is appropriate for all students—kindergarten to twelfth grade, yet students in high school—ninth to twelfth grade—might benefit most from PBL since high school students have the gradual cognitive level of maturity to think critically about a lesson more than students in lower grades.

What is Performance Based Learning?

According to education research, “Performance based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that emphasizes students being able to perform specific skills as a result of instruction.”

In other words, students must be able to articulate or illustrate what they have learned about a particular topic and express how they may use their learning to help themselves and / or their community at large when they apply the method of Problem Based Learning.

To state it pictorially, students must be the doctor of the knowledge they have gained and spread the antidote they used to a larger population in order to help ameliorate the cause(s) at hand. “In this framework, students demonstrate the ability to use the knowledge, rather than to know only the information.” (Operations Curriculum and Assessment).

How to Prepare Students for Performance Based Learning

For problem based learning to occur, students must believe that they can locate answers to their problems.

In a technological world, no reason exists for students to stumble through an independent learning process.

To help students explore on their own, teachers may need to build students’ self-confidence by presenting a motivation instructional platform (Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction).

Building students’ self-confidence is an important component to almost everything they do, especially in aiding their academic performance.

Several instructional styles are available to help students with the process of gaining confidence, yet one of the easiest ways to expose students to confidence is by imparting direct instruction per the topic.

Direct instruction, pertaining to performance based learning, entails exposing students to several methods of completing a lesson. Teachers may introduce the meaning of self-confidence and then instruct students to explore images of “confidence” so that students will be able to determine the appearance of confidence.

Keeping aligned with performance based learning, students may research the why’s and how’s of confidence and reflect upon their learning of the topic.

Additionally, the instruction for students to analyze quotes based on building their confidence will help complement students’ knowledge of ‘confidence.’

Students may subsequently discuss how they can apply confidence to enhance their personal lives. A motivation instructional format should precede any higher order thinking project to facilitate student endurance for performance based learning.

What are Tasks for Performance Based Instruction?

The use of “creativity” is the overall task for initiating a performance based learning project. Being creative helps students to become problem solvers and helps them to discern ideas differently than ideas of other individuals without condemning others’ plausible perspectives.

The idea is for students to learn about an unknown task and then to demonstrate what is understood about the task.

Creativity can help with the demonstration since students will be able to express knowledge in their own way, which can be expressed through graphs and charts, through artistic designs, through writing, through rapping, through narratives. Students possess ownership of their own learning through exploring.

How Teachers can Assess Students’ Problem-Based Learning

The rubric for assessing student understanding through problem based learning should be flexible.

One type assessment might be insufficient for creative instruction and learning. Therefore, to help with student assessments, students may once again take charge of their own learning.

For examples, (1) through research, students may create a test and answer key for teacher grading; by generating their own tests and answers, students may reinforce their learning and take control of building their confidence.

(2) Students may stand in front of their peers to be evaluated. This idea should accompany clear instruction from the teacher on how to evaluate and rate peers in a complimentary and constructive manner.

This idea also exposes students to depth of knowledge, as they (evaluators) must thoroughly understand the student’s performance to express their evaluations of the student.

This style of assessment compels all students to innately strengthen their confidence and to deepen their levels of understanding of the topics they create for teachers to evaluate. Creativity and Constructive criticism are the keys to student growth.

Problem Based Learning (PBL) is enforced when students are able to execute what they have learned.

The goal of education should be to teach students how to think, not necessarily what to think. The method of Problem-Based-Learning can help in this manner.

Cynthia Mathews

Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction



Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction

Education Research

Operations Curriculum and Assessment

How to Teach Students with Specific Learning Disorder

How to Teach Students with Specific Learning Disorders

Chalice sashays into Doc’s classroom and begins to complain about a student, even though school has been in session for only a week.

“I am so tired of my student, Carl, getting in and out of his seat and running his mouth while I am teaching my class, and he never finishes his classwork .”

“Well, hello, to you, Chalice.”

“I am sorry,  Doc. I just need a colleague to talk to. . . Do you have a few minutes?”

“Of course. I am just looking through my students’ assignment folders before I call it a day’s work . . . What has gotten you so upset?”

“That Carl. I cannot get him to behave. He wanders all over my classroom. He does not follow my rules. He does not complete his assignments. He does not ever shut up. I have had enough of him. I should write a referral on him and get him out my class for a few days.”

“Hmmm. That kind of behavior from a student can be frustrating, indeed. What do you know about the student? Have you checked to see if he has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan?”


“Well, perhaps you should. If he has a plan for you to follow, you might need to know what that plan is . . . ”

“Okay–Wait. Let me go back to my classroom to check his file–I will be right back.” (Chalice sashays out of the classroom before Doc could tell her to use her computer to check.)

Doc thinks to herself:

How is it possible that a teacher does not check a student’s file to determine if the student has been granted special education services? Does she not know that she is held accountable for her students’ learning? Does she not know that she could be reprimanded by administration for not following an IEP or that she could possibly lose her job or be sued by the student’s parent if she is found negligent of her duties?? Goodness. I need to alert Chalice about the possible consequences of her actions as soon as possible . . . She cannot be unknowing  about the severity of this issue . . .

Chalice sashays back into Doc’s classroom with papers in her hand. . .

“Okay. Yes, to my surprise, he does have an Individualized Education Plan. My mistake. I should have checked . . .”

“And what does the plan say?”

“The plan stipulates for the teacher to allow the student to stand to stretch . . .to allow the student to make up his work . . .to remind the student to visit the nurse’s office at 10 A.M. each morning to take his medicine . . . (duh. embarrassed) to redirect the student in a calm voice . . . and the list goes on . . .”

“There. Half of your problems with Carl could have been solved by following his IEP plan. He probably needed to have taken his medicine to behave, and he might have needed your firm redirection. . .”

“You are right, Doc. I am so ashamed of my not knowing these things . . . ”

“Well, now you can do something about it. Usually, when students misbehave, there is a reason that surrounds the behavior. As teacher, you must be prepared and knowledgeable enough to help him with his learning disorder.”

The American Psychiatric Association reveals that an estimated 5 to 15 percent of school age children struggle with a learning disorder, and their deficit can be severe in cases of learning reading, writing, and math. If Carl has not been completing his classwork, the reason might be that he finds the subject too challenging for him to complete the work. He may find ignoring the work safer than allowing you to know that he can’t read.”

“I have no idea if he can read. I have failed to find out.”

“You need to find out the extent that he can read and write, and begin immediately with a plan to help him overcome his learning disorder. And read his Individualized Education Plan in its entirety because it might reveal that Carl suffers from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also. Many students who cannot sit still through a class-period suffer from ADHD.”

“What are the symptoms of ADHD?”

“Limited attention span, impulsiveness, talkative, unorganized . . .” (American psychiatric Association).

“If Carl suffers from both attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder and learning disorders, you might need to request to have a qualified teacher-aide to accommodate you in instructing him. Having an assistant will help alleviate some of the pressure you feel and will give Carl another person to trust to help him get through his own difficult times. As teacher, Chalice, you must be understanding of Carl’s unique learning problems and treat him humanly–not that you don’t, of course–yet, try not to allow Carl to see that you have little patience for him or that you are anxious to ‘get rid of him.’ Can you imagine how hurtful it may be for Carl to suffer from learning disorders and to discern that his teachers do not care for him?”

“Yes, you are right, Doc.” I need to help him, not hurt him. I am so ashamed I did not read his IEP plan.”

“Most likely you have more than one student in your class with similar problems. . . ”

“I do have, and I will read theirs, too.”

“If I may help you in any other way, please do not hesitate to ask me–”

“I do have another question, and then I will leave you with your students’ assignment folders so you may then go home for today . . . I am so sorry to have taken-up so much of your time already.”

“No problem. How else may I help you?”

“In dealing with students in general who suffer from learning disorders or ADHD, what are strategies I can use to to help them–and to help myself? I promise you, I need as much help as the students, perhaps, because I feel easily agitated in dealing with students who need so much of my attention.”

“At least you are honest. That’s step number one: recognizing that part of the problem with your classroom misbehavior is you, the teacher. Yet, of course, there are strategies you may use to help the situation. . .” (Doc continues)

“. . .In their book Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems (Boynton & Boynton 2005), the authors declare “selectively ignore misbehavior”; they explain that if teachers complain about every minor detail, they might complain about events that are out of students’ control if students have individualized education plans. Teachers might inadvertently accuse students of  problems that students cannot control. A better suggestion is for teachers to repeat their classroom rules throughout a class period to help remind students of the rules. “Redirect with prearranged signals and nonverbal gestures”; the use of symbols may be different for younger students than for older students, yet by calling all students by their names and by reminding them to focus and to complete their assignments are usually sufficient to grab students’ attention. Unless students are totally defiant, they will listen and will try to force themselves to comply with their teacher’s directives.  Most students who suffer from learning disorder are rather compliant, according to research. Though, it can be an uphill battle to manage students with learning disorders; yet, it can be done. Here are a few examples to redirect students:

Redirect students by widening your eyes. Your pop eyes (no pun intended) will alert students that you are not happy with their current behavior and that they must stop [it] immediately.  Use your hands to motion for students to sit down, or move close by students to gently point to lesson they are completing to help them get back on task.  Understand that a subtle approach to redirect students is better than a vituperative tone, one that may startle students or make them feel singled out. “Use auditory and visual cues to help focus attention and emphasize critical points.” Using a laser pointer helps some students focus on the lesson at hand. Students are able to move their eyes to follow the laser’s pointer while they learn. This movement provides the stimulation students need to satisfy their eagerness to move about. Students may also enjoy listening to music. If permissible by the school, students may use headphones to listen to music while they work. The music will help keep students calm and engaged in learning. These are a few strategies you may use to help your students focus and to complete their class work. However, the most important remembrance for you is to read and understand your students’ IEP’s and to follow them as outlined . . . I hope this talk was helpful, Chalice.”

“Yes. Talking with you is always helpful, Doc. Thank you. I will leave you now and go read my students’ IEP’s. I will let you know how I am improving. I hope you do not mind. . . ”

“Wait, Chalice. I need to share tips that will help you as teacher to cope–You did ask for help, personally, right?”

“We can talk about that another time,  Doc. I have already taken so much of your time.”

“No, allow me to share. These are suggestions I myself use to cope with my most challenging students. All the research I have read have suggested what I am about to share with you, yet mainly these are ideas I myself have found useful while teaching students throughout the years”:

  1. Remember that you are paid to teach. If you wish to keep your job, then give it a good day’s work.
  2.  Be proactive by being professional in everything you do: Be professional in your dress, in your voice, in your demeanor, and in your dominance.
  3.  Read stoic quotes everyday (my Book of Imperative is a helpful book). Stoic quotes will help you not to worry about things you cannot control and will encourage you to do your best, and that is all required of you to do.
  4. Refrain from eating too much “junk food” (a little bit, though tastes good!); junk food–chips, candy, soda–will make you feel lethargic and unimaginative. You must feel alert to inspire your students.
  5. Learn about lessons you do not know but know that you should know, such as education laws and pedagogy imperatives.
  6. Make it a POINT to understand specific learning disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Not only will you appear smart, but you will better understand your students so that you may help them, and this idea will honor your job contract and will make you happy.
  7. Try to be a good human being every single day.

“Got it, Doc!” (Chalice winks at Doc, smiles, and leaves the room).


Mary Boynton & Christine Boynton (2005). Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems. ASCD.

What Is Specific Learning Disorder and What IS ADHD? (N.D.) American Psychiatric Association

May I hear from you? Thank you for reading this article.

Cynthia Mathews


Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction













How to Motivate Staff the Democratic Way

How to Motivate Staff the Democratic Way


Research postulates that compared to the other many leadership styles, “democratic leadership” tends to be the most effective style when motivating subordinates to perform their duties.

Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership or shared leadership, is a type of leadership that employees take a more “hands-on approach” in the decision-making process.

Under democratic leadership, leaders involve their employees by asking employees their opinions, usually via a survey or during a staff meeting.

Democratic Leaders consider feedback from employees by pondering similar questions such as follows:

“What support do you expect from me as your leader?”

“How may you help me carryout my vision for the company?”

“What suggestions do you have to help improve our organizational structure?”

Including employees in the decision-making process promotes a partnership between the leader and her employees, and by strengthening loyalty among all employees, by executing the leader’s vision, happiness is most likely to embrace all partners involved.

Democratic leaders promote novel ideas to maintain employees’ interests and concerns, and leaders want to know directly from their employees their personal preferences for job satisfaction, so that they may help provide their wishes.

According to seminal research, “recognition and appreciation” is number one in keeping staff satisfied. Recognition can be as simple as greeting a staff by her name or praising an employee in front of his peers.

Appreciation is often effective when it is shown by a personal “thank you” from the boss. An email or a note left in an employee’s box to mention the good deed. Or, giving a small gift—gas card, lunch card, or a day off from work: These “appreciation” ideas rank strongly by employees that “this kindness makes me happy.”

In return, Democratic Leadership allows employees to support their leader by looking out for her welfare, by speaking fairly about her during a leader’s evaluation.

Because of the partnership between staff and leader, employees own the responsibility to conduct their duties wisely in the manner agreed upon for the success of the company, and the leader owns the responsibility to ensure his employees’ success under his leadership.

In essence, employees desire HONESTY from their leaders. They wish to understand what is happening in the organization, and they want to be given the chance to participate in the problem-solving scheme.

Employees expect their leader to be FAIR and to hold everyone accountable to the same rules and standards.

Employees also desire TRUST from their leader, believing that their leader has their best interest at heart.

On the other hand, research posits that a leader expects employees to show him or her RESPECT. Acknowledging the leader by citing his title and name— “Mr. Cameron, thank you,” “Sir Rogers, I appreciate you,” or “How may I help you, Principal Taylor?”

By citing his or her respectful name or title through gladness and authority gives the leader a confirmation of the employee’s democratic partnership: It is known as respect.

Dependability is another expectation that a leader expects from his employees. When a person is hired as an employee, the leader relies on the employee to complete his job. The employee is expected to be timely and nearly perfect in implementing his duties. A leader can relax to focus on other important duties when he has one less problem—employee—to worry about.

While a myriad of leadership styles is used by different bosses, the one that most people prefer is the democratic style. Almost everybody wishes to be heard. Almost everybody wishes to be recognized. Almost everybody wishes to participate.

Democratic style leadership empowers employees and offers them the opportunity to share input with their boss. That partnership style is the democratic leadership way.


To enhance the democratic leadership style, below are suggestions for the leader and her staff.

  1. Always acknowledge the leader with kindness and respect, and always acknowledge employees with polite authority and decorum.
  2. Always keep the leader informed of potential problems, and always keep employees informed of potential work problems involving them.
  3. Always ask staff how you may help them succeed in your organization, and always ask the leader how you may help to support his vision.
  4. Always remain vigilant and visible around your employees, and always show up to work and conduct your duties as employee.
  5. Always share good news first, and then share bad news last, such as in a case of permanently closing a business, “I am so sorry, but you are the best, and I thank you.”

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D. (2020)





What It Takes to be Curriculum and Instruction Director

What It Takes to be Curriculum and Instruction Director


“Hey, Doc! Just got back from my interview for the Curriculum’s position!”

“Wow, that’s fabulous, Jana. How did the interview go?”

“It went well. The Superintendent—Interviewer— wanted to know if I fully understood the duties of a curriculum director. Of course, I have no direct experience, yet I understand the duties.”

“Of course, you do. . . How did you convince him?”

“I simply told him what I know, I rambled, ‘The curriculum director releases instructional and supervisory programs to provide effective educational programs. . . They regulate and coordinate abilities and efforts of staff to ensure effective instruction (I paused, then continued) . . . curriculum directors work closely with the superintendent, executing instructional matters. I am sure the duties are immense, I continued’. . . He then asked me how well I work with people—‘“

“Did you ramble on?” (laugh)

“I did.  I wanted him to know my understanding of curriculum and my ability of working with other people without my having to spill specific details unless he asked, so I described that a curriculum director’s duties entail working with other school leaders in planning curriculum development and in evaluating appropriateness of curriculum programs. I said to him as director I would have to work closely with principals and their staff.” . . .

. . . The superintendent appeared most impressed with my understanding of formulating school policies and disaggregating data. I told him I had attended seminars on developing policies but that mostly, on my own, I have read about the development of school polices, and I told him that disaggregating data was a team effort to include instructional leaders and teachers and sometimes parents. I said to him “I enjoy working with other people in this capacity.”

“Will you travel?”

“He said I must travel sometimes yet mostly I would attend conferences. He mentioned I would use a school car () for traveling and that stipends would facilitate my expenses.”

“Of course.”

“And, Doc, here is the best part: (she whispers) if I am confirmed as the curriculum director, the pay may be as much as $130T a year!”

“You are worth it: You are highly qualified and likable in my opinion. You deserve it. . . Wow, look at you, Jana, manufacturing your dream. Responsibilities of curriculum and instruction are vast, delicate, and regulatory. . . I am proud of you for applying for such a responsible position.”

“I know. . . I truly want this job. . . I was raised by my spiritual Mom who told me to apply for jobs that I love and God would give me the desires of my heart. I love the duties of curriculum.”

“I believe you will be offered the job, and I believe you will be the perfect curriculum director.”

“Thank you Doc.. . Well, nice to chat with you. . . Back to work now.”

All the best, Jana—curriculum director. The title suits you. (Jana exists with a glow, and Doc muses with a smile)

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D.

Points to remember about curriculum:

(1) You must plan for the improvement of curriculum and for instruction.

(2) You must observe and evaluate the quality of curriculum taught and instruction executed.

(3) You must use ready-made data and local research to make curriculum decision.

(4) You must organize and direct special In-service education projects.

(5) You must interpret curriculum to the public and to the School Board of Education.

(6) You must be a people person. 

Source (Journal Educational Leadership)





Self-Studying Learning Strategies

Self-Studying Learning Strategies


Of course, students need to study the periodic table, important events in history, and basic functions of math. Likewise, students need to understand how to acquire information without expecting teachers to instruct lessons on a continuous basis. Students may employ life-learning strategies to appreciate their independence for learning.

Three helpful learning strategies for students to employ for study-helpfulness are SQ3R, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Universal Intellectual Standards:

Francis Robinson, in his papers “Effective Study” (1946), introduced SQ3R, a method that consists of survey, question, read, recite, and review. This study method may be applied to school, work, and life.

Encountering any lesson or event for the first time, the smartest thing students can do is to survey. . . They should look over lessons, events, duties, [persons] to fully understand the ideas that are evident. By surveying the lessons first, students will understand the overall impression of how lessons are structured and how lessons should be approached before proceeding.

The next idea is for students to ask questions of the lesson: What do I need to understand? Where may I find answers? How should I approach this lesson for mastery? Any question asked of a lesson will help students elicit a direction in which they should proceed.

Next—Read: students should Read straight through the text with interval breaks. If dealing with a person, students should listen to him or her speak. This method is similar to reading a book: Learners are actually listening while reading.

While aiming to understand a topic may not come readily for some students, students will nevertheless understand lessons better when they apply the next step of reciting, for reciting is the time to say out loud what is important to be annotated or to be highlighted. This method of reciting will save time for students. They do not need to read the same lesson again; they only need to recite the parts they annotated as significant.

Lastly, Review: Learners should review the importance that are outlined or highlighted. If necessary, they should reread the portions of the book or they should ask more in-depth questions about the topic in order to prompt their own attention for further understanding.

The method SQ3R has been a major help cited by many scholars that have tested it overtime; similarly, Bloom’s Taxonomy, an advanced method of learning, is equally effective.

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and his associates published a framework for delineating educational goals, which include the lowest level, knowledge, the next lowest level, comprehension, and the average level application, and the critical level analysis, and the creative level synthesis, and, lastly, the highest-level evaluation.

Bloom’s Taxonomy allows students to repeat learning six different times and six different ways with each taxonomy presenting a higher level of thought. Because of the rigor of learning at high levels, students will recognize that Bloom’s method of learning helps facilitate the repeated rote method of 23 times for understanding concepts that researchers have long espoused. Bloom’s Taxonomy has facilitated student-learning for decades and is widely used in schools in America.

The other learning strategy, Universal Intellectual Standards, which include a learning process for students to master ‘excellence’ when they are completing projects, are ordered as clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logic, significance, and fairness.

[To read in detail information about Universal Intellectual Standards, please Google its concept in order to appreciate its novelty and importance to education. The scope of this strategy is beyond the space-limit of this article.]

Students will be able to enhance their lives by employing the strategies of SQ3R, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Universal Intellectual Standards. While many other useful learning strategies are available, the ones mentioned herein are test proven strategies that can be used independently. The strategies are study-effective and are helpful for both personal and professional purposes. 

Self-Studying of Leadership

A healthy mindset is for students to learn important lessons in life and to give their very best at nearly everything they aspire to accomplish in life. Thus, to be of a sound mind, students must maintain a healthy self-esteem and possess a good dose of self-confidence. One reason many students rarely fulfill their potential, according to science research, is that they lack fortitude about themselves. Luckily, self-esteem and self-confidence can be enhanced through leadership awareness.

A few helpful books to read and Cd’s to listen to may be obtained. Access any self-help book by, for examples, Myles Monroe, Michelle Obama, Stephen Covey, and many other notable, self-expert persons. Their inspiring words will help learners boost their self-awareness. Indeed, students will fare better in life if they take the driver’s seat in directing their studying habits. They may use self-study techniques as a road map to help facilitate their journey.


  1. Study to learn, not only to pass, ACT or SAT.
  2. Apply SQ3R to every part of life.
  3. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to demonstrate high-levels of reasoning.
  4. Use Universal Intellectual Standards to measure excellence.
  5. Look to leadership to enhance self-esteem and confidence.

Cynthia Mathews, Ed. D (2020)

Why Supreme Court Reveals It’s Okay for Students to Grade Papers

Why Supreme Court Reveals It’s Okay for Students to Grade Papers

“Hi, Doc—Report cards go out next Wednesday!”

“Hi, Byron!  Yes, next Wednesday. Have you entered grades in the computer, yet?”

“No, I have not. . . Waiting to hear back from a parent who complained that my grades are not valid because I allow other students to grade students’ papers.”

“Hmmm, that truth is no reason to fret.  A teacher has the final say regarding students’ grades.”

“I wish I knew of a better way to appease both students and parents. Students cower when they do not receive A’s, and parents complain that my grading practices are “unfair.”’

“Well, be reminded that the Supreme Court has already ruled that students grading their peers’ papers is not a violation of Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA.)”

“Really,  I do not recall.”

“Yes! It was a case filed by a parent as a class action lawsuit against Owasso (Oklahoma) Independent School District, claiming “a teacher used a peer grading system. . .”

“Really? When did the ruling take place?”

“A few years ago, Byron . . . February. . . 2010? . . . You can Google the case and read about it, but, yes, after a battle all the way to the highest court in the land, the judge declared, “In concluding the opinion, grades on students’ papers would not be covered under FERPA at least until the teacher has collected them and recorded them in his or her grade book. We limit our holding to this narrow point.”

“Wow, incredible. Thanks for sharing this information. . .”

“Indeed, sometimes–perhaps often–students’ grades are reviewed by teachers for accuracy. The teacher may change the grade if peers did not grade fairly, or teacher may use his or her final assessment of the grades; thus, peers that graded the papers might not have seen the final grades, thus no real harm happened.”

“Yes! That makes sense. . . I always spot check the grades after my students grade papers.”

“However, I would caution not to allow students to grade other students’ papers on a regular basis. A more prudent method would be to allow students to grade their own papers. You as teacher would have to assess the validity of their grades, however, and perhaps micromanage the situation. This idea is feasible with few math problems, historical facts, or vocabulary. Yet, you, yourself, should grade students’ essays—or. . .”

“Yes! I totally agree.”

“How will you handle the complaint by the mom of your student?”

“I will ask her to meet with me for a conference, and I will explain my rationale for grading. . . I will respond understandably to the parent’s concern and will adjust her child’s grades on the basis of fairness . . . I have a better understanding now after talking with you about grading practices, Doc.”

“A compromise is this case is smart, Byron . . . Ah, question?? Do you ever use a grader chart or a Scantron or a techno method for grading?”

“No, I am a hands-on teacher and prefer hand-grading.”

“Well, I understand. Yet, for easy grading—multiple choice, facts, simple computation, for examples, try Scantron. Your computed grades will be accurate and students and parents will be able to see the grades and deal with the consequences of the grades privately.”

“. . . Another good idea, Doc. I understand that privacy is important. I know that some students and parents can be sensitive about grades . . . Thus, I will start using your recommended grading suggestions as well as rethink my grading practices . . . .”

“If you would like to read further about grading, here is a list of research-based strategies for grading. (Doc hands list to Byron.) I complied the list to keep in my grade book and in my computer notes to remind myself of best grading practices, and I apply them.”

“Okay. Surrreee!”

Here is the list:

(1) Be reasonable and clear about teacher-expectations for performance.

(2) Be fair about grading by keeping the student’s learning ability in mind.

(3) Develop valid assessments of learning and skills, minimizing error in test construction.

(4) Implement a rubric strategy that both teacher and students understand.

(5) Consider a no “F” policy: Adhere to grades A or or or D.

(6) Allow students to makeup assignments or retake quizzes if they ask.

(7) Discuss “test integrity” with students: Why is test important? How does studying for a test guarantee test-success?

(8) Teach strategies for making good grades.

(9) Involve parents when students earn below a grade B.

(10) When in doubt about grading, refer to the highest court of the land for validation.

“Thank you, Doc. These tips are very helpful. . . Let’s have lunch soon. My treat.”

“Sure! Perhaps a good time to have lunch will be next Wednesday, after report cards go out. We can discuss the outcome of grades and talk more helpfully about solutions. . . .”

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D. (2020)

How to Teach Effectively

Teaching is imparting knowledge or skill to learners, right? Well, yes—but more: Teaching is imparting knowledge and managing students simultaneously.

The days for standing in front of students lecturing went nonviral decades ago. Today it takes a livelier environment to teach in the 21st Century.

Teaching requires being in the zone, watching and facilitating, allowing students to partake in their own learning. Students have opportunities to discover and create their own lessons when they are given autonomy of doing so.

While lecturing has its appeal—introducing new lessons, providing anecdotes to enhance imminent lessons, communicating with students, simply by relating to their personal interests, students nevertheless must be actively engaged in learning that lecturing rarely provides.

How to engage students? Well, “Flipping the Classroom” is one such style, as it requires students to take over the classroom rather than educators teaching most of the time. Flipping the classroom allows students to apply the learning objectives to discover new ideas about the lessons and to create assignments in their way, and then to explain the importance of the lessons and share how they plan to use the lessons to better their lives; flipping the classroom keeps students involved because they, not so much educators, are doing the work.

Moreover, when students create their own lesson-designs, good grades should follow whether or not “little Johnnie,” for instance, understood the gist of the assignment. He did indeed complete the lesson based on instructions, did he not? “Be creative; discover.” Good teaching is providing good grades for students and making complimentary, helpful notes on their assignments to cheer little Johnny along in learning so that negative grades will not hurt little Johnnie’s feelings, prompting him to give up trying.

Good teaching is extending the “most good” to every student. Everyday teaching is challenging because educators must also contend with individual-student concerns—on the spot. At this juncture, good teaching converts to good discipline. In doing so, educators must prepare themselves how to constructively handle common teaching scenarios.

When students venture off task, and some of them will, educators should reassess their student- management plan. Educators may ask themselves “Have students and I maintained civility by recognizing human traits we have in common? In other words, have we insisted on effective teaching and serious learning of the standards, so that everyone’s fullest potential is reached? Have we shown a sense of humor to lighten the load of the class work? Have we been helpful to one another, assisting the other when necessary? Most importantly, have we been patient with one another, not accepting one’s innate ways as a bother but as a pleasure to help the other?

What to do when educators and students have indeed recognized and acknowledged the basic human decencies yet misbehavior continues? Well, educators may resort to enforcing good student behavior and effective learning by following the effective teaching tips below:

(1) Talk with the student: Explain the importance of learning, and try to reach an agreement. Sometimes asking the student for his fine behavior and continuance of learning is the only caution necessary for misbehavior to disappear.

(2) As an assignment, instruct student to research the words “tack” and “deference.” Ask the student to assess his learning. Student will appreciate the learning but also will appreciate the teaching of important-civil words.

(3) Focus on the task or misbehavior, not on the student. Even if the student is wrong, he may be reluctant to admit it. A student may easily recoil if he feels singled-out.

(4) Provide a lot of positive reinforcement: Motivation. Motivation. Motivation.

(5) Talk earnestly with the student about the human-traits. When reminded, the student will behave appropriately because she will have recognized principles her mama or grand-mama taught her. Besides, a human being knows–deep in his soul–to show respect. Just politely remind her.

(6) Apologize if the student’s feelings have been hurt. Yet, ask for and extend cordial behavior.

(7) Call parents. Yet, do not complain about their child. Only ask for their support.

(8) Keep an eye on the student to show that he is being watched. He will secretly like and respect the minimal attention.

(9) When addressing student, call him by his name. A student enjoys the attention he receives by hearing his name, and he appreciates that his presences is realized.

(10) End of day, go home. Rest. Reflect. Start anew.

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D. (2020)