How to Manage Student Learning

As a teacher, you must apply the best management techniques that will help motivate your students to both behave and to learn during classroom instruction.

While there are many teaching and learning techniques to choose from, the withitness and the ripple effect approaches are among the best classroom practices to follow.

These technique work because they show that the teacher is in control of the classroom and that few shows of misconduct slip through the teacher’s fingers without the teacher noticing and correcting.

Additionally, as a teacher, you must be able to enforce learning strategies that will be beneficial for all students, regardless of their cognitive abilities.

All students can learn, yet usually they learn within their own time and within their own way: Understanding this human truth will empower you as teacher to motivate students to excel.

The ten (10) strategies below will help you project your prowess as leader and will illustrate your benevolent understanding of student behavior when you add the human element of kindness to your student management repertoire.


Withitness” is a term created by Kounin to describe the teacher’s awareness of what is going on in all parts of the classroom at all times. Educators commonly refer to this technique as “having eyes in the back of the head.” To be effective, the students must perceive that the teacher really knows what is going on in the classroom.

Ripple Effect.

The “ripple effect” occurs when the teacher corrects a misbehavior in one student that positively influences the behavior of other nearby students. The effect is greater when the teacher clearly names the unacceptable behavior and gives reasons for the desist.


Ideas that work in the classroom

  1. Reviewing classroom rules often if not everyday.
  2. Reminding students of learning objectives.
  3. Empowering students to do the work themselves, their way—
  4. Proving immediate feedback with a type of smiley-sticker.
  5. Working in the zone as often as possible.
  6. Displaying students’ assignments.
  7. Offering a jolly rancher or a quality peppermint.
  8. Allowing students to read silently for 15 minutes and then testing their comprehension by asking appropriately- challenged assessment questions.
  9. Teaching life skills.
  10. Saying out loud, “I appreciate you!” 


Teacher Mathews (2020)

Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction

Professional Development Consultant

Bonus Points versus Academic Support

“It’s me again, Doc. Got a few minutes?”

“Sure, Vivian. How are you?”

“Grading papers: grades not so good.”

“Thinking about reteaching?”

“Of course, if necessary. I believe, though, students have knowledge of the standards.”

“Perhaps that is the problem: Students have knowledge but not comprehension. Students usually must understand content well-enough to make B’s or A’s, or even C’s”–

“The class and I have reviewed the assignments many times. Each time we have worked together, students have performed well. I believe their poor scores represent a lack of self-confidence. Students rarely trust their answers, even though they mark the correct answers then change their answers.”

“Indeed a lack of self-confidence is a big problem in students’ academics. . . What are you going to do?”

“I will allow bonus points”–

“Yet, the school policy states ‘no bonus points,’ right?”’

“Yes, I understand. The policy is not clear, however. I mean, what constitutes ‘bonus points?’ Usually, bonus points represent a type of game played, and the winner is awarded points to add to his or her grades. Yet, I am thinking of extending bonus points that connects to the standards taught. . .'”

“Clever. It’s logical to award points for extra work rather than for extra credit. You may wish to term extended points as ‘academic support.’ This term accommodates the intent of points more appropriately than the giving of bonus points.'”

Academic support sounds logical. I will offer extended practice on lessons students choose to learn more about. I will allow students to submit lessons as they deem appropriate. . . I will offer 10 academic support points for each lesson they complete, not extending 25 points”–

“I believe your idea to extend academic support is a helpful one. If students wish to continue the work for extended knowledge and for academic support, who are we as educators to say ‘no’? We are teachers that wish to help, not hurt.'”

“What is the legal standpoint on giving bonus points?”

“Academic support.”

“Yes. Sorry. Academic support.”

“You are the teacher. Do what is best by your students. . . No particular legal outlet. Schools decide: Teachers decide. You probably should discuss academic support with administration. You need to suggest that the policy ‘no bonus points’ be explained. Mention your reason for academic support. Explain that you will connect academic support to learning standards, not anything else that does not relate to school learning: no points for sweeping the floor, playing nonacademic games, running errands, and the like. . . I believe administration would support your stance.'”

“I will speak with administration.”

“Be mindful also that students need to understand that academic support is not to be used indiscriminately. Students must always give 100 percent effort at making good grades. When they fall short, and you as teacher believe academic support is necessary, extend this grace.”

“Yes. I will add this importance to my syllabus.”

“You might consider not adding ‘academic support’ to your syllabus; yet, add it to your red carpet repertoire, allowing students to benefit from this special event only when you as teacher believe appropriate. . . Of course, be fair to all students, giving same opportunity to all.'”

“You are right again: I can foresee how this form of grade-forgiveness can be taken advantage of”—

“Yes, but you will set the tone. Academic support will cling to your continuance of extra work for you and your students. You will need to grade students’ extra work and provide feedback as you would normally. Still, this idea brings more opportunities for students to learn the standards: I appreciate this idea the more we speak about it.”

“Well, if you would allow me just a few more minutes, Doc, I wish to understand the cons of offering academic support.”

“I think none. Academic support has more pros than cons. The cons might be grading extra papers, chancing students’ slacking, skewing actual grades, yet you can limit these possibilities with a share of your expectations. Other cons might be lessening the rigor required of your class. The pros are far superior: Academic support shows you as teacher care about your students and their grades. You recognize students are smart yet make mistakes sometimes. The support allows more chances for students’ deepening the learning of standards; the support paves the way for students to apply effort to their learning, for effort is not a popular idea among many students. If students ask to make up work, they are ready to provide the effort to complete the work.”

“I appreciate you. Somehow ideas become more clear to me after I speak with you, Doc.”


“Just remember the following tips, Vivian, and I believe ‘academic support’ may become the norm for some schools. These tips should apply for students and teachers and schools.'”


(1) Follow grading policy, and speak with administration for an augmentation of the policy if necessary.

(2) Align academic support with learning standards already reviewed to strengthen students’ understanding of the lessons.

(3) With your guidance, allow students to present academic-support-lessons in their own way. Discovery is key.

(4) Make sure students understand that academic support is a type of red carpet event that happens only sometimes, not every time students wish to have better grades. Make this directive clear.

(5) Provide academic support for all students, not only for those students that ask.

(6) Arrange a student grading system so that students may assess their own work. This way you will not become overwhelmed with grading yourself: Do spot check for accuracy, however.

(7) Continue to teach test-taking strategies.

(8) Continue to seek innovative ways to instruct students to strengthen your expertise and to enhance your students’ academic learning.

(9) Trust your students.

(10) Trust yourself.

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D.

Curriculum and Instruction

Education Leadership

Classroom Instructor

Professional Development Consultant





Mathews 9 Learning Strategies

Mathews 9 Learning Strategies

Picture of Dr. Cynthia Mathews

Dear Student,

You are a special commodity. You makeup over 300 million people in America alone, and that makes you essencial to a special population, filled with a great number of people with unique minds and talents.

Your personal gift is your own, and you can apply your gift to produce magical ideas. The one important idea you must recognize, however, is that you must elevate your mind. Place yourself in front of knowledge so that you may gain confidence to make informed decisions about critical situations and to deter yourself from negativity as much as possible, for negative actions can produce a stoppage in your excellence that may take countless hours or days or weeks or months, even years to unravel.

Knowledge is your key to open doors to your future. While you are young and able, open your mind to learning. If, in your past thinking, you have thought of yourself as the kind of person who cannot learn, or if you have tried to learn but have failed at doing so, you must recognize that, first of all, you can learn: All human beings are capable of learning.

You, personally, only need the willingness to learn and the opportunity to have a caring, smart eclectic number of people on your side to help you endure through the effort that you must provide for the learning to manifest itself to you.

This scenario describes what a good school can do for you: A good school, built with a curriculum that is designed to promote smartness and to teach life as a whole, a good school that invests in quality teachers, teachers that will go beyond duty to help you learn, can help you bring about your innate greatness.

You are lucky if you receive instruction in this type learning environment. However, if you are not so fortunate to learn in the described environment, still, please know that you can learn. You need only to push yourself to learn and to have faith that you will indeed learn, and that your destiny in life is filled with great expectations and immense wealth.

To help you harness methods to excel in school while you direct your way to excellence, practice the 9 learning strategies below.

These 9 strategies were constructed by the writer of this article after years of experience working with all types of unique student-minds—some minds wondering, some minds confused, some minds unaware, some minds brilliant, yet all minds desiring to learn.

Likewise, through the analysis of active student and teacher questionnaires, through the years of classroom instruction and assessments, and through the intensive in-depth studying of research, the writer of this article generated 9-annotated strategies for students like you to apply in their daily school lives. You may also proceed beyond school days of studying where excellence of mind becomes imminent.

Moreover, and most helpful, the writer of this article developed the following 9-strategies by studying the characteristics of human beings. By exploring human behaviors, the writer has discovered that human beings have the capacity for discerning ways to make sense out of information, and that humans may do so within their own will and determination, and with the aid of quality teachers, you as a student can reach great heights. Yet, you must realize that even without great teachers, with perseverance on your part, you, yourself, can manifest a positive difference in your own life.

With great earnestness, you are encouraged to study and apply the 9 strategies below and to recognize the elevation of your mind: Watch how your mind—your new thoughts and your ongoing knowledge—elevates into the greatness it was destined to be:

9-Learning Strategies

  1. Believe in yourself, for you are awesome. You must realize that as a human being you are already armed with the smartness designed for human beings to possess. The capacity for learning lies within all human beings, albeit unique to each being. Likewise, you are the image of a being that is Almighty. Glory lies within you from this source. Trust yourself to learn, and great knowledge will come to you. Believe in yourself, for you are awesome.
  2. Show effort: Learning comes from doing. While you believe in yourself, you must also apply effort to learn. You must take the steps required to master a task. With consistent practice, with uncompromised patience, and with perseverance, you will push the effort you already possess. Effort is like a week’s worth of work. Once you have “put your time in, payday is coming.” Your pay is “knowledge.” With knowledge, you will possess the substance necessary to earn the pay you desire. Show effort: Learning comes by doing.
  3. Read deliberately, and pay attention to words. Reading is the key. You must read from all disciplines and connect the relevance. School can help with your reading, for, as a student, you have the opportunity to partake in select classes—math, science, history, English, electives, and other extracurricular activities. These classes bring about a wealth of knowledge to you. Where time presents itself, read the books that accompany these courses. Take an active interest in your reading by listening to the sentences, the paragraphs, the summaries. Think upon the messages conveyed unto you. More importantly, acknowledge new words that you have never met before. Invite the words into your knowledge bank: Refer to or Google to learn how the words are pronounced, where they come from, and how the words should be used. Through your understanding of words, you will be able to make sense out of learning. Read deliberately, and pay attention to words.
  4. Divide and conquer long reading passages. Research reveals that many learners do not enjoy reading; many learners find reading boring or difficult to endure; contrarily, reading can become manageable—even enjoyable—if the reading is divided and conquered. To prepare for a successful reading, you should assess the entire reading—number of pages and time allotted for reading. You should divide the pages by the days for reading. If, for example, 30 pages must be read within one week (7 days), you may divide the pages by 6, (leaving a day of non-reading to reflect), to conquer the task. Instead of reading 30 pages in one sitting, read deliberately only 5 pages daily. This strategy allows reading to become manageable. Divide and conquer long reading passages.
  5. Practice learning in different learning styles. You may have a preferred manner of learning. Perhaps you prefer listening to instruction rather than reviewing notes. Perhaps you prefer watching videos rather than figuring answers; or, perhaps you prefer working alone rather than working with a partner. Either preference, you learn, right? While clingy to a particular learning method that works best for you, add, nevertheless, to your learning repertoire; add another learning style to augment the depth to your learning. You can mix listening with writing. After listening, write about it. Or, after writing about it, reflect on what you have learned. In fact, learning in multiple ways will enhance your learning ability exponentially. Support a variety of strategies when it comes to learning. A multiple learning style will help you master learning creatively and conductively. Thus, practice learning in different styles.
  6. Spacelearn by reviewing every other day, not everyday. To enjoy learning a lesson, you must realize when to leave it. Studying around the clock does not strengthen your knowledge. It does the opposite. It depletes it. The memory holds only a certain amount of storage and then the excessive storage is depleted. For masterful learning, study in intervals. Perhaps study in the morning and again at night, rather than study in the morning, noon, and night. You may also study 4 days a week instead of 7 days a week. By adding space in the time you manage to study, you allow time for the information to settle into your brain. After a pause–and the same lesson is repeated–the brain remembers. Besides, you will appreciate your effort when studying if you study in intervals, leaving time for you to enjoy other activities before you return to studying. Spacelearn by reviewing every other day, not every day.
  7. Apply punctuation as intended. Applying punctuation during the course of communication is vital, especially in a human-to-human interaction; equally, when you are reading, you must apply the rules of punctuation to ensure the understanding of what you are reading. For example, when speaking, and you ask a question, the tone of your question is understood to be a question, right? When you raise your voice for another to hear, the emergency tone of your voice is understood, right? When you are mimicking the voice of another, your voice changes to a similar style of whom you are mimicking, right? The same expressions must be applied to reading. Where you see a period, stop. Where you see a question mark, ask a question. Where you see quotation marks—alter your normal reading voice to the voice of the persona you are questioning. Much of reading comprehension correlates to your ability to recognize punctuation marks and to use the punctuation marks in sentences accordingly. Apply punctuation as intended.
  8. Differentiate learning for a greater perspective. Sometimes you need to learn in a different environment other than the classroom, living room, bedroom, or anywhere else where manmade lights is the norm; artificial light can promote a type of tiredness that may impede your learning. A mentionable difference is to try nature’s light—learning on a clear, cool, no wind day promotes learning for many people. The sun is bright and can produce the right amount of light intensity for you to see clearly what you are learning. During opportune times, alter your learning locations. Additionally, although you may prefer working alone, try, nevertheless, learning with a partner or work with a group. This style will only temporarily modify your learning on your own. Besides, to learn with likeminded personalities can be helpful. Think of creative ways to learn, and apply the new learning perspectives to optimize your cognitive growth. You can always revert to your normal manner of studying if none of the new learning strategies work for you (yet, the strategies will work). Differentiate learning for a greater perspective.
  9. Absorb and share learning with others. Being a savant (some term it ‘nerd’) is not a bad idea. Actually, it is an admirable characteristic because other people respect people that place gaining knowledge as a top priority. Learning should be every human being’s quest. Yet, the beauty of learning is the opportunity you have to share it. The world offers a plethora of lessons for usefulness. You have the capacity to learn as much as you desire to learn. The only sin would be not to share your knowledge to help aid mankind. Absorb and share learning with others.

Learning is important. Learning Mathews 9-Learning Strategies aids this importance.

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D.

Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction


High School Instructor

Innovative Thinker

How to Frame the Lesson: A Review of Fundamental Five

Frame A Lesson: Insights from Fundamental Five

It’s the beginning. It shall be good. It’s the ending: Was it good?

If the beginning of a lesson is setup with a clear understanding of ideas to be taught and why the ideas are important to learn, the teacher has done a fairly good job in setting up the lesson for students to learn. It shall be good.

If the ending of a lesson provides proof that students have completed assignments and have illustrated that they understand the assignments, the students have shown the teacher that they have benefitted from the lesson. Learning shall be good.

Presenting and completing lessons are the important ideas of framing a lesson, for only when both the teacher and the students have conducted their parts of presenting and completing lessons will the task of learning be realized. Only then will “all be good.”

Teachers must be armed with tools for teaching national standards and for executing school board approved learning requirements. These entities shoul be implemented before teachers add their own flair and pizzazz to the curriculum.

While teacher-autonomy may be desired and expected by teachers—and in many school systems encouraged—teaching the appropriate lessons that students must know for them to be successful when taking standardized tests takes precedence. It shall be good.

Therefore, the learning objective should be stated at the beginning of instruction. “It must be a deliberate act on the part of the teacher . . . The lesson objectives must be framed in concrete, student-friendly language and be presented in the form of a ‘We will . . .’ statement”’ (Fundamental Five, p. 25).


We (teacher and students) will identify the parts of speech.


You (student) will analyze the parts of speech and will share your analysis with the class. It shall be good.

The beginning of the setup is easy (identify); the ending of the setup is challenging (analyze); yet, after students have reviewed ample examples of analyzing the parts of speech, the students should be able to emulate the skill with ease or with inconspicuous aid from the teacher.

Students must believe that they analyzed the parts of speech on their own to placate their intelligence and self-esteem.

With subtlety on the teacher’s part, the teacher may indeed enforce the strategy of helping students believe in their own intelligence. It shall be good.

Thus, the lesson must be “framed” prominently on the whiteboard or blackboard or wall . . . where teacher and students may easily see and refer to the lesson throughout the duration of instruction.

Framing a lesson helps students keep in their minds lessons that are important. In the midst of a learning day, students may encounter a wealth of information. They need a system to use to help “filter” needless information at a given time.

Framing a lessons pinpoints the precise lessons that need careful thought for the lesson to be understood. It shall be good.

Fundamental Five explains “. . . a content perspective, the effectiveness of mental filters is impacted by such variables as prior academic knowledge, prior academic success, enriched and varied life experiences, motivation, and level of stress. . .” (p. 30). Thus, information for learning must be clear and focused. It shall be good.

While remembering everything deems valuable for some learners, it is indeed idealist; filtering concepts not necessary at a given time to process is more ideal.

The working memory is limited and will filter unnecessary information at given, appropriate times.

Framing a lesson brings about a type of “filtering,” allowing students to contend with the necessity of that which require their immediate focus.

While some students may have a learning advantage over some other students—due to socioeconomic factors or other enriching factors—all students have the same advantage of learning when a lesson is framed by what is to be learned and by how learning will be assessed.

Additionally, framing a lesson helps teachers to maintain a clear and concise statement of the lesson’s original intent; all subsequent instructional decisions should be made in light of that original intent, according to Fundamental Five. It shall be good.

Lessons become streamlined. The teacher simply selects the activities that will move students from the objectives to the closing tasks.

When a clear focus for learning has been framed, a teacher has the power to create activities to promulgate learning. The teacher also has the power to influence students to create their own understanding by completing lessons in their [students’] way. It shall be good.

Thus, the teacher will be present to redirect students if necssary so that students may focus on the lessons framed.

Effective instruction is about decision making. When a frame is developed for learning, all learning decisions will be followers of the lesson framed. A teacher has the power to create this importance.

Students likewise benefit from a framed lesson, for it provides a visual cue of what students are to know. The question, “Why do I need to know this,” is answered when a lesson is framed and is further explained when the teacher setups relevance for the learning.

Thus, a prominently displayed lesson, a careful instructional approach of relevance to students’ lives, the students, even the ones with a possible weak mental filter, have a means—through framing a lesson—to sort and process information, according to Fundamental Five.

By the closing day of a class’s study, students should be able to demonstrate what they have learned and provide directions for the teacher to assess or to revert or to proceed or to celebrate.

Framing a lesson is critical to the overall instructional goal of any one class. Without a lesson to be sought, all other following activities of instruction will lack clarity, at best.

Frame the lesson. You will then realize “all is good.”

Cynthia Mathews

Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction.


Cain, S. and Laird, M. The Fundamental Five. 2011. Cain/Laird






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