Opportunities For Students to Review Curricular Content and to Develop Cooperative Learning Skills

When teachers initially attempt to redesign block-of-time lessons, they frequently ask about the format of a typical lesson. Numerous creative instructional approaches are possible within longer time frames; therefore, teachers should be cautious about relying too heavily on familiar daily instructional routines. As a general strategy, however, teachers might consider planning 3-4 activities during the instructional block, ensuring that at least one activity will involve direct and substantial engagement of students in the learning process. A block-of-time lesson could be structured in the following manner:


Review previous learning. In a sense, teachers who have previously employed traditional direct instruction methods should feel fairly proficient with this portion of the lesson provided, of course, that they include opportunities for direct student involvement. Approximately 20-30 minutes could be allocated for instructional input.

Student performance. Group experiences provide students with an opportunity to master the lesson content while engaging in hands-on activities. Experiments, cooperative learning, role-playing, case studies, and computer simulations can each be used to provide effective experiences. Approximately 30-40 minutes of the lesson may be devoted to this activity.


Guided practice/reteaching. Individual student mastery remains the foundation of effective teaching, and it is appropriate to incorporate guided practice (individually or with a group) so teachers can assess levels of student understanding. This component is especially critical for schools with alternate-day schedules, since students will most likely not have an opportunity to correct learning errors for two or more days. Teachers should reteach and reinforce the day’s objectives, provide closure, and assign homework. Time allocated for review, reteaching, and homework should be 5-15 minutes.


A cautionary note: Larger blocks should not be viewed by either teachers or students as a method for routinely permitting students to complete homework assignments in class. Valuable instructional time will be forever lost, with resultant decreases in student achievement.


Teacher Effectiveness Coach Success Factors


Put Students First


–           Analyzing student work

–           PD with direct impact on student learning

–           Is intended learning of lessons showing up in student work?

–           Observation of student and teachers

–           Ask students what they are learning

–           Interview students:  what are they learning?  Why? How are they doing?

–           Student Engagement feedback to teacher. On-task behavior, improvement over time

–           Shift focus from accountability to administration/district mandates to students and outcomes


Achieve Results


–           Utilize relevant and timely data

–           Follow through on commitments

–           Shift and enlarge or narrow focus as needed

–           Try to create ownership to achieve goals

–           Engage in difficult conversations – Have conversations that create shifts in thinking and results

–           Find sphere of influence

–           Identifies next steps and holds everyone accountable




–           Create sustainable structures (e.g. grade-level meetings, department meetings, administration/leadership meetings, data teams, PLCs, etc.) where teachers are able to collaborate.

–           To provide teacher with protocols, agenda-setting templates, questioning techniques, goal setting templates, action plans, etc. so that collaboration is meaningful, relevant, and impacts student achievement

–           Make sure we don’t come in with our own agenda; we need to collaborate

–           Use the team as resource/collaborative team

–           Collaborate with leaders, teachers, facilitators, administrators, TECs.


Deliver Excellent Service


–           Focus when prioritizing competing initiatives

–           Adjust role based on administration/teacher feedback

–           Prioritize focus for coaching based on teacher need/student need/data

–           Prepare when facilitating/guiding pd

–           Take initiative and raise concerns when necessary

–           Keep high-yield focus/strategy

–           Provide constructive criticism by maintain relationships and trust

–           Seek out necessary resources to enhance work


Make Change Happen


–           Be flexible…change pd plans as needed

–           Be positive! Optimistic and realistic

–           Challenge assumption

–           Move forward despite ambiguity (Keep you plan and refocus as needed to target student achievement)

–           Sense of urgency – push, “nudge”, use data, calendars

–           Be proactive – even with pushback, move forward

Instructional Strategies


Any rich topic can be taught in a variety of ways and teachers should consider multiple “entry points” for students to learn new information. The following suggestions are offered to assist teachers with developing creative instructional approaches in blocked classes.


  1. Continuously engage students in active learning.


Teachers should embrace the concept of “teacher as coach”. Teachers should strive to facilitate student learning, rather than always using the direct delivery method of instruction. Whenever possible, students should complete the activity. Lessons should be active, with reduced emphasis on such passive activities as listening to lectures and completing worksheets. Lessons should be planned in which students learn through discovery methods or teach important concepts to their classmates. Transitional activities that require students to physically move about should also be included. For example, groups of students could be assigned such daily classroom tasks as distributing class materials, handing out papers, and collecting materials at the end of each activity.


It is frequently necessary for teachers to deliver brief lectures so students can fully master critical concepts. Even during lectures, however, teachers can include active student participation, using such activities as the following:


Think-pair-share. The teacher poses a question and asks each student to think about appropriate solutions. Students are next asked to discuss potential answers with a partner. Finally, the teacher calls on students randomly or asks for responses from volunteers.


Learning journals. Students can routinely write new concepts they have learned in daily journals. They should be prompted to focus on connecting this new information to previous topics or other interdisciplinary areas, and to write down the concepts they still have not mastered.


Guided notes. Teachers can prepare handouts that summarize the lesson’s major concepts, with significant portions left blank for students to complete during the lecture.


Active questioning. Asking questions of individuals is an excellent way to determine if a student understands the concept being presented, but this is an extremely inefficient method for assessing all students’ levels of understanding. Teachers can pose questions to the class, allow sufficient wait-time, then call for “thumbs up-thumbs down” responses from everyone. Students can raise their left or rights hands to answer true-false questions, or can call out or display numbers that correspond to the correct answer in multiple-choice questions. The point is, all students are involved, and the teacher has a quick and accurate method to assess student mastery of new material.


  1. Include group activities to encourage student participation.


New concepts are more likely to be retained in long-term memory when the learner is permitted to state them orally or to physically engage in activities. Group activities can range from brief discussions with a partner to carefully crafted activities that may require the majority of the block. Some possible group activities are the following:


Cooperative learning. A substantial body of research exists documenting the effectiveness of cooperative learning strategies. Any faculty that is considering implementing block scheduling should seriously consider cooperative learning training for all teachers and make this instructional method the cornerstone of lesson planning.


Writing groups. Students can critique their fellow group members’ writing for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, and sentence structure. Oral and written feedback will help students improve their writing style as they learn to write for their peer audience.


Case studies, role playing, and simulations. Case studies allow students to view situations through the depersonalized actions of a story character (“I agree/disagree with what he/she did because…”), rather than risking peer disapproval for personal solutions. Class discussion, consequently, remains focused on finding appropriate solutions rather than confronting conflicting student values, beliefs, and feelings. Through role plays and simulations, students have an opportunity to employ their dramatic talents, in addition to experiencing how a person in that role may actually feel or react when confronted with the situation.


Incorporate activities addressing the multiple intelligences. Gardner (1983) suggests the following seven categories of human intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Teachers should incorporate these dimensions into their lessons so students can experience learning through a variety of modalities. In addition, students could be offered opportunities to complete alternative assignments that explore the intelligences and capitalize on individual student strengths.


  1. Use creative thinking activities.


Though teachers today are generally familiar with the taxonomy of educational objectives in the cognitive domain, they are likely to be less aware of similar taxonomies in the affective and psychomotor domains. These latter two domains include learning activities that challenge students to develop skills in such areas as organizing preferences and developing confidence.


Lessons that attend to the affective and psychomotor domains, in addition to the higher levels of the more traditional cognitive domain, provide opportunities to emphasize the more spontaneous and creative capabilities of students. Examples of classroom attention to creative aspects of learning include assignments to develop illustrations of solutions to current affairs problems in social studies, or to exchange and solve student-created problems in math. Having students describe how they arrived at answers to assignments that require higher order thinking is also of great value in encouraging nontraditional thinking.


  1. Move outside the classroom.


Approaching instructional time with a commitment to including “outside-the-classroom” resources and processes as much as possible helps teachers and students focus on the real-life applications of their classes. Using community resources within the classroom, such as guest speakers and community artifacts, effectively ties community and school together, while simultaneously building invaluable community support for the schools. Similarly, the use of integrated field trips and assignments to gather information from the immediate community through “community scavenger hunts” helps to create relevance in the students’ learning.


  1. Employ authentic forms of assessment.


Traditional paper-and-pencil tests are limited in the types of learning activities for which these methods of assessment are valid. If emphasis in classroom strategies is placed on less traditional and more creative learning, less traditional and more creative forms of measuring the results are needed.


Demonstrations of a wide range of student behaviors, such as cooperative problem analysis and resolution with a classroom partner, or use of technology in accessing, manipulating, and presenting information are more characteristic of situations students will confront outside the classroom, and more telling of the level of integration in multi-domain learning. The use of others besides the classroom teacher to assist in evaluating student growth, based on clearly-defined objectives also helps to make assessment more authentic.


  1. Integrate and reinforce basic skills throughout the curriculum.


Students can engage in the writing process in all classes; science and math concepts can readily be integrated; and history can be infused into foreign languages, art, and music. Students can make connections and transfer knowledge more readily across these artificial disciplinary boundaries.


A natural progression to this concept is the development of an interdisciplinary approach to the curriculum. Faculty members can begin this process by sharing curriculum content, agreeing upon times during the school calendar when major concepts could most appropriately be integrated, and identifying overarching themes and learning activities that would connect the various disciplines.


  1. Incorporate technology.


Technology is an excellent learning tool when it is purposefully crafted to facilitate student understanding of concepts, and it can be used effectively for both whole-class instruction and individual drill-and-practice. Technology should never be used as the “lazy teacher’s lesson plan,” however, sit back, and enjoy the show.


On the other hand, countless teachers are discovering the power of teacher-developed multimedia presentations and the benefits of the Internet as a student research tool. Teachers should exercise caution when planning activities that incorporate student use of the Internet, however, since students can spend inordinate amounts of time “surfing” and exploring areas that have little or no educational value. Lessons using the Internet should direct students to appropriate sites for specific purposes so this technology is actually used as an educational tool.


  1. Share resources and ideas with colleagues.


One of the major fears of making change lies in confronting the unknown. When teachers change their instructional patterns from the tried-and-true methodology of the past to the uncharted waters of teaching in a block schedule, having the support of colleagues is invaluable. Patterns of “lone ranger” efforts to achieve should be replaced with active seeking and giving of both information and support in a collaborative forum that brings teachers together. Longer periods of time and more flexibility in the schedule allow teachers to plan and work together in ways not previously available.


Teachers can capitalize on this advantage by being open to sharing both successes and roadblocks that occurred in implementing new instructional strategies. Besides helping one’s colleague think through the “whys” of the situations discussed, the process can be directly helpful to the other teacher. Often, what did not go so well for one teacher may be an excellent strategy for someone else in another setting.


Building administrators can support this process by encouraging teachers to take risks in the classroom without fear of reprisal. Time can be set aside in faculty meetings for teachers to share both successful and unsuccessful classroom experiences, so teachers can receive suggestions and feedback from their peers. In this way, teachers begin to develop a learning community while modeling the practice of continuous learning for their students.


  1. Plan ahead for support activities.


Longer periods of teaching time require longer-range thinking and planning. Informal learning activities that enrich and supplement the formal instructional objectives of the class should be readily available and carefully planned, especially for classes that include more complex learning and/or diverse student populations, or for those times when students are just not ready to engage in additional formal learning activities. Educational games of various kinds, whether commercially prepared or student created, relieve the stress of long periods of intense instruction while also supporting the learning goals of the class. “Brain-teasers” that capture the content of the class in new and unusual patterns, such as visual presentations of ideas or cross-disciplinary applications of the day’s lesson, provide opportunities for students in pairs or teams to review curricular content and to develop cooperative learning skills.


High Leverage Teacher Effectiveness Coach Professional Development


–           Time to collaborate with peers; reflect, plan, problem solve, use each other as resources

–           Deep dive into content areas in small differentiated group

–           Cognitive Coaching

–           Information about will/skill possibilities with in teachers

–           Data Team information, especially step A; the data process

–           Facilitative leadership

–           Like the time to problem solve with others; would be helpful for us to have specific time for targeted discussions

–           Support on how to improve my skills on aligning my work to impact student achievement

–           Reflection time

–           Time to collaborate on next steps towards goals; benchmarking progress

–           Time to examine data together

–           Time to problem solve and share successes

–           Continued learning / structured practice in Cognitive Coaching

–           PD/training in building and facilitating groups (Adaptive Schools or Data Driven Dialogue Learning Focused Presenting)

–           Culturally Responsive Training

–           More reflective / planning time with critical friends.

–           Plan collaboratively for PD at my school.

–           Making concrete connections between my systems building, student achievement and data analysis

–           Coaching facilitators

–           A framework for supporting principals

–           Developing a line of communication between Pos, teachers, and Admin.

–           Conversations around principal turnover; passing the torch

–           Tools to work with low will teachers

–           Cultural Responsive Pedagogy

–           Change process and implementation of new initiatives

–           School Leadership Teams (collective efficacy)

–           Principals of Adult Learning and how it can drive schools forward

–           Interplay between admin. and Directors

–           More feedback about our work and more coaching of us in terms of next steps

–           Time to reflect in critical friends

–           Work with the Framework for Effective Teaching

–           Systems thinking – roles/responsibilities; how systems work effectively together

–           Learning labs and Lesson Study

–           Framework

–           Culturally Responsive Training and Coaching

–           Protocols – problem solving

–           Asset building and cross training on differentiated needs

–           Systems thinking; elements necessary for school-wide alignment grounded; facilitation skills to make change happen; book study, action planning on systems

–           Think partners and problem solving with one another; critical friends and protocols

–           Understanding at a deeper level the adult learner and how Cognitive Coaching and coaching cycles can be successful

–           Accountability from principals; defined role in minds of principals

–           Training on school culture and our role in supporting culture, building systematic structures, and focusing on cultural competency on race and equity.

–           Continue to look at great samples of instruction and fine tune our conceptual understanding of how to duplicate those efforts in our schools

–           Differentiated pd based on needs

–           PD based on getting all of us on the same page in terms of the data we’re supposed to collect

–           Time to collaborate

–           Develop common understanding of systems and how to influence change of systems in meaningful ways. How do we measure that change? How do we know if implementation is happening?  How can we reflect upon what is working to make systems more effective?

–           Elementary writing; writing scores are low in our struggling schools

–           Common data tracking for teacher effectiveness using framework and common student data at regular intervals for a clear way to look at growth (pre-, mid-, post)

–           Regular opportunities to reflect on data and make changes to our practice. We can’t wait until now to reflect and systems

–           Differentiated small groups / breakout groups around content and/or process

–           Support, collaborative planning and problem-solving time with other small groups/pairs

–           Continue coaching support PD

–           Working through issues and celebrate successes

–           Culturally responsive PD

–           Culture of responsibility and accountability.




Block scheduling is a needs-driven, research-based approach to the problem of restructuring the time element in the secondary school paradigm. It is a restructuring that has been successfully implemented in many locations across the country, and indeed, internationally. This change in the time structure of the secondary school has become the springboard for both organizational growth and reexamination of instructional goals. New paradigms in one area of the educational arena call for new paradigms in other areas.


Such a move calls for openness to the change process on the part of all concerned, a structure for honest and open dialogue preceding implementation about the pros and cons of the change, and forward-thinking leadership with accompanying organizational support throughout the process. With this type of planning and sustenance, both material and moral, the likelihood that block scheduling will make a difference in student outcomes, and result in professional and organizational growth, is indeed great and more than worth the effort.



Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.


Source: https://master331.medium.com/opportunities-for-students-to-review-curricular-content-and-to-develop-cooperative-learning-skills-a712393dc92f

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