Skip to main content

Practices in the Classroom are Practices for Life



In Students at the Center, Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda identify 7 key elements to consider when designing student centered learning
  1. Goals
  2. Inquiry/Idea generation
  3. Task and audience
  4. Evaluation
  5. Cumulative demonstration of learning
  6. Instructional plan
  7. feedback
In this post, I'd like to simply look at goals.
When thinking about goals we always need to start with the relevant standards. But, we can’t leave them in the "standards" language.  We need to be able to translate them into goals to be communicated at the teacher level and at the student level. We have to be ready to make our standards relatable to learners. We need to be willing to co-create the language of these student goals so that they make sense to learners. This may lead us to two sets of goals in two different languages (teacher and student) and that is fine as long as the intended audiences understand them as written.

Once we have these student outcomes, we can look at lesson design. The authors introduce the idea of output-driven lesson design.  This is where the teacher and student are both aware of the knowledge and skills that will need to be demonstrated at “the end”. From there it is up to the teacher and student to design a path to achieve and demonstrate mastery. So, the variable is not whether the student has demonstrated mastery.  The dependent variable is time to achieve mastery.  It is a given that this timing will vary from student to student.

In addition to knowledge standards, these goal integrate habits of mind and don’t simply treat them as an add-on. When we frame with habits of mind as binding our instruction, we no longer treat a curriculum as a series of content episodes with no relation.  The curriculum becomes an application of these overarching skills and habits of mind to different topics within the discipline.  

What do we mean by that?  In the Next Generation Science Standards, there are 8 different science practices.  Most of these map very easily to habits of mind. Here’s an example of how breaking down two of them helps uncover relationships to habits of mind.

Identified Science and Engineering Practice from NGSS
Practice as Defined by NGSS
Related Competencies
Related Habits of Mind
Asking Questions and Defining Problems
A practice of science is to ask and refine questions that lead to descriptions and explanations of how the natural and designed world works and which can be empirically tested.
  • Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.
  • Ask questions to identify and/or clarify evidence and/or the premise(s) of an argument.
  • Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the classroom, outdoor environment, and museums and other public facilities with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on observations and scientific principles.

  • Questioning and Posing Problems
  • Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
  • Gathering Data through All Senses
  • Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Scientists and engineers plan and carry out investigations in the field or laboratory, working collaboratively as well as individually. Their investigations are systematic and require clarifying what counts as data and identifying variables or parameters.
  • Plan an investigation individually and collaboratively, and in the design: identify variables and controls, tools needed to do the gathering, how measurements will be recorded, and how many data are needed to support a claim.
  • Collect data to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence to answer scientific questions or test design solutions under a range of conditions.


  • Persisting
  • Managing Impulsivity
  • Listening with Understanding and Empathy
  • Thinking Flexibly
  • Striving for Accuracy
  • Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
  • Gathering Data through All Senses
  • Thinking Interdependently

A class may be designed to have specific units of instruction with unique content outcomes for each.  But it is these overarching practices that students apply to the different units. They may not apply every practice to each unit, but they are applied multiple times over the course of the year. We track the content specific outcomes over the course of a unit of instruction. We track progress in practices over the course of a year of instruction.

The key to this application of broader practices is to not make the habits of mind they entail hidden, but show that they are essential. This will help connect them to not only the science practices but practices in other areas of life. Thinking interdependently may be key in science experimentation, but it is important in any collaborative endeavor. It is only when the classroom practices and the habits of mind the entail are made explicit that learners will find their value outside the classroom.

What are the practices that are essential to your classroom? What habits of mind can you ties to them?

For a long time, I have tried to meld a content standard and practice standard into a single outcome that could be measured together.  But if I am going to do justice to practices and habits of mind, I realize I should track these separately.  That way I can truly highlight what the practices are and why they are important in science, and more importantly in life.

Popular posts from this blog

Waves of Innovation in Elmbrook Part 1

As a part of a graduate project, I am looking at innovations in education within my school district, Elmbrook Schools. I am specifically focusing on those looking to provide learners with more ownership over their own learning (a.k.a. personalizing learning). I've completed 4 interviews so far.  I had no intention of sharing them via this blog.  But, I think the stories and insights of these educators really are important for all.  They were vulnerable in a way that shows their passion for what they are undertaking.  They want the best for all learners not simply students, but educators who may hear their words.  So, please take the time to listen to their stories.  


In this video, Jeff Ortman a teacher in his 22nd year, discusses implementing strategies to give students ownership of their learning in his high school English classroom.  He discusses why he wanted to change his learning environment, his first steps to bring change, how choice and feedback are key to his classroom, a…

Can I Believe These Numbers?

Our union put out the results of a recent district survey.  The number of those who responded to the survey was low in comparison to the total number of certified staff. But the number and comments related to personalized learning struck me as troubling.


Based on this data, over half of the district staff polled are not onboard with the district's vision for personalized learning.  I would argue that not knowing the district vision for personalized learning is synonymous with not understanding what personalized learning is. The mission of the Elmbrook School Districtto inspire every student to think, to learn and to succeed.  By personalizing learning, we hope to achieve that mission.
I begin to question have we put the phrase before the meaning?  Have we thrown out this word without intention?  Have we made it to much of another thing to do rather than a method to achieve our shared vision.
These numbers shake me to the core.  After the recent presidential election, I realized I was…

How to Personalize Learning Part 3: Knowing How a Classroom Learns

Now, it may seem contradictory to state that teachers should create a classroom learner toolkit.  All individuals in our class have their own profile. We can’t simply design on blanket profile for the class.  That is very true.  That’s why Bray and McClaskey take a different approach to what a classroom learning toolkit looks like.  It is a 3-step process Class Learning Snapshot Preferences and Needs Class Learning Toolkit

Class Learning Snapshot In this model of designing tools for a whole classroom, the authors first recommend the teacher identify 4 learners who are diverse.  The Class Learning Snapshot records the specific strengths, talents, interests, and challenges of those four learners. If a teacher could meet the needs of these diverse learners through UDL, the needs of the other students in the class would probably be met.

Student Strengths, Talents, and Interests Challenges 1 It's easier for me to understand content when I am taught by a teacher and then am able to get informati…