Four Corner Discussion

Four Corners Discussion

Teachers learn how to use the Four Corner Discussion strategy during a professional development workshop.

Teachers learn how to use the Four Corner Discussion strategy during a professional development workshop.

The Four Corners Discussion was adapted from the Academic Controversy strategy (Herreid, 1996) and is built around four answer choices, each one represented in a different corner of the room. Once students make a decision to select one of the answers, they move to the corner of the room that represents that answer. In their corners, students hold a discussion about why they selected the particular answer. Students are given more information about the topic and repeat the process.

Four Corners Discussion gives teacher-coaches immediate feedback as they see students  moving to one of the four corners. This does not judge right or wrong answers, but allows the teacher-coaches a quick snapshot of students’ thinking about a topic progresses. It also can provide students with an unexpected sense of camaraderie among classmates as they participate with others who think similarly.

How to Do It

To begin, create some content area questions about a topic, making sure that students can have four different responses, not just yes or no but shades of gray as well. It is usually best to think of this in terms of multiple-choice answers. Or as a slighting scale of agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, and degree reactions to a given question. For example, when referring to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, students could be asked, Is it okay for someone like Goldilocks to enter the home of strangers without permission, eat their food, and use their furniture? This example shows an open-ended question with four possible answers. With these statements, students must select a response and discuss it in their corners.

To begin:

1.  Gather students in the center of the room.

2.  Pose an open ended question or statement for the students.

3. Show the class that there are four choices posted in each of the corners of the room.

4.   Give students  a minute  to  think  about  their  possible answer, and then  tell each student to move to the corner that  best represents his or her opinion.

5.  Allow students in each corner time to discuss their opinions and to explain why they selected the specific corner over the others.

6.   Have each corner share aloud their reasoning for their perspective.

7.  Have all students return to their seats. Distribute a new piece of information, giving them a new opinion, viewpoint, or greater depth of the issue or question.

8. Repeat the process of allowing students to go to a corner of their choice, discuss their reasoning, and then share aloud to the class.

8. Continue to repeat the process each time with more viewpoints or layers of information.

Once the activity has been described in detail to students, you may wish to implement negotiable contracting of assessment. This way, students know exactly what behaviors are expected of them and how they will be assessed during the activity. Samples may include listening skills, speaking clearly, and providing evidence to support his or her opinion.

The teacher-coach can walk around charting how well students are engaging in the activity based on the criteria from negotiable contracting.

Ideas for Assessment

This strategy gives teacher-coaches a quick visual of how their students think about a topic. By asking questions that clarify student thinking, a teacher-coach can find out why a student made a particular decision. To keep track, a teacher-coach can use a classroom map with corners noted on it. Write student names, initials, or student numbers in each corner to show where he or she ended up.

Applying the Strategy                                                                      

In science class, ask students what they think will happen before the experiment is performed. Give students four choices to choose from, and have them explain their choices in the four corners. Then, perform the experiment and see who was correct. In language arts, pose four possible reasons why a protagonist acted in a specific manner. In Social Studies students can discuss how they would react to a situation if they were the president. With each added layer of information, they may change their strategy to solve a given issue.

from Active Learning Across the Content Areas (Conklin & Stix)

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The Magnetic Debate

Magnetic DebateThe Magnetic Debate is a discussion strategy in which participants are given an opportunity to influence others through persuasive speeches, sincere advice, and education so an informed decision can be made on a controversial issue.  Teachers become coaches as they encourage students to take ownership of their own learning and make it come alive.  The teacher may make the selection of the area of study or have the students select it. Yet, students will ultimately research the specific topic.   Then, positions are assigned “for” or “against,” with a portion of the class as “fence-sitters,” or “undecided” element, who can be swayed one way or the other. Then, the students debate the issue.

More than any other strategy, the Magnetic Debate places students in the position of working on their abilities to persuade audiences.   Students must combine top-notch research with finessed speaking skills so that others will want to side with their views.   This strategy gives students practice empathizing with others as they prepare these types of speeches.  It forces the students preparing and practicing the speeches to think like others would think so that they can become effective communicators.   It also gives the students who are making the decisions during the debate opportunities to practice critical thinking. These students must analyze the facts and nuances set before them, so they can make informed decisions.

How to Do It

To begin, decide on a controversial issue to be discussed.  The controversy should be broken down into subcategories that can be argued.  For example, if discussing the differences between political parties, sub categories would include women’s rights, health care, etc. Distribute handouts to engage the students about the controversial issue, giving them some background information.   These handouts place students as active participants in the controversy.  The handouts are student- friendly, covering the different positions, so students will be able to research the necessary facts as an extension to the handouts.   If desired, the handouts can serve this purpose, too.

So that all students will be engaged in preparing and working towards the debate, divide the class into two groups.  One half will prepare for the Pro position and the other half will prepare for the Con position. Within both of those positions, assign the subcategories of the topic so that all students spend time doing valuable research on the correct topics. As another example, if discussing the differences between the North and South during the Civil War, sub categories would include slaves, strength of the federal government versus state rights, etc.

Students should be partnered for the research. Have students on both sides of the issue cover each topic because each topic is subject to a rebuttal and followed by a persuasive speech from the opposing side.

Once students have had enough time to research adequately, have them write their rough drafts for the one- or two-minute speeches and allow student peers to edit the speeches for clarity. Allow students to use note cards with key phrases to prompt their speeches and encourage them to use visuals like graphs, video clips, pictures and other things during the debate.  These special visuals will help them make their points to the persuasive audience.


On the day of the debate, select an odd number of students (3, 5, or 7) from both sides to suddenly serve as “undecideds.” Tell them to forget all the things they have learned during their research thus far. These students will not give their speeches, but rather serve as decision makers for the debate. Their partners will take over the speeches for the activity. These “undecideds” should clear their minds of all opinions on the topic.   Have students take notes or fill out graphic organizers during the debate to keep them engaged and actively learning.   Also assign 3-5 students to serve on an interrogation committee, which asks questions for clarity after each speech.

Magnetic Debate Diagram

Magnetic Debate Diagram

To prepare the classroom, use masking tape to make a line on the floor down the center of the classroom.  Students who speak for the Pro side will sit on one side of the classroom and students who speak for the Con side will sit on the other side of the classroom.  The “undecideds” will place their chairs directly­ over the line of tape and sit down. The interrogation committee sits at the head of the classroom.

The Simulation

Set the stage by calling all participants involved in the simulation to order and then state that a decision has to be made to determine a solution to their controversial issue. Call out the first category and begin with the Pro point of view. The person who is responsible for this item stands up and addresses the interrogation committee and the “undecideds.” After the speech, allow the interrogation committee to ask one or two questions. Next, instruct the person responsible for this category from the Con perspective to give a short rebuttal to what has been said. After the speech, allow the interrogation committee to ask one or two follow-up questions.

After the category is completed (or some other small amount), allow the “undecideds” to move their chairs about one or two feet closer to the group that has persuaded them more effectively.  As the sides continue to debate, you may see the chair move in one direction for part of the simulation and then back in the other direction during the latter part of the presentations. Instruct all students to write notes in their graphic organizers.   Call the next category, but let the Con point of view begin, followed by the Pro point of view.  Alternate switching sides for each turn.

After all categories have been heard, the side to which the largest number of “undecideds” has moved their chairs wins the debate.  Once the activity has been described in detail to the students, this would be a good time to implement negotiable contracting of assessments. Samples criteria may include, the ability to listen and respond to one another, eye contact, using specific examples from a primary source document, etc.

Ideas for Assessment

Once the debate ends, have students reflect on it and the arguments they witnessed.  This can be done in a class discussion, ticket-out-the-door, or a small group discussion.  The information you glean from students will tell you what they learned about the topic and the activity.

Applying the Strategy

Magnetic Debates can work well in a content area where a given topic has two overarching viewpoints. Social issues tend to work best, and they cover so many content areas. For example, social issues concerning science include organ donation, animal rights, and environmental protection. Social issues in social studies include child labor or sweatshops, famine, human rights, and welfare.   Language arts topics can include library censorship or a debate about characters (i.e., Was the wolf really the bad guy in The Three Little Pigs. Many of these topics can be chosen that are school based. For example, have students debate the health of school lunches, getting a classroom pet, haircuts and hair color permitted for school, school uniforms, homework, and the classroom movie to be watched during a party.

from Active Learning Across the Content Areas (Conklin & Stix), Adapted from Stix and Hrbek, 2002

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Stix Discussion

Stix Discussion: Should We Continue to Celebrate Columbus Day?

Stix Discussion: Should We Continue to Celebrate Columbus Day?

The Stix Discussion (Stix 1999) is a discussion strategy that has four distinct viewpoints as well as an inner circle and an outer circle that equally participate in a discussion. This strategy is a modification of the inner-outer circle or fishbowl discussion. The students in the inner circle and the outer circle will change roles, so everyone gets an equal chance to participate.

This strategy takes discussions to a more complex level because there are four viewpoints that are argued (as opposed to just two different viewpoints in a regular discussion). All students are actively listening, so they can respond and contribute in one way or another to the discussion. Whether the student has the liberty to speak because they are inside the discussion circle or they are responding to the comments via written notes, everyone has a reason to listen critically.


To begin, divide the class into four points of view—two Pro and two Con—on any given controversial topic. What makes this strategy interesting is that all four viewpoints come together to discuss the topic.

1. Write or locate information guides that support each viewpoint and distribute these to students.

2. Give students time to talk about the information in their groups and divide the main points that each of them will defend. Students should perform further research through web searches and extra reading. Information should be shared and discussed in their groups.

3. Jigsaw the groups so each group has at least one member from all four viewpoints. Students should learn about the other perspectives in the new groups. This will help them create stronger positions for their own point of view.


Stix Discussion Diagram

Stix Discussion Diagram

On the day of the discussion, place one-third of the chairs in an inner circle. Behind each inner circle chair, place a desk. Behind each desk, place two or three chairs. All chairs should be facing toward the center of the circle. This will create an inner circle and an outer circle. See diagram below for a sample seating diagram.




The Simulation

The simulation involves having one-third of the students, assigned to each viewpoint, assume the roles of speakers. They can act the part of judges, legislators, lawyers, advocates of a cause, or spokespersons. These students form the inner ring of the circle and face and confront each other in the discussion. Explain that the inner circle of the discussion will be the only ones who talk during the discussion time. The outer ring consists of the remaining two-thirds of the class. These students will act the roles of clerks, advisors, aides, or disseminators of information. It is the clerks’ job to use active listening and write suggestions by passing notes to the inner circle participants. In order to avoid interrupting the flow of conversation, the clerk is encouraged to tap the person’s shoulder to notify him or her that there is a note waiting. Without turning around, the student in the inner circle who is actively speaking at the time, raises his or her hand to receive the note. After five or ten minutes of active engagement, the inner circle changes places with one of the outer circle students. This process is rotated until all students have had the chance to sit in the inner circle.

Once the activity has been described in detail, you may wish to implement negotiable contracting of assessment so that students are aware of the criteria. Samples may include the ability to utilize a clerk’s suggestion,  ask questions of other participants, or have respectful behavior while arguing a point.

Stix Discussion can take any form, but don’t be surprised when a verdict or solution remains elusive. The forum is simply an opportunity for students to speak out, voicing their opinions, hopes, and fears. Whatever choices are selected for a Stix Discussion, it is a strategy that gives students the opportunity to share their thoughts with others as well as learn to make good arguments.

Ideas for Assessment

As each student sits in the inner circle, evaluate his or her comments using the following ideas.

• Is the comment relevant?

• Is the comment clear?

• Is the comment persuasive in nature?

• Does the comment make a contribution to the discussion?

These yes and no answers can be used to quickly assess students’ participation. It shows where students might need extra help in making their points. One way of helping students is to model a discussion, pointing out strong, relevant comments from ones that are not as strong or relevant. Or, you can review the discussion with the entire class, pointing out the really strong comments that students made.

After each discussion, ask for each group to pass in their clerk notes, so you can review their thoughts. Or, you can briefly meet for one or two minutes with each group to discuss their participation in the discussion. Have them tell you about the clerk notes at this time.

A Stix Discussion in language arts could take the viewpoints of four different characters in a book. Social studies topics can include events from history and four possible viewpoints towards those events. Math discussions might be a little more challenging, but could include open-ended ways to solve math problems with each of the four groups  representing a different method. Science topics from the news like global warming or the drilling for natural gas make great discussions using this strategy.

from Active Learning Across the Content Areas (Conklin & Stix)

Posted in Conflict resolution, Differentiation, Discussion Strategies, General Strategies, Gifted an Talented, Gifted and Talented, Higher Level Thinking, Interdisciplinary Instruction, Language Arts, Listening, Social Intelligence, Social Studies, Teaching Strategies, Writing Across the Curriculum | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Stix Discussion

Measures of Success: A Debate of Social Intelligence vs Cognitive Skills


Vocational Success

“Charlie’s a what? A multi-millionaire?” is what I blurted out during our 25th high school reunion. A fun, sweet kid… who would have “thunk”? Nice and charming to be with, but surely not someone with outstanding brain power.

On my drive home, I realized that the brilliant kids didn’t necessarily outshine the ordinary ones after being in the trenches for 20 years. The successful “Stevens” and the “Charlies” of my youth had something else: “soft skills” rather than the super-strong cognitive skills for which our school system so urgently prepares our youth.

With the onslaught of over-testing, are we wasting our time with drill and kill when we should be encouraging social intelligence: empathy, curiosity, resiliency, grit, verbal communication, interpersonal skills, emotional maturity, persistence, and self-control? For these seem to be a more reliable indicator of success ( Presently, the University of Notre Dame and Harvard University are just a few collegiate institutions that are embracing non-cognitive assessments.

Here is What We Have Learned from Previous Studies

  • Academic perseverance is more important than intelligence. (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007)
  • Grit and self-control yields higher grade point averages, despite a low SAT score. These students attend class more regularly and stay on task. Gender gaps diminished greatly when students were categorized according to these measures.  (Glei, 2011)
  • Agreeableness, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and autonomy are qualities that the general labor force finds relevant for school preparation.  (Brunello & Schlotter, 2011)

In 2012, data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was used by The Argumentation Factory to create a great visual map of non-cognitive skills. Click here to view their pdf map and educational policy recommendations.

ACT and ETS now offer the ACT ENGAGE test that measures motivation, self-regulation, social engagement, commitment to college, goal striving, and academic-confidence for students in grades 6 – College.

For a more in-depth account of how to develop non-cognitive skills, how these skills are reshaping college admission, examining self-evaluations and essays, writing resumes, and how to shine in an interview, please read OnlineSchools’ latest article on noncognitive measures.

Thank you, OnlineSchools for sharing this information with us!


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5 Ways to Cultivate Creative Thinking

javier-perezThe recent article in the Pacific Standard (Nov 4th, 2013) discussed how standardized testing is killing our youth’s creative potential in the United States.  So, let’s counteract national demands and discuss how to harness and cultivate creativity in our children.

Creativity is often thought of as original thought. However, it is more likely a composite of ideas, feelings, and thoughts that we encounter during everyday life. If we examine the great thinkers and producers over time, common characteristics become apparent:


Value Brainstorming

Often times in a classroom, a teacher-coach will ask students to brainstorm. That’s fine as a model, but brainstorming needs to become second nature.  Creating ideas and having lots of them is to be applauded. So, encourage owning a journal! A journal can be a small 2×3 inch notebook that can be placed in your pocket or a notepad on your cell phone. You can sketch there, write lists, generate random thoughts, create games, or just doodle away.  Look at how much fun JavierPerez has by doodling with common objects (above)!

Be Open-Ended and Let Your Imagination Run Amuck

In order to be creative, it is critical to allow yourself options. It is essential to first brainstorm without judgment and then to push yourself to expand your imagination. In the classroom, a teacher-coach might say, “Great!, that’s one way, what’s another? And another?”  A student in my after school program designed lines of musical notes. After brainstorming, I was thrilled that she had a plethora of ideas. I then asked her to circle her favorites. The fact that we could select her preferences and cross out the ones that were ordinary was all part of the creative process.

It’s Okay Not to Know

In a world where every data fact is at our fingertips, getting the RIGHT answer is an easy gig. The push for overemphasizing standardized tests also feeds into this behavior. However, RIGHT vs. WRONG fights the creative process. Living with ambiguity and feeling okay about it, is part of the process. Not knowing the answer and letting it percolate for a while is extraordinarily healthy. When two uncommon notions collide, the aha moment peeks its head out, and an idea is born. While there are many exams that try to test for creativity, I laugh at their legitimacy. You can’t test creativity under stressful circumstances.

Connect the Dots

When two ideas collide, which have nothing to do with one another, it’s loads of fun. I recently posted playful doodles that incorporate everyday objects on my Facebook page , and loved the connections that were made. So, make ideas connect, look at things and make the effort to associate them together (synergistics) and experience life in a fun way.

There’s No Such Thing as Failure

For the really creative, there is no such thing as failure. It’s like the scientific process. You keep testing things until something works. It’s a mindset that comes into play that always leaves you feeling great because you felt compelled to try.

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House of Representatives Water Down Senate Bill for Serving Gifted Youth

Olive Banner Puzzle PieceESEA Bill Recognition of Need for Teacher Training to Support High-Ability Students; Lack of Focus on Accountability Remains a Concern

According to the NAGC:

The House of Representatives passed its overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) recently. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) was encouraged that the legislation recognizes that our nation’s teachers be well-trained to meet the needs of high-ability students. In July, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 5, The Student Success Act.

NAGC applauds lawmakers for including language that allows federal teacher training funding to be used specifically to train and prepare teachers to work with high-ability students. However, the organization is concerned that the bill lacks measures included in the Senate version of the legislation that seek to bolster accountability. Moreover, the bill neglects to support the development and dissemination of teaching strategies to serve gifted students, particularly those living in disadvantaged settings.

Teacher-Student on ComputerNAGC states, “Effective services and supports for our high-ability and high-potential students is not possible absent well-prepared and well-trained teachers. Recognizing this reality and including language that allows federal teacher training dollars to be used for this purpose is a small step forward,” said Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, president of the National Association for Gifted Children and a professor of Education at Northwestern University in Chicago.

“However, much more must be done to foster a climate of accountability to move the needle when it comes to developing our talent and helping all students maximize their potential,” she added.

In June, a key Senate committee advanced that chamber’s version of the legislation that included NAGC-supported provisions to address the achievement gap at the top of the performance spectrum and to revive federal research efforts in this area. Specifically, the Senate provisions require states to focus on identifying and serving gifted and high-ability students in Title I schools and would restore and enhance federal research initiatives to support gifted students in rural and other communities who have been underrepresented in gifted education programs.

“NAGC is pleased that after decades of near total neglect in federal education policy, both chambers are taking steps to reverse this slight and support systems to identify and develop our high-potential and high-ability students. A half-century ago, our nation made such a commitment to talent development, and it paid major dividends. Now is the time for Congress to make a similar commitment for the future well-being of our nation,” Olszewski-Kubilius said.

Over the weeks and months ahead, NAGC will continue to work with champions and supporters in Congress to advocate for the inclusion of the accountability, teacher training and applied research provisions within any final version of the ESEA reauthorization.

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The Different Hats We Wear: Coaching, Consulting, Collaborating, and Evaluating

Green Kelly 3When I first began to incorporate coaching into the classroom, I tried to use as many of the coaching strategies as possible.  But because true coaching is about meeting the needs of our students, I realized that I would have to wear different hats at different times to help my students’ progress. Coaching wasn’t the only role. I had to admit that I was also a consultant, a collaborator, and an evaluator; and with each role, my behavior changed.

Negotiable ContractingCoaching is the ability to move an individual, cooperative group, or a class, forward. As an instructional coach, I wanted to help my kids become more self-directed. I wanted them to monitor themselves and manage their tasks expediently and efficiently. Respecting the reflection process, I allowed time for self-assessment, whether a debate, discussion, or project. My role was to pose questions and have them analyze things at a higher level for deeper understanding.

But there are times I had to take on the role of being a consultant. I had to establish a baseline of information in the curriculum. I gave myself a maximum of 10-15 minutes at the beginning of a class period when necessary. I may have needed to establish policies and procedures to help my students locate where they could access information, or to offer them choices of things they may not have been aware of. So my behavior became a lecturer (which is so hard to admit, but of course minimally!).

Teacher-Student on ComputerSometimes, I collaborated with my students. I loved it when a student asked a question that I knew nothing about. Collectively, we formed ideas, made inquiries and learned together.  One time, I tested a new strategy and wanted my students’ opinion afterwards. Well, the strategy was a loser. When I expressed my disappointment, you can’t imagine the plethora of student suggested ideas. My behavior represented being at the same level of the students, a learner. It was a highlight of my career as we all had shared ownership of a modified lesson.

Lastly, whether I liked it or not, I often had to be an evaluator and use criteria established by outside agencies. We live in the real world and we have to conform to a set of standards set by our locality, our state, and our nation.  Whether we use rubrics, quizzes, tests, or mandated exams, my behavior shifted as judge and to rate the performance of my students.

So, how can we best define our roles to our students?  First comes the acknowledgement that our language and behavior changes with each role.  Of course, you can literally wear a different hat for each role! (J). Or, you can tell the class up front your role so they know what is expected of you and of them. You may decide to display a card at your desk….   The options are limitless…..  But most importantly, know that your job as a teacher is to move gracefully between the different roles.

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page.


Click here to receive a PDF version of this article.


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Inspiring Creativity: Think Outside the Bowl

Inspiring Creativity

Join Our Movement: Show that you are a supporter of Inspiring Creativity in our schools.

To get your free decal, scroll down for ordering information.

So what’s going on?

With the resurgence of testing nationwide, many teachers report that they have to “cover the curriculum” rather than “uncover the curriculum.” With the Common Core Curriculum, parents express feeling exhausted from helping their children with increased homework to meet test expectations. Teachers are pushing to cover as much of the content necessary for their students to pass the state level exams, sometimes given only 70% into the school year.

So, it is not surprising that teachers see a change in their own teaching, moving away from more discovery learning and project-based learning and towards coverage and drill. Teachers state that they no longer have the time to do all that “fun stuff,” and aren’t happy giving up many of the projects they love to offer.

And yet, many states are adopting Charlotte Danielson’s Framework. Her rubric encourages student discussion and ownership of their work. The rubric encourages higher level question posing and negotiating of rubrics and assessment. As both these philosophies play out simultaneously, we will undoubtedly see a modification of expectations in the future.

Take action NOW!

As many of you know, I run Synergy Westchester, an advocacy group for gifted and talented education and The Interactive Classroom, an organization that offers professional development for all classroom types. Not only do we lobby for the rights of academically gifted children, but we advocate for those creative kids who are academically average. We encourage teachers and schools to provide environments that encourage creative talent in all children. We push for discovery learning, problem solving, discussions, the performing/ visual arts, and the creative process where students have a voice in their own learning.

Sometimes, taking action can be as simple as posting an image that will remind us of our mission as parents and as teachers. That image can be as simple as a window decal for a white board or for the rear view window of a car. The image can be a sticker placed on a notebook. So, join me in spreading the word: Inspiring Creativity to think outside the bowl:

Car or Window Decal:                                                    

Inspiring Creativity

So, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to get your Inspiring Creativity: Think Outside the Bowl decal.

Be a part of the Inspiring Creativity in All Children movement.  

Please send your envelope to:

G·tec Kids, 27 Siebrecht Place,        New Rochelle, NY 10804


Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page.


Click here to receive a PDF version of this article.


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The A-ha Moment: Principals Using Coaching Techniques for Teacher Evaluation

With more and more schools turning to Charlotte Danielson’s framework, districts are requesting that principals train their staff in understanding her rubrics. The difference between the “proficient” and the “distinguished” columns is the presence of teacher-centered versus student-centered instruction. While this concept is clearly not new, her analysis and blueprint is greatly needed.

In years past, teachers anxiously awaited the semi-yearly to yearly observations by their assistant principals or principals. Teachers often expressed that it was similar to driving in a car and approaching a traffic light. What part of the lesson received a red light for failure, a yellow light of caution, or a green light for success? Did they squeak through the yellow light, resulting in an officer pulling them over with a “got-ya” ticket? Well, with a new approach of infusing life coaching skills into the educational arena, hopefully this old type of teacher evaluation will become archived as ancient history.

In the past decade, schools hired literacy and math coaches for elementary schools to support their teachers. The idea of utilizing coaching skills within education proved to be successful. Our last book, Teachers as Classroom Coaches brought new coaching techniques to the classroom for all grades. K-12. As the tide is turning towards a coaching model, districts are realizing that coaching teachers provides better results than traditionally evaluating teachers.

So, what is the difference between traditional evaluation and a reflective coaching model? It’s respecting the thought processes of teachers. It is the belief that they have the ability to analyze their own instruction and design objectives and pathways of growth that can be assessed. But in order to achieve this goal, principals need to be trained in educational coaching.  Then they can pose the right questions that provoke teachers to analyze their own instruction in a non-threatening manner. Nothing is more valuable than a person generating his or her own analysis and reaching an “a-ha moment”. If we want student-centered instruction, then why wouldn’t we want teacher-centered evaluation?

In our first book, we outlined many of the coaching techniques and used the classroom setting to bring them to life. Now we review those techniques and introduce you to several new techniques that principals may use during teacher evaluation sessions or walk-throughs. If we want “everyone on board”, then it is important to respect the different perspectives of the administrators and the classroom teachers, while still using many of the same coaching strategies. Why would these models and strategies be used only by literacy coaches and teachers, but not administrators? It doesn’t make sense.

So the time has come. And nothing is more powerful to drive student-centered instruction than the techniques used during teacher evaluation. If teachers know that they are being evaluated towards a goal, clearly outlined on a rubric, then they will modify their techniques to reach the highest level of proficiency. If this technique of negotiable contracting and using rubrics in classroom has clearly worked in the classroom, then why wouldn’t it work for teacher evaluations?

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Reinforcing Vocabulary in All Content Areas

Learning new words and developing an extended vocabulary, with accompanying compatible definitions, is a common task throughout all disciplines and at all levels of school. Teachers are always looking for new ways to motivate their students, but when the work is usually dependent on memorization, it often converts into a boring task.

In many instances, college students use index cards fashioned into flash cards to implement and exercise the memory process.  Taking the index card idea, we can utilize this concept and turn the cards into more than a flash item. The following steps and procedures are an intelligent and challenging way to reinforce the educational process, while motivating the students in a fun manner.

The following strategies can be utilized as a “Do Now” activity when the students enter the classroom. They can be offered as paired work, as a competition among small groups, or even for homework. Implementing the ideas using different structures is intellectually challenging and creates a stimulating vitality in the classroom that becomes focused on discussing the content and subject material.

Here is a list of excellent games for classroom use, which will move vocabulary words from short-term to long-term memory:

  • Acrostics: Create an acrostic from 5-7 vocabulary words.
  • Groupings: Select five vocabulary words. Identify how you grouped them together in an off-beat way.
  • Body Mnemonics: Have students design body language cues for the memorization of selected vocabulary words.
  • Carousel Brainstorming: Place four of the student’s vocabulary words on separate charts around the classroom. Have cooperative groups of students walk from one chart to another brainstorming the use of the vocabulary words.
  • Categories: Place each card into specific categories determined by the classroom.
  • Chronological Order: Place vocabulary words in some type of order that is unusual.
  • Concept Attainment: Create groupings on the spot from students’ vocabulary words. Have students generate the titles for each category. (Hilda Taba)
  • Concept Maps: Create connections from vocabulary words using a bubble format with string or line drawing.
  • Crossword Puzzle: Design your own crossword puzzle from ___ number of vocabulary words.
  • Emotion: Group the vocabulary words according to an emotion.
  • Emotional Flashes (on cards):  Students draw a picture or diagram on the index card, trying to evoke an emotional response that they get while reflecting on the vocabulary word. The pair is given 3-5 choices of emotions and the viewer tries to guess what the artist tried to convey. (Life Science Secondary School)
  • File Cabinet: Design a file cabinet for the vocabulary words. How would you label each drawer and each manila folder?
  • Gallery Walk: All vocabulary words are placed in an order for someone to view as if they were in a gallery or museum.
  • Grab Bag: Each student places a few vocabulary words in a paper bag. Pair the kids. Their partner picks out a card from their bag and reads the definition. The original author tries to guess the vocabulary word. If they get it right on the first try, they receive 3 points. If they get it on the second try, they get 2 points. If they get it on the third try, they receive one point.
  • Hidden Word Puzzle: Design a multi-pop or hidden vocabulary word puzzle.
  • Hierarchy: Design a hierarchy from your vocabulary words.
  • Identity Crisis: Each student has an index card placed on their back. Then they have to ask questions of other students to determine the vocabulary word.
  • Imagery Map: Create an imagery map from the vocabulary words with pictures.
  • Just Like Me: Have students find five vocabulary words that reflect their personality.
  • Linking: Students find a vocabulary word and link it to their personal history.
  • Location: Group words according to place.
  • Longest Sentence Ever!: Write a sentence using as many vocabulary words as possible.
  • Mad Libs: Fill in the blanks with vocabulary words.
  • Mixed-Up Files: Place vocabulary words in a mixed up order. Have a partner explain why this would or wouldn’t work. (i.e. Math solutions, sequential order of a story, timeline in history, etc.)
  • Most Important Point: Students find the most important vocabulary word and state their reasoning.
  • One-Minute Speech: Make a one minute motivational speech from the vocabulary words.
  • Paired Verbal Fluency: Students take out five words and study them. They find a pair and have to rattle off as much information about those vocabulary words that they can muster in 45 seconds. Repeat the same procedure with the same batch of words to the next partner, but only having 30 seconds. Lastly, repeat the procedure with a new partner, this time in 15 seconds.
  • Pluses and Wishes: Make a list of those vocabulary words that you wish to have in your life.
  • Poster: Select and decide the most important vocabulary word or words that you would want to put on a poster for advertising purposes.
  • Question Box: Place a vocabulary word in the box and attach a question to it. Have the class answer them. (Life Science Secondary School)
  • Scrambled Sentences: Place 5 vocabulary word cards in a sequence to create a sentence. Scramble them. Have a partner try to place them in order. Compare your results.
  • Slogan: Make a slogan from the vocabulary word cards.
  • Spinning Game (purchase re-writable spinners): Place each vocabulary word on a section on the spinner and a person in the pair spins it. They have to respond to the word on the spinner based on a set of questions that are written on the board. (Life Science Secondary School)
  • Time Travel: If you were to travel through time, select vocabulary word that can be used as a souvenir that you would take with you. For what reasons did you make that selection?
  • Timeline: Place vocabulary word cards in a timeline.
  • Trash Can: Determine the vocabulary words card that can be trashed (create a reality situation, such as: due to space restrictions from the publisher)
  • True/False: Categorize by “true” and “false” under certain conditions.
  • Viewpoint: Locate the most important vocabulary word card from a specific person’s viewpoint.
  • Write Your Own: Formulate your own question and have the partner answer it from the set of vocabulary words. (Life Science Secondary School)

This list is a modification of the index cards and guided questions blog post.

Do you have a strategy that you would like us to add to the list?  (To reply, please click on the comment link next to the title or scroll down.)

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page

Click here to receive a PDF version of this article. 

Posted in Differentiation, General Strategies, Language Arts, Social Studies, Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

5 Tips to Enhance Your Communication

purple puzzle pieceWhether you are a teacher or an administrator, creating trust is key to enhancing your ability to communicate effectively. Communication is a tool that we use daily and when we use the right words in the right way, they can work wonders even when things become a bit testy.

Most of us think that we communicate well, but research has shown that we are surprisingly becoming more and more unskilled with the advent of email, texting, and a plethora of social media. We can, however, retrain ourselves to speak and listen in a way that stimulates sympathy and encourages trust in our schools. Here are 5 tips that will insure that you are using the best dialogue possible:

1. Deep breathing and stretching: When things become challenging, stress usually makes us more irritable, which in turn leads to anger. When we are angry, it is hard to communicate effectively. To counteract this, take a deep breath and count to 5. Try flexing your neck or even a fake yawn and you will be surprised how your brain can get back on normal ground.

2. Think positively and re-frame: When tensions rise, negative energy can interfere with your ability to  process language. So, re-frame the situation into a positive mode. Instead of letting your defenses rise, which builds leads to distrust, think of 5 positive ideas. This reminds me of the old Burton White study. If you see positive in a staff member or in a student, he will usually rise to the occasion.

In the future, you can seek out that individual and offer a compliment. A single statement can go a long way in order to build trust and cooperation. Let the individual know that you are available one-on-one to further the discussion. A statement made at the end of an interaction lasts a lot longer because it lingers in a person’s mind.

3. Use body language that communicates satisfaction: If a student or a staff member at a meeting challenges you, re-frame it as mentioned in #2 and add a smile. You can state, “I’m really glad that you mentioned that point, even if it counteracts my point. Let’s talk about it.” This will convey a sense of openness, kindness and compassion, even if the other person is used to fluffing your feathers. Don’t be surprised if your reaction softens them and they reflect back with less aggressive body language.

Once the body language of both parties becomes more matched, making direct contact with your eyes lets them know that you really care. Focus on what their facial expression displays:  Were they angry, fearful, saddened, disgusted, or surprised, and help them get back on track.

4. Use brevity: Research has shown that our mind can become overloaded quickly. Therefore make your points in a positive manner and then pause. Allow the person to digest the information. Many times, their eyes will focus away from you and will then return when they are ready to move on and listen further. Also, think of cause and effect. For each of your points, be sure to offer how it will affect others.

5. Be patient and listen:  Examine how often you allow the other person to speak until finished. You would be surprised to note how all of us have a pattern of interrupting and speaking over others. Train your brain to stay focused on what the other person is saying and how they are communicating the content with their body language. Facial expressions, the way the eyes move, the arms and hands speak volumes. Be sure to digest it all. Frequently, we lose our focus and think of how we are going to craft our response, rather than giving them our full attention and absorbing their information in its entirety.

By using these steps, you will see a change in your one-on-one interactions, in a staff meeting, or in a classroom. Within two weeks, the environment will change creating greater trust and better communication.

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page

Click here to receive a PDF version of this article. 

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Certified Coaches Can Help At-Risk or New Teachers

New York State’s teacher evaluation system has finally arrived and we all recognize that this is a time of transition and a time of opportunity. New York, like other states, is beginning to roll out assessments of teachers. Therefore, it is imperative for schools to consider on-going professional development where certified, educational coaches can work individually and in small groups with new and at-risk teachers. Coaches can help your teachers deliver high quality educational strategies that will increase their ranking.

For over 20 years, I’ve trained and counseled teachers in the New York City metropolitan area, Westchester County, and throughout the United States, at all grade levels K-12. Working cooperatively with both administrators and teachers, many of the schools where I was a consultant have won local and national awards for their ability to deliver high quality education. So, we know that coaching works!

When hiring any coach, be it for literacy, math, social studies or any other subject, make sure that they are accredited. I am both an educational and life coach from respected training institutes, such as iPEC, Corporate Coaching University and Cognitive Coaching. As districts offer professional development to all staff on Superintendents Day, or encourage teachers to take workshops, coaches should also be trained at multiple sites to get a deeper understanding of the different approaches that can be applied. Whatever the level of your teachers’ experience, highly trained coaches with the certification, skill, and know-how can help them be more successful.

If you would like to discuss this further, I’m available to hear about your needs or  ways I can collaborate to meet your district’s goals. Please feel free to reach me at 914-636-0888, at, or visit my website at You will discover that my expertise runs the gamut from curriculum to assessment, from literacy to math, and all the disciplines in-between.

We can all appreciate that this issue deserves our immediate attention.

(To reply, please click on the comment link next to the title or scroll down.) 

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page.

Click here to receive a PDF version of this article. 

Posted in Articles, Speeches & Past Posts, Assessment, Assessment, Classroom Coaching, Coaching, Coaching Teachers, Interdisciplinary Instruction, Motivation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Learnist: The Pinterest for Educators

The most popular bulletin board in social media today is Pinterest. But now, Grockit! is launching its own version called Learnist ( for educators. While both follow a scrapbook styled interface designed for communicative sharing, the focal points of each company differs. Pinterest is primarily used for sharing favored material goods and inspired ideas, whereas Learnist is intended for dispersing educational tools and learning resources. Teachers can easily design online content and craft a set of lessons using this powerful image-based platform. They take a topic they want to teach to their students and design a visual presentation around it.

On Learnist, teachers can also display  a variety of resources or “posts” that are pertinent to their lesson plan, including images, videos, blog posts, Google maps, slide share decks, podcasts, music, Wikipedia articles live streams and more. Teachers and students alike can add annotations, explanations and commentary to the posts; all of which can be shared on Facebook, if so desired. The posts can also be ordered, remixed, mapped, or scaffolded for differentiation on the bulletin to ensure that the sequence makes sense to students. Even full-length books can be posted on Learnist’s “Learnboards”. Students can check off the posts they have read or watched. Then, they can offer their own suggestions or get an expert to comment on a particular bulletin board. This process allows teachers to monitor both what is being viewed and the degree of student engagement with the posts.

For example, on Learnist, students can simulate a trip to ancient Mesopotamia by uploading their travel schedule, asking & receiving tips from travel agents, sharing pictures/videos, saving information on cities such as Sumer or Babylon and more. In Learnist’s humble opinion, “it’s really a more immersive & interactive experience.”

Learnist’s education platform is appropriate for students of all grade levels, truly running the classroom gamut.  Instructors and students can post videos of fire trucks (K-1), images of leaves and photosynthesis (2-4), primary source maps of the discovery of the New World (5-8), classic novels like The Great Gatsby (9-12), or even principles of macroeconomics (University). Even though Learnist is still in beta format, it will be a catalyst for safely incorporating social media platforms into education.

Why Use Learnist?

It can:

  • motivate students, as they are encouraged to become active learners who design, create, and produce.
  • allow students to design boards either independently or within cooperative groups.
  • promote cross-collaboration, allowing bulletins to be conjointly created by different classes throughout school or even throughout the world.
  • be a showcase for your school to present what students are doing within the classroom and the community.
  • allow your content to go viral (Pinterest’s track record of pins being “repinned” is 80%).
  • act as a collective event planner for graduation or other school events.
  • sell a product to help raise funds for your school.
  • showcase a play or other student performances (with parent’s permission).
  • offer a scavenger hunt for students to find items pertinent to lesson plans.
  • present a video of a debate in social studies.
  • offer a link to a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation.
  • link to your or another classroom’s Wiki or Blog.
  • pin a notable quote from English literature.
  • offer a contest such as “Pin It to Win It”, where students post relevant content to the class bulletin and have their peers repin their favorite posts.
  • pin to teach: showing images of  “how-to” or “step-by-step” instructions.
  • display visual images of a science fair or social history showcase.
  • present interviews of notable people.
  • offer a timeline of pictures, such as photos of a cocoon’s metamorphosis into a butterfly.

In what ways can you use Learnist to stretch the boundaries of active learning? Thinking about the 7 Habits of Creativity, in what ways can you use this platform to gentrify some great old lessons into a new, refreshing format? (To reply, please click on the comment link next to the title or scroll down.)

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page.

Click here to receive a PDF version of this article. 

Posted in Articles, Speeches & Past Posts, Curriculum Writing, Differentiation, Interdisciplinary Instruction, Motivation, Social Media, Writing Across the Curriculum, Writing Curriculum | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Be a Teacher, Not a Friend: Top Ten Recommendations for Social Media Practices

© 2012 Andi Stix

After receiving several requests, I prepared a professional set of guidelines to protect teachers who want to use social media to communicate with their students.  Schools want to ensure that social media will not be abused by any teacher and that innocent students will not be harmed by the content posted. When mindfully and prudently used, social media is a          great tool.

Teachers today may feel they are being subjected to the Orwellian world of “Big Brother,” where every post is the object of close scrutiny and surveillance. As social media is often public and can be viewed by local media, parents and students alike, I recommend that you abide by the following suggestions:

Separating Personal from Professional Use

1. Do not share your personal information with students.

2. Do not friend, follow, comment, or post on your students’ Facebook, Twitter, etc., pages.

3. Maintain two separate email accounts: one for your personal use and the other for your professional use.

Permissions and Usage

4. Request approval from your supervisor before using a social media platform with your students.

5.  Before posting student pictures, be sure to receive parental consent.

6.  Do not allow students to post other pictures of students. It is recommended that they send you the pictures and you post them to maintain proper control and etiquette.

7.  Screen all comments before allowing them to be posted, and turn them on and off when appropriate to meet the objectives of the lesson.

8.  Do not tag photos or videos with personal information of students.

Professionalism and Monitoring

9.  Do not accept student’s invitations to join their social media platforms as they, not you, are in control of the content.

10.  Apply the same level of professionalism to your posts on social media as if you were sending a letter to your principal. If your posts are public, school systems may have the right to monitor your social media sites, whether they are personal or professional.  You don’t want to be surprised, so use good judgment!

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page.

Click here to receive a PDF version of this article.

Posted in Articles, Speeches & Past Posts, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Top 6 Reasons for Schools to Teach Safe Practices in Social Media

© 2012 Andi Stix, Ed.D.

Purple Banner Puzzle Piece Not so long ago, many schools throughout the nation banned the use of social media on their website portals, finding censorship an easier solution than coping with the new technology. Regardless, social media acquired widespread popularity. And now, many school districts are formulating guidelines for acceptable usage by students and teachers alike.

As a strong advocate of using social media in education, I feel that the responsibility becomes more than just guidelines. Districts need to offer training in its proper, safe, and ethical use, as mandated by the federal Broadband Data Act for teaching online safety. Young people must receive sound modeling practices while they make their way through the primary grades and be educated in how to use social media safely, as early as the 5th grade. This way, by the time they reach thirteen, they will have acquired the moral and ethical parameters needed to independently engage in its use.

Thus, school systems are now asking, “What are safe practices in social media?” Working with students and teachers, I find that a discussion of protective measures and Safe Social Media 2awareness in safety is necessary. Youngsters need awareness that their practices in social media can have an impact on their lives, their future, and the lives of others. They need education on how to protect themselves in reputation and character while engaging in social media. And discussions should be explored as to how their postings can reflect being responsible and ethical. As we all know, we tend to practice the way we were taught; so teachers need to model these safe social media practices using sound platforms throughout the students’ education. And lastly, this is task for parents and schools alike, both cooperating and working together. So let’s explore these issues:

  1. We need protective measures to engage in safe practices in social media.

Schools need to offer a sound curriculum in protective measures of social media that is methodical and practical. Let’s choose wisely rather than rely on learning bits and pieces or possibly incorrect information from friends. Issues such as online predators, cyber bullying, harassment, scams, chat rooms, identity theft, and social networking are just a few of the areas needing coverage.

2. Social media practices have an impact on the rest of students’ lives.

In my previous blog post on Facebook, we examined how people’s postings are not only traceable but accountable. Social media is a public forum; it is not email. We all learned from the experience of Olympian swimmer and gold medalist Michael Phelps, who was shown on someone else’s post doing drugs at a party. This lapse of judgment cost Phelps the loss of valuable endorsements. Social media is not the place to publicize using drugs, to bully other young people, or to engage in sex and gender harassment. These actions can impact later on in adulthood and result in unpleasant consequences.

3. Learn how to protect your reputation and character while engaging in social media.

It is easy for students to be lured into unknown relationships on the web. For what reasons should people trust you? What are the indicators that you may not be presenting yourself honestly? For what reasons should students expose little about their private lives? If they know the answers, then why are they surprised when others use that information against them? These are only a few of the reasons that education in safe social media practices should be mandatory.

4. Student engagement in social media should be responsible and ethical.

As students become more independent, they may choose to join various clubs and organizations. They may list their profile on a dating service. So, knowing that their online platforms are traceable and transparent, what should their postings look like? How should they present themselves as responsible and ethical individuals? I don’t mind the transparency because the more open we are as a society, the healthier we are.

5. Teachers should model safe practices in social media and use sound platforms in the classroom.

From kindergarten upwards, teachers can share their thoughts behind why they post or upload items into social media. They should make students aware of the reasoning, integrating the safe practices and continually holding discussions on how the public or parents will view their posts. At this stage of development, we need to help children view their postings objectively, rather from their own viewpoints.

School systems can research different platforms and decide which they may want to encourage. The choices are endless, from classrooms having Facebook or Twitter pages, using social bookmarking platforms such as Delicious, enticing parents to consider using or purchasing products for a school fair on Pinterest, drafting their reflections on Blogger or WordPress, or showcasing their photos of class trips on Flickr or Shutterfly, Tumblr, etc.

6. It is necessary for schools and parents to participate in educating their children in social media.

By the time students can establish their own Facebook page, they will be 13. As teenagers enter high school, communication with parents decreases. This is normal, as kids begin to question their identity and become more independent. Sometimes at this stage, it’s almost impossible to get children to share their lives with their parents. School districts might decide to invest in curricula, such as Sunburst’s Protecting Students in the 21st Century (PS21C) in order to educate everyone, from the administrators to the students, and to offer workshops to parents through the PTA. PS21C conforms to the federally mandated Broadband Data Act for teaching online safety.

Why can’t parents train their children by themselves? Well, sometimes it becomes easier to reach children through their teachers, the objective ones. We are at a place historically where children may know more about the technology than their parents, who may not even be on social media. Schools and parents must collectively work together to make sure that the laws are honored and students do not take out accounts with false identities. Parents along with the teachers have to continue to review the lessons from their workshops in social media.

My daughter once asked me, “When will I be old enough to live independently?” I answered her, “When you hear my voice in your head.” So too, with social media.

Brown Pencil Small  Describe some lessons that come to mind where you can integrate safe social media practices. For what reasons do children often think they are invulnerable until it is too late? (To reply, please click on the comment link next to the title or scroll down.)

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page.

Click here to receive a PDF version of this article.

Posted in Articles, Speeches & Past Posts, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments