Category Archives: 03 – Digital age learning environments

How Can I Make Essential Questions Matter?


For our module 4 in our EDTC 6105 class, I wanted to dive deeper into essential questions and learning targets. ISTE coaching standard 2f focuses on coaching teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences. Two practices that support students learning are essential questions and learning targets, and although I have been teaching for 6 years I still had some confusion on the difference between the two and best practices that exist when implementing them in the classroom with students. Luckily, there is a lot of information and research out there about both. After synthesizing much of the research and information I decided I should split up my blog posts. So for this blog post I will be focusing on essential questions. My goal is to create a deeper understanding of what essential questions are, how they impact learning in the classroom and how I could as a coach guide teachers in making meaningful use of them in their instruction.

What Are Essential Questions


Essential questions (EQ’s) are questions that probe for deeper understanding and inquiry. “Essential questions create a problem orientation that leads to exciting learning conversations, to creative problem solving, and to the consolidation of major concepts, connections, vocabulary, strategies, and ideas that can then be used to extend further learning and to solve problems in students’ lives and out in the world” (p. 42, Willhelm, 2014). If I were to explain essential questions to my 3rd graders I would tell them the EQ is like the grand quest in a video game- they are the “why” or the purpose for learning and drive students’ quest for knowledge. 

Crafting Essential Questions

Crafting EQ’s could be a whole other blog post, however alignment with the standards is the basic first step. After deciding on which standard(s) you want to align the EQ with you can start brainstorming. EQ’s should have the following characteristics:

  1. Is open-ended; it will not have a single correct finite response.

  2. Is intellectually engaging and sparks meaningful discussion.

  3. Taps into higher-order thinking based on DOK 2 and 3 such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction.

  4. Targets transferable ideas that crosscuts more than one discipline.

  5. Sparks further inquiry and thus additional debate and discussion.

  6. Requires evidence to support justification and not just a single answer with no evidence.

  7. The question is revisited throughout the unit of study time and time again. Recurring.


Helpful Resources When Crafting EQ's

Understanding by Design

Using UbD template you can backwards plan a lesson or unit. There are more resources in the book and online the UbD framework is a great place to start if you are wanting to learn more about UbD. Additionally, here are some examples of UbD templates filled out for different grade levels, which contain examples of EQ’s and the other components in the template.

Learning to Love the Question

Author and Professor Jeffrey D. Wilhelm’s article: Learning to Love the Question explores EQ’s and how they promote creativity and deep learning. He provides examples of how to create and revise EQ’s to help promote deeper learning.

Question Formulation Technique

The Question Formulation Technique protocol which I wrote about earlier (see here) piqued my interest in helping to craft essential questions. My wondering is, if you use the QFT with your class: could that lead or guide your creation of authentic EQ’s? My assumption is yes. To learn more about QTF you can head to my previous blog post or go to the Right Question Institute.

Bank of Essential Questions

If you are in need of more examples, Terry Heick created an excellent bank of essential questions.

Making Essential Questions Meaningful

The seventh characteristic of essential questions in the list posted above (about revisiting EQ’s) is one that perplexed me. Because, while you can craft a great essential question, isn’t how you use it just as important? As I was doing more research on EQ’s there weren’t many examples of how it was used or revisited. I found an article by nationally recognized educator and co-developer of Understanding by Design: Grant Wiggins, whom echoed my perplexity. He wrote, “far too often over the years I have seen plenty of good stuff posted like this – but no deep embedding of the Essential Question (EQ) into the unit design and lessons that make it up. Merely posting the EQs and occasionally reminding kids of it is pointless. Rarely is the EQ central to the assessment – in part, because all too often the EQ is too convergent and has a right answer that the teacher wants learned. Almost never does there appear to be a plan whereby the question goes from the teacher’s control to the students’ control.” He states, that the aim is to use the question to “frame specific activities, to provide perspective and focus, to prioritize the course, and to signal to students that, eventually, THEY must – on their own.” Wiggin’s wrote a book on essential questions and outlined a four phase protocol that teachers could follow to help navigate the use of EQ’s in class.

In The Essential Guide to Essential Questions. The author Lee Watanabe-Crockett provides questions that can be used to moderate or expand discussions around the EQ. I found that the questions could be helpful when first exploring the EQ and give a possible scope and sequence to students on how they will tackle it.

So How Can I Make Essential Questions Matter?

To answer my own EQ that I posed my learning during this module: How Can I Make Essential Questions Matter? Here are my answers:

  • Be mindful that the question is in essence “essential” to each one of the students. Meaning that students believe the question bears compelling reasons to investigate.

  • Create EQ’s that connect class content to important and authentic issues, promote creativity, critical thinking and encourages collaboration and communication (hello 21st-century learning skills). 

  • Use EQ’s to promote students to construct knowledge through learning, research, inquiry, feedback, and reflection and remember that EQ’s can be used over a course, unit, week or day. Often embedded within an essential question are subcategories that will generate questions that guide the learner’s inquiry.

  • Look into using UbD to design instruction remembering that the crafting of the EQ as well as, the lessons, texts, prompts, rules of engagement, and assessments provide the key elements needed for EQ to succeed.

  • I think that through UbD framework, and Wiggin’s 4 Phase Protocol for Implementing EQ’s I could begin to coach teachers and help teachers implement and reflect on their use of essential questions in the classroom.

Improving a Learning Activity

ISTE Standards for Educators 2.d

Model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning.

This week I was tasked with coaching a fellow educator in improving a learning activity. “Peer coaches work to improve a learning activity that is commonly used in their school…” (Foltos, 2013) I decided to work with my coachee, Gurminder. Prior to being a coach, I was on her 6th grade team. We knew that we wanted to work with the opening lesson of our Module 2 on Bud, Not Buddy. We had taught this lesson 4 years in a row, and each year we tried to jazz it up so that our students would get more out of the lesson. Foltos asks us to consider this question, “What is the context in which this lesson occurs in your curriculum?”

The lesson asks students to view a picture taken in the Great Depression era of two young African American boys. Through discussing this photograph and reading chapter 1 of Bud, Not Buddy, students are supposed to make connections to help them understand what life might be like for Buddy.

During the Great Depression, more than 200,000 vagrant or orphaned children wandered the country as a result of the breakup of their families.
Shahn, Ben. “Homeless children, Natchez, Mississippi.” Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

We have always thought that this lesson misses an opportunity for background knowledge to be built. So we were excited to have this time to transform this lesson. Our plan is to find content that will help engage our students as well as create images and connections to the novel the students are reading. We want to use technology to create something authentic and dynamic for students.

Learning Design Matrix

We took a look at the Learning Design Matrix that was presented to me by Les Foltos, (my professor this quarter). On the matrix there are four categories, Standards-Based Task, Engaging Task, Problem-Based Task, and Technology Enables and Accelerates Learning. Because we have always wanted to enhance this lesson, Gurminder and I gravitated to the Technology Enables and Accelerates Learning.

In the Technology Enables and Accelerates Learning, we selected to three of the bullets to work towards:

  • Gather relevant information, assess its credibility, and organize, analyze, and synthesize information to solve real world problems.
  • Foster student discovery of a concept or construction of their own understanding of a concept.
  • Create knowledge, share and use it with authentic audiences

We focused on these three bullets when thinking about ways to transform the lesson. The intended goal for students is to have a variety of resources available when building their knowledge so that the time period can come to life for them. That meant that we needed to curate a variety of print, video, and audio resources about the Great Depression so that students could build background knowledge and make connections to Bud in the novel, Bud, Not Buddy.

Gurminder and I spent a few days curating resources. The next steps will be to review the material, especially the videos and see how an Actively Learn can be created using this material.

So, this is where we are in the Lesson Improvement process. Stay tuned to next week’s blog to see where Gurminder and I have taken this project.Sources:


  • Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  • EL Education Curriculum. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Anchors of Questioning Propel Innovative Design.

Dr. Les Foltos writes on how educators intentional utilizing technology to support the 21st-century learning students will need to be successful students and employees in Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. While sharing about a time he worked with educators at Microsoft he writes “They concluded that a teacher who was effective at integrating technology, focused his or her efforts on creating learning activities that actively engaged students in learning and helped them develop the skills and competencies they needed for future success” (Foltos 2013. pp 146). As I work with my peer in a coaching relationship,

This week I asked myself: “What sets of anchoring questions can coaches ask to support technology-enhanced learning experiences? How can these questions support the innovative 21st-century learning we want to demonstrate for all learners as we prepare them for educational opportunities and careers outside of our classrooms”?

I find that informed and purposeful questioning is again the key to pinpointing the instructional goal that will be supported by 21st-century learning opportunities. ISTE C 1.d states that coaches need to “Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms”. We cannot effectively create this reality unless we ask detailed and meaningful questions to propel the instructional design.

The 6 Fundamentals of Technology Coaching by Ed Tech Focus on K-12 provides six important facts to anchor the coaching relationship work. Questioning supports the statement “Our communication is only as good as a plan” (M.Joseph & E.Fisher).

Fundamental #2 suggests that the coach and coachee. have a planning meeting to discuss IT integration. The questions listed anchor the coaching session to a learning solution.

  • What is the goal of the lesson?
  • Why do you want to use this technology here?
  • Will this enhance the current approach?
  • How do you hope the technology will enhance learning?
  • Can the technology make this idea more relevant to students?

I recently used several of these questions when meeting with my coachee and our conversation was forward-thinking. The questions provided by Joseph and Fisher provided an anchor for our work without sacrificing the voice and innovation of the learners.

Holz.S 2018 shares 12 rules of Effective Instructional Coaching {Infographic}. Rule 9 and 10 are directly supported by questioning within a coaching relationship.

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 11.02.42 PM

In order for the product of coaching to be respected within the educational setting, it will need to align with the school’s mission and instructional direction. Additionally, it helps to get to a level of specificity in an effort to anticipate the instructional tasks and technology support in action.

When the educator feels supported by a coach, the resources, and the coaching process they are more willing to take innovated risks. When innovative risks happen students often have an opportunity to engage in deep learning. When the learning design is focused on the communication and creative collaboration of our 21st-century reality our students are living their futures in the classroom. Keep asking those questions that make others think deeply; they will thank you for the preparation for the world outside of the classroom.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

Ed Tech Focus on K-12. (2018, July 8). The 6 Fundamentals of Technology Coaching. Retrieved Spring 11, 2019, from

Holz, S. (2019, May 7). 12 Rules of Effective Instructional Technology Coaching… Retrieved November 19, 2019, from

ISTE. (n.d.-b). ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. Retrieved November 24, 2019, from

The Coaching Cycle and Time Management

Establishing trust when starting a coaching relationship is key before all else but once this trust has been built and the framework is sturdy, what does the cycle of implementation and learning look like as well as the wrap up and reflection? Diane Sweeney has created the Results Based Coaching Tool (click link to have access to the template!) to help educators and coaches plan the cycle of learning from a student based perspective.  Key elements of this cycle are:

  • Pre and Post Assess to Identify Growth Across a Coaching Cycle
  • Understand How the Teacher and Coach Grew by using Exit Questions
  • Plan for Students Who Didn’t Meet the Goal

Using the Results Based Coaching Tool combined with the general cycle framework provided by Corwin, can help give the educator and coach a sequence of steps to follow to help stay on track.  In addition, providing time for the coach and teacher to reflect before they start the next cycle with the new learning and ideas they gained together will help to deepen the coaching relationship and in turn deepen student learning – especially for teachers who are new to having a coach and for a coach that is new to coaching.

Corwin – A Sage Publishing Group
Example of coaching cycle – Corwin – A Sage Publish Group 

While researching this topic, there was a variety of ideas of how long coaching cycles generally are. Of course, this depends on the goals, desired outcomes and bumps along the way.  This led me to think more about the time management skills that are necessary for coaches to set up a successful coaching cycle and for the cycle to be implemented in full. Time is of the essence when it comes to anything in education because a lack of time (and efficiency) can quickly erode good intentions and exciting ideas and instead, cause a break down between the planning process and actual implementation. A key digital tool that seemed to be important is an easy to use online/collaborative calendar to help all parties plan accordingly with the hectic schedules that are part of teaching and coaching. Nicole Turner maps out a way to manage time more efficiently in her blog post, Time Management for Instructional Coaches ~ What Should I be doing?. Big takes aways she mentions are:

  • Weekly reflections and goal setting
  • Making a calendar and schedule that takes into account all parties and easy access
  • Staying organized – using tracker sheets to organize who you meet with, what you talk about and the many notes you gather as a coach

These may seem like simple steps but coaches can quickly get overwhelmed, especially when they are meeting with multiple teachers or teams. Thinking through HOW you will do the steps above before starting the coaching relationship will help a coach be ready from day one and builds trust right away with who you are working with by showing them you are on top of the logistics so they do not have to be. 

Having a clear cycle explicitly in place and a time management system planned out, will help coaches to better meet ISTE Standard 2f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences because everyone will be starting the coaching relationship from a clear and concise starting point.  This seems especially important when working with teachers who may be resistant to coaching. If the cycle and planning of time is a framework that takes into account the life of a teacher being coached, then the teacher will feel understood and be able to have input where they want but not have to be heavily involved in the logistics, which can result in ‘just another thing I don’t have time to do’. From this established starting point, the coaching sessions have the opportunity to dig into revising and strengthening lessons so that planning can be innovative and student-based…and realistic and doable! 


Corwin. Coaching Cycle, What Does It Look Like? Retrieved from 

Sweeney, Diane. (Oct. 28, 2018). Measuring the Impact of Coaching Cycles. Retrieved from

Turner, Nicole (Feb. 19, 2019). Simply Coaching and Teaching. Time Management for Instructional Coaches –  What should I be doing?. Retrieved from

Essential Questions

Essential questions provide context for individual understandings or skills. They connect the small to the large, the known to what still must be explored. If designed well and integrated into instruction, they help students think bigger, communicate better, analyze and synthesize what they learn and transfer that knowledge to other subject areas both inside and … Continue reading "Essential Questions"

ISTE for Coaches – Co-planning 21st century learning activities

ISTE-C Standard 1: Visionary Leadership
d. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms

ISTE-C Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

Inquiry Question:
How can we use SAMR model to help teachers to improve lessons?

What is SAMR?

When we piloted the 1:1 laptop program and BYOD initiate in our international school, the school administrators chose the SAMR model to evaluate the effect of technology integration. SAMR model is designed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura (Figure 1) to guide teachers towards effectively infusing technology into their classes to transform learning to higher-order creative and critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. SAMR includes four categories: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. Each category has an impact on learning from different angles and raise teacher awareness and the capacity to select the appropriate technology tools for specific goals. SAMR model help to build and develop the teacher’s mindset of using technology meaningfully in classes rather than in favor of rich-tech solutions with no reference to learning objectives and context.

Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D. Figure 1

SAMR is not Like Climbing A Mountain

Have you ever been striving for reaching the Redefinition level in your classes? SAMR is not like climbing a mountain but a constant ongoing journey. Each category has its own effect within equal weight. Redefinition is not a summit to climb and conquer. Also, the technology you used always has invented ways to accelerate student learning without max-out. Teachers should choose technology skillfully and mindfully to impact the nature of teaching from the four categories and result in promoting student learning outcomes rather than pushing to Redefinition blindly.  

Retrieved from

Work with Bloom’s Taxonomy to Meet Specific Goals

We crawl before we walk. Learning always being a sustained process on cognition development from lower level to high-order level. Many teachers and tech coaches keep staying at Substitution for a long time before they move on to the next stage. It doesn’t matter which level you are at and how long you have been there, but it matters that if you embed technology for pedagogical sake to reach specific learning goals and keep moving on in the four categories. The image (Figure 2) shows the correlation between the SAMR model and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Teachers should make a decision on what, how and why to use technology in classes depending on which cognitive level they are developing for students.

Figure 2

Substitution-the door to the technology integration

Substitution is the simplest level in the SAMR model, but it is the essential level to shift learning to be digital and visible. Technology tools selected in the S level should reinforce students’ memories of new knowledge and stimulate their understanding.

Augmentation-Discover new features of technology tools

Augmentation is the level that technology has functional improvement. Students and teachers will initiate to involve digital tools in old learning activities to achieve more engagement and motivation. The tools should provide more opportunities to share new knowledge and perspectives and get feedback in time from teachers to deepen understanding.  

Modification and Redefinition – Create new ways to solve problems

In the transformation stage, teachers redesign learning tasks and encourage students to leverage appropriate technology to lead student-centered learning and demonstrate learning outcomes through creative ways. 

A New Structure of the SAMR Model

Hamlin Tech Team created an infinity symbol (Figure 3) to explain the SAMR model in a new way. This is a non-hierarchy structure in which each category has the same value. The right and appropriate technology tool matching the specific task will have the maximum positive effect on learning.

Figure 3 Created by Hamlin Tech Team

In this image, Redefinition level is not the summit of technology integration, but it is a start sign for the next round of innovative integration. SAMR is described as a loop in which four categories have an interdepend relationship and impact increasingly on student learning. Teachers as the innovator in education should integrate technology wisely and mindfully with the SAMR model as the self-assessment tool to improve learning and teaching to meet the 21st century’s needs.


Integrating Technology into Your Classroom with the SAMR Model. Retrieved from:

Portnoy, L. (2018). How SAMR and Tech Can Help Teachers Truly Transform Assessment. Retrieved from:

Swanso, P. (2014). Rethinking SAMR. Retrieved from:

The Hamlin School. (2014). SAMR Model: Excellence in Teaching with Technology. Retrieved from:   

Learning First, Tech Second

Technology coaches demonstrate professional
knowledge, skills, and dispositions in content,
pedagogical, and technological areas as well as
adult learning and leadership and are continuously
deepening their knowledge and expertise.

ISTE Coaching Standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth

If I could pick one ISTE standard that has become a mantra for me throughout this experience of pursuing my masters- it would be this one: Learning First, Tech Second. Towards the beginning of my program, Liz, a member of my cohort taught us this phrase. It has resonated with me since.

Retrieved from:

You have to be careful to not be blinded by the glitter and wonder that tech brings. You can do so many fun and flashy things with technology. You can light it up, make it spin, animate it, and get a lot of attention for all the cool projects you are doing in your class. The kids are engaged, people want to start coming by to take a look, but it means nothing if the kids aren’t learning content. Liz Kolb, warns, “when technology leads to flawed engagement, students will eventually lose interest because they recognize that the technology is a mere trick and not actually adding value to their understanding of the content.” (2017)

In 2006, Mishra and Kholer from Michigan State developed a framework called TPACK to help educators integrate tech into their classroom. They argued that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content. (Kholer, 2012)

TPACK asks educators to use their content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technology knowledge to guide their students in meeting specific classroom learning goals.

Liz Kolb, 2017

As a coach, it is my job to make sure that when working with teachers, the learning goals are top of mind. What do you want the students to learn? After that is clear, we can discuss how we might use technology to facilitate and or showcase the learning. I am working with a teacher that wants students to learn about the Great Depression. Over the past few years, she has given them a topic and has had them research it and make a poster to show what they have learned. This model has produced learning, however, the learning has been of a singular event that has taken place during the Great Depression. We are working together to create a self paced unit that gives students choice on which way they would like to learn the content. Her goal is that students will build a wealth of knowledge of how the Great Depression was created, the consequences felt by the American people as well as around the world, and the ideas, events, and work that went into stabilizing the economy. As a final project, students will choose how they will share their learning. Below, I will demonstrate how we will use TPACK to inform our lesson design.

Image based on the original on

The first three knowledge areas we need to consider when thinking about this lesson are:

  • Content Knowledge (CK)— What is the scope of learning we want the students to cover? Are we confident in our knowledge of the Great Depression?
  • Pedagogical Knowledge (PK)— Think of our students, what ways do they learn best? Do we need to make accommodations for students? How can we make the content accessible to all learners?
  • Technological Knowledge (TK)— Is there a digital platform that we can use to deliver the content/knowledge to students in a way that meets their learning needs?

Next, how will these areas intersect? (Dylan Rodgers, 2018)

  • Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)—understanding the best practices for teaching specific content to your specific students.
  • Technological Content Knowledge (TCK)—knowing how the digital tools available to you can enhance or transform the content, how it’s delivered to students, and how your students can interact with it.
  • Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK)—understanding how to use your digital tools as a vehicle to the learning outcomes and experiences you want.

It is in this last three knowledge areas that the real work lives. I found an amazing article called “Grounded” Technology Integration. The authors have taken all of the content areas and broken them down into learning activities complete with digital tools curated to help transform the learning. Below is an example of Social Studies Knowledge Expression activity types that I would like to share with the teacher I am coaching in hopes that these would be excellent ideas for her students to show their knowledge of the Great Depression. What I love about these ideas, is that there are many different ways students can express their learning first, technology second!


  • ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Kolb, L. (2017). Learning first, technology second: the educators guide to designing authentic lessons. Portland: International Society for Technology in Education.
  • TPACK.ORG. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Schoology. (2018). The TPACK Framework Explained (With Classroom Examples). Retrieved from
  • “Grounded” Technology Integration: Instructional Planning … (2010). Jl. of Technology and Teacher Education (2010) 18(4), 573-605 Retrieved from

Don’t Forget Discourse

For module 3 in our EDTC 6105 course I focused in on ISTE Coaching Standard 2f:

f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experience. 

When integrating technology into learning in the classroom there are many instructional design aspects that come into play. One such is student discourse. Creating a culture of productive student discourse and mindfully integrating it into technology-enhanced lessons provides opportunities for students to exchange ideas, ask questions, develop thinking processes, express understanding or misconceptions, and reflect on their learning. While technology like Flipgrid, Seesaw, Explain Everything, virtual field trips, pair programming are some examples of how you might use technology to elicit or enhance student discourse there are research-based elements that teachers can look for, plan for and/ or reflect on that will support students with discourse across the board. Throughout the rest of this blog post, I’ll dive deeper into elements of productive discourse as well as share strategies that technology coaches could use when working with teachers or model for teachers to use with their students. 

Hallmarks of productive discussions:

Michaels and O’Connor’s work emphasizes the ways teachers can support productive academic talk in the classroom. They outline hallmarks of productive discussions as such:

  • Everyone can hear and understand what is being said, so that every single student is part of the conversation.

  • The conversation is focused, coherent, rigorous, and leads to deep conceptual understanding.

  • Students are motivated to participate and want to go public with their thinking, feeling like they have a stake in the conversation.

  • Conversation is not just for good talkers; everyone has a right and responsibility to contribute.

  • The teacher guides students in practicing new ways of talking, reasoning, and collaborating with one another. 


Their research outlines 7 key elements of academically productive talk that makes the hallmarks listed above doable.

Elements of academically productive talk:

  1. A belief that students can do it

Establishing beliefs that all students are capable of deep understanding of concepts and that their ideas are valued is the first step in promoting productive talk. A strategy to establish and nurture these beliefs is through growth mindset discussions, activities, and reflections. This may include: learning about the importance of student discourse and how it enhances learning, building a community that values risk-taking and growth over competition, and setting and holding all students to high expectations and providing appropriate feedback, support, scaffolds or differentiation so all students are able to be successful. 


  1. Well-established ground rules

“A culture of talk is more likely to take hold when teachers develop a common set of discussion norms and limit the list to just three to five important ground rules.” (p. 6). Teachers should acknowledge the purpose of the norms and review them with the class before beginning their academic discussions. These norms can be established at the beginning of the year and evolve as the year unfolds. Anticipating norms that students may struggle with and planning time to review norms before students engage in academic discourse will help you and students keep them in mind during the discussion.


  1. Clear academic purposes

Teachers who orchestrate academically productive talk take the time to plan and prepare for discussions. Part of the planning process for a productive discussion includes teachers anticipating how the discussion might unfold. Micheal and O’Conner note that it is “helpful to articulate to yourself the key ideas you hope to bring forward” (p. 3). As well as expressing the academic purpose(s) to students verbally and visually helps them to understand the goals and direction of their learning.


  1. Deep understanding of the academic content

Facilitating productive discourse means you must be prepared, understand the concept(s), bring key ideas forward, and anticipate common misconceptions. 


  1. A framing question and follow-up questions

At the heart of productive student discourse is a “clear, open framing question, designed to spark multiple positions, perspectives, or solution paths that can be taken, explicated, and argued for with evidence” (p. 3). 


  1. An appropriate talk format

Thinking about how you want students to engage in academic discourse is also important. Different types of formats for student discourse include:

Whole group:

In this format, the entire class focuses on making sense around a shared problem or task. The teacher uses their understanding of the content and pedagogical knowledge to maintain a high level of focus and rigor. Students gather in a circle so that everyone can see everyone else to maximize listening, and make use of body language to show that they are listening (p. 7).


Small group:

In this format, students work in groups of three or four, or even partnerships of two, sharing materials and ideas and coming up with shared solutions (p. 8). Micheal’s and O’Connor state that for small group work to be productive, tasks need to be designed for group work, not tasks that can be done by one’s self. Other important elements of small group work include setting clear expectations for the intellectual work, a time limit, and an accountability piece. One strategy they shared was having the class make public what went on in each group to build a collective understanding. They also point out that you can use small group discussions to elicit ideas and thinking and then lead into a whole-class discussion. 

Partner talk:

In partner talk the discussion is usually brief (1-2 minutes) and done with a predecided talking partner. Teachers use partner talk strategically to listen in and either share out or lead into small group or whole-class discussions.

Different talk activities and strategies teachers can use in the classroom.

7. A set of strategic “talk moves”

Talk moves are general moves that can be used in any discussion, which strategically set students up to think, reason and collaborate in academically productive ways. “Research over the past 20 years and documentation of teachers who facilitate productive discussions has led to the identification of a small number of general talk moves that are remarkably helpful tools for making discussions work” (p. 10).

Talk moves teachers can use with students during discussions.

As a coach I think having these flow charts and talk moves is helpful when working with teachers and also as a tool to share with teachers and review when they are planning their lessons. Hopefully, as a technology coach I can better guide teachers on how to plan and implement student discourse into their technology lessons.

 A few interesting blog posts and resources I found around student discourse and technology:

Work Cited: 

Michaels, S. & O’Connor, C. (2012). Talk science primer. TERC. Retrievd from


Effective Coaching in 21st Century Schools

This quarter, as part of my journey through Seattle Pacific University’s Digital Education Leadership program, we are investigating ISTE coaching standards. For this blog post I will be focusing my research on ISTE coaching standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth.

ISTE-C-Standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth

  1. Engage in continual learning to deepen content and pedagogical knowledge in technology integration and current and emerging technologies necessary to effectively implement the ISTE Student and Educator standards

My Research Question:

What does effective coaching look like in 21st century schools?


While in my MEd program, I have gotten a lot of attention within my school as someone teachers can come to for any technological help. As able as I am to answer questions and provide assistance, I find myself constantly asking what should my approach to these moments look like each time. My question helps me reflect on what effective coaching looks like in schools like mine where new technology and 21st century skills are now being implemented into the curriculum. What does this mean for the teachers who have never used these technologies or programs before and to the coaches like me who are trying to help support them during this change?

Defining Effective Coaching

Being in the field of education I hear the word “effective” quite often related to student learning, learning environments, assessments, and so on. I believe that as human beings we strive to make our time worthwhile and discover ways to make student achievement as successful as possible. By doing this we research new ideas, new lessons, and new ways to keep students engaged and to keep the material relevant to the world around them. Time is constantly moving forward, and technology has made a huge impacts in the way students are learning in the 21st century. Some teachers are more accepting of this change then others, but essentially we all still want the same thing, student achievement. As a coach, it is our duty to help both those who are accepting change, as well as those who are reluctant to it. To do this we have to remind ourselves what it truly means to be “effective”. Is being effective essentially to be as efficient as possible or is there more to it?

One of my favorite reads this season has been “The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation” written by Elena Aguilar. In chapter 3 of the book, Aguilar introduces “beliefs” that help a coach become more effective. (Aguilar, pg 67) We all have beliefs in something or someone that keeps us going in our most difficult moments and Aguilar describes these beliefs as “strongly held opinions that drive our actions.” (Aguilar, Pg 69-70) She emphasizes the need to reflect on your beliefs and remember those times that you thought you couldn’t do something, but now you can. (Aguilar, Pg 69) Beliefs can always be changed similar to the way we change our instruction based on our students needs. As a coach we seek to help teachers uncover their beliefs and discover how these beliefs help drive their instruction in the classroom. However, as a coach we must first formulate our own coaching beliefs and determine what core values are important to us as individuals. (Aguilar, Pg 83-84) Some examples of beliefs Aguilar provides as a coach are(Aguilar, Pg 78-81):

  • Meet people where they are.
  • There is no coaching without trust.
  • Be here now.
  • Transformation takes time.
  • The journey is the destination.

Rules of Instructional Coaching

Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching in the time period we are in, but with the amount of things teachers are asked to do in a single day, as well as implementing technology into our lessons, I go home exhausted and wondering what I could have done better. This makes professional development opportunities so important to educators because they are taking their valuable free time to learn more on how to handle their classroom routines, integrate technology, and so much more. As a teacher, I am always looking for hands-on professional development opportunities. While I am now moving into a new role as a coach, I try to keep in mind the areas in which I needed support and the professional development opportunities that helped build me into the educator I am today. I remind myself of what will be most beneficial to educators I am coaching and try to put myself in their shoes to determine what would be the best professional development opportunity for them to be successful.

While researching effective instructional coaching I found an info-graphic that caught my eye due to its description to “keep coaching relevant, interesting, and even fun!”. I felt this list of rules had everything I was looking for, it provided me with hands-on experiences as well as important suggestions as a new instructional coach. A few of my favorite rules they included were (Holz, 2018):

  1. Expect resistance
  2. Staying up to date
  3. Encourage collaboration
  4. Focus on the teaching, not the teachers
  5. Align with the school’s mission

Teacher Toolbox: 21st Century Skills

Something that is important to highlight in regards to coaching is what it means to transition teachers and classrooms into the 21st century. It is important that educators can see the benefits of a variety of resources when thinking about how to implement new technologies into their classroom. Things like creating online presentations and recordings, posters, digital portfolios and even digital worksheets and quizzes are just a few of the many things currently available at their disposal. (Educatorstechnology, 2016) Providing teachers with several ideas they can use and places they can find them is quintessential when coaching them about 21st century classrooms. Its the range of small tech tools to large technological projects that not only makes the addition of technology effectively easier, but more flexible for the individual teachers and their classroom. Below I have displayed an info-graphic that provides both coaches and teachers a variety of digital skills that are now relevant in 21st century classrooms.

Real Life Example

After researching my question I felt like I learned quite a bit on how to be an effective coach and the steps I need to take to be ready for my new role. I still felt a need to see firsthand what effective instructional coaching would look like on a district level. Luckily for me, I found a great video by Edutopia that helped me see a day in the life of an Instructional Coach. This video is great for those who are just beginning their coaching journey as well as for those who are going to begin working with an instructional coach at your school.


Aguilar, Elena. (2013). The Art of Coaching, Effective Strategies for School Transformation. San Francisco, CA. Jossy-Bass.

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (December 30, 2016). 9 Fundamental Digital Skills for 21st Century Teachers. Retrieved from

Edutopia (Youtube). (September 18, 2015). Instructional Coaching: Seeding District-Wide Innovation. Retrieved from

Holz, Susannah. (April 17, 2018). 12 Rules of effective Instructional Technology Coaching [INFOGRAPHIC]. Retrieved from