Authentic Learning Experiences Tool Box – New resources available


Picture students making frequent connections to curriculum outcomes in deep and meaningful ways. Imagine them caring about the academic tasks as if someone important to them is counting on their success. Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE) transforms this picture into reality. ALE is a growing practice in 40 minute lessons to units that go one to five weeks, and much longer ones.

Explore different aspects of ALE from concept to practices to implementations with links at the bottom. Let’s start with exploring the why of Authentic Learning Experiences.



The concept of ALE is simple:

Immerse students into real world situations and/or challenges to make meaningful connections to curriculum.

Here are some examples:

  • interview a water quality employee to better understand the science and community impact
  • publish a position paper about a social or political issue
  • teach 2 and 3 digit multiplication and informational writing by having students create a budget for curriculum night event. Have a panel stakeholders decide which one to implement.
  • invite a business owner to share their marketing problem of promoting their business. Students are tasked with devising a persuasive multimedia marking campaign for review by the business owner.
  • devise an idea for more ADA compliant supports to be used to improve daily life, ie. store access, hotel room design, or use of gadgets like phones and other digital devices.

Why is ALE important for learners?

Authentic Learning Experiences help students connect curriculum with real world meaning. Academic subjects can feel abstract to some students, resulting in a belief that the “knowledge” is only relevant in the classroom as part of work to be done, and not remembered. This belief is far from the truth about how content builds to many applications and uses in the world beyond the school walls. When students grapple with the connections between concept and authentic applications, the skills gain value because job purpose is provided.

Additionally, authentic audience participation is valuable. Such a participant can support the lesson or unit by participating in a Q&A, mentoring, acting as a resource, or posing a genuine problem or question that they need an answer. From my experiences, and those of teachers and administrators I’ve helped, students were more likely to step up to the challenge. An genuine audience or client puts a “face” to the tasks. Confronted with that person or organization, students tend to raise their efforts for deeper quality of work, because someone is counting on them. An audience that is not the teacher seems to communicate that the work is not just an exercise. It’s impact is real. Students have a voice in the global community.

Navigating a Global Community

The world is smaller in the sense that technology such as social media has sped up the flow of information and communication access to anywhere. No longer can students work on academics for the sake of curriculum, with justifications that the work will prepare them for the “real world.” Such assertions are simply not true. Traditional instructional practices alone might develop students with a deep understanding of content, with little or no connection to the rich applications and implications in the world beyond school. Traditional instruction that are effective practices do have a place in today’s teaching and learning–if those practices are incorporated, and sometimes reinvented, into connections and applications in the global community.

Video conferencing, virtual worlds, digital collaborative spaces and tools, and apps provide a variety of ways to bring the world inside the classroom, and the students entrance into the world. Publication of ideas as comments to articles, to videos are literally at our fingertips. Access to experts, professionals, enthusiasts, and explorers has become so easy that a real challenge is how to communicate with them, and effectively sift through what is evidenced-based to agenda-driven. These are the experiences and 21st Century Learner skills that students need experience with as they learn curriculum.

Now What

Authentic Learning Experiences are not a new idea. It continues to evolve based on the world that we live in. In the late 1990s, cell phones were a tool that was not a common tool, nor as useful, as it has become today, with the merging of computer technology and the internet. As the global community shrinks and careers evolve, students need more experiences that applies curriculum in an authentic context beyond school.

Start simple with one lesson or a collection of 2-3 learning experiences. Build your comfort level, while giving students new interesting challenges. Expand to a unit focus, where students tackle a problem or puzzle. Their final product should demonstrate their understanding of content outcomes through their creative solutions. PBL is one such unit structure that supports this approach. Explore the possibilities through these resources below.

Why ALE | Examples | Strategies | Articles

The 1st Truth about Differentiation

In the past, I’ve written several articles about the myths that prevents many teachers from using Differentiation as an integral part of how they meet learner needs.

They have resonated with educators who comment and share these articles with colleagues. I often hear how the articles empowered or gave teachers permission to do more. Best of all, most express finding affirmation for what they are already doing, which is one intention of these articles: Teachers do differentiate, whether unconsciously or with deliberation.

It’s time to change the focus from the myths to the truths. What are the realities for Differentiation?

There are many. Here is the first:

Differentiation starts with learners.

The standard language for Differentiation was introduced early on by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Susan Allan in books in 1999 and 2001. It’s a language that continues to work today, as I note in So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Teachers often start with Content, Process, and Products as those are the vehicles for differentiating learning experiences.

It makes sense to begin with these three elements because they are most familiar to educators when it comes to planning instruction. Richard DuFour, among many respected education thinkers, described these steps as:

  1. What do students need to know, understand, and do?
  2. How will students demonstrate what they’ve learned and not learned?
  3. What will we do for students who fail?
  4. What will we do for students who’ve already learned the content and concepts?

Despite all this information, instruction begins with the learner through Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences.

The student is best equipped to make connections or determine if the lesson is best for them. They do this all the time through expressions of engagement to disengagement.

What motivates learners to participate? What engages students to dedicate time and energy into the lessons? The answers can only come from them. The solution for teachers is to make the conscious decision to communicate and collaborate with students, including them in the planning and decision-making of the learning experiences based on Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences. If this feels uncomfortable, or the voice in your head is giving excuses for why this cannot be done, then you understand what your struggling learners feel about your lessons.

Starting places:

  1. Use a Learning Preference inventory to help craft 2-4 choices that students might opt to complete tasks. Bonus points if you then get their feedback about the choices, and make revisions based on their input.
  2. Collect formative assessment data and use it to craft variations of the same task so that students can be assigned or choose the appropriate level. Make sure that each task includes critical thinking and is respectful to the learner. Every student can analyze, evaluate, and synthesize, even with very basic understanding. Over simplifying work that’s stuck at the comprehension and fact-base level for struggling learners insults their intelligence. Again, bonus points if you get their feedback about the choices, and make revisions based on their input.
  3. Clearly explain and coach the learning outcomes so that students understand them and what is expected of them. Then support students as they construct products of their design that demonstrate the learning outcomes.

Find more related resources from So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Stay tuned for more Truths about Differentiation and Learning…

Repost from

Review of Ron Berger’s Beautiful Work

Guest Author: Tracy Williams – Follow her on Twitter: @trawill14

She’s an elementary teacher who has a passion for developing student writers, and empowering their voice through quality feedback. She has developed a related resource to help other teachers in their thinking to support their students: Feedback Screencast. Here is what she has to say, inspired by an important education thinker, Ron Berger:

Review of Beautiful Work

In the article Beautiful Work, author and educator Ron Berger paints the picture of his classroom where beautiful, quality work is expected. Berger gives readers many examples of how he encourages his students to create important, aesthetic work for real audiences.  Regardless of subject area, his students learn they must strive for quality and beauty through class culture, crafting, and authentic critiquing. No matter how simple the assignment, the quest for valuable work is the goal.

Right away, Berger confronts the main perceived obstacle of teachers when they envision a classroom such as his. “The new national focus on ‘standards’ seems to be less about high standards than about covering required material, and there is little time left in most schools for the quest for real quality.” Today’s teachers face rigorous curriculums where they feel little time for elements such as aesthetics.  They are foregoing quality for the sake of quantity. One consequence of this is students feel more and more like there isn’t time for mistakes or revisions, or editing.  They are often in a rush to complete assignments and they are missing the value of the work. And when one doesn’t understand the value of the work, maintaining true pride in successes and a growth mindset in failures are difficult to own.

In order to experience real growth, students must know what it feels like to recognize their own mistakes, and want to improve upon them.  This implies that a growth mindset should be fostered within the classroom and through the work.  One cannot achieve real beauty without struggle, or quality without mistakes. So students must be made to believe that these things are not only accepted, but valued.  In the past, one of my struggles as a writing teacher was trying to get kids to revise and edit.  They much prefer the idea of one and done.  I can now see that my challenge – my job –  is to help students see the value in the process, as well as the work itself.  This means assigning less work, but more valuable pieces. It also means providing positive yet authentic goals and feedback, which allow student room improve and grow.  In addition, creating a classroom culture is critical. Berger refers to working with professionals, daily discussions, multiple drafts, a classroom gallery, as well as formal and informal critique sessions.  All of these ideas would be excellent implementations to help students understand and value high expectations.

Berger touched on another important piece in regards to creating valuable work. He presents his students with models of the type of work he wants them to create. “We use models of excellence to set the standards for our work – models from former students in our school or other schools, and models from the professional world.  What in many schools might be called cheating is considered wise practice in our classroom: studying great work to learn what we can borrow and what strategies we can learn.”  This really struck a chord with me.  Several years ago, I started following Study Driven (2006) by Katie Wood Ray.  In this writing program, one of the first steps of writing meaningful pieces involved immersing children with models of the kind of work we wanted them to emulate. Students were then able to analyze the elements of those pieces and then put them to practice.  I saw growth in my student writers using this program, and I strongly believe in the value of modeling. This is a practice that I plan to continue.  Presenting students with several high-quality models is key.

In conclusion, Beautiful Work is a reminder of the expectations we should hold students and ourselves accountable.  It is a reminder to keep the work we assign meaningful, so that students can set meaningful goals.  It is a reminder to strive for quality, instead of quantity. It is a reminder to create the classroom culture you envision. And finally, it is a reminder to both teachers and students to value the thinking and the process, as well as the work itself.



Berger, R. (Date Unknown). Beautiful Work. Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved from

Ray, K.W. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann







The 4th Way to Plan for Diverse Learners

          Differentiation is…

more than a passion or calling in working with students of all ages. For me, it’s simply a necessity, like breathing. If life-long learning is to be what everyone does with care and thoughtful reflection, then differentiation experiences should happen early and frequent throughout one’s education.

I wrote an article for Edutopia, “3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners: What Teachers Do”, with a desire to show teachers that they do “do” differentiation. Meeting learner needs happens. I presented a structure based on language introduced by Carol Tomlinson and Susan Allan (ASCD) around the turn of this century.

The language, as I call it–the 6 Elements of Differentiation, is important for having dialog on how best to plan instruction that meets students’ needs (Content, Process, & Products), and includes student voice in the process (Readiness, Interests, & Learning Preferences). The article is one of many that I wrote, which seem to inspire much dialog and sharing of ideas through social media. It’s great to engage in dialog about Differentiation as something we just do, need to do. Instruction in this form is no longer a dream, but reality.

As teachers and other educators deepen their understanding of Differentiation, there are levels of implementation that go beyond the basics of knowing the six elements. Like a gamer, a martial artists, or someone earning multiple university degrees, there is complexity with where we can aspire to differentiate for learners (Chapter 5 of So All Can Learn).   The 1st three ways provide the foundation for stronger instructional practices and learning engagement.

         There is a 4th Way…

Learner Agency, based on developing and encouraging student voice. In So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation, four chapters—almost half the book—are dedicated to understanding and coaching agency through student voice. Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences are how students determine if the instructional experience is inviting. Including students in learning construction based on these three elements sends a message that their thoughts and ideas matter.

It’s easy to get started in this process. Here are a few starting places:

  • Interest Surveys
  • Learning Profile Cards
  • Student interviews and focus groups
  • Journal entries like #IWishMyTeacherKnew on Twitter and Facebook

Based on the learning outcome that students must gain from the lesson, make instructional planning decisions using the information learned about students based on their Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences. The information should influence the Content delivered, Processing experiences (how students check for understanding and make sense of the content), and the product options that students choose or design themselves to demonstrate the learning outcomes.

Differentiation happens in the ways that teachers adjust based on how students “react” to the lesson that’s in progress—Intuitive Differentiation. More effective Differentiation happen when teachers anticipate student needs during the lesson planning prior to implementation—Intentional Differentiation. Higher levels of Differentiation occur when students become active co-planners with teachers during planning and implementation—Collaborative Differentiation.

Learn more from the chapters and reflection questions found in the book, So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation by John McCarthy, EdS.

Rowman & Littlefield | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Amazon UKBarnes & Noble

So All Can Learn – Preorders Available

So All Can Learn: A practical guide to Differentiation

Launch Date: February 28

Pre-orders Available:

R&L and Amazon

Teaching to all learners feels like an enormous challenge. Add obstacles such as class size, time, and top down mandates, and it’s not surprising that teachers may succumb to the temptation to just survive.

The reality is that all of those obstacles are very real, and can get in the way of what is needed for students. But, what is also true is that those obstacles impede teaching and learning, not Differentiation itself. Without Differentiation, the problems remain for “teaching” and “learning”.

Differentiation is a lens and a toolkit of processes that help teachers meet the needs of all students, and overcome the obstacles that threaten learning.

Here are some of my articles that provide approaches to tackle these obstacles, while you await your preorder 😉 of So All Can Learn: A practical guide to Differentiation, which provides more in-depth answers and guidance for addressing how to effectively and efficiently teach So All Can Learn.

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Gamification – Learning can be fun

In an an article I wrote for Edutopia, “Gamifying Your Class to Meet the Needs of All Learners,” I talk about elements for gamification that can help differentiate for student learning. Here are resources as referenced from the article as well as other references.

Edutopia article referencesshutterstock_113583727

  • Leveling Up Guide (pdfdoc)
    This guide offers students a chart for experience points needed to move up in levels. Certain levels (5, 8, and 10) are Boss levels. Exams and performance tasks are the “Bosses” that students must overcome to earn the related level.
  • Gamification Player’s Sheet (pdfexcelgDoc)
    The spread sheet is used by students to calculate their experience points. Experience earned is based on what the teacher awards and the additional work and contributions they have done. Students keep track of their own player sheet so that the teacher saves time on the logistics of keeping score. Another option is that the teacher keeps track for everyone.

Other References

The EdCamp Experience: Where Voice and Choice Matter

Guest Blogger: Cathy Hill

Lake Travis Independent School District


“We want to do something that is cross-curricular that all the 5th grade teachers [on this campus] can participate in. We want to try something new where students truly have a voice in how they learn.”

Kathy Austrian, 5th grade teacher at Serene Hills Elementary in Lake Travis ISD, made this statement while I met with her and teammate Amanda Reedy. Both have been part of our NextGen program this year—a program that gives support to teachers willing to try new strategies in their classrooms. I am the instructional coach that worked with them. Neither had any idea what to do to bring this to fruition…nor did I.

An online article describing a teacher who had done an EdCamp in his classroom provided inspiration (Seliskar, 2014). Although we agreed that this idea could work, we also knew we needed more structure. The 5th grade class had almost 180 students and seven teachers. What would EdCamp look like when implemented on this scale?

Kathy and Amanda began to raise awareness with their team about the concept of EdCamp. All the teachers were receptive, but the vision of how to implement this on a daily basis over a two-week period was still unclear; successful execution rested on Kathy and Amanda bringing it into focus. They started with a definition of and reasons for providing an EdCamp experience for students; then, they developed a theme (“Share Your Passion”) and a driving question (“How will you inspire others?”). To provide consistency among the seven classrooms, they clearly outlined daily activities with period by period instructions, video links, questions, and major points. They acknowledged that, as the process evolved, changes would likely occur, and they remained open to suggestions from their teammates regarding design, potential problems, and possible solutions.

Setting the stage for the students was a priority. Day 1, students arrived to butcher-papered hallways proclaiming, “What do you want to learn? Bring your passion! Bring your voice!” Students brainstormed topics they would like to learn about, writing on sticky notes and posting on the butcher paper. The hallway on Day 2 boasted the caption, “What will you teach? How will you inspire? Share your passion!” Students learned about different personality types and identifying strengths. This again led to discussions about passions, why people have different ones, and how to pursue them.

The remaining days leading to EdCamp included a variety of learning experiences. Students wrote proposals that included learning outcomes, identified materials needed (technology, props, etc.), and outlined presentations with time limits for each section. They learned about asking questions that prompt higher-order thinking and about facilitating discussion. They also practiced some classroom management skills to regain the attention of their audience, if needed. In the two days prior to EdCamp, students had the opportunity to practice their presentations, receiving feedback from the teacher and students in their classroom.

Throughout this time, Kathy and Amanda continued to provide daily agendas. With help from their team, they organized the sessions, reserved classrooms, and prepared sign-up sheets. There would be eighty-five presentations—eighty-five shared passions—in ten classrooms. Sessions were color-coded according to category (technology, arts and crafts, etc.) and enrollment in each was limited to twenty students so that all would have attendees. Students eagerly awaited the day before EdCamp when they would be able to sign up for the nine 15-minute sessions they would attend.

The day of EdCamp arrived, and a banner proclaiming, “edcamp – Where Voice and Choice Matter” greeted the excited students. Young presenters shared passions such as Creating Harry Potter Potions, Mysteries of the Deep, Channeling Your Inner You Tube, Advanced Bicycles, Bonjour-Learn about France, Tricky to Please-Architecture and Design, Flippin’ Fun Gymnastics, Flowering Photography, Personal Finance and Business, Oncology, The Cupcake Fanatic, 3-D Printing, Acting with a Twist, and many other topics. Quiet students came alive when talking about their passions. Inclusion students shared their passions and received high praise from their peers. Students learned about themselves and others, about interests and strengths that were previously unrecognized. Teachers were simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. Students were given voice and choice—and it was incredible.

EdCamp was a concept that started small…just a couple of teachers wanting to do something out of the ordinary. It spread to a team of teachers who were willing to trust each other and take a risk for their students. It further encompassed 180 normal students, transforming them into enthusiastic learners/presenters who flourished in the freedom to study and share their passions. For all involved, EdCamp provided an extraordinary learning experience.


Seliskar, Jason. (2014, January 9). An Elementary Edcamp-An Unconference for Students.

Getting Smart. Retrieved from


New Book: So All Can Learn – A Practical Guide to Differentiation


Ishutterstock_174221555t’s been a crazy, busy summer. But the work has paid off as I’ve completed the work on my new book, which comes out in February 2017:

So All Can Learn – A Practical Guide to Differentiation

by John McCarthy

Published by Rowman & Littlefield

Register for news of when pre-orders go live,
and other news related to this innovative book.

“So All Can Learn” is one of the few that connects teaching pedagogy with practical means to implement differentiation. Over the years, I’ve received many questions about what is differentiation, how do you actually implement in a meaningful way, and how do you address the obstacles for differentiation to happen. The answers will be found in this book 🙂

  • Guide for understanding the “Why” and “How” of effective differentiation
  • Strategies for improving the learner experience
  • Examples and case studies to help educators transform practice
  • Reflective questions for study groups and coaches of groups to ground their learning
  • Addressing answers to the common obstacles that teachers express for differentiation to occur

Subscribe for Updates about the book

In the next several months, I will send updates regarding where and when to pre-order the book, as well as when the companion website is available: Subscribe for email updates using the form on this website.

Follow me on Twitter: @JMcCarthyEdS. Get the updates as they come.

Learning through Pokemon Go – 15+ Resources


When Pokemon Go launched it created quite a buzz that continues to resonate. As an extension to my article, Pokemon Go… and Global Success Skills? via Edutopia, here are some resources to learn more about the game itself and possible uses for publication and other Authentic Learning Experiences for students. I’ll be adding to this list periodically.


  1. Pokemon Go Wiki Guide by IGN
  2. Pokemon FAQ on Polygon
  3. Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started ‘Pokémon GO’
  4. Beginner’s guide: How to play Pokémon Go!
  5. Pokemon Go Beginner’s Guide
  6. The Ultimate Guide to Pokemon Go
  7. How to Use a Pokemon GO Lure Module
  8. Pokémon Go players can now submit PokéStop, gym location requests
  9. Pokemon Go site
  10. Visual guide by Tech Insider
  11. Background history about Pokemon Go (Wikipedia)

* * *

IMG_7951Take a position on these issues and activities:

* * *

Examples of published content by professionals that students could do:

Student Learning Wall Guide: Empowering Student Voice

Checkout ALE/PBL Guide

2016-03-16 08.19.52

Entering most classrooms, there is information about the learning outcomes and assignments posted. The purpose is to let students know what is the focus and follow up work that is connected. This information is like the billboards along the highways. People drive by without paying attention to the signs that become lost in the scenery background. There have been initiatives to use such “billboards” to help teachers structure the work for students. Some initiatives include the Blackboard Configuration by Dr. Marilyn Monroe, Bell work, and the Project Wall used with Project-Based Learning. These different approaches have mixed results because they tend to address what teachers need to do with students, instead of how to support student learning. The key to turning these tools into more consistent success if to re-frame the purpose.

Make Instruction Transparent for Students

For innovative practices like Authentic Learning Experiences, PBL, Design Thinking, and STEM/STEAM, it’s important to bring learners inside the instructional circle. This is the traditional space of teachers. It’s like learning the magic tricks of the magicians. This approach may put magicians out of business, whereas the work of teachers improves and elevates in quality because students understand what’s behind the wizard’s curtain.

Students need to know the focus and outcomes so that they feel comfortable about the journey. I remember in both undergrad and graduate courses watching the professor enter the room and start to lecture. Every student promptly took notes on what was said. I’d struggle trying to figure out the big focus and outcomes. Most times I did not figure out the purpose until later while puzzling through the notes. Yet, at staff meetings, there was usually an agenda that helped me understand the purpose and outcomes to be accomplished. Churches, theaters, and graduations provide a program that shares the purposes and activities to take place. When this transparency of operations happens in units and lessons, students reap the benefits.

Student Learning Wall Guide Chart image

Student Learning Wall Guide Components

  1. Driving Question
  2. Unit Outcomes
  3. Lesson Outcomes
  4. Need to Know List
  5. Calendar
  6. Anchor Charts: Focused Global Success Skill(s)
  7. Checklists, Rubrics, & Key Products/Tasks

The components serve the dual purpose of communicating important information to students and helps include them in internalizing the big picture of the unit and the focus needs of the focused lesson. Most of these items should be visibly positioned where the teacher tends to begin instruction. Placing the only copy at the back of the room makes the item unimportant to students. Out of sight, out of mind. When the items are addressed by teachers on a regular basis—some daily, others weekly—sends a message of value. What gets monitored gets done.

Driving Question

The Driving question should be banner size so that students see it from anywhere in the room. The teachers relate the question to that day’s learning outcome and/or standard. This important sound byte reminds students of how the current lesson connects to the big picture of the unit. Sometimes, the driving question is addressed near the end of the lesson as formative assessment. Ask students how the lesson’s learning outcome relates to the driving question. A result of doing this daily is that students understand the major focus of the work. A byproduct is that students communicate better at home about their work. They can discuss their day with details of the work, instead of answer the question: “What did you do today?” with “nothing” or “stuff.” Being able and willing to tell about their learning journey reassures parents and families of the productive things taking place at school.

References on Driving Questions

Unit Outcomes

List the standards that are being taught, coached, and assessed during the course of the unit near the location of the Driving Question. This list gives students and guest a broad understanding of the depth of the learning taking place. When first introducing a standard into a lesson, refer to it from the list. This does not have to happen every day. After the first intro, refer to the standard where it best helps the students. Doing this enough times and students should be able to identify the focus standard, which aids their understanding of the connections being made. I was impressed with how students at Arsenal New Tech High School in Indianapolis IN were adept at knowing which standards they were addressing.

Lesson Outcomes

Where the Driving Question and the unit outcomes are the framework of the learning home, the lesson outcomes are the bricks that shape the experiences. Posted near the Driving Question, students need to understand what is the focus of “that day’s” focus. It is the anchor for the work and the assessments that occur by the end. Tie the lesson outcomes with the Driving Question so that students know how the lesson’s focus fits into the big picture, so that it’s worth doing.

Need to Know List

Use this protocol at the start of a unit. Keep a copy of the list along with the Driving Question at the front of the class for easy reference. Use it as formative feedback for instructional decisions for Differentiation and to track whole class growth. Refer to it several times a week to check for understanding and to gather more student questions. Learn how to implement this protocol.


Students need to know the key activities and deadlines for the current week. Being aware of these important dates helps present the scope of the work as it fits the larger vision of the unit. It’s best to not show the dates for the future weeks as that’s not relevant to what students need to deal with in the current week.

Global Success Skills Anchor Charts

There are many skills that businesses, universities, and other professions need to successfully thrive in their respective environments. Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Agency, and Self-Management are some that are considered for student development. is a rich resource for these and more skills.

When choosing Global Success Skills, it’s best to choose 1-2 for a unit that will be taught, coached, and assessed. It’s easy to discuss or touch upon a skill, but if it’s not being taught, coached, and assessed, students are not knowingly developing understanding. Once the skills are identified, create an anchor chart that describes the skill in actionable language so students can use for themselves and to manage the success of their teams. Place a copy of the chart on each wall, so that students can use the chart that’s closest to their table group.

Here’s an example:

Collaboration is…

  1. Being a good listener
  2. Helping others
  3. Being dependable with completing tasks
  4. Contributing ideas

Such an anchor chart gives students common language for collaboration. When there are problems they can address the team or team member. During feedback assessments of the team’s level of collaboration, the students can be specific, constructive, and kind.

Checklists, Rubrics, & Key Products/Tasks

Criteria for assessments and descriptions for key tasks are important to share with students. Knowing, helps them to prepare work with a clear understanding of guidelines. But remember—this information is only provided on a “Need to Know Basis.” If the essay is not started until the second week, students do not need to see the rubric and assignment description until the first day they start that work. Posting everything ahead of time becomes a mash of stuff that students will likely tune out, because it’s not important to do at the moment.

Student Learning Wall Guide: Classroom Posting versus Online Posting

Wall space can be a challenge for some for putting up these components for supporting students. The information can be posted on one or two chart papers. This is useful to teachers who have two or more preps. They can quickly put up the chart that is needed for course being taught. Here are some options to consider:

Option One: Post everything in three steps

Place everything on the walls that are closest to where the teacher starts instruction. It’s important that a teacher need only take three steps to address any of the posted information. If the front wall is not available, then use one or both adjacent walls. Avoid using the wall opposite of where the teacher leads instruction. Out of sight is out of mind.

Option Two: Blended Posting

Sometimes wall space is lacking. In this case, part of the Student Learning Wall Guide can be inside the classroom. The rest can be posted in the hallway or online. The non-negotiables are:

  1. Driving Question
  2. Unit and Lesson Outcomes
  3. Need to Know list
  4. Global Success Skills Anchor Charts

The other items need to be available for students to see and/or refer to. All parts can be online, but the list above also needs to be present in the classroom as they can be used frequently each day for teachable learning moments.

Some may think that this is a lot of work, but the information is already present in one’s unit. What’s needed is to make these public and easily accessible for learners. The result is greater awareness and support of students—having the big picture is a good development of Student Voice.

Check out this photo gallery of Student Learning Walls

These are examples by teachers who are learning and growing with their development of Student Voice.