Book Reflection: 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong

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As part of my Learning Action Plan for the 2019-2020 school year, I chose to read 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong: Strategies That Engage Students, Promote Active Learning, and Boost Achievement by John V. Antonetti and James R. Garver. This is a book that I received by a former administrator with the intent that we would read it as a book study in future years however, I ended moving to another school before that happened.


My initial goal was to present a summary to my staff about the content and how it has impacted my teaching, however, with COVID-19 suspending regular school functions and us moving online, I am adapting my sharing to a more open platform.

The authors of the book have visited 17,000 classrooms across North America, talking with administrators, superintendents, teachers, and students and have shared their research on effective classrooms. They believe that effective education comes from a shift in the classroom from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning. They advocate for backwards design lesson plans and explore various ways that teachers can increase student engagement in their classrooms through various different tasks that shift the focus from the teacher to the learner.

I appreciated the approach to technology in the classroom that was taken by the book. I often feel that teachers are integrating technology for the sake of technology which can lead to students who are proficient at “Googling” the answers, then “copy and paste” to make a Powerpoint presentation but we often fail to design activities that push students towards autonomy, mastery, and finding a purpose for the technology in their task, all three of which have been identified as predictors of high-quality work.

Chapter six discusses student engagement and uses Phillip Schlechty’s Working on the Work to further explore his five levels of engagement: Authentic, Ritual, Passive, Retreatism, and Rebellion. As a teacher reading this section, I could identify each of these levels of engagement in many of my present and past class groupings. They also suggest 8 engaging work qualities that support the development of higher engagement tasks. When these qualities are found in assignments and tasks, students are more likely to engage in learning authentically.

  1. Personal Response
  2. Clear/Modeled Expectations
  3. Emotional/Intellectual Safety
  4. Learning with Others
  5. Sense of Audience
  6. Choice
  7. Novelty and variety
  8. Authenticity

Every task does not need to include all of these, however, by integrating these qualities into the learning tasks, the authors found that students were more eager to learn and they engaged deeper and more willingly in the task.

The book ended with a chapter that discusses how we can support our students and colleagues in becoming reflective learners. They use 4R’s of reflective conversations to help guide the reflection we do as learners and believe that reflection is a key stage in their components of an effective professional learning community. They also stated that they believe that teachers spend too much time planning a lesson and that a shift needs to be taken to spending more time designing the learning that takes place in the classroom.

As I read this book, I connected with a lot of the ideas that the authors shared and bookmarked many different models, activities, and ideas that resonated with me as a teacher and reflective learner. I even implemented a few of the ideas into my classroom with various degrees of success. I couldn’t help be keep returning to the same question throughout the book: How do the practices that are described in the book align with the reality of Saskatchewan schools, with small schools, and with ever-changing course loads?

In my 9 years of teaching, I have taught over 30 different courses from grades 4 through 12 and have never had the exact same course load two years in a row. Although the practices described in this book can be implemented in new classrooms and grades, it is sometimes hard to adapt new methods of teaching when you are trying to figure out new curricula and ensure that you are addressing all of the students in your classroom effectively. The authors often describe using grade-alike meetings for teachers to collaborate, something that is not a possibility for small schools where there may be double- or triple-graded classrooms and 3 teachers total in the building. There are ample opportunities with technology to collaborate with other teachers in your division/district, province, and grade-alike groups however I feel that some of the benefits of the collaboration described in the book rely on having common students, or a common understanding of the people behind the names in our classrooms, something that cannot be truly grasped when working with those outside your building.

I feel there needs to be further research and findings for small schools that do not always fit into the demographics of the schools that are used in educational studies. This does not necessarily need to be new, large-scale studies but perhaps a meta-analysis of data, adaptation to small school realities, and an adaptation and implementation framework would provide the guidance that would support teachers in our rural areas to implement these types of strategies and ideas into their classrooms and schools.

Do you feel that the educational studies you have read and use in your professional learning apply to your school reality? Do you have recommendations of articles and books that address our smaller schools?



Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success by Regie Routman (Part 1)

via Goodreads

This summer I have been reading Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success by Regie Routman. This is a required reading for me for my new role as ITC.

Literacy is a word that has always intimidated me. I am a math teacher, my forte is definitely numbers. Teaching students “how to read” is not something that I feel is one of my strengths. Through my teaching career, I have realized that literacy does not just refer to how to see letters and turn them into words, but it is more about comprehension and application of what our students read that is important. This has made me feel more confident in teaching literacy, although I still consider myself far from an expert!

Literacy is about empowering our students to be able to accomplish their goals. I agree with Routman who states “if we just graduate students who have fulfilled requirements but lack curiosity and a desire and ability to be self-sustaining learners, we have failed” (p. 5).

Chapter 1 – Literacy and Leadership: Change that Matters

I love that this book starts with how to prepare a school for change. So much of what I have read in the past provides a lot of really good ideas without providing support and ideas on how to implement them effectively and for the long term.

Routman proposes steps that leaders can take to prepare for change and acknowledges that there are many great ways to implement change in your building. She stresses that relationships with staff and students are pivotal in implementing any type of change in a building and that a positive relationship that starts by focusing on what is done well will provide a strong base for growth when moving on to what can be worked on.

Chapter 2 – Responsive Instruction, Feedback, and Assessment

Routman defines responsive teaching and assessment as “teaching for understanding, continuously checking for understanding, and adjusting instruction as needed” (p. 37). We need to ensure that we are encouraging our students to move towards being more independent learners through effective feedback and planning with the end goal in mind, we often forget to consider what we want our students to be able to do at the end of a lesson or a unit. She also stresses insuring that we include real-world issues as well as skills, such as peer collaboration and active learning, as this increases student performance (p. 41).

via Middleweb

Using Routman’s Optimal Learning Model (OLM), it is suggested that teachers need to ensure and reflect on the their teaching practice and determine if students are receiving enough of each level. It is also important to shift from part-to-whole teaching to whole-part-whole teaching. This shift involves moving from teaching a small subset of skills, working up to the final product to teaching the final product, addressing subset skills as needed by students. This allows students to demonstrate their prior knowledge as well take charge of their learning by having an image of the goal.

Feedback is another essential portion of the OLM but one of the hardest teaching skills to master. To ensure effective feedback, it must move students’ learning forward positively, be ongoing, and be provided in a timely manner. It is important to remember that feedback is a productive CONVERSATION, not notes written on an assignment and returned.


The first two chapters of this book have helped me wrap my head around the idea of literacy as more than just learning how to read and how to start change in a building. I think that this is important for me as I move into two roles that are new to me next year (vice-principal and instructional team coach). It also has me reflecting on my practice as a teacher and where I am in implementing the OLM into my teaching.

I feel that, within the math classroom, I am fairly effective at the OLM as I often (but not always) provide examples I work, that we work, and they work before I assign practice questions for students. In other subjects, I need to work on this. In thinking about the Social 9 course I taught this past year, I could improve my OLM implementation by doing more read-alouds with the the group and explaining how to interpret the features of the textbook, by providing insight into how I decipher words I am not familiar with, and by modelling jot-note taking skills. Although I will not be teaching this course in the upcoming year, I think that these are things that I can implement into the Accounting 10 course I will be teaching in the second semester.

Feedback is an area that I worked on this past year with my school-based Professional Learning Community. We looked at ways to provide feedback at the end of an assessment and looked at a variety of styles of rubrics, talking about what parts we liked, what parts we would like to change, and discussing coming up with a uniform set that are used by all teachers in the school (ie. a rubric for a presentation, poster, etc. that are used by every teacher) so that we can work on the continual growth of those skills. I would like to try a centers-approach in the future to be able to give more immediate feedback and work on the conversation portion of feedback.

Where do you feel you are in implementing the OLM? Do you feel that you are effective at feedback? Where could you improve?

Routman, R. (2014). Read, write, lead: Breakthrough strategies for schoolwide literacy success. ASCD.