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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Quick, Regular Check-Ins Promote Student Learning

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 26, 2023 14 min read
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Today’s post is the latest installment in a series on simple moves teachers can make that offer the potential for large classroom impacts.

Weekly Check-Ins

For 16 years, Diana Laufenberg taught 7-12 grade students social studies in Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. In 2013, Laufenberg partnered with Chris Lehmann to start Inquiry Schools, a nonprofit working to create and support student-centered learning environments that are inquiry-driven, project-based and utilize modern technology. She currently serves as the executive director and lead teacher for Inquiry Schools:

Micro student check-ins. As a middle school teacher who routinely worked with 130ish students each day, it was a struggle to be able to individually meet with them to check in on progress and the like. I started meeting with each of the students every Friday.

To set up the ability to meet with each student, the recurring Friday work was based on current events as it related to U.S. history (primary-source document analysis of images, political cartoons, op/eds, etc.) or world geography (evidence of the five themes of geography). Students were able to stay (mostly) self-directed and productive while I did my micro meets with the other students. I also asked the students to hold me accountable in case I wasn’t feeling up to it on Fridays. … By that 5th period at 3 p.m., I was often not the most motivated. It really did make so much of the rest of the week flow well that I rallied (with their encouragement).

The important features that increased the effectiveness of this micro meet:

· Students were already responsible for organizing their work, and they always kept it with them while in class (no folders ever left the room as there was never homework; nothing ever went to my desk).

· There was an assignment record where each day they were writing down what the assignment was and had it handy when it was time to meet.

· This is one of the most important bits: I always went to them. I took my wheelie chair from my desk and wheeled to the front of their desk where we met in their space, at eye level.

· The student would talk through what they had accomplished throughout the week and would jot down the appropriate credit on the assignment record.

· I never stayed longer than 60-90 seconds and was able to meet with all of them within a class hour.

It’s been a minute since I implemented that in a classroom, and I may tweak some things knowing now what I know about assessment and competency and the like. However, I can assure you that this short, regular, eye-to-eye meeting with each student absolutely shifted the work completion, class engagement, and overall flow of the room.

Students *hated* sitting in front of me and telling me that they didn’t meet expectations. Even if a student didn’t like me or the class, they very consistently did enough work to not have an uncomfortable Friday meeting. Once this was established as a classroom routine, it became routine to just do work when it was time to do work. I was able to connect on an individual basis with each student, each week. Students knew where they were with their grade and overall performance on a regular basis.

As students were more engaged with the work of the class, they were more engaged in the topics and felt confident in sharing/discussing. When it was time for summative assessments, the students were more prepared to create high-quality projects/products. It was a small teaching move with a big upside in my classroom experience.


Student Home Languages

Valentina Gonzalez is a former classroom teacher with over 20 years in education serving also as a district facilitator for English-learners, a professional development specialist for ELs, and as an educational consultant. Her work can be found on Seidlitz Education and on MiddleWeb. You can reach her through her website or on Twitter @ValentinaESL:

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein

If Ludwig is right, then knowing more than one language broadens our horizons. What implications does this have for us as educators and for our students? I propose that one small teaching move that is not common is inviting and using students’ languages in daily instruction. By inviting students’ languages, we can broaden their horizons, ours, and their peers’ while also creating welcoming environments that increase student engagement and learning.

Some teachers of English-learners view ELs from the perspective that “these kids need to learn English.” However, on the other side of the same coin, ELs know another language, and as they acquire English, they are becoming bilingual or multilingual. The architecture of their brains is changing. They have something really special we can use as leverage to help them engage with new concepts and to acquire the new language, too.

Using a student’s first language or other language is a small move any teacher can make with little preparation needed. Important factors that we as educators should understand about using students’ first languages are:

1. Teachers do not need to speak or understand a student’s other language to use it. Don’t be afraid to invite students to use all of the resources they have, including the languages they know. Language is a valuable human capital if we use it. On the other hand, underutilized language loss is a danger that many ELs face.

2. There is little to no planning necessary. Knowing that our students speak other languages is important. Lifting them up and highlighting this amazing and powerful asset is also wise. But little prep is needed to begin incorporating students’ languages in everyday instruction. See below for ideas.

3. Using what students know (in this case their first language) helps them grow. In education, it’s commonly heard that learners need to attach new information to something they already know.

What does this small teaching move look like in my classroom?

Using students’ other languages can become a habit or routine when we are intentional and deliberate about inviting languages other than English into everyday lessons. Here’s how to use languages other than English in everyday instruction:

· Add the languages students speak to word walls in addition to English words.

· Include languages students speak when labeling the classroom.

· Incorporate languages students speak when labeling images.

· Invite students to use their full linguistic repertoires when holding conversations with peers.

· Encourage students to use their full linguistic repertoires when writing.

· Encourage students to read books in all the languages that they are able to read during independent reading.

By incorporating students’ first languages, we speak to their hearts. Kids that feel welcome and validated will often engage and have a higher sense of motivation. Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

But what about monolingual English-speaking students? How does incorporating languages other than English benefit all students? Remember the quote from Ludwig? Let’s not limit anyone. Instead, let’s broaden everyone’s horizons.



Matt Renwick is a P-5 principal for the Mineral Point Unified school district in Wisconsin. Matt’s latest book is Leading Like a C.O.A.C.H. – 5 Strategies for Supporting Teaching and Learning. You can subscribe to his Read by Example newsletter (and explore the archives) at his website:

As a principal, one teaching move I encourage our teachers to incorporate in their instruction is to point out the “why” of the lesson for their students.

This often gets lost during planning because there are so many standards to address and content to cover. Given teachers’ time constraints, it’s not surprising.

And yet, making learning meaningful for students is so important. Few teachers would argue against making instruction relevant to the students’ lives. Identifying the why increases motivation and engagement, which in turn leads to greater academic outcomes.

One time-efficient way to surface the why is for the teacher to ask, “What’s in it for me?” from a student’s perspective. This idea comes from Bryan Goodwin, Tonia Gibson, and Kristin Rouleau in their book Learning That Sticks: A Brain-Based Model for K-12 Instructional Design and Delivery (ASCD, 2020). “What’s in it for me?,” or “WIIFM” for short, puts the teacher in the shoes of the learner. They think about their background knowledge, their interests, and their personal goals. The goal is to locate the connection between the content or skill and what the students already know and/or want to know more about.

Consider the following K-5 reading anchor standard—the what—absent a clear why:

“Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.”

Few students are going to get excited about this expectation. This is where a teacher’s craft is so important. For example, they can guide students to understand this standard through a simple and important question:

“What does it mean to be a ‘good’ reader?”

Knowing elementary students, I also know being a good reader is something they find very important. They would be “all in” on this question.

Here is how I envision this exploration unfolding in a classroom.

· The teacher can post this question on a bulletin board.

· During the school year, the teacher can facilitate conversation among students as to what this means to them, such as after various reading lessons.

· Students can be invited to add their responses to the bulletin board as their understanding deepens about what it means to read independently and proficiently.

· This “map” of their understanding will follow different pathways as they consider the various disciplines, genres, and modes within reading.

· Students can document how they are good readers through reading logs, book reviews, and self-assessing their engagement in peer discussions around what they are reading.

The goal would be not only to become a more independent and proficient reader but also to develop an appreciation for the multiple ways readers can be successful. Students can get stuck on defining themselves as readers only through how fast they read or how well they contribute in book clubs. This unhealthy comparison can be disrupted by making the learning experience more personalized, by considering “What’s in it for me?” from the perspective of each student in the classroom.


Different Types of ‘Wait Time’

Cindy Garcia has been a bilingual educator for 18 years and is currently a districtwide specialist for bilingual/ESL mathematics. She is active on Twitter @CindyGarciaTX and on her blog:

Providing wait time can be very powerful because it allows students time to process the teacher’s question and prepare their response. When a teacher provides wait time after a question is asked, all students are provided thinking time. That means that all students are engaged in the lesson and reflecting on what they have learned.

Sufficient wait time helps students develop a more robust or precise answer. Student answers are important because when they share their answer, all of the other students will be listening to their response. This is an opportunity for students to learn from each other and well thought-out responses are necessary.

Providing wait time also helps build student confidence in themselves because they have time to solidify their response. If you have ever had a student answer a question and then ask “Why?,” and they immediately change their initial answer, it could be a sign that the student is not confident of their initial response. They might not have had the time to double check their calculations, verify the source, look up a definition, etc. Wait time itself has very little preparation needed. It is more important to spend time preparing the questions that will be asked and thinking through possible follow-up questions or ways to help clarify possible student misconceptions.

· One type of wait time is Wait Time 1 and 2. In this type of wait time, there are two opportunities for students to pause and reflect on their thinking. Wait Time 1 takes place after the teacher asks the initial question. All students think about the question and prepare their response. Then, the teacher calls on a student to share their response.

Wait Time 2 takes place after the student shares their response. This second wait time allows the student to think about their response after it has been said aloud. Sometimes, students realize that what they said wasn’t exactly what they were thinking. Sometimes, students hear their thoughts aloud and realize their response is actually incorrect. Pausing after a student answers keeps the rest of the class engaged because it gives them time to compare what was shared to their own answer. Students will be more likely to ask questions or ask follow-up questions more than if the student moved on immediately after the initial student responded.

· Another time of wait time is Narrated Wait Time. In this type of wait time, the teacher extends the amount of time given to students by stating encouraging phrases aloud while students think and process. The teacher says these statements aloud in a low, calm, and soothing voice. It’s not about giving hints to the answer but guiding students to make connections to previous learning so they can retrieve that information to support their answer development.

Some examples of phrases include:

· Think about yesterday’s activity.

· What did we discover during the lab?

· What did your group discuss when you were completing the graphic organizer?

· Prepare your response in a complete sentence that justifies your response.


Thanks to Diana, Valentina, Matt, and Cindy for contributing their thoughts!

The new question of the week is:

What is a “small teaching move” that you think is not as common as it should be? A “Small teaching move” in this context is an action that would require very little prep, can easily be made into a routine or habit, and is likely to result in increased student engagement and learning.

In Part One, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Jessica Fernandez, Alejandra Carmona-Guzmán, and Daman Harris shared their suggestions.

In Part Two, Sydney Chaffee, Wendi Pillars, Cacee Weaver, and Cheryl Abla contributed their responses.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email . And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 11 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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