Common Confusion: How to Avoid it and Organize for Student Success

Language precision.

This is something that  good educators like yourself require from students because you know it is essential to your students’ success. This is the case in all disciplines. Without precise use of language you know that students may miscommunicate meaning, cause unintended confusion or access inadequate information. Have you seen this happen before? I’ve seen this happen, but not only with students. I have also seen this with well-intended educators.

The first notable time I recognized  the need for using precise language among educators was in a professional learning session with middle and high school teachers. They debated with me at length–conversations and emails spanning a week to be exact–about the meaning of a cognitive process. As math teachers, they argued that evaluate meant to solve a problem and that evaluate held a different meaning for math than for other subjects.  I wrote about it in 2012. You can see my response here.

The second notable time the need for using language precisely was highlighted was during a classroom visit. I noticed the objective read, “Students will analyze their answers and correct their errors,” but after a few minutes of observing students I saw that they were simply redoing the problems that were done incorrectly on a test. There was no process of breaking down the whole into its constituent parts to determine the interconnections and surface their faulty reasoning. Students simply redid their wrong answers.

The third notable time I recognized the need for precise language was during a professional learning session where a school administrator asked, “Doc, what’s the difference between analyze and evaluate?”

It became strikingly apparent that while we may use common terms, we do not hold common understandings and that our imprecision with how we define cognitive processes can interfere with our students’ learning. This sentiment was echoed recently by an educator during a Core Deconstructed workshop. After an activity that focused on gaining common understanding of common terms she reflected saying,

This was good for me because I see how we use these terms all of the time, but we ourselves had difficulty clarifying them. It made me think that if we have difficulty clarifying them, then somehow it’s impacting the way we teach and impacting what our students learn […] and this is particularly important for the population of students I serve. I have to be precise with my language.

Given her statement I ask, when you are collaborating with your peers, providing support to your colleagues or leading your staff particularly when the topic of transformation and new standards are involved, are you sure there is no miscommunication due to language imprecision? If your answer is an emphatic, “Yes! I am sure!” then great. But if you are not absolutely sure, here are three steps you can take to be sure.

  1. Agree to agree on gaining common understanding while maintaining individual creativity
  2. Agree to access The Core Deconstructed® as a tool for fostering common understanding and individual creativity
  3. Agree to collaborate on working through the process together to ensure common understanding and individual creativity

Whether you use this process or another, one thing remains true: the use of imprecise language when organizing for student success will most certainly lead to miscommunicated meaning, unintended confusion and inadequate information.



Transform versus Reform: Splitting Hairs

[Education] 1.0 is when we managed access. 2.0 is when we thought about school improvement and got pretty good at it. 3.0 is when we start to move toward a different, and we hope, transformed paradigm.

These were the words of Valerie Hannon, a director at the Global Education Leaders’ Program on the topic of redesigning education. Her statement caused me to reflect on two previous posts: one on resting on your laurels of high performance using NCLB expectations in a Common Core world and the other on authentic transformation.

Since the turn of the millennium, I have argued that instead of focusing on educational reform we should focus on authentic educational transformation, and particularly now to address the Common Core. Here’s why. At their core reform means,

to make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it

and transform means,

to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

Today I began purging my bookshelf and I noted several papers and books produced by high profile educational institutions with the similar theme of closing the achievement gap. I would argue that if we continue attempting to “close the gap” by simply making changes to an existing system, there is a high likelihood that the gap may never close.

Perhaps it is to time embrace authentic educational transformation, that is, making a thorough changes to the way we do education. Should you as  a leader decide to accept this challenge, allow me to be upfront: it won’t be easy.

Transformation occurs when leaders create a vision for transformation and a system to continually question and challenge beliefs, assumptions, patterns, habits and paradigms with an aim of continually developing and applying management theory, through the lens of the system of profound knowledge. Transformation happens when people managing a system  focus on creating a new future that has never existed before, and based on continual learning and a new mindset, take different actions than they would have taken in the past (Dasko and Sheinberg, 2005, pg. 1).

Last school year I coached a school leadership team through the process of embracing authentic transformation through the lens of a system of profound knowledge (SoPK). As a result, they experienced their highest gains in the history of the school. (Contact me if you would like to know their story.)

Therefore I advocate that if your goal as a leader is to facilitate equity in educational excellence through authentic transformation, you can do two things:

  1. Begin exploring your team’s position as it relates to SoPK by processing your thoughts using the resource below, and
  2. Expand your exploration with a progressive partnership.

Distinguishing between transform versus reform may appear to be an exercise in splitting hairs, but it is clear that reforming (improving) a system that was not designed to be functional in the 21st century may not be the answer. It’s time for Education 3.0. It’s time to transform.



Daszko, M. & Sheinberg, S. (2005). Survival is optional: Only leaders with new knowledge can lead the transformation. Retrieved from

Persepolis, House of Spirits & the Common Core

The Situation

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to her teacher delivering instruction on CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

“The Islamic Revolution affected Marjane as a female in Iran. In the book Persepolis on page 3 panel 4 it shows Marjane at a young age where she was forced to wear a veil. It affected her as a girl because the veil had to be worn by women all ages, whether they wanted or not. Marjane was forced to wear something she did not want to wear at a young age.”

Student A was a ninth grade female English Language Learner whose school population was almost 70% Latino. This student is NOT fictional.

The Task

Her teacher took on the task of deconstructing the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

The Action

Student A’s teacher explains her actions here. Specifically, a few highlights of her actions in her own words were the following:

  1. I modeled my table after a few from Dr. Brown’s book.
  2. I numbered each cell in the matrix with the idea that this would make targeted instruction for small groups easier to illustrate in my lesson plans.
  3. I tracked students’ progress towards mastery of this standard over the course of a unit.

The Result

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to the same standard mentioned above after her teacher deconstructed the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

“The government has control over individuals, but it’s not strong enough to determine your destiny. Many people think that the government controls them but in reality, they make their own decisions without them realizing. For example, in The House of the Spirits,  Pedro Tercero always made his own decision by choosing his way instead of the governments’. In page 154 it says, “And so it was the one day Esteban Treuba, who was resting on the terrace after lunch, heard the boy singing about a bunch of hens who had organized to defeat the fox.” This story, the fox and the hens, represent those people who decided to make their own decisions and go against the government, these people don’t depend on the government at all and it doesn’t influence their decisions or destiny.”

Please note that Student A’s work is unedited for the purpose of emphasizing her improvements.

As the teacher reflected on her actions and student outcomes, she noted that,

  1. I found that this system makes it easier for teachers to see the big picture and build towards the Practitioner/Expert level over the course of a few lessons rather than overwhelm students or unintentionally instill a sense of defeat in them
  2. I can link websites with enrichment or re-teaching exercises, online games, web-based assessments or supplemental texts to each cell in the matrix. This will enhance my ability to more effectively target instruction in my diverse classes.
  3. Students were able to see their need to master one objective before they could master the next objective
  4. I was able to pinpoint exactly where students were struggling in the process of mastering a standard which is essential not only for a data-driven school, but also for students.
  5. Teaching with the deconstructed standard led to great reflective discussions in teacher-student conferences, as students were able to see their progress and reflect on exactly where they were struggling.

Finally, the teacher stated, “The beauty of this system is that each teacher can tailor the results of the process to their own teaching style and the needs of their individual students.”

Have you deconstructed the core? If not, I challenge you-as I did the teacher of Student A-to start now.


7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®

“My goal is to see 1,000,000 empowered educators who know the standards intimately, collaborating across the country to yield the true success for students we all know is possible by 2015. This goal can only be accomplished with you.

Last week I had a mixed group. I facilitated the professional learning of a mixed group of educators that included college professors, K-12 teachers and principals on The Core Deconstructed® (TCD) in Washington, DC. As a proponent of reflective practice, I asked them to share their insights on the process in relation to their return to their respective work sites. Their diverse roles allowed for multiple perspectives on ways to use the TCD. Since this is the place where I share, reflect and inspire and because of my goal stated above, I thought to share 7 ways that you could use the TCD based on theirs and others’ insights.

So here they are: 7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®:

  1. Create pre-unit assessments: a third year teacher admitted that she did not see the value of pre-unit assessments, but later recognized that using the TCD to create them would help her with creating standards-based flexible groups
  2. Modify instruction for diverse populations: a special education and ELL educator indicated that the TCD allowed them to quickly identify how to modify learning objectives for their students while ensuring that they mastered the standard
  3. Advance the learning of students with special needs: a special education professional  shared that she was able to see how to not only expose her students to grade level standards, but help them be successful with the standards as well
  4. Write performance tasks and unit plans: a full-time university professor shared that she planned on making the TCD practice journal be the foundation of her course on secondary literacy instruction and that after deconstructing the standards she would have her learners use them to generate performance tasks and unit plans
  5. Decide on learning station activities regularly: after deconstructing a standard, an elementary educator immediately saw how to use her matrix to create learning stations for her flexible groups
  6. Support classroom planning and instruction: a director of literacy shared that within grade-level teachers could share the responsibility of deconstructing standards and that the process would strengthen their collaboration and instruction
  7. Improve leader and teacher effectiveness: a principal said that she definitely needed to know how to deconstruct the standards so that she would know how best to support her teachers’ growth

The principal concluded her reflection with, “It was truly worth the time.”

One thing I make clear at the start of a professional learning session is that, “deconstructing the standards to extract their essential details and hidden assumptions will take work, but the work is certainly worth it for you as the professional and most importantly your students.”

I asked them and now I ask you: are you up for the work?

Well if you are, use The Core Deconstructed® process then consider sharing your insights here to help others reflect. In the meantime, check out the slideshare below to read a middle school teacher’s insights and success tips with the Common Core after using the TCD process.

Common Core: Seeing the Big Picture

Overall, I found that this system makes it easier for teachers to see the big picture and build towards the Practitioner/Expert level over the course of a few lessons rather than overwhelm students or unintentionally instill a sense of defeat in them if an objective were not met in by the end of a class.

Since my deconstruction matrix  is now a soft copy, over time I can link websites with enrichment or re-teaching exercises, online games, web-based assessments or supplemental texts to each cell in the matrix. This will enhance my ability to more effectively target instruction in my diverse classes.

The beauty of this system is that each teacher can tailor the results of the process to their own teaching style and the needs of their individual students.

These are the words of a middle school ELA/Literacy teacher who engaged in The Core Deconstructed® (TCD) process last school year. She shared deeper insights and tips that you can download and read here. She also shared her reflection below.

Heather's Thank You Email

The Core Deconstructed® Practice Journals became available to all on Friday. The journal is loaded with grade level examples, sample lessons and other resources to help you master teaching the standards. Use the TCD® Practice Journal to analyze standards and determine how to accomplish the following: create pre- and post-unit assessments; write lessons that allow for teaching multiple standards at a time; design tiered lessons for special needs, struggling and advanced learners; pinpoint exactly where students are struggling in the process of mastering a standard and much more.

Now’s the time for you to deconstruct! See the big picture for the entire school year and experience the success that Heather did.

Close Reading Deep Dive: Professional Learning Action Steps

It’s time.

If your teachers haven’t returned yet, I’m sure they’ll return in a few days.  Shortly thereafter, school will begin again. You are in preparation mode.

A recent conversation with a State level leader caused me to reflect on a challenge: how will instructional leaders support teachers as they mediate complex texts?

A few months ago I delivered a series on designing lessons that employ the close reading approach. Now, as teachers return, is a great time to take a deep dive into understanding close reading. Simply talking about it, or giving steps to it, or buying someone’s kit is not enough. If you want to develop professional mastery, analysis of the approach is necessary.

Below are three sample lessons designed for students to use the close reading approach to engage with complex text. They are all linked to the posts from which they originate. Reading each post will provide the background knowledge necessary to understand the logic of the lesson. Review the posts then consider the professional learning action steps that follow.




Professional Learning Action Steps

  1. Read or present What is Close Reading and the posts associated with the lessons above (everyone)
  2. Distribute the  lesson designs by assigning to groups (1 lesson per group)
  3. Read the lesson design process and the lesson itself
  4. Make the connections between the process and the lesson
  5. Facilitate discussion on how the teacher mediates the text in the lesson (here’s support)
  6. Use the lesson as a model to plan your own
  7. Peer review and rotate

Complex texts must be used in instruction and teachers must be mediators of the text, therefore educators must master the close reading approach.

It’s time.

Common Core Strategy Alignment: Professional Learning Action Steps

Two things happened on the way to writing this post.

First, I was conversing with a Chief Academic Officer (CAO) who shared that her principals needed to become better at instructional leadership. She then followed her statement by saying they did not require coaching or professional development, but they needed to be managed more instead. She has been the second CAO to share this sentiment in two years. I am bewildered.

Second, yesterday a colleague engaged in a chat on Twitter where teachers shared that they had yet to see the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I am bewildered and concerned.


Strategy is defined as a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.


A few months ago I stated, “accountability on its face is very simple–you do what you say you will do.”

Strategy and Accountability

Strategic plans designed to manage for accountability should function on three tiers: (1) the district level; (2) the school level and (3) the classroom level. If all three levels are not tightly aligned, then the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement will be spotty, if not illusive.

The strategic objective of improving instructional leadership with the misaligned action step of increasing how much school leaders are managed will scarcely allow for the goal of increasing student achievement.The strategic objective of increasing teacher capacity with the CCSS while teachers are still unfamiliar with the standards will simply land you in a ditch.

Most school districts have strategic plans. The system-wide plan should undoubtedly cascade to the individual level for schools’ staff if teachers and leaders are going to be held accountable for student growth on CCSS assessments.

A Missing Ingredient

A conversation I do not hear on the school level as it relates to accountability is one about strategy. I hope you are aware of you district’s strategy, but even if you are not, here are 7 discussion points for leaders and teachers to employ during instructional support sessions. They are sure to align classroom activities with district strategy.

  1. Determine the purpose of the lesson–not the content, but the purpose.
  2. Determine the level of thinking you want students to engage in. The level of thinking should align with the purpose.
  3. Determine the appropriate instructional process that best aligns with the level of thinking–process not activities.
  4. Determine the appropriate appropriate learning activities that best align with the instructional process.
  5. Determine how you will differentiate to meet the various representation and expression needs of your diverse learners.
  6. Determine the appropriate student work product. This is what’s used to assess the level of learning and thinking that occurred.
  7. Determine how you will differentiate work products to meet the various engagement needs of your diverse learners.

The visual below can support the discussion.

Dr. B's LD Decision Tree

If we simply talk about alignment without ensuring it occurs, then that’s all it is–talk. Talk alone will not lead to increased student achievement. Strategy, alignment and intelligent support will. The Core Deconstructed will also.