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Our expert researchers, evaluators, and veteran educators synthesize information gleaned from our research and blend it with best practices gathered from schools and districts around the world to bring you insightful and practical ideas that support changing the odds of success for you and your students. By aligning practice with research, we mix professional wisdom with real world experience to bring you unexpectedly insightful and uncommonly practical ideas that offer ways to build student resiliency, close achievement gaps, implement retention strategies, prioritize improvement initiatives, build staff motivation, and interpret data and understand its impact.

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The power (and limits) of student-led discussions

Hollywood often presents teachers as swashbucklers, swooping in to right wrongs and save the day with powerful speeches delivered to the class. When it comes to actual classroom discussions, however, the truth is a little less dramatic and a lot more complicated, according to the latest research column by McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Max Altman in ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine. When it comes to effective student learning, some of the best discussion happens among students themselves. But leading students to have productive conversations with their peers is quite a bit different than playing the leading role in a fictitious classroom.

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Students can help improve schools . . . if we’ll listen

School leaders often overlook an obvious source of information on how they could serve students better: students. The “student voice” movement seeks to remedy this by showing administrators productive ways to solicit student input on such matters as school climate, graduation rates, and even teacher turnover. And researchers have identified methods that are particularly effective, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Samantha E. Holquist write in the March 2020 edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine.

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Cracking the reading code

In his latest contribution to Educational Leadership magazine, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin calls for an end to the “Reading Wars.” If we’d all just heed the research, he argues, it would become clear that children don’t learn to read by being surrounded by books and encouraged to love them, but by learning to decode symbols and by practicing relentlessly. Crucially, it is time to set aside the notion that decoding and comprehension are somehow in competition, he writes. Rather, they are part and parcel of the same process, one that simply does not come naturally and must be taught by teachers who are, themselves, educated in the science of reading.

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An engaging consultant describes an engaged classroom

For thousands of educators and school leaders around the world, the cheery presence of instructional expert Cheryl Abla ensures that McREL professional learning is engaging as well as rich in content. That’s fitting, since student engagement is one of Cheryl’s professional passions. Cheryl is a former classroom teacher and education program director, and a co-author of the influential Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works. Now she’s co-authored a new white paper about student engagement (with researcher Brittney R. Fraumeni—available now on the McREL website) so we thought we’d ask what she looks for in an engaged classroom.

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Peer coaching can make professional learning stick

The researcher who identified a now-common instructional strategy—wait time—also made a secondary discovery that has had an equally profound influence on teaching and learning. Whether it’s wait time or any other new technique, teachers are liable to set that new practice aside before giving it a fair chance—unless they have a peer supporting them in their experimentation. In the November edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Meagan Taylor explain how this insight led to a particular form of support that can close the “knowing-doing gap” in professional learning: peer coaching.

Multiple studies have found that teachers who learn new teaching strategies and then return to the classroom to implement them on their own retain much less of what they’ve learned than those who also get a peer coach.

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Ed leaders: Do you see professional learning as an expense or an investment? The answer matters. A lot.

As a fitness enthusiast, I often make the distinction between having to work out and getting to work out. Seems like semantics, but it’s really about mindset. Do I work out because I feel I have to, or am I headed to the gym because I enjoy it and see it as part of how I maintain a healthy lifestyle—one that allows me to live my life to the fullest? I’ll be honest, there are mornings when I don’t leap quite so quickly out of bed to go work out. But I know that when I look at my fitness as an investment I’m making in my health and well-being, exercise becomes as integral to my life as eating or breathing, not just a nice-to-have, add-on activity.

As a veteran facilitator of professional learning (PL), I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at helping educators acquire the skills and insights needed to continuously push themselves toward ever greater excellence—to really embrace the workout. I’ve also, sadly, gotten pretty good at predicting when the work I do with a school or district might not have the hoped-for results: When leaders view PL as a sequence of motions to be completed and forgotten about, rather than as a lifestyle change.

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