Author Archives: Bill Ferriter

Three Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a university professor to speak to a group of student teachers on classroom management.  The topic has been on my mind a ton lately, primarily because I know of several colleagues who are struggling with managing behaviors in their classrooms.


So I figured I’d share three tips for managing classrooms that have always worked for me:

Good classroom management starts by carefully structuring your classroom and your activities:  One lesson that I’ve learned the hard way over the course of my career is that conflict and behavior problems are JUST as often a function of mistakes that I make as they are a function of the choices being made by the students in my classroom.

Instead of carefully considering personalities when building my seating chart, I’ve created groups with students who have a history of clashing with one another and conflict happens.  Instead of making multiple copies of a classroom task, I’ve expected kids who are still learning about cooperation to share important resources or lab supplies and conflict happens.  Instead of creating engaging activities to fill unstructured time, I’ve given kids tasks that aren’t all that interesting and conflict happens.

So instead of questioning the choices of your students in moments where your classroom feels like it is out of control or where conflict has occurred between kids, start questioning your own choices.  What could YOU have done to avoid those conflicts to begin with.  Good classroom management requires being proactive, not reactive.

Good classroom management starts by building positive relationships with the kids who frustrate you the most:  Here’s two simple truths:  First, most of the classroom management issues that you deal with are probably related to the actions of a small handful of students.  Second, you probably don’t enjoy those students very much.  In fact, you probably have no patience for them at all — or you probably dread seeing them each day because you know that the chances of drama or conflict are high.

But here’s the thing:  Those are the EXACT kids that you need to build positive relationships with.  Here’s why:  You don’t manage behaviors with rules and consequences.  You manage behaviors with relationships.  If a frustrating kid knows that you love and appreciate them, they are far more likely to cooperate with you when you DO have to correct his behaviors or choices.

What does that mean for you as a teacher?  Find the most frustrating students in your classroom.  Say hello to them when they walk in the room.  Celebrate them when they make it through an entire lesson without conflict.  Give them a small treat or privilege whenever they’ve done something deserving of recognition.  Call on them when you know that they have the right answers to your questions — and celebrate their answers publicly in front of their peers to prove to everyone that you see the value of “those kids” too.

Doing so builds trust  — and trust is the real lever towards changing behaviors in the long run.  Doing so also will reframe your own thinking about frustrating kids.  Instead of remembering every bad thing “that kid” has ever done to disrupt your classroom, you will start to see him/her as something more than their negative behaviors — which will help you to be less reactionary the next time that child misbehaves.

Good classroom management depends on your willingness to assume good intentions of every student — including those who frustrate you:  One of the things that I’ve been wrestling with this year is my own reactions to the frustrating kids on our hallway.  I catch myself jumping to conclusions immediately about the reasons for their every action based on nothing more than assumptions that I’ve made in the moment — and my assumptions are almost always negative.

Those negative assumptions are not only incomplete, they are also almost always inaccurate.  The result:  I catch myself punishing kids without fully understanding the entirety of a situation.

That’s unproductive, y’all.  Your assumptions shouldn’t be guiding your decisions when dealing with frustrating kids because when you are frustrated, your assumptions aren’t all that objective.

To address this weakness in my own practice, I’ve stolen a strategy from Crucial Conversations:  When I see a student behaving in a way that surprises me, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”

Here are some examples:  If I see a student shout at another child, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”  If I see a student with a phone out in a space where they aren’t supposed to have their phones out, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”  If I see two students bickering over something that happened in class, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”

By doing so, I’m reminding myself that no child comes to school WANTING to get in trouble — and that while there may be no excuse for poor choices, there are OFTEN lots of reasonable, rational explanations for those exact same choices.  By getting curious instead of furious about a student’s behavior — an argument made in this fantastic Edutopia article — I’m far more likely to build a healthy relationship with my frustrating students AND to spot reasons for poor choices that can be addressed in a systematic and deliberate way.

Does any of this make sense?  

I guess what I am arguing with all three of these suggestions is that a frustrating child’s behavior in our rooms might just be an even better reflection of our relationship with that child or the choices that we are making as teachers than they are a reflection of who that child is as a person.

Our job is to do more than “manage behaviors.”  Our job is to take professional responsibility for the impact that OUR choices and actions are having on the behavior of the frustrating students in our classrooms.



Related Radical Reads:

Is Your School a “Rules First” or a “Relationships First” Community?

Writing Positive Notes to My Students is the BEST Way to Start My Day.

Second Guessing My Kids of Color


Teaching Critical Thinking? These Mythbusters Activities Will Help.

This year, my professional learning team has decided to invest our time, energy and effort into studying the best ways to develop critical thinking skills in our students.

Not only is critical thinking an essential skill for any developing scientist, it is an essential skill for any responsible citizen in a day and age when everyday people are rigid in their thinking and ready to shout “FAKE NEWS” the minute that they are confronted with viewpoints that run contrary to their core beliefs.

Pascal Swier

One bit that has helped us to establish a clear definition of just what critical thinking looks like in action was this piece that we found on Edutopia’s website.  

In it, author Christina Gil offers six solid strategies for helping students to write better argumentative essays — a traditional form of teaching critical thinking in schools.  Our favorite suggestion:  Encouraging kids to be critical of their OWN ideas.

Gil writes:

It’s pretty easy to be critical of others’ thinking, and anyone who has asked students to critique a sample essay or paragraph written by a fellow student has witnessed that. But if students are to learn to be critical of their own ideas and assumptions, they need to be constantly searching for biases and flawed reasoning.

When they see this as part of the process, not a judgment that they are doing something wrong, they’ll learn to improve their ideas by examining them with a critical lens.

We dug that argument, believing that being a good critical thinker really IS dependent on a willingness to question one’s own core beliefs.  Stated more simply, “thinking critically” isn’t just about spotting the gaps in OTHER PEOPLE’s thinking.  It’s also about spotting the gaps in YOUR OWN thinking.

So we have decided to make what we are calling “gap thinking” a more regular part of our classroom instruction. 

Specifically, we are encouraging students to make predictions or take stands and then explicitly identify bits of information that they would need to know in order to confirm their predictions and/or positions.  Our goal is to help students recognize that gaps in thinking aren’t something to be afraid of.  They are something to be openly acknowledged and then addressed through deliberate attempts to gather more information.

This work is happening informally in darn near every classroom conversation. 

We ask kids to explain their initial thinking to a partner and then to follow that thinking up with the phrase “but I’m not sure because ___________.”  That simple phrase is a constant reminder to students that there ARE gaps in our thinking most of the time — and we can’t speak with complete confidence until we identify and address those gaps.

We are also doing this work formally by asking kids to make predictions and to identify gaps in their own thinking while watching Mythbusters episodes.

We show students the first several minutes of an episode — where Adam and Jamie explain the question that they are trying to answer and develop a theory that they plan to test.  At that point, we stop the video and ask students whether or not they think Adam and Jamie’s test will be successful or not.  Along with their prediction, students have to include gaps in their thinking that make it impossible to have the perfect prediction right out of the gate.

All of the thinking that students do with Mythbusters episodes are written down and turned in to teachers.  That provides us with samples that we can use to evaluate the progress that students are making towards becoming great gap thinkers.

Does this sound interesting to you?  If so, you might really dig seeing the handouts that we are using with our kids. 

Here are several connected to a Mythbusters episode on Archimedes’ Death Ray:

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Gap Thinking Handout – This is the handout that our students complete while watching the Mythbusters episode.  It includes a spot to record both predictions and gaps in thinking.  It also includes sample sentence starters that we hope will help students develop the language of gap thinking.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Gap Thinking Exemplars – This handout includes the scoring criteria that we have developed for each level of gap thinking that we see in student responses.  It also includes several exemplars that we have developed to help teachers, parents and students to better understand what good gap thinking looks like in action.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – High Low Comparison Task – This is an activity that we have developed to help students to practice spotting the characteristics of high quality gap thinking.  It is built on an activity that you can find in Creating a Culture of Feedback — a book that I wrote with my friend and colleague Paul Cancellieri.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Revise Once Revise Again – This is another activity that we have developed to help students practice spotting the characteristics of high quality gap thinking.  It also encourages students to revise their own gap thinking statements.

Our plan going forward is to integrate one Mythbusters gap thinking activity into each of the units in our required curriculum. 

That will give us five opportunities to formally teach and assess gap thinking ability over the course of a school year — which should give us plenty of information about whether or not our strategies are helping our students to become more comfortable with questioning their own thinking.  We also plan to start recording moments where we see students using the phrase “but I’m not sure because _________” organically in classroom conversations as another source of evidence of the impact that our practice is having on our students as learners.

So whaddya’ think of all of this? 

Is this an example of good teaching?  Is it an example of what good collaboration around practice should look like on professional learning teams?  Is it the kind of work that you are doing with your peers?

I’d LOVE to hear your feedback on our plans and on our materials — particularly if you use them in your own work with students.  I think they are going to do a great job structuring the process of critical thinking for my students, but I’m not sure because* they might not be approachable for every learner — or even for most of the learners in my sixth grade classroom.  A mistake that I often make as a teacher is developing materials that are more complicated than they need to be.

(*see what I did there?)


Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Help Students Spot Fake News Stories?

People are Definitely Dumber.

Session Materials:  Annual Conference on Grading and Assessment


Microcast #001: Publish > Polish

Aaron Davis got me thinking this morning with a bit on sustainable blogging.

One of the things that I dig about Aaron’s bit is that he included a microcast — a short, unpolished audio reflection — in his post.  


That simple microcast got me to thinking about sustainable blogging all by itself.

Perhaps people would be more willing to reflect if that reflection could be done through recording instead of writing.  Recording, after all, is almost always less labor intensive for the creator than writing.

It also got me thinking about whether or not one of the barriers to motivating new bloggers is that many established bloggers create and share highly polished content.

Have we gotten to the point where “blogging” no longer means messy reflection in the minds of most people?  Is there now an expectation that blogs have to be filled with content that has been carefully created and “spit-shined?”And if so, does that discourage new bloggers from ever getting started?

So I decided to start my own microcast series here on the Radical. 

Here’s the first post:

Listen to “Publish > Polish.” on Spreaker.

My hope is that by modeling quick, unpolished reflection, I can remind readers that blog entries don’t have to be perfect in order to have value.  

Looking forward to hearing what you think of this idea.


Related Radical Reads:

Three Tips for Novice Bloggers

Lessons Learned from a Decade of Blogging

Audience Doesn’t Matter




The Inherent Evil Hidden in the Highest Test Scores.

Check this out:

MV 1
It’s a graph detailing my results on our state’s end of grade exam for science last year.

I crushed it, right?  Totally crushed it.

I mean seriously:  A 6.08 out of 7 — when average performance in the state is a zero and average performance in my district is just below a two IS pretty darn good, isn’t it?

I should be dancing in the streets.  I should be walking around with a puffed chest and a REALLY big head.  I should be offering the entire free world suggestions on how to be a better science teacher.

According to these scores, I AM “that good.”

But here’s the thing:  I personally think that super high test scores are incredibly dangerous.

Here’s why:

(1). Super high test scores breed complacency in teachers and schools:  While LOTS of kids were “successful” in my classroom last year, I know full well that there are kids that I struggle to serve.  I’m not great at working with students who have learning disabilities or who speak English as a second language.

My goal as an educator should be to improve my practice in those two areas.  But with test scores like mine, it’s easy to be complacent.  “Look at how much better I am than most teachers!” I’m tempted to think.  “How much better can I really be?”


(2). Super high test scores can cause teachers and schools to doubt struggling students:  According to my results, my instructional strategies are “working” for the vast majority of my students.  If I’m not careful, then, I might be tempted to place the blame for struggling on my students — instead of accepting responsibility for helping EVERY child to succeed.  Excuses like, “Clearly, my teaching’s not a problem.  Those kids failed because they ________________” are a heck of a lot easier to throw around when your numbers say that you are amazing.

In How Children Fail, John Holt argues that the best teams and teachers never make these kinds of excuses:  “If the students did not learn,” he writes, “the schools did not blame them, or their families, backgrounds, neighborhoods, attitudes, nervous systems, or whatever.  They did not alibi.  They took full responsibility for the results or non-results of their work.

It’s pretty darn easy to “alibi” when your numbers are amazing.  That’s equal parts sad and scary.


(3). Super high test scores can cause teachers and schools to overlook other meaningful definitions of “successful students”:  What’s really nuts about my test scores is that I don’t believe that they measure anything meaningful to begin with.  Our science exam is a 35 question, knowledge-driven multiple choice exam.  Know your vocabulary?  Memorize a ton of basic facts from the entire year?  Spend three weeks reviewing before the test day?

You are going to ace this thing.

But nothing about the test requires kids to act like practicing scientists.  They don’t have to learn to ask and answer interesting questions.  They don’t need to form a position about controversial topics based on interpreting data or examining evidence.  They don’t have to design an experiment to test a hypothesis or prove a theory.  There’s no critical thinking involved in earning high marks on a test that prioritizes nothing more than remembering stuff.

And that’s what’s so insidious about my “high marks.”  I’ve figured out how to best prepare students for a test that doesn’t prepare them for the world they will enter.  I’m the champion of the irrelevant.  And if I don’t keep those marks in the proper perspective, I’ll forget to examine just how well I’m doing at helping kids to master more meaningful outcomes that we all know matter, but that no one bothers to measure.


Is this making any sense? 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that unless you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses, willing to resist complacency, and ready to recognize that standardized tests rarely measure the outcomes that matter most, earning “high marks” can bring out the worst in teachers and schools.


Related Radical Reads:

If I’m .84 points from Statistical Perfection, Why am I So Darn Angry?

Meaningful Isn’t Always Measurable.

Is Standardized Testing Changing Me for the Worse?






Need a Form for Analyzing CFA Data? Try This One.

One of the differences between teachers working in a traditional school and teachers working in a professional learning community is that teachers in a PLC engage in regular cycles of inquiry, investigating their practice together to identify and amplify instructional strategies that work for kids.

Fab Lentz

That “inquiry around practice” is centered around four basic questions that the teachers on teams answer together:  What do we want kids to know and be able to do?   How will we assess student progress towards mastering the skills we identify as essential?  What will we do for students who haven’t mastered the skills that we identified as essential?  And what will we do for students who are working beyond the skills that we identified as essential.

There’s nothing particularly intimidating about this work.  In fact, many teachers would argue that answering those four key questions has always been a part of what good teachers do.

But in order to have a long term impact on both student mastery and teacher practice, teams have to be deliberate about documenting what they are learning.

Without a long term record of the outcomes of each cycle of collaborative inquiry, lessons learned are simply lost over time.

To be deliberate, my learning team developed and then started using this form when analyzing common formative assessment results last year.  We dug it primarily because it forced us to move beyond simply making observations from the data sets that we were collecting.  It  also required us to define the next steps that we were going to take as a result of the observations that we were making together.

Here’s a sample of what a completed form looks like.

There’s a problem in our form, though.  Can you spot it?

While we are carefully documenting what WE are learning from the data sets that we collect, the form that we developed does nothing to encourage us to identify what individual STUDENTS are learning connected to the concepts that we are trying to teach.

That’s a problem, y’all.  If we are committed to the notion that every student should master the standards that we identified as essential, we MUST track progress by both student and standard.  Having a general idea of the patterns that we are spotting in our data sets can help us as individual teachers to improve our practice, but until we have specific lists detailing which students have mastered the essentials and which students are struggling to master the essentials, it is impossible to move forward in a systematic way.

So we’ve been tinkering with a revised form lately.  Check it out here.  

Did you see the chart we added onto the second page of the form?  It’s an adaptation of a form that we pulled from Common Formative Assessment — a fantastic book written by Chris Jakicic and Kim Bailey.

What we love about the new chart is that it forces us to sort our students into four different categories ranging from “This student hasn’t yet acquired the foundational skills/ideas necessary to master these concepts” to “This student has demonstrated that they are working beyond your grade level expectations and are in need of additional challenge.”

The reason that “sorting” of students is important is because each of those groups of students are in need of different levels of support/intervention.  While it is often easy for teams to name the students who haven’t mastered essential outcomes — most teachers can probably generate those lists before ever even giving an assessment — focused, timely intervention depends on understanding WHY a student hasn’t mastered essential outcomes yet.

Our new form forces us to think about that in advance.

Does this make any sense to you?  More importantly, does YOUR team need a new system for documenting what you are learning from the assessments that you are giving?


Related Radical Reads:

Common Formative Assessment is About Improving INSTRUCTION.

Ten Tips for Writing Common Formative Assessments