Critical Thinking Skills Fire Up Teacher Learning

By Learning Forward
April 2014
With increased teacher accountability and decreased funding, effective professional learning is more critical than ever. Teachers and educational leaders need to be fully and continuously supported in their professional growth around the changes they face, such as implementing Common Core, learning to interpret and use student data, and supporting teachers as they adjust to revised teacher evaluation models. The challenge is to design and implement successful professional learning that allows for continuous and sustained growth by giving the learner some measure of control and the opportunity to embrace that growth. Too often, the breakdown of professional learning occurs in the transition between the training room and the classroom. When professional learning follows the structure of sit-and-get, there is little transfer of new learning into practice.

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Heather Donnelly and Jeffrey Linn

Heather Donnelly ( is owner and professional learning coach/consultant at inFOCUS Coaching & Consulting. Jeffrey Linn ( is an associate professor at SUNY College at Brockport.

Making The Shift To Common Core

Common Core content shift

What this is not

What it is and what it means

Instructional shifts

Balancing informational and literary text

Reading nonfiction during content areas; always teacher-directed; adding more nonfiction to your library.

More student opportunity to choose text; differentiation; student-interest centered; teaching students how to match strategic thinking with informational text.

More rigor; higher-level questioning; increased teacher emphasis on metacognition; explicit instruction on organization of text.

Building knowledge of the disciplines

Lecture-based, isolated instruction; telling the facts.

More integration of thinking; purposefully integrating the disciplines; more student processing/inquiry; authentic investigations.

Metacognition; understanding organization of text; asking high-level questions; student application of thinking.

Staircase of complexity

Surface-level reading or more difficult words with low-level understanding; just harder books; limiting students to their Lexile level all the time.

Increase in deeper understanding and thinking; all learners involved in reading at complex levels; the thinking someone has to do in order to comprehend the text.

Scaffolding; more thoughtful questioning; high-level questions; modeling; differentiation; monitor and repair (and monitor combinations of strategies).

Text-based answers

Recall, surface questions.

Student-generated discussion about their thinking around content; how readers authentically use text to explain the change in their thinking.

Modeling; gradual release; higher-level questions to facilitate discussion.

Writing from sources

Copying information from a source; writing conventions; teacher-selected topics and students following an outline to guide their writing.

Knowing process of thinking behind the writing; mentor texts; authentic writing situations; monitoring their writing; research process.

Mentor text (examples); specific resources to push their thinking; model: how am I going to write from a variety of sources?

Academic vocabulary

Isolated word lists, copying definitions from a dictionary.

Words encountered in texts as students read; using strategies to build meaning within context.

Monitor and repair when you read; rereading; cross-curricular connections; strategies that help us learn words.

  What’s Missing is Essential

Course outline

Common Core:

What students will do

Learning focus:

What students will learn

Focus questions

Recommended resources

Read with accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

Read on-level text with purpose and understanding.

Read on-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.

Students will learn how to monitor their comprehension when reading independently by identifying how they know they are confused.

How do you know when you are confused when you’re reading?

What do you do when you realize that you are confused/you have stopped understanding what you have read?

How did using context clues help you decode unfamiliar words?

How did using context clues help you repair your understanding?

Variety of fiction, nonfiction, prose, and poetry.



Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A Framework for Teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

National Research Council. (2000). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Pearson, P.D. & Gallagher, M. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8(3), 317-344.

Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. We help our members plan, implement, and measure high-quality professional learning so they can achieve success with their systems, schools, and students.

The Learning Professional

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