Pivotal moments in teaching

Zoom in on specific points to create meaningful learning

By Bradley Ermeling
June 2018
Vol. 38 No. 3
Many teachers have experienced the rewards of collaborative lesson planning: the thrill of observing a breakthrough in student learning, the satisfaction that comes from a shared moment of insight, the renewed energy that comes from a fresh perspective on a specific instructional challenge. We know from previous studies that these benefits are most common when teachers are grouped in job-alike teams, paired with thoughtful colleagues, guided by strong facilitation, provided with stable settings, and engaged in well-structured protocols (Gallimore, Ermeling, Saunders, & Goldenberg, 2009). In practice, however, collaborative planning is not as simple as it appears. Even with the right conditions and support, collaborative planning can be complicated, time-consuming, and difficult to facilitate. One of the biggest challenges with collaborative planning is balancing the level

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Bradley A. Ermeling

Bradley A. Ermeling ( is an education author, research scientist, and international consultant.


Teacher: Let’s talk about this painting for a few minutes. Raise your hand and share with the class ONE thing that you noticed in this painting.

Student: I see a SKULL.

Teacher: Why is there a skull? What might the skull represent? 

Elicit responses and discuss: death, mortality, the frailty of human life. 

Student: I see a SEASHELL thing.

Teacher: What might the seashell symbolize? 

Student: The ocean? Baptism? Travel?

Teacher: Who in the 17th century might be able to travel across the ocean?

Student: Rich people? Explorers? 

Teacher: Who would get the shell from the explorer? Probably the person who financed his voyage. So what does the shell symbolize?

Student: Wealth.

Teacher: Oftentimes shells once housed a sea creature, so what might the empty shell symbolize? 

Elicit comments and discuss: It is a temporary home. We can’t lay claim to the shell any more than a crab could lay claim to it.

Teacher: What else did you notice?

Student: There’s a SWORD.

Teacher: Can anyone tell what kind of sword it is? (It’s a Japanese sword.) What does a sword symbolize?

Student: Violence? Death? Killing?

Teacher: Absolutely! So what is the relationship between the sword and the title of the painting? 

Elicit responses and discuss: The might of arms cannot defeat death.

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