Improving Student Learning: One Teacher at a Time
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2007
STUDENT LEARNING: ONE TEACHER AT A TIME
V. Ritchie, an instructional coach and NBCT in Virginia, describes Pollock’s
book as one that helps teachers examine their practice by aiming at student
achievement. Pollock explains a “Big Four” basis of clear, purposeful
curriculum, planning and delivery, assessment and feedback. “Each of the
subsequent chapters ‘unpacks’ one of the Big Four tenets,” says Ritchie.
Book Reviews, Classroom Practice, Professional Development, Teaching Quality
Pollock, J.E. (2007). Improving student
learning: One teacher at a time. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Jane E. Pollock
Improving Student Learning: One Teacher at a Time
of Publication: 2007
By Jane E. Pollock
2007 (143 pp./softcover)
$23.95 (member price $18.95)
by Gail V. Ritchie, NBCT
K-6 Instructional Coach
Fairfax County, Virginia
I volunteered to do this book review because I anticipated that
it would help me in my new role of K-6 Instructional Coach.
Knowing that coaches focus on improving student learning through
their work with teams of teachers as well as their work with
individual teachers, the sub-title "one teacher at a time"
captured my interest. As it turned out, the book did not provide
strategies for coaching individual teachers, but it did offer
a framework for helping teachers examine their practice with
an eye toward becoming student-centered.
The book represents a paradigm shift away from a focus on improving
instructional techniques to a focus on what teachers can do
to improve student achievement. This can be done, Pollock
argues, by adopting a framework she calls the "Big Four."
The Big Four are a synthesis of theories, strategies
and practices of the past and consist of:
Clearly articulated curriculum, benchmarks, and learning
Purposeful instructional planning and delivery
Purposeful and varied assessment, tied to learning targets
Record-keeping and reporting that allow for timely and
meaningful feedback that is based on specific criteria
The book is very practical and provides numerous examples to illustrate
the points made. The first chapter provides an overview of
the framework, and each of the subsequent four chapters "unpacks"
one of the Big Four tenets. Best of all, each chapter
is followed by a segment called "Teacher Voice," in which
practicing teachers describe how they have begun to transform
the teaching and learning in their classrooms as they implement
the Big Four.
Chapter 2, "Learning Targets," provides examples of curriculum
documents, along with suggestions for how to organize curriculum
development. The chapter begins with a discussion of Bloom's
taxonomy and important considerations when drafting standards,
benchmarks and learning objectives: specificity, distinction
between content benchmarks and "lifelong learning" benchmarks,
distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge,
and alignment with state assessments. Pollock argues that
"teachers need access to curriculum documents that are manageable"
and recommends the use of technology for sharing curriculum
information and for teachers to format the information in
a way that will be most useful in their classroom context.
The "Teacher Voice" segment highlights how valuable
it is for a teacher to be able to show what her students know,
"because I measure it. I teach to the standards through benchmarks
and specific content."
Chapter 3, "Instructional Planning and Delivery," introduces
the Teaching Schema for Master Learners, which is a synthesis
of instructional steps previously advocated by Herbart, Gagne,
Rosenshine, and Hunter with the strategies from Classroom
Instruction That Works (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock,
2001). The steps of this new instructional schema are:
Set the learning goal/benchmarks or objectives.
Access prior knowledge.
Acquire new information-declarative or procedural.
Apply thinking skills or real-world situation.
Generalize or summarize back to the objective/benchmark.
Assign homework, if necessary. (p. 64)
Additionally, Pollock advocates that, throughout the process, the teacher
provide consistent and timely feedback connected to the learning
goal(s). In the "Teacher Voice" following this chapter,
a 4th grade teacher explains how he plans, using the Teaching
Schema for Master Learners.
Chapter 4, "Varied Classroom Assessments," addresses assessment
as the process of gathering data to make judgments regarding
student performance in relation to the learning goal(s). Pollock
describes three categories of assessment: testing for recall,
testing for thinking, and observation and self-assessment.
Pollock argues that if teachers expect to test for thinking,
they must first teach thinking. The accompanying "Teacher
Voice" provides a very helpful comparison between activities
and learning experiences that truly promote student thinking.
Chapter 5 addresses the final tenet of the Big Four, which
is the importance of keeping accurate records in order to
provide ongoing, timely, and meaningful feedback to students.
Pollock reminds us that it's not enough for plans to relate
to benchmarks and objectives. Teachers must also "deliberately
monitor student work and give feedback to students by benchmark
criteria." The chapter includes several different models
for using technology to keep records and a very helpful Q&A
section related to revising record-keeping practices. The
main point is to organize "data in a way that will make it
easy to detect patterns of performance." The final "Teacher
Voice" is the story of a middle school science teacher
who focused on giving specific, timely feedback and saw a
corresponding rise in her students' performance on district-level
The book concludes with a short afterword that encourages teachers
to examine and improve their pedagogical practices through
the use of the Big Four. I think the book will be
useful for helping teachers assess and improve the teaching
and learning in their classrooms. I also think the book
could be a very helpful resource for preservice teachers
in their methods coursework.