Tilting Your Teaching: 7 Simple Shifts that Can Substantially Improve Student Learning

I’m sharing this blog post on roughly Day 366 of the Covid-19 epidemic in Alabama, measuring from the day the CDC first recommended “no gatherings of 50 or more people in the U.S.”

It’s not the kind of anniversary we were looking forward to one year ago, when many of us imagined (or at least hoped) it would be over in a few months at most. While things are looking up as the vaccine spreads, this ongoing pandemic has disrupted the way we work and live and required major changes in the way we “do school” to keep ourselves and the children safe.

Indeed, for teachers and students, the change felt like nothing short of an earthquake. With little or no notice, teachers and students shifted to online learning. The meaning of the word Zoom went from simply going real fast to online learning with a screen full of squares.

Learning to teach, meet, and even experience PD “virtually” became a necessity for most educators. Teachers adapted their lesson plans and the way they taught, as students tried to access and integrate into the new learning environment. When the new school year began in August, it was more of the same as educators buckled down with the realization that they must become truly adept at digital instruction and teaching on the fly.

Tilting teaching and learning

We’re all tired, and we all long for the day when Covid is completely behind us. Meanwhile – in what little time we have to spare – we need to be thinking about how to maximize our teaching and make sure students gain the skills and understanding they need to become good citizens and happy, productive people.

This might help. When I read a short article by Australian educator Glen Pearsall about a new book he’s written, titled Tilting Your Teaching and published by McREL, I ordered it immediately. Pearsall and his co-author Natasha Harris subtitled the book in a way that really captivated me: 7 Simple Shifts that Can Substantially Improve Student Learning.

“Simple” sounded good.

Pearsall, a former teacher and now a master teaching coach well known in Australia for what McREL describes as his “wildly popular” Toon Teach animated series on classroom management, believes the use of “keystone habits” can dramatically improve student learning. He calls upon the work of Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit, 2014) who suggests teachers concentrate on “identifying a few key priorities and fashion them into powerful levers.”

Pearsall’s 7 Simple Shifts

Developed from extensive research and decades of teaching experience, the Simple Shifts do not require you to totally change your teaching but to “tilt” it. Participants in our PCN and KLN professional learning experiences will recognize some or all of these best practices. Pearsall’s contribution in Tilting Your Teaching is to bring them together as connected strategies:

Low-Key Interventions that “nudge” a student back from off-task behavior.

Pivoting and Reframing to successfully bring a student back from conflict and off-task behavior.

Instructional Clarity to ensure students clearly understand the task at hand.

Wait Time, or what our colleague Jackie Walsh calls “Think Time 1,” the pause of 3-5 seconds after asking a question.

Pause and Elaboration Time, which Jackie calls “Think Time 2,” the pause after a student responds to allow for elaboration and for the rest of the class—and teacher—to process what they’ve heard.

Snapshot Feedback that provides real-time feedback to students while they are learning.

Reflection time for students to process the learning task at hand and to consider the success criteria.

As I read the book, it became clear that many of these “shifts” can work well in a variety of teaching settings: virtual, hybrid, blended and face-to-face learning. This book is a great tool for new and novice teachers – and a good refresher for more experienced ones!

Micro-Data Tools and Other Resources

Throughout the book, Pearsall provides “Micro-Data Tools.” As an example, he offers the Verbal vs. Nonverbal Interventions Tally, part of Shift #1, Low-Key Interventions. And there’s the Opportunities to Respond Tally to help teachers track their adoption of OTR as it becomes habitual:

He suggests that a “golden rule” to address off-task behavior is to find the “lowest level of intervention that works” (p. 5). Many of these Micro-Data Tools can be downloaded here.

The book offers an abundance of ideas and suggestions, and can be read either in its entirety or you can pick and choose the chapters that most resonate. Pearsall includes the latest research from Hattie, Marzano, and others and does so in an easy-to-consume style.

So, whether you are teaching remotely or face-to-face – or some of both – this book might help remind you of powerful yet easy ways to improve your students’ learning.

A final thought: Reading and watching what Australian Glen Pearsall has to share reminds me that all the expansion of teaching strategies we’re now experiencing in our Alabama classrooms, schools, and districts are happening in states across our nation and across the globe. It’s difficult to comprehend what these unprecedented worldwide developments in education could mean for the future. We shall see!

Here’s the article/interview with Pearsall that led me to his book.

Here’s the PDF of Pearsall’s Micro-Tools.

Here’s a short video of educators responding to a PD session by Glen.

Here’s a teacher-made video sharing Glen’s “line debate” instructional strategy, adapted for remote learning.