Tuesday’s Teaching and Read Tips: Using Writing to Create Meaning, a Case for Spiral Curriculums, and the Underrated Power of Quick Checks for Understanding

While a short Tuesday list of reading suggestions and quick teaching tips has been apart of my bi-weekly Re-Write Newsletter for some time now, I haven’t included it on the blog until now. It has been such a hit with subscribers that I decided I would start to put it on the blog too, starting now! So without further preamble, here is this Tuesday’s Teaching and Reading Tips!


Discussions of how to best build relationships with students tend to center on teachers reaching out to students and getting to know more about them. While this is undoubtedly important, Doug Lemov of Teach Like a Champion fame argues in this article that what is even more critical is our instruction. Specifically, he suggests that the key to building strong student-teacher relationships is instruction that makes it clear to students that we believe in them, are paying attention to them, and are there to help. While I don’t agree with all of his assertions, overall this is a really interesting new addition to the conversation concerning how we can encourage and accelerate the growth of strong teacher-student relationships.


In this ASCD article Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher discuss what they call a spiral curriculum, which is one that loops back on itself over and over. They contrast this with the classic four papers in four different genres for four quarters approach and make a convincing argument that the spiral curriculum works better because our brains learn best when we encounter material multiple times and have numerous opportunities to build connections. Further, what I love most about this article is that they don’t just talk about these topics abstractly; they also give a treasure trove of exact specifics and materials!


What drew me to this Edutopia article by Robert Ward is that he uses writing to help students make a connection between what they are reading and their own lives. I have written a lot about how essential it is that students find value in the material and writing is the perfect place to create that value because the act of writing nudges students to find connections at a much deeper level than they would normally. Ward’s specific approach is also an interesting one and provides a solid example of how the writing in our classes can go well beyond the five paragraph essay.

This Week’s Teaching Tip

In the article above, Doug Lemov suggests that checking for understanding–which tends to be used by teachers mostly for students who are struggling–might just be the single most important tool for building student relationships with all students. I couldn’t agree more, as I have long found that little one-on-one conversations about the material with students, even when they last mere seconds, signal in a really powerful way that I care about them and their learning. Further, the little teaching moments that come in these quick conversations (what John Hattie calls micro teaching) have been shown to be one of the most effective and efficient teaching tools we have, as they are both targeted and differentiated. This is why I always set a goal to have some sort of micro conference or check for understanding with every student every week!

Book Recommendation:

This week’s recommendation is Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher, and John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Literacy. For those who want to learn more about John Hattie’s work, this is a wonderful gateway, especially because the always wonderful Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey translate his work through the lens of a literary classroom. For those who already know Hattie, it also reads as a best of Fisher and Frey and includes a number of highly practical adaptations of some of their most interesting work!

Connect with Matt

If you would like the Tuesday Teaching and Reading Tips and a weekly post on all things writing instruction to drop simply and easily into your email each Tuesday and Thursday, join my mailing list. You will also get a copy of my free ebook A Game of Inches: Making the most of your feedback to student writing and early access and deals to my upcoming book from Corwin Literacy!

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