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Nine Principles of Learning
Lillie Pang

Lillie Pang, principal
Longfellow Community School, Minneapolis

One of the many hats we wear as principals is that of Instructional Leader, and one of my goals this year is to be in classrooms more often. I know it’s hard to pull away from putting out those little fires in our buildings and get into classrooms, but we must. As the instructional leader of my building it is my duty to: ask the questions that lead teachers to reflect on their practice; help teachers to be purposeful and rigorous in their teaching; and provide resources, training, coaching, and best practices differentiated to help teachers meet the needs of all their students.

Currently I have the opportunity to be a member of a Leadership Team (principal and two teacher leaders) at a school that is implementing the Principles of Learning from the work of Lauren Resnick, professor of psychology, founder of the Institute for Learning, and director of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. As a Leadership Team, we attend monthly staff development opportunities to learn how to implement the Nine Principles of Learning. Our goals this year are principles #2--Accountable Talk and #3--Clear Expectations.

Nine Principles of Learning

  1.   Organizing for effort
  2.   Accountable talk
  3.   Clear expectations
  4.   Fair and credible evaluations
  5.   Socializing intelligence
  6.   Recognition of accomplishment
  7.   Self management of learning
  8.   Academic rigor in a thinking curriculum
  9.   Learning apprenticeship

When we use Accountable Talk students: actively participate in classroom talk; listen attentively; elaborate and build on each other’s ideas; and work to clarify or expand a proposition. Students learn accountable talk by hearing the teacher model such phrases as: Say more about that; I wonder; Help me to understand; I agree; I disagree; I would like to add.

If we maintain the principle of Clear Expectations, expectations are posted at the beginning of each lesson. Students then should be able to clearly tell you the focus of the lesson. Having students articulate learning expectations, tells you they understand what the class is about.

A mathematics lesson in accountable talk
At one of our in-services, the facilitator led our team through a mathematics problem-solving activity, during which she modeled the principle of accountable talk. Each group had to solve the problem, and then have a representative present the group’s work. During the presentations the facilitator asked key questions to coach the “student” in better explaining the process his/her group used to solve the problem. Throughout this dialogue between facilitator and “student”, we as the class learned more about math vocabulary, functions, problem-solving, analyzing, and judging: all higher level thinking skills. The dialogue was rich in mathematical terms, concepts, and applications -- from simple addition to adding fractions and mixed numbers -- that had to be defined and explained. The interaction between facilitator and class kept the group engaged. The learning that was taking place was evident by the explanations and input that came from the student presenting and the students in the class, all via the questioning of the facilitator.

The role of instructional leaders
Which of the following are we doing as instructional leaders?

  •   Are we focused on learning?
  •   Do we build and maintain communities of learning in our building?
  •   Do we often monitor teaching and learning?
  •   Do we acquire and allocate resources to empower parent leaders?
  •   Do we maintain a safe and focused learning environment?

Are you able to break away from your office to go into classrooms daily? Yes, daily. The expectation of the Institute for Learning for true instructional leadership is to be in the classroom on a daily basis. Where else would the instructional leader be?

When you are in classrooms making your observations ask students: What is this lesson about? What are you expected to do/learn? What is the work you are expected to complete?

Then return in ten minutes and ask students: Please show me your work. How do you know if you are working hard enough? How do you know if your work is good enough?

What is rigor?
We hear that teachers are to provide students with a curriculum of rigor. What is rigor? The rigor of a teacher’s lesson is not measured in how much time a teacher stands in front of a class lecturing or by how many projects are completed. It is measured by the discussion that takes place between teacher and student, and between students and their peers. Rigor is what I observed taking place in that mathematics in-service while we tackled the problem-solving lesson. Rigor happens when teachers help students reflect on their work and articulate their learning. The students are providing teachers with immediate feedback on who understood the concepts being taught and who could apply these concepts to their learning.

Rigor is not a canned program, or a genie in a bottle. The Nine Principles of Learning give me tools to be an effective instructional leader. I can identify what curriculum rigor looks and sounds like. It is the result of skilled questioning that a teacher provides as she/he brings students into meaningful discussions about what and how they are learning. And now it’s time to push away from my computer and get into those classrooms!

(Published in the MESPA Advocate, October 2006)