Steve Hargadon’s Interview with Jim Knight

I recently listened to one of Steve Hargadon’s EdTechLive podcasts that featured an interview with Jim Knight, author of High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching and associate research professor at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. You can find Knight’s website here and you can join his “The Big Four Ning” professional learning network here (my own membership is pending). You can also find Jim Knight on Twitter @jimknight99.

The conversation between Hargadon and Jim Knight centered around instructional coaching, high-impact strategies and teacher professionalization methods. But the conversation did not solely revolve around education jargon and get lost in the weeds. Instead, Knight and Hargadon balanced a worm’s eye view with the bird’s eye view, presenting the big picture and then drilling down to minutia within a given topic. Here is the central theme of the interview and of Knight’s latest book:

One reason why many teachers are not striving to be there best is that poorly designed professional learning can actual inhibit growth by de-professionalizing teachers, treating them like workers on an assembly line rather than professionals doing emotionally complicated knowledge work… If we are to get the schools our children deserve, we need to start by treating teachers as professionals.

Knight starts out by making his big pitch; that there is a fundamental irreconcilability with two underriding assumptions in the teaching profession today. There are some that assume that teachers are intrinsically motivated to improve their practice, and others that assume teachers will not be motivated to improve unless there is a carrot and a stick, for motivation and accountability, i.e. value-added measurements tied to teacher evaluations (the stick) and higher pay for higher impact teachers (the carrot). Knight makes no bones about it, he cites Daniel Pink’s hugely influential book Drive in making the case that teachers are generally intrinsically motivated and that extrinsic motives, coercion and punitive accountability measures are actually detrimental to the development of the profession.  He succinctly stakes out his position when he states, “The distinction between power with and power over is really fundamental to establishing a positive learning community.”

Knight is talking both about the learning environment in the classroom between teachers and students and the learning environment among professional peers striving for improved instructional practice. Knight is an expert on professional learning and Hargadon draws parallels between how Knight talks about positive and productive learning environments for professionals and those for young students, parents and children, institutions and the community. Knight picks this point up and runs with it, surmising that often what happens when schools ‘loose’ parents during the IEP process is when they are not equal partners at the table.

What follows is a discussion on the finer points of the differences between different professional learning strategies from peer learning to positive deviance and appreciative inquiry. I was not at all familiar with these approaches before listening to this podcast and so some of this part of the conversation was lost on me. However, that does not mean I will not encounter these methods in the future and I’m glad to be aware of them. A cursory google search of these strategies immediately got me reflecting on the professional development approaches I have experienced and witnessed here in South Korea. Culturally, I would say the education profession, nor many other professions on the peninsula, have embraced any of these power with instead of power over professional learning methods.  In any case, Knight’s conclusion seems to be that there is no silver bullet in terms of professional learning, the key is “freedom within structure” whatever that structure may be.

Jim Knight’s list of 7 principles that educators should use to guide their actions with colleagues:

  1. Equality
  2. Choice
  3. Voice
  4. Dialogue
  5. Reflection
  6. Practice
  7. Reciprocity

The discussion gets into some deep waters at this point, as Knight cites Bob Sutton’s leadership research (side note: I googled Bob Sutton and found a fascinating interview with the aforementioned Daniel Pink, check it out!) and Paulo Ferreira’s concept of ‘mutually humanizing’ learning and collaboration. Again this sparked an immediate reflection on the work and learning culture here in Korea, which has produced unquestionably miraculous results in the six decades since the Korean War, but is a far cry from what I envision to mean ‘mutually humanizing’. I wonder if other cultures do not need a sense of power with instead of power over in order to be successful in a collective effort. Whether it is Confucian tradition, nationalist pride, or filial piety there is definitely a different intrinsic motivator at work in Eastern cultures. I also wonder if this motivation is limited? Will it evolve to look like something more collaborative with lower power distance between authority and subordinates? Will I appreciate the greater autonomy and more collaborative spirit of teaching in the US after my experienc here in Korea? Or, will I be convinced by colleagues that the Common Core, the district central office or my principal is dictating too much of what I teach and how I grow professionally?

There is great Ted-Ed video that was recently released on understanding power structures among individuals and societies. It’s a video that students 4th grade and up could more than likely understand and engage in a discussion that could help set a classroom culture of power with instead of power over.

They move into a discussion of the use of data of professional learning in education. What is notable from this discussion is their agreement that you need to have a “clear picture of current reality” before you can make a high-impact goal. Knight says that the best use of data in the business world is when it is not used punitively, instead as an improvement tool, one of many.

Next comes content planning, which is probably the most practical portion of the discussion, especially for a new teacher like myself. Knight lays out the two most important components of excellent content planning; first, the knowledge, skills and big ideas that the students need understand and acquire. Second, is content mapping, a visual representation of the path the students will take in their learning. The common theme with both those components is that the research says that students learn best when they understand the big picture and can make connections between the individual steps and tasks of the learning along the way and how they fit into the end goal. During my Teach-Now academic studies we were required to make a variety of graphic organizers such as mind maps and infographics. This is definitely a goal of mine for my first year of teaching. I am a believer in learning maps and graphic organizers.

There is more, much more that Knight and Hargadon touch upon, all of it resonates greatly with me. Knight makes the connection between gamification and flow, the idea that if we gamify learning students could potentially enter a state of optimal experience while personalizing their own learning. The discussion then moves to the importance of storytelling in education, which is a favorite theme of mine. Then on to the moment when a little girl, Natalie Gilbert, faltered in her singing of the national anthem at a Portland Trailblazers game, was first heckled by the crowd and then assisted by Maurice Cheeks, the Blazers head coach. What ensues is heart-warming and as Knight says, literally an inspiration to all educators to be a coach like Cheeks. Open questioning as a high impact strategy to get student “authentically engaged” and how to get teachers to shift their practice to leverage it. Authentic learning as doing science, not learning about science. Knight summarizes that teachers really need “caring and control” in order to be effective, a control that comes out of . He then gives one practical tip for teachers to use to make sure they are systematically attending to all their students’ needs; make a list at the end of every week on students she may have overlooked that week and came at the end of the list, then note the positive strengths of those students at the end of the list, and make sure the following week that they are not at the end of the list (witness to the good), i.e. teach yourself to notice what’s going well.

Key takeaways:

  • Weekly list of students, positves of students at the end of the list
  • Two components of content planning: 1) content definition 2) content visual mapping
  • Seven principles of collegial interaction (see above)
  • Power with instead of power over in all learning environments

Booyeong Elementary ESL Open Class

Where: Booyeong Elementary, Yeosu, Jeonnam, SK

When: 2:20pm on Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Who: Melody Peters & Jeong Hang-i

What: 4th Grade ESL, Present Progressive


Last week I participated in my first formal professional development workshop as a Native English Teacher in Korea. From my understanding principle way, and possibly the only way, that administrators and teachers ever observe a teacher’s class is during a formal ‘open class’. There are two types of open classes in my school district, the first comes during the first semester of the school and is primarily an opportunity for parents to come and see their child’s teachers in action. Although, a principal or vice principal may also pop in to observe then as well. The second type of open class comes in the second semester of the school year and it is a formal observation and evaluation by your administrators and colleagues.

Melody Peters, a native of South Africa and a Native English Teacher with six years of experience teaching in multiple school districts at the elementary level, suggested a third type of open class when approached by district officials. She suggested a demonstration class for fellow Native English Teachers and their Korean co-teachers to come observe, discuss and identify strategies and best practices that they could use in their own classroom. Based on her previous experience with professional development in Korea, Peters was eager to create a more positive observation and evaluation experience for herself and other teachers. It was her hope that with an appreciative inquiry method of observing and analyzing the lesson all the teachers in attendance would experience more growth in their teaching practice. I am going to do my best to honor Peters’ vision in my analysis of her lesson here.


My Korean co-teacher, Hana, and I arrived at Booyeong Elementary and found a stack of lesson plans for us to refer to while we watched the lesson. The students filed in, already knowing why there were twenty or so teachers sitting in the back of the room, Melody and her co-teacher, Jeong Hang-i, taught their lesson. I recorded the lesson on my iPad as requested by Peters and took notes in the margins of the lesson plan. The students filed out at the end of the forty minute lesson and all the teachers went downstairs to debrief.

In the lesson debrief we are asked to comment on the following three positive statements; I saw a good method of co-teaching, I learned a new idea, I will put this idea into a lesson plan. These were the terms of our discussion, along with any questions or clarifications anyone had about the lesson planning.

Following the debrief discussion, we were asked to fill out and submit an evaluation of the lesson. The evaluation form was broken into three sections; 1) Planning, 2) Management, 3) Instruction. I was glad to see that “Identifies and plans for individual differences” was in the planning section. Usually there are few management issues in open classes in Korea because the students know that it is important to behave well and participate in these important, twice-a-year classes. Also, most non-homeroom teachers strategically select the class that they will use as their open class, based on the usual behavior of the students. participation and possibly, level of English. Last, “Adjusts lesson when appropriate” was in the Instruction section of the evaluation. Responding to the students needs in real time is a challenge for any teacher and I’m not sure I’ve seen a good example of that here in Korea. Peters and Jeong were given the results of the evaluations and noted the interesting remarks for further reflection.

Lesson Video Annotation:

Minute 1:15: The verbal cue to start English is when the teacher says, “Let’s study English” and the children respond, “We are ready!”, I love this! I use a drum in my after school third grade group to get their attention and signal the start of class, but this is better because it is a procedure which uses the content, i.e. the English language.

Minute 2:56 – You can see the regular use of Total Physical Response and physical cues for the target language right from the start.

Minute 3:30 – The review of past lessons begins and all the physical cues for the key expressions can be observed. You can see how the physical cues used by the students scaffolds the learning, providing an access point for future use of past learning. This is a definite strength of Peters’ ESL classes, chants and physical cues.

Minute 6:20 – Teacher Hang-i leads the class in the Korean recitation of the lesson objective. This is a Korean teaching emphasis in our district currently, emphasizing the big picture of what and why we are learning today.

Minute 7:30 – The unit’s present progressive song begins. Peters and Jeong design all their unit plans around an English song that provides musical practice of the target language of the unit.

Minute 9:25 – Peters has asked the students to tell the class what verbs they heard in the song. The procedure for student responses is to raise their hand and say “I can do it!” just once and then wait to be called on. Another procedure which contains English content. Great stuff!

Minute 12:37 – Peters and Jeong provide the students with a basic first person sentence formula, “I am verb-ing”. They then add a clap and chant routine to provide kinesthetic and musical practice for multiple intelligences. They model this as co-teachers, they provide guided practice for the whole class, then guided partner practice, and finally, independent partner practice. This gradual release is so practiced and so smooth. Watching this makes me realize that I often forget the middle steps of guided practice. I model many activities for my students, but I often skip a step and jump to independent practice. This is a good reflection point for me.

One of the only areas of improvement that I identified for this lesson was at this point. I would have like to see the students practice in pairs in front of the class while also manipulating the “I am verb-ing” visual cue cards on the board. Physically making connections, matching and categorization are high-impact learning strategies that could have been utilized well to consolidate this section of the lesson following the independent speaking practice in pairs. Also, a preview of the addition of prepositional phrase to the end of the present progressive verb formula would have helped students to better understand the listening comprehension activity that comes later in the lesson and becomes the target language later in the unit. For example, “I am fishing in Yeosu.” Although, I imagine Peters and Jeong thought of this and decided against it because this is an introductory lesson for this unit.

Minute 19:30 – Peters and Jeong use the curriculum for some listening comprehension practice. But it is a minimal amount compared to most English classes in Korea, or most subject classes, for that matter, in my experience.  Peters said in the debrief, “If we can do it better than the textbook, then we do it better.” Believe it or not, this is a controversial statement to make in Korea, but one that sparks a very healthy and needed conversation about the use of instructional materials.

Minute 21:11 – Peters and Jeong use the ‘X’, meaning yes or correct, and ‘O’, meaning no or incorrect, paddles to check for understanding of the listening exercise. In a class of 30 or more students, with only 40 minutes to teach, this a very efficient way to gage student learning. You can get a very clear pulse of the general level of understanding and learning from the whole class. However, it can mask individual student learning challenges, it can be tough to tell when and how a student is struggling with a specific piece of the content.
Peters and Jeong respond the pulse of the class based on the ‘X’, ‘O’ responses they get. The particular listening comprehension question at this point in the lesson is touching on the previously learned prepositions of place, ‘in’, ‘on’, and ‘under’. There are a mix of ‘X’ and ‘O’ answers from the students, which makes it clear to the teachers that the students require a bit of review and reinforcement on the prepositions. Peters immediately invokes the physical cue and chant for the prepositions of place from the previous learning and makes the connection with the current comprehension question.

Minute 22:47 – Peters and Jeong take turns using visual cues (images) of present progressive verbs and asking the students the key target language question, “What are you doing?” This is a fantastic display of co-teaching, as they are in rhythm and taking turns. They look very well practiced at complementing and spelling each other throughout the class.

Minute 25:10 – Here they are again modeling the Heads Up 7Up game which is going to ask the students to both produce comprehend the target language. The students are already familiar with this game and its procedures, but they make sure to scaffold it once again for those learners who may need it.

Minute 25:52 – Is such a good randomizer, the students love the visual and audio action. This is an appropriate way to randomly check for understanding with different students leading into a game. While pull sticks, self-assessment stop lights and exit tickets might be more appropriate for many activities in a traditional homeroom in the US, this kind of graphics-based randomizer can get students really excited about an activity and their participation in it, even if they are unsure of the knowledge or skill level.

Minute 33:47 – They end the Heads Up 7Up game after about eight minutes or so. The students were engaged and focused on the game the whole time. A variety of students were required to produce the target language during the game. There were not management issues and the required language of the game matched the lesson objectives. They only played four rounds of the game, it was appropriately paced and provided good practice.

Minute 33:50 – Peters starts the review by previewing the upcoming lessons in the present progressive unit asking “What are we doing?” and having students guess at a slowly revealed picture on the board. The pictures present the students with interesting images of their teachers doing relevant activities. Good preview. And again you see many hands in the air and hear many students saying just once, “I can do it!”

The pacing and planning of this lesson was excellent. They had a good amount of time to review the “I am verb-ing” formula sentence at the end and preview the next lesson, consolidating the learning for the students. Nothing felt rushed and they did at a couple points, deviate from the lesson plan, respond to the students learning needs and reinforce previous learning.

Minute 37:10 – Of course this co-teaching pair have a verbal and physical cue for the end of class, as well. The teacher motions and says “It’s time to….” and the students yell “It’s time to go home!” Great content embedded procedure to finish up.

Debrief Discussion:

  • Peters and Jeong divide and conquer the lesson planning, Jeong takes the textbook activities because she is most familiar with those instructional materials. Peters usually plans the reading activities because that is an instructional strength for her. Together they decide the unit’s key expression chant and physical cue, along with the unit song. Peters explained the importance of the song this way, “The lessons and unit are built around a song because the textbook curriculum changes often.” This is very true in Korea, more so than in America from my experience. My English textbook is changing next year, which will be my third set of textbooks in three school years here in Korea. Peters and Jeong have struck on a very flexible and sustainable planning model, where the procedures, the verbal and physical cues, the musical practice and other structures of a unit or lesson can be easily transferred or incorporated into a new curriculum and textbook.
  • Jeong Hang-i encouraged her Korean counterparts to rely on the Native English Teachers to teach the natural language of English, not the textbook. She said, “I want to teach the natural thing they say in America.”
  • Speaking about how they incorporate review into every lesson, Peters compared the units to a big spiralling circle and said, “We come back and make the circle bigger. We leave no lesson behind.” This paralleled the philosophy of a few reading and math curriculums I have worked with back in the U.S.
  • The debrief was primarily done in English by both the foreign Native English Teachers, of course, but also by the Korean co-teachers, which is a rarity for professional development in Korea, even for English open classes. However, for those who felt more comfortable Korean was certainly allowed and I noticed that Jeong translated every word of the discussion for Peters. Their relationship as co-teachers appears to be very strong, very collaborative and very effective.