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The purpose of this 5-week mini course is to make you a more effective volunteer teacher/tutor, especially if you are volunteering at Spirit of Knowledge Charter School (SOKCS) this semester. We will cover:

  • techniques for helping students understand their material better (proper reinforcement and awareness of better content-specific techniques)
  • disciplining students effectively (including a look at the SOK policies)
  • understanding charter schools (including a discussion around the mission of SOK Charter School and its effect on students)
  • understanding your students (focusing on the urban poor, teen life outside of school, and anecdotes from class)


There will be up to an hour of reading each week. I will list the readings in priority order so you know what is most critical for our meeting time if you can’t read everything.

Class format

Most sessions will be consist of discussions and role plays in both large and small groups. There will be also be a small amount of lecturing and watching video clips to clarify the central themes of the week.

Course Feedback

  • Each week, students will give feedback on the lesson through a private note card listing one "+" (something they liked) and one "delta" (something they would like to see changed).
  • After the second week, there will be an email survey asking about which topics felt most and least relevant, which topics seemed likely to help in the future, which topics were clearly explained and demonstrated, and which topics were confusing or poorly presented.
  • At the end of the course, I will build a more detailed digital survey that each student can anonymously fill out. This will focus on the general trends of the class, which sessions were most helpful, and what things were missing in hindsight. The students will also evaluate me as an instructor and how well I utilized some of the teaching strategies I was presenting to them.

Weekly topics

Week 1: introduction to rapid teacher training


The first group session is designed to introduce the five week RTT program. The session begins with an explanation of where and why rapid teacher training programs are used, including a brief overview of what they look like in other places. The explanation then incorporates the target school and how RTT must be tailored to your specific needs, but generally includes a core of common topics . The discussion concludes by leading into a survey (below) looking for what you have already been exposed to, what areas you feel both unexperienced in and needing to know, and what you would like to learn. These will be used to adapt the rest of the lessons to better address your needs.

Next, you will get a more concrete preview by learning a specific teaching skill through reading, example, and role plays. We will begin this section with a brief overview of Doug Lemov and his book "Teach Like A Champion". Then there will be time to read "Right is right", followed by a short series of videos, and then large and small group role plays. Example questions are listed below.

The role plays are best accomplished in groups of three. One person, the teacher, will pose a question to another person, the student. For example, "how is the signal from an MP3 player converted into sound in a speaker?", or define drag". The student should answer with something close, but not completely correct. For example, "magnets moving" or "a force that slows things down". Instead of rounding up the student's answer by affirming that they are mostly correct and repeating a better answer back to them, the teacher should help the student define what was incomplete or incorrect and hold out for a better definition. The observer should watch the interaction and discuss with the student and teacher after they finish each role play. Participants should swap roles as they try new questions.

The session wraps up with an explanation of the upcoming topics (including room for flexibility with student-identified needs), asks your feedback on the format of the session, and recaps the central themes of the session.

Lesson time breakdown (50 minutes):

  • 5min: what is RTT? Who uses it?
  • 5min: an RTT program tailored around being a tutor at SOKCS. Participant thoughts on what they would like to learn.
  • 5min: explain the context of "Teach Like A Champion" and why we will use it. Introduce "right is right".
  • 10min: quiet reading time for students to read the technique.
  • 10min: watch the video clips from the book. Then practice the technique as a large group, swapping teachers and students throughout.
  • 10min: wrap up. Solidify the purpose of "right is right": expecting students to answer questions 100% correctly is both possible and beneficial for learning. Then give an overview of what to expect over the next few weeks. Solicit feedback on the format of the sessions in order to make adjustments for future weeks.

Survey: (TODO: finish the survey)

Week 2: tutoring skills and knowledge sets

Readings (in priority order):

Week 2 is a mix of teacher-specific skills and teacher-specific knowledge for a given content area. Read over the NYT article for a distinction of the two areas. The majority of this lesson will focus around role plays of "right is right" (from last week) and "stretch it", and the remainder will be left for exploring example techniques and activities on learner.org.

For next time, you will read about modeling core skills and knowledge sets from great teachers in a New York Times article about Doug Lemov, the author of the book we’re reading from, and Deborah Ball, an education researcher looking for the essential facts and content-related skills a teacher should know to be most effective. To model the general teaching skills of the best teachers, we will continue from where we started in week 1 by reading technique #3 from Teach Like A Champion, called “stretch it”.

We will spend a few minutes discussing the value of subject-specific teacher knowledge and look at the resources available on websites such as learner.org in small groups. Then we will come together, play the video clip from the book, and briefly check our understanding of the first two techniques. Most of the session will be spent in teams of three doing role plays for “right is right” and “stretch it”. A few starter examples for each group will be provided.

Lesson time breakdown (50 minutes):

  • 10min: discuss NYT article. Specifically talk about the idea that there is subject-specific knowledge targeted for teachers that can be valuable and compliment the general skills that Doug Lemov has observed in the classrooms he visited.
  • 10min: have the group explain both "right is right" and "stretch it". Once the group agrees on the definition, watch the video from the book. Use the techniques themselves when probing for the definition: make sure the answer is 100% correct, and once it is, probe further for deeper understanding and a sense of purpose of why they are valuable.
  • 10min: small group role play with groups of three to practice techniques. One person at a time will be the teacher to the rest of the group. Students should not be annoying or difficult, but should not give the complete answer on the first try for the role play. Example scenarios (below) are provided.
  • 5min: debrief from the role plays and share what people began to feel comfortable doing to implement the techniques.
  • 10min: pair off and grab a laptop. Search for good techniques and examples on the learner.org website.
  • 5min: share what you found on learner.org with the rest of the group and explain how you could use it.

Group scenarios:

  • What is the molecular makeup of water? Once they say H20, ask them to be specific and say how many of each atom makes up the molecule "water". Stretch it by asking about the bonds between molecules in water and further by asking how they realized the bond type.
  • What is a cloud? Stretch it by explaining how clouds form using the word "condense".
  • What is the high level purpose for government? Stretch it by asking what separates a republic/democratic government from a dictatorship.
  • How does a speaker make sound travel through the air? Stretch it by asking how it would make sound travel in space (or if they say it couldn't, why not?).

Week 3: school's philosophy and behavior policies

Readings (in priority order):

Switching gears from the past two weeks, this section is focused on better understanding the general philosophy and behavior policies the target school you have been working with, SOKCS. We will discuss the mission of the school, talk about the original charter application (all charter schools are based one of these), and look at their behavior policies and consequences. The rest of our time together will be spent practicing the delivery of merits, demerits, praise, and constructive criticism through role plays, and looking at the broader picture of why these systems exist in many urban schools.

In preparation for this meeting, thoroughly read the mission and vision in the handbook. Skim the policy on merits and demerits and the actions/consequences table. Look for things that are surprising or things that seem missing. Skim through the school charter to get a better sense of what the school has promised the state it will do. Look at the table of contents to get a sense of what information is included in a school charter and what you can learn about a school by reading this. Think about how the information in these two documents compares to your direct experiences at the school and bring your thoughts to share in small group discussion.

Lesson time breakdown (50 minutes):

  • 5-15min: has anybody done any teaching this week? If so, what went well and what did you struggle with? Do you want ideas for any specific situation?
  • 10min: discuss as a group the school you envision from the charter and the actual school environment. What lines up? What are the differences? Is the school living up to its charter? Each person takes a turn sharing a few things he or she found interesting about the documents. Collectively, we will cover the mission, vision, and behavior policies of the handbook and charter.
  • 5min: large group role plays. One teacher and one student will act out giving a merit, then another pair will give a demerit. The focus is on being clear, concise, and respectful in words and in tone. Example scenarios (below) are provided.
  • 5min: everybody will pair off and give their buddy merits and demerits. Example scenarios (below) are provided.
  • 10min: discuss as a group why SOKCS and other schools use merits and demerits.
  • remaining time: design a new behavior policy for a school. Justify the decisions you're making. Get specific about implementation. Would there be special training involved for teachers and/or volunteers? How would you track whatever system you design? How would you explain this system to kids?

Group scenarios:

  • Student works hard throughout a lesson and then helps a classmate understand a problem by carefully walking him through. You decide to praise him and give him a merit for "Friendship". What specifically do you say and what is your tone?
  • Student pulls out a comb during class and begins to brush her hair. "Grooming in class" is a demerit. What do you say to the student to clearly say that the comb needs to be put away and that the student earned a demerit? (Do it.) Assume the student doesn't say anything in response but gives you a nasty look. Rudeness is another possible demerit -- how do you react in order to maintain control at the moment but make sure that the rules are clear throughout the year?

Pair scenarios:

  • Student has been struggling with the same math problem for most of the class period. She seeked help multiple times and seems to make progress with each burst of advice. Near the end, she solves it and begins the next problem. You decide to reward her with a merit for "Perseverance". (Do it.) After doing this, the student next to her who was also working similarly hard throughout the lesson protests and asks why she "never gets a merit" from you. How do you respond to this student?
  • Student shows up to class with a shirt that is not approved by the uniform policy. Give the student a demerit and send her to the office to receive a loaner shirt for the day.
  • Student is leaning back on their chair as you lecture on basic physics concepts. Find an appropriate time to give a demerit for poor "posture". (Do it.) Now assume the student protests in the middle of the lesson by saying that many other students were doing the same thing. Handle the situation appropriately.

Week 4: curriculum mapping, state standards, and lesson plans

Readings (in priority order):

Excerpts from the Understanding by Design Professional Development Workbook:

  • Backward design and UBD template: pages 6-14, 62, 133, 137, 213-214
  • Sample templates for short units in workbook: pages 38-45
  • Introduction to curriculum mapping: pages 19-22

Optional reading from Teaching as Leadership (by TFA):

  • Chapter 3: Plan purposefully

Lesson plans are the road maps teachers use to prepare and execute a class. Curriculum maps are higher level representations of the learning occurring over a longer period, such as a semester or four year high school experience. Given the short time available, we will cover the purpose of curriculum maps and lesson plans, their major components, and focus on a specific model commonly used in urban public schools, the workshop model, in the context of required state standards.

Lesson time breakdown (50 minutes):

  • 5min: have you done any teaching in the last week? How did it go? Would you like some advice from the group for any specific situations?
  • 5min: meta-discussion on the goals for this class session. Can the students guess? What did they base their guess from? Once you tell them your actual goals for the hour, does this change how they learn? Discuss how some schools require teachers to write the goals/standards on the board in their classrooms.
  • 10min: bring out their example lesson plans. What were their goals? Does the assessment back-up the goal? Does the assessment accurately capture the value derived from the lesson?
  • 5min: essential questions. Give a number of sample EQ's. Then, look at the example lessons and try to generate useful EQ's that provoke student understanding. When would students be posed these questions directly? How do they guide lesson design?
  • 5min: assessment. Quizzes can be helpful, but what else is out there? Discuss alternative forms of assessment for open projects, specifically focusing on rubrics. How is a rubric helpful for teachers? For students? How does it influence the learning that takes place in the unit? Look at examples of rubrics and critique.
  • 10min: effective planning for a lesson. Once you have clear goals, essential questions, and a general assessment plan, what do you do? What are fun and thought provoking ways to accomplish the goals? Student-driven projects, activities with the entire class, or reflective independent writing? How much direct teaching should be in the lesson? Discuss the importance of creating a timeline for the class, and making a separate one for the students and the teacher, who are often experiencing very different things.
  • 5min: curriculum maps. This is a quick overview so students are familiar with the term and concept behind them. It provides a short segue into the closing story.
  • 5min: story of how a Needham 5th grade teacher mapped the state standards and goals of his class into a set of 101 interdisciplinary activities that students individually or in small groups, at their own pace, throughout the year. This makes it clear that a curriculum map need not be linear or divided as the state suggests.
  • extra time: grab a 2-3 state standards and begin to work backwards to generate a lesson plan as a group.

Tentative week 5: the many roles of a teacher, career paths in education

The final week of RTT is designed to clarify exactly what a teacher can do in their job and what jobs they can do. The main purpose is to give concrete possibilities for students to pursue if they're interested in becoming teachers. These roles include instructor, group leader, motivator, councilor, and many more. This also includes group discussion for the different career ambitions of the group and what steps each person is already taking to open up possibilities for work in the education field. The job possibilities are not limited to teaching -- these include all of the jobs in a school (principal, tech/media support, administrator) or the commercial jobs that serve education (educational software development, children's toy design, many varieties of video game design, (digital) textbook design, etc).

Other content that may find a way to get integrated in


spend time listening to a student explain how they're doing something and thinking about something without interruption. then diagnose how you're going to help them.

along with this, look at time on task -- you may only get to 4 students in a class period if you're giving deep, corrective instruction, unless you can more effectively group students together.

Why we teach

our motivation, philosophy, etc

what is your specific role in this classroom?

Setting the tone

expectations, plans, and the first few days of schools

use your first name or last name?

how do you present the rules of the classroom?

Lesson plans

the point, UBD, focus on goals not tasks, essential questions, prep as classroom management

Classroom management

modeling good behavior, being fair, back to expectations

Building a support network

how to get effective help from experienced teachers, friends, people online, content experts

Career paths

what careers exist in education? what age, public/private, corporate, as part of other careers, teaching portfolio, interview prep, TFA-type programs

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