Strategies are Only as Good as the Learning they Support

Teachers always tell us how much they love the strategies component of ALM and how using the strategies are an effective way to engage students with the content in their classrooms. Of course, we love hearing this. Engagement is important to learning. If students aren’t engaged, they get bored and they often aren’t learning. However, […]

Written By Jenni Aberli

On March 19, 2024

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Teachers always tell us how much they love the strategies component of ALM and how using the strategies are an effective way to engage students with the content in their classrooms. Of course, we love hearing this. Engagement is important to learning. If students aren’t engaged, they get bored and they often aren’t learning. However, planning for student engagement and learning shouldn’t stop at just choosing any ALM strategy to use. The Adolescent Literacy Model uses multiple approaches to guide teachers in choosing strategies that are effective at helping students interact with content. “The strategies themselves do not produce the impact on learning, but provide opportunities for students to engage with content purposefully. (Foundations of Content Literacy, 2023 Edition)

After teachers participate in the ALM Foundations training, there is often a learning phase where teachers are “figuring out” the strategies and how to use them. Sometimes we see teachers compliantly using specific strategies chosen as part of a school-wide strategy focus, without thinking about how they can impact learning. Other times, during a “before lesson” coaching conversation with teachers, we hear teachers discuss planning to use a particular ALM strategy (or two), but not necessarily why they chose that strategy or how it will enhance student learning of the content. All of this makes sense for the early stages of implementation, but as teachers become more familiar with ALM and the strategies, our goal is to see them thinking strategically about intentionally determining which strategies best fit the needs of their students to enhance the content being taught. 

“What and when are equally important when it comes to instruction that has an impact on learning. Approaches that facilitate students’ surface-level learning do not work equally well for deep learning, and vice versa.  Matching the right approach with the appropriate phase of learning is the critical lesson to be learned.” (Hattie et al., 2017)  When teachers move beyond basic implementation and become more intentional about strategy choice, sometimes even modifying the strategy, we know teachers have a deeper understanding of how ALM can best be used in their classroom.

The following is an example of a teacher doing just that – taking some risks, using ALM strategies, and successfully helping students learn.

Marc is a twelve year veteran high school teacher and has taught freshman Integrated Science for the past five years.  His school is in its second year of ALM and school-wide literacy is a major focus. Marc has successfully used several ALM strategies this year including Anticipation Guide, Frayer Model and Interactive Word Wall. During his weekly PLC, he has heard a few of his colleagues share positive experiences around their use of Academic Dialogue strategies and, as a result he wants to try to move into more Academic Dialogue but is hesitant. He feels his students are easily distracted, and he’ll lose control of the class. He is also concerned that his room set up won’t accommodate student discourse since he only has desks, and he feels that grouping the desks will take up too much class time. Marc’s literacy coach was in the PLC and heard Marc’s desire to try something new and his concerns with doing so, so she suggested he observe a colleague with a similar class and classroom setup.  Marc took her suggestion, and after seeing his colleague implement an Academic Dialogue strategy and move students in and out of activities successfully, he was ready to try it. 

Marc collaborated with his coach to co-plan the lesson. His students were finishing up a unit and he wanted them to spend some time reviewing to prepare for the final exam. During this review, Marc selected twelve essential vocabulary words/concepts to focus on and since Marc had successfully used the Frayer Model during a previous unit (but not with this one) he decided to use this strategy again. The lesson was planned using the Frayer Model, paired with the Gallery Walk strategy, one he learned in a recent professional development.

Before the lesson, Marc prepared the chart papers for the Frayer Model (each group would have one word to work on) and had everything planned out and ready. He started the class explaining the purpose and process of the lesson and emphasized that staying focused and on task was essential to the process. He explained that they (students) would need to re-arrange the room, what it would need to look like, and that he would be using a digital timer to help them move quickly. Marc showed students how to arrange the desks in groups of four, then they were given two minutes to complete the task of moving the furniture. Marc had not thought the timer would work and he was surprised at how fast the students moved into position and without wasting any time.  Once the room was quickly and successfully rearranged, Marc gave students further directions for the Frayer Model work and what they would be doing in class, and students selected one person from their group to come to the front and receive their assigned word to begin their group work using the Frayer Model. 

Marc gave groups 5 minutes to respond to each of the Frayer Model quadrants.  While students were working, Marc moved around the room guiding them to the level of understanding needed, responding to questions, and providing immediate feedback. To hold students accountable, Marc kept track of how groups were working together and gave immediate feedback to students as he walked around the room. For example, when he saw a group working well together, he said,  “I like the way each of you has taken turns writing on the chart. You are asking good questions and  everyone is on task.  Keep up the good work.”  In another group, he noticed a couple of students doing all of the work, so after observing for a moment, he asked, “Have you heard from everyone in the group?  Who hasn’t had the chance to help out?”  

Students worked diligently. The noise in the room was higher than normal, but all students were engaged, learning, and on task, and Marc was very pleased with what he was observing.         

Once the Frayer Models were completed, Marc brought the class back together to model and explain the process for the Gallery Walk. The Frayer Model charts were placed around the room and the student groups rotated around the room to each chart engaging with them and one another through a Gallery Walk where they discussed what was on the Frayer Model, using sticky notes to add additional information or suggestions, as well as any clarifying questions. As students engaged in the Gallery Walk, Marc again rotated among the groups helping push their thinking and offering praise about how they were working together and engaging with the work.  Overall, he was very pleased with the student engagement and student responses. They were of much higher quality than what he had received in the past.

Marc took a risk to try something new. He took two strategies and combined them; one of which he was familiar and the other was new.  He was comfortable with the Frayer Model and used it as his discussion points for the Gallery Walk. His deliberate design met the needs of his students and of the lesson.  He met his goals. Students reviewed the most important vocabulary of the unit and engaged in Academic Dialogue around it. Both leading to better student understanding and learning of the content.  

So if you’re hesitant to try something, take a risk. Reach out to another teacher who is intentionally planning lessons using ALM and finding success and ask for help.  Talk to your school’s instructional coach to ask for help planning the lesson or even co-teaching the lesson.  Sometimes in order to reap great rewards, we have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and take a risk.  Go ahead, try it.  You’ll be glad you did.