Making Curriculum Pop

Your students have just done some in-class reading. You don't have time to facilitate a massive class discussion so you ask students to briefly turn to their partner and share their thoughts on today's topic.

In educational parlance, you've just initiated a "pair share." Even if you don't know its official name, you've probably used this strategy because it is an efficient way to make sure ALL your students get a chance to process some material without taking the entire class period to have everyone share.

We all know that we need to process things in order to understand and remember ideas and content.

NOTE: While the there is little "scientific proof" to back up these percentages, no one has done a study to disprove the numbers - they seem to work well as a broad conceptual framework.

Recently, I discovered a way to make pair sharing an even richer experience for teachers and students.

In 2005, when I started working in the NYC public school system as a new teacher mentor, I was trained through the University of California at Santa Cruz's - New Teacher Center Mentor Academy. Their facilitators would come to NYC every other month and school us in their mentoring model.

While I didn't love everything about their program, I think their work is evolving in a much more mindful way than the National Board Certification program. Some folks have called the NBC process a "hoax." I don't have a deep enough knowledge of the NBC materials to agree or disagree but I DO think that the UC Santa Cruz's core professional teaching standards -

• Engaging and Supporting All Students in Learning
• Creating and Maintaining an Effective Environment for Student Learning
• Understanding and Organizing Subject Matter for Student Learning
• Planning Instruction and Designing Learning Experiences for All Students
• Assessing Student Learning
• Developing as a professional educator

- are pretty solid. I also think their Continuum of Teacher Development is one of the most useful and humane tools I've ever encountered for discussing teacher quality. You have to buy the continuum in order to see the whole thing. In the meantime, someone at UCSC has a beta version of the continuum floating around online for you to check out.

Going back to the UCSC standards - the New Teacher Center trainers were very careful to reinforce all the core principals by modeling. How many of you have sat through painful PD's where this is not the case? Last summer Nicole (my wife) was in a class on differentiation for gifted students at a major university where the ENTIRE course was taught via lecture. Great model, eh? This is one of our big educational pet peeves. "We must be the change we want to see," right Gandhi?

During one mentor academy session they introduced us to a completely elegant remix of the pair share concept called "Quadrant Partners." Everyone received a copy of this sheet:

It works like this. You give students about two minutes to find four quadrant partners. Students will scurry around the room so they can write down someone's name in each quadrant. They CAN NOT use the same person twice.

When I have used this with adults and K-12 students, inevitably the first person they choose is the person next to them. After that the class is forced to branch out to new people around the room.

During the course of your classroom discussions or activity, you can pause and say things like, "I'd like you to share your response with your Quadrant 1 partner" or "I'd like you to solve or discuss problem x with your Quadrant 4 partner."

If a student is missing a partner because you have an odd number of students, someone went to the bathroom, or someone is absent they can simply come to the front of the room and be paired with another unpaired student or share with the teacher.

Now, suddenly, your class interactions have a bit of flava. Kids are moving around and you're not stuck doing the lame IRE thing - (Definition from

Initiation/Response/Evaluation (IRE) communication pattern IRE is a teacher-led, three-part sequence that begins with the teacher asking a student a question or introducing a topic for the purpose of finding out whether the student knows an answer. In the IRE pattern, the student answer is evaluated by the teacher, who makes a brief reply such as "Good," or "No, that's not right." Then the interaction ends. This is in contrast to the Initiation/Response/Follow-Up pattern defined below.

You've suddenly created a classroom where there is more of this:

and less of this:

This simple tool makes your classroom kinesthetic and allows ALL students have a chance to actively engage with your topic and their peers.

I don't know if the UCSC New Teacher Center invented this teaching tool, but they do have a ©2005 on the document. As I explained in the playlist, where all these practices are collected, it is hard to actually trace the genesis of these ideas, but I'm sharing them here for educational use only.*

It that that spirit, I remixed this elegant and brilliant tool to give it some POP - MC POP (read like, "Bond, James Bond.")

At the beginning of 2008, after the DNC had already convened to announce the Obama/Biden ticket I was in a history class where they were having a

kind of discussion about the constitution.

At some point during the class, the teacher mentioned the presidential race. The student responses to this topic made it pretty clear that a good chunk of our students in the South Bronx did not know who was running for president!

I realized that quadrant partners could be used to spice up the classroom interactions, and, with the addition of a few images, it could facilitate some "collateral learning" (term discussed below). Here is the PDF I created for that teacher:

At the time it seemed like a male would be placed into the republican VP position, but with Hillary recently bowing out of the race my choice of silhouette caused a lot of additional discussion when it was used at one of the PDs I ran at our school. That, I thought, was a good thing.

Now this teacher could run the Quadrant Partner play with some extra mojo. Instead of saying, "Now discuss topic x with your Quadrant 1 partner," the teacher can say, "Share with your Joe Biden" or "Solve a problem with your John McCain." These phrases sound silly, but it gave the instructor an excuse to revisit some names students would certainly need to be familiar with in the upcoming months.

In a Biology class - the same one where students thought "cloning" was pronounced "clowning" (see this post) - I knew academic vocabulary would be a big challenge for the teacher and his students. For that reason I created the Quadrant Partners Digestive Edition using an extra slimy font:

Not only does this increase students' familiarity with scientific terms, but it allows them to see the images of these body parts multiple times. Thus they become more familiar with names, shapes and locations of the major digestive organs.

For my undergrad "reading across the curriculum" class I created a Literacy Edition of this tool to introduce my students to a broader definition of literacy:

A math teacher could use this tool to reinforce big concepts with students. Instead of using pictures a geometry teacher might showcase a equations for the area, perimeter and volume of different shapes in each quadrant. Quadrant Partners could come in a square edition, circle edition, trig edition, or a parabola edition.

By the same token, an elementary teacher could use quadrant partners for vocabulary by creating Quadrant Partners around animals of Africa, colors, continents, a storybook, or the water cycle.

You can use this tool at any grade level to further scaffold and differentiate your instruction while adding a bit of background knowledge to the mix.

I'm calling my remix of the UCSC something that creates a opportunity for "collateral learning" for the time being, but because that has the military connotation of "collateral damage," I'm not in love with the term. Hidden curriculum sounds too sneaky, additional content sounds too bland and extra credit learning is a grade grubber term. I'm not down with grade grubbers!  Economists might call the additional learning an externality - but that term would have to morph into "external learning" - ugghhh.

If you have a better name for this type of learning PLEASE share your idea below

I attached a simple MS Word version of this doc below for you to remix. Because "I'm a Mac" and some of you are PCs the images and fonts might be default fonts. That is OK because your table, alignments and spacing will be set up and ready to remix. If you use the doc, It would be cool if you came back here and shared your creation as a PDF in the comment section below.

BTW - if you want to know how to add a little design to your docs do check this older blog "First Days and Fun Fonts."

I'm also going to forward this link to the folks at the UCSC New Teacher Center to see if they are the true creators of this teaching tool. If they are I will add their copyright info and the ol' "for educational use only" disclaimer to the doc template below.**

Remember, if you have any remix ideas or comments on this strategy do take a hot minute to share some love in the comment section below!

Happy Remixed Quadrant Partnering!


*/** EDITORIAL NOTE: In September, when this was originally posted, I did reach out to some folks at UCSC's New Teacher Center.  Janet K. Gless, a UCSC person AND MC POP member wrote back right way with the following information: 

Thanks for reaching out and sharing your website/work with me...The Quadrant Partners structure was one my colleagues and I developed more than 15 years ago, building off of the structured cooperative learning protocols -- particularly those used by Bob Garmston and Art Costa in their facilitation of Cognitive Coaching training back in the 80's. Bob has co-authored with Bruce Wellman a great book for those who facilitate adult learning, entitled The Facilitator's Handbook (or Guidebook? - can't recall at the moment). If you work with adult groups in your schools, you might find this to be very useful -- grounded in research and many, many years of successful experience.

I looked up the book - I think it is How to Make Presentations That Teach and Transform by Robert J. Garmston and Bruce M. Wellman and published by ASCD!

So it looks like Janet and the UCSC folks developed this, building on the work of Garmston and Costa.  The UCSC people run engaging PD and it is great to know where some of their foundational ideas come from.  I ordered the book used today (3.9.10), and from there I'll figure out what kind of attribution to put at the bottom of these bad boys.  At any rate, it shows the evolutionary nature of all of our work, eh?  Thank you Janet!  Expect another follow up on this follow up.

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Yeah, not my neck of the brain-o-verse either - that's what I was actually excited about it - big strech for me too!

Excellent idea!  Using this with my students to discuss theme.  Put a photo with the title of the story and students move from partner to partner, discussing the various ideas they have regarding theme of that particular story. 


Lorrie, Great idea - do share if you get a chance, people love to see this stuff in action!  




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