Who is doing the work: students or teacher?

If you have ever had the opportunity to watch Ella Bess Marshall teach children or lead a coaching meeting with an adult, you know about 2 minutes in that you are in the presence of greatness (aka: a truly talented teacher). Ella Bess began teaching in 2006 and since that time has taught upper elementary and middle school math and coached 4th-8th grade math. In 2010, she was on the founding team at Henderson Collegiate and is there currently serving as an instructional coach and grade level chair coach. If you happen to find yourself in Henderson, North Carolina, go check her out. You will leave a better educator. The following pictures demonstrate my true adoration for this educator.

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In 2010, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop with her entitled: The “Heavy Lifting” Should Belong to the Students. While working alongside her to create the session, I realized THIS was the key to her excellence. Because she consistently puts the heavy lifting, or work, on students, she consistently achieves some of the highest results in North Carolina year after year.

Here are the key takeaways that you can begin to implement in your classroom today!

Key Takeaway #1: Frontloading Makes All the Difference

Acknowledge both the challenge and importance of the material on a daily basis. It’s all about the sell. When frontloading the challenge, do so without apology.

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Key Takeaway #2: Plan to Remove the Training Wheels

When looking at the lesson’s daily exit ticket or the unit assessment items, walk through the following questions (see below) in order to plan the process of leading students to answer difficult questions on their own.

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In order to answer the final question about reteaching, you may need to give students some diagnostic questions in order to know where students are and ensure that you’re not too far behind or ahead of their current knowledge. Also, consider offering extension activities for kids that master the material more quickly and incentivizing those extension activities.

Key Takeaway #3: The Right Answer is Just the Beginning

Don’t just accept a student’s initial response to a question and move on. Instead have the student expand their response so they reach a deeper level of understanding.

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As we continue to better our craft as educators, we must constantly reflect and ask: Who is doing the thinking and the work—us or our students? At every opportunity, are we truly teaching our students in such a way that they are able to think critically when we are no longer nearby? To put the heavy lifting on students, we need to frontload the challenge, remove the training wheels, and push a student to think beyond their initial answer.


meghan thompsonMeghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.

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