Teacher Spotlight – Pierina Ferrero Khoury

Pierina Ferrero Khoury has been an educator for 11 years. She started as a secondary English Teacher and currently supports Kindergarten students as a Special Education Teacher. As a member of Opportunity Education’s Teacher Advisory Group, Pierina provides her expertise and feedback to help our team create tools and resources that teachers want and need to engage students in learning. Last month, Pierina shared some of the ways she incorporates active learning and effective feedback into her routines to engage students of all ages in learning. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Keep activities short. Right now, I offer a variety of activities and keep those activities short. Although the academic blocks at my school are long, we do a lot of different activities to work on the same skill. This helps so students don’t feel like they have been working on the same thing for 30-40 minutes. To keep student engagement high in my secondary English classes, I generally chunked 90-minute periods like this:

  • Opener and independent work (7-10 min): Review and discuss the opener (10 min)
  • Main lesson (40 min): I introduced the lesson, which typically started with students reading. We would do a combination of audio and me reading to students. We did a lot of Question, Prediction, Reflection activities to keep students engaged. 
  • Student reflection (15 min): I would include time for reflection to help students connect to the work we’d been doing. Sometimes they would work independently but most of the time we used the Think-Pair-Share strategy
  • Exit ticket: I would facilitate an exit ticket which most of the time was skills-based and changed per quarter (e.g., punctuation, thesis statements, subject-verb agreement). 

2. Provide options and be flexible. Student choice is super important. It can be hard to give students a choice on their pacing, especially in public schools with specific scope and sequence expectations.  Giving them a choice on how to demonstrate their learning is something that works well in my classes; sometimes it can be verbal, receptively (like pointing), or in writing. I use choice boards for students to complete projects and like to have students choose a certain number per row grouping together easier and more time-consuming tasks.  I’m also flexible with how and where students physically work. Not everyone has to be on the rug for morning meetings, for example. If a student is able to learn and participate better by standing, that’s okay, too. I also create physical spaces that provide more options for students to work comfortably, such as a reading corner, bean bag chairs, and modular desks.

3. Anticipate distractions and plan ahead. My biggest challenge in engaging students at the secondary level was cell phone/electronic misuse. Technology and devices can be an effective way to support active learning, but they can also become a  distraction that’s detrimental to a lesson.  I tried to anticipate these situations and find a balance between high-tech and low-tech activities. At times, using printed copies of materials, rather than electronic versions, helped students engage through annotation, note-taking, or sketching directly on the paper, for example.  

4. Conference with students. Effective feedback is incredibly important and it’s something I’ve had to adjust in making the transition from secondary to elementary. In early elementary, it’s about encouraging students to try the skill and to slow down a bit.  My feedback is continuous and verbal. Sometimes I give students a sticker or draw a smiley face to indicate progress. Visual feedback is especially useful for younger kids still developing their reading skills and in situations where I don’t want or need to use grades.  As a  secondary English teacher, I used to conference with students at each step of the writing process to help them set their goals. I found this to be the most effective way to provide feedback because I could clearly communicate the feedback and the students were more likely to process and use the feedback.

5. Find and use tools that help you teach and better support students. I was intrigued when I first heard about Feedback Forward – it’s why I began participating in Opportunity Education’s teacher advisory group. Feedback Forward is a tool to help teachers track student learning, engagement, and progress developing skills, and provide meaningful feedback to help students grow. This is so important for all teachers, including Special Education teachers!

Keep an eye out for the public launch of Opportunity Education’s Feedback Forward tool in early 2024.

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