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The Right Tools

A Guide to Selecting, Evaluating, and Implementing Classroom Resources and Practices

In The Right Tools, Towanda Harris lays out a path that teachers and administrators can use to make informed decisions about what resources and practices they need for the students they teach. Rather than telling you what to buy or use, Towanda offers tools and guidance to help you to make that decision.

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Today, educators often find themselves facing a dizzying array of materials and resources, whether they are a box of dusty skills cards handed down from a retiring teacher, a professional book passed on by a colleague, a procedure recommended by a supervisor, a program required by a district, a book reviewed on a blog, a unit downloaded from a website, or a strategy highlighted in a brochure. But how do we know which of these will help the children in our classrooms? How do we find helpful resources without squandering funding or instructional time—not to mention our students’ potential?

In The Right Tools, Towanda Harris lays out a path that teachers and administrators can use to make informed decisions about what resources and practices they need for the students they teach. Rather than telling you what to buy or use, Towanda offers tools and guidance to help you to make that decision as you

  • identify what you and your students need
  • match resources with your goals for your students
  • use the resource with a focus on your students
  • assess how well the resource is working
  • adjust how you are using the resource as necessary
  • utilize one of the most powerful resources available to you as a teacher—your colleagues.

Resources are only a piece of your teaching, alongside knowledge of best practices, and a deep understanding of your students. Yet each of these pieces can have powerful effects. By finding and using resources that are well matched to your students and their academic goals, you can keep working to help students reach their full potential.

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Contents

This book lays out a path for identifying what you are looking for in classroom resources, gives criteria for considering specific resources, offers ideas for how to put the chosen resource(s) to use strategically, and provides suggestions for assessing whether the resource(s) are working. Each of the chapters answers a guiding question.

Chapter 1: What Are My Students’ Strengths and Needs?

Think about the difference between going grocery shopping when you have a list and running into the store without a plan when you’re already hungry. You’re more likely to come home with what you need—and only what you need—when you’ve planned in advance. This chapter introduces tools to help you to identify what you and your students need, so that you make your own “shopping list” of what to look for in the resources you consider.

Tools in this chapter: 

  • The Student Progress Tracker helps you to identify students’ strengths and needs and to monitor their progress across the year. 
  • The Student Progress Descriptors can help you use your observations about students to identify their strengths and needs. 
  • The Student Self-Reflection Checklist and Goal-Setting: Tracking Achievements involve students in their own learning.

Chapter 2: How Good Is It?

Many resources can look impressive at first, but how well do they work for the students in your classroom? The tools in this chapter will help you to consider the skills the resources support, the options they offer you as a teacher, and the alignment of the resources with your goals for your students. Additionally, the chapter discusses what “research-based” really xiv Introduction means and includes questions to consider when examining research-based materials.

Tools in this chapter: 

  • The Resource Inventory Checklist enables us to compare resources in an apples-to-apples format. 
  • Unpacking the Standards helps us to identify the specific skills the standards require students to master.

Chapter 3: How Will I Use It?

Even if a resource comes with detailed instructions, it’s still up to us—the educators who know our students best—to decide how to use it best for our students. This chapter discusses how to keep the focus on our students’ strengths and needs when we try a new resource.

The tool in this chapter: 

  • The Grouping Planner connects the choices you make about instruction to how those choices will benefit your students.

Chapter 4: Is It Working for My Students?

You’ve piloted a new resource. But is it helping your students? This chapter discusses how to use checkpoint assessments and feedback to assess how the resource is working. It also offers guidance for keeping your class on track to meet their goals.

Chapter 5: How Do I Collaborate to Learn Even More?

No matter how well prepared we are for our work, collaboration can help us to support our students even better. This chapter focuses on one of the most powerful resources available to you as a teacher: your colleagues.

The tool in this chapter: 

  • The Meeting Guide provides a structure for drawing on your team’s strengths and identifying actionable outcomes.
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    At the close of each chapter are guiding questions to start conversations with colleagues, instructional coaches, administrators, and other teachers as we consider what to look for in resources and approaches. These guiding questions help bring the focus back to students as we search for the right tools to meet their needs from year to year.

    Samples

    Companion Resources