How to Engage Underperforming Students

By focusing tightly on instructional strategies and PD, educators at Cochrane Collegiate Academy saved their school from closure. In just three years, they have doubled student performance, and they continue to reach higher. Read the article.

By focusing tightly on instructional strategies and PD, educators at Cochrane Collegiate Academy saved their school from closure. In just three years, they have doubled student performance, and they continue to reach higher. Read the article.

Release Date: 11/30/11

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How to Engage Underperforming Students (Transcript)

Shana Oliver: For about eight or nine years, we were considered a failing school and we knew that we had to restructure in order to keep our school open.

My name is Shana Oliver and I'm the academic facilitator here at Cochrane Collegiate Academy.

Joshua Bishop: The big part of what we do here is the professional development piece.

You know, the way we do professional development and training is very specific on enhancing their skill set.

Shana Oliver: -- the key learning and the unit essential question. The concepts are going to change because we're going to look at so many different components of professional development as we go.

My job here is to provide our teachers with professional development strategies that they can learn in here, through modeling, through experience, and take those out to our students to help our students to be successful in the classroom.

We have to have them say and do from beginning to end. And that's why we call it interactive learning. It's just not interactive when it's time to work on the independent practice.

The non negotiables are, I guess, like the rules that govern our classroom practices. Every day, every teacher in every classroom must adhere to the non negotiables. These are the things that we learn that we have to do in order for our students to be successful. The essential question is the big question that the students have to be able to answer at the end of the lesson. That's the first of our main non negotiables. That's how we know whether our students got it or didn’t get it.

Angela Johnson: It says, how do character motivations and character traits work together to help readers better understand a character?

Why does a character behave in a particular way? Why does a character say the things that they say?

Shana Oliver: An activating strategy is the thing that gets the students motivated about the lesson. What are you going to do, as the teacher in the classroom, to whet their appetite to want to learn whatever you're teaching them?

Angela Johnson: All right, so this is what we're gonna do. We're going to look at some characters that you may be familiar with, or you may not be familiar with, and gonna look at some of their attributes.

So for my classroom, you may see a movie clip, or you may see a clip of the 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air.' I want them to interact and see things that are relevant to them.

Gimme some basic characteristics of Urkel.

Shana Oliver: One of our non negotiables is limited lecture. Research says that students can only maintain their attention span for their age plus two or three minutes. So when that time has elapsed, teachers must stop at that point and have students do something.

Angela Johnson: I know my attention span is pretty short, so I definitely know my students' attention span is short. So I probably talk for maybe three or four minutes, and then I let them have a conversation.

I'll tell your group the character type and then you guys have to draw your representation and your scenario. Any questions? Everybody understand what they're doing? Okay, I'm gonna allow you to choose your own groups, groups of three. Let's move.

Shana Oliver: One of our most important non negotiables is the use of graphic organizers.

Rosalyn Alston: I want us to go and walk through the graphic organizer that you're gonna make. It's gonna be in the form of a Frayer diagram.

Shana Oliver: We know that it's important for our students to be able to conceptualize whatever information we're giving them, and that doesn't happen with pages and pages and lines of notes and copying.

Rosalyn Alston: In the middle, you're gonna put FOIL.

That graphic organizing frees them up from taking notes, allows them to plug and play and still be involved with the lesson.

Shana Oliver: When I do the professional development sessions with teachers, I set it up exactly the way that it should look in a classroom.

It should look similar to this in your classroom, whether you're working it down or across. So for our classroom in here, this is going to stay the same, the key learning and the unit essential question.

Rosalyn Alston: The modeling that is done in our profession development interactive learning has the teacher have to flip in their mind from teacher to student, which is a very interesting mindset--

Angela Johnson: Learning focus and those non negotiables has been phenomenal for our school, because it allows the students to collaborate and the teachers to not only involve the students, but to engage them. I think that was the piece that was missing before.

Joshua Bishop: In the 2006, 2007 school year, we were listed as one of the 30 worst performing schools in the state of North Carolina. We have more than doubled what our percent on grade level is since that point in time. This is the success. This is what's making a difference in our students' lives.


Video Credits


  • Zachary Fink


  • Mariko Nobori


  • Daniel Jarvis

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely


  • Hervé Cohen
  • Zachary Fink

Production Assistant

  • Brett William Hunter

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Executive Producer

  • David Markus

© 2011 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All Rights Reserved

Comments (7)

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I love people that love

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I love people that love people. Good job.

Will try the same

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Inspiring story
Will try the same with my students and would like to share the results with you all.

Principal at Cochrane Collegiate Academy a Charlotte Mecklenburg School

Parental Involvement

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Ken ~

Let me start by saying that I don't have any hard data to justify my response but I would say that we have seen parental involvement increase slightly over the last few years. It remains a high priority for our school because without parental support, a culture of learning can only go so far. While I would really like to see more parents coming to conferences, I would state that the vast majority are very supportive when we reach out and call them. I believe that they see and can sense the changes that have happened here and are more apt to support the school in these changes.

Great Job!

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I can see in the video that there are a lot of teachers who care about raising student achievement. I'm very happy to see that this staff wasn't all about test scores in the video. The focus on strategies is inspiring.
HAving said that, and having looked at your school's data, I'd like to know if there was any change in parent involvement over the course of the three years. I've noticed at my school (in SC) that there is a drastic increase in the number of parents who show up for conferences, who have rational conversations with teachers when they call home about student behavior and performance, etc. At my school, I don't think that teachers and administration should be able to take all of the credit when we see a rise in student achievement at the end of the year.
I know that we must give credit where credit is due. If we see an increase in student achievement, we must thank parents, students, teachers, administration, and everyone else involved in the lives of our students.
Again, you did an amazing amount of work which shows that you care as teachers. That is truly inspiring. Keep up the good work and keep inspiring the rest of us.

Excellent video

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I enjoyed seeing how the school rapidly improved their instruction through their non-negotiable interactive and engaging strategies. 90 hours of PD is pretty intense when there are not even enough minutes for our planning, teaching, and assessing of all our students.... Still, schools need to do what is needed for their students to be challenged and successful.

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