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A New Instructional Model Keeps At-Risk Kids Engaged

Dr. Kadhir Rajagopal

Math Teacher/Instructional Coach/Director of CREATE Academy
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Many teachers have been told that they are to teach from bell to bell. These teachers believe the only real way to teach is to lecture in front of the board for 50 minutes.

Big mistake!

In traditional urban schools, it is hard to keep students' attention for even five minutes without them taking out their phone or simply daydreaming while acting like they are paying attention. My teaching experience has been to help those urban high school students with a history of failure rise to success in mathematics and close all achievement gaps. I credit my success to the instructional model known as CREATE, which I believe can be applied by any teacher who takes personal responsibility for students' success in any subject.

Elements of the Create Model

CREATE is an instructional model designed to close the achievement gap in urban classrooms. The acronym represents the six components of the model:

C - Culturally Responsive Instruction
R - Rigorous Expectations and Rewards
E - Essentials-Focused Planning
A - Assessing for Mastery During Class
T - Test Models
E - Extra One-on-One Tutoring for Struggling Students

The CREATE model is strongly against lecturing from "bell to bell." In fact, I am never up in front of the board "teaching" the class for more than 15-20 minutes! Let me explain.

Warm-up (10 Minutes)

A typical class starts with a ten-minute warm-up exercise where students are expected to refresh what they learned the previous day.

Interactive Teach-Back (15 Minutes)

Next comes the golden 15 minutes of teaching which I call "interactive teach-back." This is the only time I am up in front of the board actually "teaching" students. During this phase, I explain a concept through the context of a problem or scenario. Then I have different students immediately re-explain or "teach back" what I taught them by helping me do similar problems.

Making students explain a theory by doing problems or through the context of a scenario is a way of checking their understanding, because students have to apply the theory.

Baby Concept #1 (10 Seconds)

When I teach, I make sure to break the objective for the day into "baby steps" or "baby concepts" and create several problems for each concept. I never "lecture" or talk for long because I fear losing the kids' attention. Instead, I do a ten-second (yes, second!) lecture on baby concept 1 in the context of a problem. Then immediately I put up several problems on baby concept #1 and fire questions at several different students, asking them to "teach" the class to apply what I taught by doing the problems.

During this interactive teach-back, I use a visible scoreboard to reward points to those kids who I call on and to take away points for anyone not paying attention in any way. When I ask questions, I call on all students but I especially call on my most at-risk students who have difficulty focusing or grasping the concept.

Baby Concept #2 (10 seconds)

Once I am convinced that even the most struggling students can "teach back" baby concept #1, I do another ten-second lecture on concept #2 using another problem. Again, I put up a few similar problems and then fire questions at different individual students and have them teach the class how to do those problems. I continue this interactive question and answer dialogue for at most 15 minutes. All students are in the hot seat! Therefore, in 15 minutes, I will make sure that all students have learned the objective by using 8-10 different relevant lecture problems to elicit responses from at least 20 different students.

Exit Price Assignment (20 Minutes)

A major reason why I lecture interactively for only 15-20 minutes in front of the class is because I must allow for students to try the objective on their own. In fact, this -- the "independent exit price" phase -- is the most important time the students do work.

This is an assignment that asks students to show they have mastered the day's objective before they leave the classroom. The exit price is an assignment that the teacher grades in class and uses to assess if students have learned that day's skill. The exit price could be as simple as doing 15 problems on solving equations in math class or writing ten effective thesis statements in English class.

Implementation of the exit price

There are several critical elements of implementing this phase effectively. The exit price must assess student mastery of that day's objective. It must be rigorous but not overwhelming because students will give up. Usually, as a result of my interactive teach-back, most students are prepared to do the exit price successfully. But I need to be sure. Therefore, a crucial aspect of the exit price is tenacious monitoring, grading and accountability. I cannot depend on students to show mastery through homework. It would be futile to monitor learning through homework, since my students may not do the homework, or may have parents to help them. So during the exit price, I literally circulate to every desk, "breathing down the necks" of my most struggling students and pushing them to show mastery in class.

Also, I make the exit price worth 100 points so that it has value to the students. While circulating the classroom, I mentally take note of which students are successful with minimal or no help. If students show mastery, they get "paid" 100 points to their grade and an A for the day. If students are not able to show mastery even after a little help, they get 0 points or an F for the day. Furthermore, I inform students who get an F that they must come during lunchtime or after school to re-do the exit price for full credit. I do not allow kids to escape without showing proof of mastery or making plans for mastery after school.

You are probably wondering, "How do I get students to come during lunch or after school to re-do the exit price?" I tenaciously make sure students come after school by motivating them to come or calling their parent or coach on my phone using "speed dial." Moreover, I get at least 70 percent of my students on a daily basis to show mastery on the exit price in class because most students want to get paid 100 points, and no one wants to hear from their mom or have to stay after school with me.

Since I monitor my students finishing the exit price in class, I am able to finish all my grading during school hours in less than 25 minutes a day. Furthermore, 70 to 80 percent of my students earn A's and B's in the class because they show mastery on the exit price. And since exam problems come from the exit price assignments, they tend to ace their tests as well. Hence, through the CREATE model, those 15 "golden" minutes of teaching and 20 minutes of ensuring student mastery lead to a more efficient and ultimately more effective classroom experience.

Please share your tips for busting the myth of bell-to-bell instruction.

Was this useful? (1)

Dr. Kadhir Rajagopal

Math Teacher/Instructional Coach/Director of CREATE Academy

Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Sherry B's picture
Sherry B
Educator and technology enthusiast from Florida, living in Norway

I would like to know more about the exit price time and how you manage to grade their assignment without the class getting out of control. I worked in an urban school and it seems like your strategy would have been useful in my classroom up until the exit price portion.

What do students do when they're finished? How do you keep the situation from dissolving into a free for all?

In my own experience, working alone was fine so long as everyone was working. But if I was circulating and some people were finishing before others, that's when class was effectively over, and I certainly wouldn't have gotten to grade everyone's papers amidst that chaos.

Just curious how you managed to keep the class on task during that time.

LaTonya's picture
9-12 Math teacher from Lumberton,NC

I found your strategy for your exit slips very interesting. I think the method you are using is a great way of holding the students accountable for learning that concept. I have shared this method with some of my colleagues and we have agreed to implement this strategy in our classes. Thanks for the insight.

Octavia Burnett's picture
Octavia Burnett
Sixth grade language arts teacher in Cleveland, Mississippi

I love your post, and I am proud to say that the strategies really work. I have students who are motivated now and staying awake during my class. What I do not understand is why students are not as concerned about an education in rural areas as they are in the city?

Brandie Whetstone's picture
Brandie Whetstone
Ninth grade Spanish teacher from Garland, TX

Thank you for your post! I teach on a campus where the majority of our students are at-risk, and based on the TAKS test, math is our weakest subject. I believe that implementation of the CREATE model would be beneficial to them. Everyone wants to be engaged while learning, and making learning interactive truly excites students.

I recently started using Blaine Ray's TPRS strategy for teaching Spanish, and the students love it! It eliminates homework, as well!

Tammy's picture

I really enjoyed reading this post. I found it to be insightful and interesting. I have some challenging students in my classroom that I believe could greatly benefit from the CREATE model, however, I am not quite sure how to implement it into the preschool level. I would absolutely love to try something like this with my students. If anyone has any suggestions of how to do so, please let me know. My colleagues, I'm sure, would love to implement it as well.



Curt Brooks's picture

Dr. Rajagopal, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Ironically,we use a very similar practice at my school. Our warm-up is called a Do Now; where we get students engage by asking questions to the previous day's lesson. Typically, we allow 5 to 7 minutes to this activity and then spend another 10 minutes going over the question or questions. Next, we actually introduce the lesson for the day and the objectives that need to be met. And, following this, we teach interactively and including activities for the next 30-40 minutes. Finally, before we transition, I have the students to complete an exit ticket which covers the objectives from the lesson. So, it was nice to see someone using a similar concepts to reach students and increase their involvement.

Robert Hamilton's picture
Robert Hamilton
Diagnostic Teacher from Milwaukee, WI

Thank you for this insightful information. The problem I see with most kids is the lack of motivation. Trying to motivated the students is the hardest part of teaching. I know that it's impossible to teach bell to bell, because you do lose the attention of the students after a while.

I like your idea of CREATE. The exit slips sound like a wonderful idea of knowing which students understood the lesson and which didn't. If students knew that there test or exam would be created from the exit slips, that alone, should make them want to attempt the exit slips. No way to fail then. Thanks for this information.

Ricardo Johnson's picture

Where can I find more info on is create model? I really loved your idea of scaffolding and limiting lecture time.

Heather's picture

I would love to see a lesson plan on paper and one in action for this. I having trouble putting it together in my head.

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Community college teacher, former school leader, Edutopia community facilitator

Hi Heather, I'm not sure about a lesson related to this particular approach, but if you're looking to engage at-risk youth, I'd recommend looking into social-emotional learning: and project-based learning:

Tons of great resources there for approaches that really help at-risk kiddos!

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