A Total Participation Techniques Professional Learning Activity (to grow your practice)

If you’re like most teachers, being observed while teaching comes as a stressful evaluative process that ends with a post-observation meeting with your principal. In most cases, the principal might compliment the things that were done well, and make brief references to what really tanked. The observation may even coincide with the same day that Johnny, the drowsy kid at Table 6, decided to pull an all-nighter with his cousins. The principal kindly ignores the awkward reality that Johnny looked like he was struggling to keep his eyes open, and instead makes a vague nod in favor of increasing student engagement.

So, who really learned anything from that observation? Chances are, the principal learned more than you did about what worked, and what didn’t work, during your observation. Oftentimes, the stuff that really went badly happened while your back was turned, or while you were distracted with helping kids at Table 3. Conversely, the stuff that really went well may have been overlooked by you, due to your laser-focused attention on sticking to your lesson plan, and getting through the lesson observation without any major crises.

Wouldn’t it be nice to turn the tables and actually be the one who is doing the observing? The truth is that in our roles as teacher educators at the university where we teach, we have found that much of our growth came from watching teachers. When we operate as observers, we get a bird’s eye view of what the students are really doing. Observers are able to analyze and critique the effects of the teaching on student learning in a way that teachers often can’t, because they’re busy teaching. This is why we’re such big advocates for the process of peer coaching. It involves teachers observing each other’s lessons with specific goals or targets in mind. Unfortunately, the realities of the school day often make opportunities for peer coaching challenging, at best.

Instead, we’d like to propose an alternative toward growing your practice using two things:

1) Readily available online teaching videos

2) The Total Participation Techniques (TPT) Cognitive Engagement Model, which focuses on examining the students’ levels of cognitive engagement (Himmele & Himmele, 2011)

First, with regard to the videos, The Teaching Channel has numerous videos that are short and can be readily accessed for free. These can be used, not only to examine the topic being intentionally presented, but they can also be used as the backdrop for your analysis of teacher effectiveness.

Second, the TPT Cognitive Engagement Model looks at two critically important aspects to meaningful learning. The first is the level of student participation in class. Is the teacher using a traditional Q & A, or is she/he using more effective approaches to questioning? However, because we know that student engagement doesn’t always equal learning, the model also looks at the degree to which the students are participating in tasks that require higher-order thinking. By analyzing the quality of lessons based on student participation and higher-order thinking, we find that many of the indicators of effective teaching that typically show up on teacher evaluation forms are either accounted for, or they surface in the form of barriers to student cognitive engagement. Looking for these two high-impact indicators gives us much more bang for our buck than if we were simply looking for performance in, for example, pacing, or clarity of presentation.

If you are an educator focused on controlling your own professional learning, or if it’s your turn to lead the PD or PLC this week and you need an interactive idea for steering the conversation toward what really matters in teaching and learning, we offer this short activity that involves a TPT Quadrant Analysis of a teaching video. It is very simple. We’ve selected a video where the teaching is actually quite excellent. A quadrant analysis can help us understand why it is excellent, and can even show us areas where it might have been even better. If you’re ready to see how it works, follow the directions below.

Print the Template:

Download and print the TPT Cognitive Engagement Model template.

Describe the Activities:

While watching this video (or another video of a teaching presentation), pause to describe each segment of what is being taught. Write down your description in the “Description of Activities” section of the template.

Determine the Quadrant:

Analyze the evidence regarding the level of participation by the students. Are all participating, or just a select few? Then, determine the cognitive intensity of the prompt being posed. Is it higher-order thinking or lower-order thinking? Once you have those two indicators, record the corresponding quadrant in the left column. To see how we analyzed the lesson, download this sample (but try to analyze it on your own).

Analyze the Lesson:

Outstanding lessons will require that all students spend time in quadrant four. You just observed an excellent lesson. What was good about it? What could have made it even better? How might the teacher have increased the level of participation and cognitive intensity and higher-order thinking that was required of all students? All students. That’s the key. If a question is good enough to pour your heart and sweat into crafting and asking, then all students should be required to process it and answer it. How might the teacher have provided more access to opportunities for higher-order thinking on the part of ALL of his/her students?

Reflect, Apply & Extend:

Videotape yourself teaching, and conduct a TPT quadrant analysis. What evidence did you gather that all students were participating and cognitively engaged? What could you have done to increase the amount of time that the students spent in Quadrant 4? As you process and reflect on the role of cognitive engagement in your classroom, keep Quadrant 4 in mind. For every big idea, in every lesson, students should spend time in Quadrant 4. Now, give yourself a great big bear hug (a knuckle-bump if you’re not touchy-feely). You just invested in your own professional growth and learning. Your students may forget to thank you, but we want you to know that we appreciate your dedication, and we think you’re pretty awesome because of it!

Tweet it out: A Total Participation Activity to Grow your Practice -

Contact us:

We’d love to hear about how your quadrant analysis went. Post your comments under the "contact us" link, or email us at and, or tweet the highlights and follow us @persidahimmele and @williamhimmele.

This blog is based on our book: Himmele, P. & Himmele, W. (2017). Total Participation Techniques: Making every student an active learner. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

#peercoaching #collaboration #professionaldevelopment #totalparticipationtechniques #professionalgrowth #PD

1,594 views0 comments