Category Archives: Teachers

Feeding back: constant, comprehensive & positive feedback

Feeding back: constant, comprehensive & positive feedback

Student Success Podcast No. 7, Nov. 6, 2013

Today’s Guest: none

Bromley discusses the essential process of feedback. Feedback is simple human interaction. And these interactions so define the teacher-student relationship.  Students will benefit from understanding their role in this relationship. And teachers, too, need to maintain positive, effective interactions with students.

Feedback, being communicating teacher expectations and assessments, is a critical part of teaching and learning, and the more constant, comprehensive, and positive it is the better students will responds. By positive we don’t mean only good news: but bad news needs to be delivered in a constructive, positive manner that engages student improvement rather than cutting it down.

Bromley reviews strategies and ideas for teacher feedback and how students and parents can engage this process.

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Topics Discussed

  • Feedback = human interactions
    • Feedback is constant
    • Every time teachers and students see each other there is feedback
    • Students and teachers need to engage in positive relationships
    • working on saying hello in the morning
  • Goal setting as driving force for positive interactions
    • information flow important for focus on goals
    • Positive feedback drives goal-setting
        • Positive feedback not necessarily about positive things
        • student choices based on good information
        • student choices rational not emotional
    • Raising student awareness
    • Setting expectations
    • Assessments as feedback
    • Effective feedback is constant and positive
    • Assignment reporting
    • Learning Process: learning is not grades!
      • grades measure something, but not necessarily learning

Additional Resources and Links

  • Learning Process Flowchart
    • Where do grades come from?
    • Learning = teacher expectations + student internalization of new knowledge
    • Grades = a measurement of something
      • the best grading measures learning
      • grading does not always measure learning (such as putting your name on the paper, etc.)


Host: Michael L. Bromley
Original Music by Christopher Bromley (copyright 2011, 2013)
Background snoring: by Stella
Best Dogs Ever: by Puck & Stella

Puck the hunting dog!
Puck the hunting dog!

 Here for Puck & Stella slideshow

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Due consideration, and not just a syllabus



Benefits derived from a contract are called “consideration.”

The Common Law holds that contracts that don’t deliver some benefit, or consideration, to both parties are invalid. Let’s say that you sign a contract for lawn service, but you have no lawn. The courts would not hold you to that contract because you couldn’t possibly benefit from a lawn service living, say, in an apartment.

I’ll let the lawyers argue this one out, but for our purposes, let’s look upon the student and teacher relationship as a contract. Teacher contracts to deliver learning to the student, and the student contracts to be taught. Easy enough, except the usual teacher-student contract has lots of clauses and stipulations. If we think of a syllabus as that contract, then here are some of the usual elements to it:

Students shall…

  • purchase a book and materials such as a pen, notebook, or folder
  • arrive to class on time
  • not disrupt class
  • be graded as designated by the teacher and based upon completing assigned tasks
  • turn in assignments on time or be penalized
  • adhere to writing guidelines
  • track grades as posted by the teacher
  • not cheat
  • follow fire and emergency procedures
  • not use cell phone in class
  • etc., etc.

Teacher shall

  • grade students
  • hold certain office hours

Uh, yeah, that’s about your typical syllabus.

My own syllabus generally included all those student things, but I always added the following stipulations on the me, the teacher:

  • Your teacher promises you compassion, enthusiasm, understanding, learning, and love.
  • Maintain a comfortable classroom and learning environment
  • Set clear expectations
  • Bring the highest-level preparation and knowledge to students

Teachers often throw in fluff like that, although I was deadly serious about mine, especially the promise to maintain a friendly and comfortable learning environment and to be prepared as the teacher. And, as with just about every syllabus, mine were never looked at again after first handed out. And, as with contracts, the only time anyone ever really pulls out a syllabus is when there’s a problem. But even then, the syllabus offers no solutions.*

Thinking about a syllabus as a contract makes me reconsider my own. If I were to redo it today, I’d turn the document into a much simpler, much more “considerate” document that holds me responsible as much as it holds the students. I’d add things like, The teacher will:

  • return emails within 24 hours
  • submit grades within 2 days of receiving student on time work
  • never say anything sarcastic or purposefully insulting
  • post assignments online daily

There’s a lot more to go in there, but you see my point: students don’t get much consideration in the typical classroom contract. It’s time we treat them as we expect them to treat us.

– Michael

* Note how college syllabi are far more useful than those for high school; the reason is that the college course is more easily planned, so due dates are able to be scheduled in advance — and kept more easily than in high school.


The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Prior Knowlege (PK), relevancy & teacher expectations

grades_F_MH900399544“Why’s that teacher do that?”

Ever had a teacher that makes no sense? Ever not understood why the grade was what it was? Ever wanted to just given up on it? As a teacher, every day I wrote up my lesson plans starting with two reminders:

1)  Never Assume Prior Knowledge (PK)!
2) Learning = Relevancy!

The first was a reminder to myself that students may not know all the words coming out of my mouth. I was always reminded of the importance of using words kids know whenever we’d have another non-teacher, adult speak to the class. They always used words and references that the kids hadn’t a clue about. The second reminder was to scold myself into always trying to make whatever we did in class meaningful and relevant to the kids. I did nothing in class without first explaining to the kids why were were doing it. If a student sees no purpose in what is going on in class, it will be very difficult for the student to find success.

Only the most motivated, grade-oriented children can get away with it. Most kids just turn off the teacher like a bad TV channel when it no longer seems important or they don’t know what the teacher is saying. For teachers, these are difficult to attain and maintain on a daily basis. For students, the only way to get a good grade is to keep up with the teacher. It’s impossible to do, though, if none of it makes any sense. It’s like that great Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson in which he compares what the owner says to the dog with what the dog hears: Owner says: “Okay, Ginger, I’ve had it! You say out of the garbage. Understand, Ginger?…” Dog hears: “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah GINGER…”


“PK!” for Prior Knowledge was a constant slogan in my classroom. Learning is the act of taking New Knowledge and turning it into Prior Knowledge. (Then students get graded on that learning, which is where grades are supposed to come from; please our The Learning Process page for more on how grades don’t always measure learning.) If a student hears a word or concept from a teacher that has no place in the student’s mind, whatever the teacher is doing and everything else that follows it  will be lost. If the math teacher is speaking Chinese, and the student has no PK in Chinese, there will be no learning. Simple, right?

Well, we don’t need to exaggerate for the daily examples of how a lack of PK can leave a student lost in what the teacher is trying to teach. Advancing across every subject there is some idea, word, or concept that is necessary to know in order to understand the next thing. Additionally, those words and concepts must be understood in context, or in the situation in which they are being used by the teacher. You can understand every word in chapter five of a novel and still have no idea what’s going on there if you haven’t read chapters 1-4.  In my history classes, I stressed maps, because knowing where some place is is fundamental to learning more about it. While most kids hated doing my maps, those who could not recognize places on maps were always those who had trouble developing other, relevant information about a place. In other words, geographic PK is fundamental for learning history. Without it, the rest becomes “blah blah blah.”


The reason why generally kids do better in subjects they like is that they already know more about that subject, i.e., they bring more PK to it. We all know that “know it all kid” who has a an answer to every question and whose hand is constantly in the air. These kids are excited and eager to share what they know because they already know it and it’s easy for them, and they can grasp what the teacher is saying. When you already know it, it’s more relevant. Obviously a student who speaks Chinese will find more relevancy in our math class that’s being taught in Chinese than the other students who don’t speak Chinese. But same thing for every kid in every other class: if you know it, it’s more meaningful.

The very best teachers will always build on student PK and relevancy in order to bring them to new learning. I loathe teaching strategies that are designed to teach through student’s perspective. Makes me want to scream when I hear that teachers need to “speak their language” or appeal to the experiences. I find it condescending and demeaning to kids, and, besides, if we are going to teach them through their own world view, should they be teaching us? Instead, we need to bring kids into the relevancy of our topics by developing PK and NK through genuine learning. One of my proudest moments as a teacher was a near screaming match amongst my 9th grade history class arguing over Pre-Pottery Neolithic Natufian society. That they found relevancy in the PPN period mean that they had not only built PK on the topic, they found it meaningful and, thus, relevant.

Teacher Expectations

At a minimum, students cannot learn and cannot be accurately measured, aka graded, on their learning if they are unaware of teacher expectations. The greater the relevancy the more the students will identify and follow teacher expectations. Regardless, a teacher who can develop student engagement but does not clarify expectations will show lower results than from a teacher who is clear in expectations. All the content relevancy in the world is useless if grading expectations and due dates are unclear. The best teachers have who is explicit and consistent expectations, especially on due dates, assessment guidelines, and general instructions.

I always enjoyed giving open ended assignments, because it drives the kids who are good at following instructions nuts, while empowering those who are less particular about instructions. The kids who were totally disengaged, of course, didn’t know where to begin. But the kids who wanted instructions felt constrained and would often plead, “What am I supposed to do?” Whereas the other kids loved it: “What, I can do what I want on this?” Yeah. But to get the good grade on everything else, you’d better follow instructions.

So here’s the crux: some teachers are better at developing PK, relevancy, and setting expectations in students than others. Some kids find some teachers better than others, and some kids are better at some subjects than others. When we ask kids about their “best” and “worst” classes and “favorite” and “least favorite” teachers, usually the teachers align with the classes they enjoy, so the “best” class is also the “favorite” teacher, or the “worst” class is the “least favorite” teacher. We do hear about a “worst” class with a “favorite” teacher, but we rarely hear about a “best” class with a “least favorite” teacher. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, we can’t fool all the kids all the time, just some of them some of the time.

Now, the student responsibilities

When students come to us for help, we often hear all about the problems with the teacher or the subject. Usually they’re right. Kids make great critics. But if a teacher is deficient (“I hate her”), if a subject is irrelevant (it’s “stupid”), it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it’s the teacher grading the student, not the other way around. If, as I’d like it to be, students hired, fired, and set teacher pay, then students could have lots of say on the whats and hows of teaching. But that’s not going to happen.

So we work with our students on engaging their classes with what they have. You’re in the class. Done. What’s your goal? Well, if it’s to get a bad grade, you don’t need any help. But if you want a better grade, then let’s talk some strategies on how to take advantage of what your teacher is offering, primarily those expectations for good grades. If you end up liking the class, great, but that’s not the point. The point is to make it meaningful for what it is, and to get out of it what you need: better grades. Once you clarify your teacher expectations, engage the learning the teacher wants from you, seek help where you need it, and make it important enough to do the work, your grade will go up. It’s up to you.

We give our kids the tools they need to succeed even in classes they don’t like. We help them track their assignments, we offer on-demand tutoring, we review essays, and we arrange for study sessions. Even with all that, it’s up to the student. But when they do figure this out, it’s magic, and grades go up.  Well, not magic, but it’s so great to see!

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Sitting in on the “Straight Talk” blog

blog_MC900434671aRick Hess kindly invited me back

to step in during his vacation last week to rant and rave about education on his national blog at Education Week.Two years ago I got in trouble with some of Rick’s readers for suggesting that some teachers are overpaid. A shocking idea that, it seems, but my point was that there can be no real basis for teacher pay without the input of their clients, students and families. As a parent, I have no say whatsoever on what my children’s teachers get paid, and I know there are a few of them I’d rather not give money to, just as there are more than a few I’d like to reward even more. Please see my notes on this in “What about the students?” post here.

My point this year is more of the same: that students are clients and not inmates, that schools should support teachers to support students in more meaningful ways, and that teachers should treat students as paying customers who have choice and not as automatons who are just supposed to do everything. Here’s what I came up with:

Bad Dogs or Bad Owners?

PD Stands for Perverse Incentives

Feeding Motivation

Well, I had a blast thinking it over. These ideas are from my experiences as a businessman, a teacher and now as independent adviser and advocate for students and families. Rick has no agenda but the truth, “Straight Talk,” as he calls it, and I appreciate the opportunity from him to add my ideas to the national dialogue.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

What about the students?

Bromley and students
Bromley and students

A Furor but in whose interest?

A blog of mine provoked a bit of a furor two summers ago when I sat in as guest-blogger Rick Hess’ “Straight Up” blog on Education Week: Teacher Pay (Aug 3, 2011)

Huffington Post ran with this title:  Michael Bromley, Washington, D.C. Teacher: Teachers Are Overpaid and on the two or three re-postings of my blog, its readers added a few thousand comments, so angry, so offended — and many unthoughtful, although many quite funny. The overall theme was that I couldn’t possibly be a school teacher if I believed that teachers are overpaid. Have fun on it, if you will, but my point was not about the pay itself (on average teacher pay is right in the middle of Americans’ income, $56,000 a year).  My point was that teacher pay is unrelated to any meaningful measurement of teacher performance. Union and school district negotiations set teacher salaries, not teacher performance, and certainly students and families.

I’m not saying that student achievement should set teacher pay. My idea is that students themselves should set teacher pay. The difference is significant: critics of student performance-based pay are correct that measurements of student performance are often arbitrary and poor indicators of actual teacher performance. or, worse, student performance tests drive rather than measure learning (see this 2011 Freakonimics post on merit pay and a more recent debate on it in Michigan).

My problem with teacher pay is that it is removed from the actual consumers of education, children and their families. Certainly many jobs out there are not set by consumers of the products they deliver, especially in public service where client inputs are absent. That said, any time client input can indicate provider pay, there will be higher performance — and higher pay, especially as the non-performers are weeded out. The only input education consumers have on teacher pay comes indirectly and is always filtered through administrators, union contracts, local politics, and PTAs. While private schools are more responsive to their clients, even they do not directly link teacher performance to client input. Good teachers are generally rewarded, not specifically, the reverse with problem teachers. My objection is not to high teacher pay, it’s to paying all teachers on the same scale regardless of performance. My solution is twofold: 1) allow the real customers of education to have input on teacher pay; and 2) pay the good ones a lot.

The subject has bounced back into the news recently, first with North Carolina’s decision to halt Master’s degree salary hikes for teachers, another, also from the Wall Street Journal, on the $4 Million Teacher in Korea. What they found in North Carolina is that to reward teacher performance with higher salaries based upon advanced degrees does not necessarily lead to better classroom performance. What’s going on in Korea is that some good teachers are able to command huge salaries as advanced tutors, as that education market demands the extra learning these excellent teachers can provide. The subject is generally mute, however, and continues to function merely as a negotiation tool whenever teacher pay comes up for renewal in local systems. Try it, Google, or, as I do, Bing it, and you’ll be inundated with cries of unfairness by the teachers.

But what about the students?

All this discussion gets lost in “student performance,” but nobody cares about what the students themselves want and need. At The A+ Club, we remind the kids that they have no say in teacher pay: no matter how bad that teacher, no matter how unfair that grade, no matter how boring that class, you the student will never, ever change how much or if that teacher gets paid. You can’t fire him. You can’t reduce her pay. Instead, we redirect students to consider what they can control, namely their own tactics on how to approach a problematic class or teacher. Even if those teachers are truly unfair or flawed, it just is, we tell the kids. Instead of assigning blame to the teacher, see what you, the student, can do about it.

The kids are right, though. Teacher employment is disconnected from student input, especially that most significant indicator of teacher success, teacher pay. My blog post on Teacher Pay got into some ideas on how to introduce market conditions into teacher pay. It’s whimsical and unrealistic, but I hoped to make the point that teachers and schools need to view students as a client base and not as a captured audience.

Students are consumers of education, and they deserve to be treated as clients who can exercise choice. Until that day, however, we gotta work with what we got. More importantly, thought academic outcomes belong to students, not teachers, so it really is up to the kids. Let’s talk more about that instead about what the teachers need.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?

Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!
I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.