Content-Focused Coaching for Continuous Improvement in Literacy and Mathematics

Content-Focused Coaching has been shown to improve instruction and increase student achievement, according to Content-Focused Coaching for Continuous Improvement in Literacy and Mathematics, a research report authored by Institute for Learning fellows and released by the University of Pittsburgh.  A unique form of coaching, CFC differs from traditional coaching in a number of ways, as the report details. Along with a description of the key features and outcomes of CFC, the report discusses virtual CFC, the IFL’s collaboration with the state of Tennessee to scale up the model across a state, and the kind of support for CFC implementation the IFL provides schools and districts.

Bickel, D. D., Bernstein-Danis, T., & Matsumura, L. C. (2015, February). Clear goals, clear results: Content-focused routines support learning for everyone – including coaches. JSD, 36(1), 34-39.

Clear Goals, Clear Results: Content-Focused Routines Support Learning For Everyone—Including Coaches by Bickel, Bernstein-Danis and Matsumura, describes how cognitive routines such as the Learning Lab and cognitive tools such as the Evidence-based Reasoning Tool support a community of teachers and coaches to improve pedagogical practice without resorting to ‘hard’ feedback, i.e., feedback that may be threatening to teachers. By engaging administrators in defining clear outcomes, by putting their own teaching before others for analysis, and by co-constructing evidence of student learning expected, coaches using the Content-Focused Coaching model (CFC) build a culture of dialogue where teachers can contribute to one another’s learning and expand their ability to raise student achievement.

Used with permission of Learning Forward, All rights reserved. JSD, February, 2015.


Accountable Talk® Sourcebook: For Classroom Conversation That Works

The Accountable Talk® Sourcebook is an extensive introduction to the purposes of and classroom practices that promote Accountable Talk discussions at all grade levels. Accountable Talk is the academically productive talk which research has shown to result in robust academic achievements for students of all economic, social and linguistic backgrounds.


McCarthy, K. A., Bickel, D. D., & Artz, N. (2010). Using a practice-based hiring process supports coaches to support teachers. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, Learning Research and Development Center.

The IFL’s Performance-based literacy coach recruitment and hiring kit provides administrators with tools and a step-by-step process for recruiting and hiring coaches. The kit assists administrators by providing models and templates that support administrators to organize and work through the process from writing and posting the job description to evaluating candidates who complete interview process. Included are samples of various tasks in which to engage applicants both before and during the interview, criteria to consider in evaluating applicants and candidates, and the rationale behind our ideas so that district-specific modifications can be incorporated.


This book introduces teachers to the Disciplinary Literacy instructional framework developed by the Institute for Learning, University of Pittsburgh. Grounded in the Principles of Learning developed by acclaimed educator Lauren Resnick, the framework is designed to prepare students, grades 6 and up, to master the rigorous academic content learning required for college success. Unlike ‘generic’ teaching models, the framework is specifically tailored for each of the content disciplines. Highly practical, the book shows teachers how to integrate literacy development and thinking practices into their routine content instruction, with separate chapters devoted to math, science, history, and English/language arts. The book also shows how school instructional leaders can support teachers in learning and using this instructional approach.

Kaser, J.S. (2006). Mathematics and science specialty high schools serving a diverse student body: What’s different? Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, Learning Research and Development Center.

What do science and mathematics specialty high schools do to recruit, enroll, and support a broad-based student body? What special programs do they offer? What are the distinguishing characteristics of their curricula that are designed for diverse student abilities and interests? To answer these questions, the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) at the University of Pittsburgh, commissioned a study of a limited number of such schools as part of the SCALE Project (System-Wide Change for All Learners and Educators). Its purpose was to gather information to help comprehensive high schools strengthen their mathematics and science curricula, especially high schools serving students who lack access to specialty science and mathematics schools.


Resnick, L. B., & Zurawsky, C. (2005). Getting back on course: Standards-based reform and accountability. American Educator, 29(1), 8-46. (Reprinted with permission)

Standards-based reform and accountability has brought new attention to teaching our least successful students. But we can’t realize its full benefits or minimize the negative trade-offs without fixing several big problems: inadequate standards; lack of curriculum, instructional programs, and related professional development; poor, narrow tests that are hijacking the reforms; and an accountability formula that identifies not only failing schools, but improving ones too.


Resnick, L. B., & Glennan, J. T. (2002). Leadership for learning: A theory of action for urban school districts. In A. M. Hightower, M. S. Knapp, J. A. Marsh, & M. W. McLaughlin (Eds.), School districts and instructional renewal (pp. 160-172). New York: Teachers College Press.

The issue today is not whether it is possible for urban students to learn well, but rather how good teaching and, therefore, learning can become the norm rather than the exception in urban education settings. This will require substantial redesign of urban school districts along with more powerful external support systems to help districts in the process of redesign and leadership development. This article presents an emerging theory to guide urban school district efforts in enabling their diverse students to learn the kinds of high-level knowledge and skills called for in today’s education policy environment. Both the district design principles and the theory of change we have outlined are guides to action, which districts may try to realize on their own or which can be tested and refined through collaboration between districts and external agents such as the Institute for Learning.

Resnick, L. B. (1999, June 16). Making America smarter. Education Week, pp. 38-40.

Americans mostly assume that aptitude largely determines what people can learn in school, although they allow that hard work can compensate for lower doses of innate intelligence. Our schools are largely organized around this belief. Students who are held to low expectations do not try to break through that barrier, because they accept the judgment that inborn aptitude matters most and that they have not inherited enough of that capacity. Not surprisingly, their performance remains low. Two converging lines of research — one from cognitive science, one from social psychology — now give us reason to believe that we don’t have to continue in this way. We don’t need to pit excellence against equity. We can harness effort to create ability and build a smarter America.


Resnick, L. B., & Hall, M. W. (1998). Learning organizations for sustainable education reform. Daedalus127, 89-118.

The history of education reform in the United States is largely one of tinkering with institutional arrangements that have little impact on established patterns of teaching and learning. Reform has rarely penetrated the “educational core”. Only with the recent movement for standards-based education has America begun to explore the potential of designing policy structures explicitly to link testing, curriculum, textbooks, teacher training, and accountability with clearly articulated ideas about what should be taught and what students should be expected to learn. These developments suggest that it may now be possible for education-reform efforts to go beyond institutional tinkering to challenge some of the core assumptions that have shaped the American public-education system.


Resnick, L. B. (1995). From aptitude to effort: A new foundation for our schools. Daedalus124, 55-62.

Aptitude is not the only possible basis for organizing schools. Educational institutions could be built around the alternative assumption that effort actually creates ability. Our education system could be designed primarily to foster effort. This article elaborates and discusses the implications of five essential features of an effort-oriented education system: 1) clear expectations for achievement, well understood by everyone; 2) fair and credible evaluations of achievement; 3) celebration and payoff for success; 4) as much time as is necessary to meet learning expectations; and 5) expert instruction.


Summarizes the essential research on the interrelationships of reading, response to literature, and composition. Shows that readers and writers are both creators of meaning. Discusses a plan by which students develop–and appreciate–their responses to literature and integrate the acts of reading and writing.