Chapter 7: Keeping it Real


We’re educators. And we know what it’s like to throw the baby out with the bathwater or revamp your teaching. That’s why, in this chapter, we’re keeping it real.

As educators, there are a number of mountains to climb before we can make changes to our instruction: time, resources, and support – to name just a few. In this chapter, we address nine challenges when implementing Power Tools (retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition), even if you’re just making small tweaks like using Brain Dumps and Two Things.

We’re not asking you to completely upend what you’ve been doing. But we hope that by keeping it real, we can make powerful teaching even easier for you.

Nine Hesitations, Challenges, and Mountains Between You and Powerful Teaching

  1. Do I have to spend more time preparing for class if I use Power Tools?

  2. Do I have to spend more time grading if I use Power Tools?

  3. When I spend time using Power Tools, how can I cover the same amount of material?

  4. Will my students get lower grades if I use Power Tools?

  5. How can I adapt Power Tools for diverse students from a range of backgrounds and abilities?

  6. Do I have to spend money on Power Tools?

  7. There are so many Power Tools and strategies. Where do I start?

  8. There’s a lot of stuff out there about “brain-based learning.” Is that the same thing as Power Tools?

  9. When I use Power Tools, how can I find support beyond my school?

#1: Do I have to spend more time preparing for class if I use Power Tools?

Nope, no extra prep time. The key to minimizing prep time using Power Tools is to identify what you’re already doing and tweak it, even just a little bit. Here are four quick tweaks that require no prep time whatsoever:

  • Instead of reviewing, “Here’s what we did yesterday,” ask your students, “What did we do yesterday?”

  • When a student asks a question, have the class retrieve and provide the answer (instead of you retrieving it). Again, no additional planning, just flip the source of retrieval from you to your students.

  • Ask students to retrieve and write down Two Things they remember about a lesson last week, Two Things about a fictional character, Two Things about the brain . . . anything! There’s absolutely no planning needed for Two Things – you can come up with the question on the fly.

  • You can even encourage students to come up with retrieval questions in advance, so you can use them during a following class – literally no prep whatsoever!

#2: Do I have to spend more time grading if I use Power Tools?

No extra grading! In fact, keeping Power Tools as grade-free as possible improves learning, decreases student anxiety, and emphasizes that they’re learning strategies, not assessment strategies.

Here’s another way to think about it: Do we really have to give students a grade every time they retrieve something?

Why do we get so stuck on grading anything and everything students retrieve? When you’re implementing Power Tools, remove grades altogether. There’s no need to collect papers, assign points, or enter anything into the gradebook. Power Tools free us from grading; they don’t increase grading. We’re not saying grades aren’t important; we’re simply saying that, by focusing on Power Tools as learning strategies, there’s nothing additional to grade. Power Tools maximize learning and minimize grading, not the other way around.

Curious about how you can address challenges #3 through #9?
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You’re welcome to share, but please give the authors of Powerful Teaching (Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. and Patrice M. Bain, Ed.S.) credit for their hard work! Licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

Pooja K. Agarwal