This is the third in a series of posts on “Super Hero” teachers, and what it might take for anyone to become a super hero for all learners.

Superheroes…those larger than life beings with special powers who beat tremendous odds to make great things happen, saving the world along the way. We love our superheroes and their extraordinary ability to help individuals, all of us, live a better life in a better world. For some, what’s missing from being a Superhero Teacher are a handful of distinct skills and techniques that any educator can learn and use, creating a world where every child comes to school eager to learn, able to learn, with teachers eager and able to teach. That’s the kind of world Superhero Teachers with these special powers can create. Previous posts revealed superpowers 1-3 (High Rates of Real Reinforcement, Effective Planned Ignoring, and Excellent Antecedent Control). Now, without further ado, habits 4 and 5 of Superhero Teachers.

Superpower 4: Frequent Active Student Responding

One of the best ways to learn, if not THE BEST WAY, is by doing. Thus Superhero Teachers ensure their students have numerous opportunities to interact with and respond to instruction. Superhero Teachers do this by preparing instruction that asks frequent questions or supports active, talk aloud critical thinking and problem solving (Whimby & Lockhead, 1991), ensuring ALL students have numerous opportunities to speak, write, talk, share, or any other form of active, observable, participation.

Active student responses (ASR) are observable, measurable behaviors made by students, that often—but don’t always—follow an instructional antecedent (Superpower #3) or other opportunity to respond. Increasing active student responding has a dramatic beneficial effect on student achievement and social behavior. There are numerous validated strategies to increase ASR, including these three most well known:

Choral responding. Choral responding occurs when students in the class or group respond orally in unison to a teacher prompt (best following a clear teacher-delivered signal to respond—Superpower #3). Activities are lead by an individual (teacher or peer-leader), at a quick pace, with brief (1-3 words) single correct answer responses. Choral responding allows teachers to both survey student understanding and provide feedback on the ‘majority’ response (with intermittent checks on individual or smaller groups of students).

Response cards. Students use response cards to simultaneously indicate their own response to a question presented. Students may use index cards, signs, or even personal mini-whiteboards to write short answers to teacher questions. Pre-printed cards are used across a variety of questions (card examples: True/False; A, B, C, D; Numbers 1-9; etc). Response cards allow Superhero Teachers to provide high rates of practice to all students simultaneously and still see all responses. Modern technologies include electronic response card systems (often called “clickers”) that allow for more constructed responses as well as automated data collection, display, and analysis.

Guided notes. Guided notes (GN) are instructor-prepared materials (most often handouts, but now available in digital format) that guide students through a lecture or activity by providing standard cues and specific spaces in which to write key facts, concepts, and relationships, thus improving student note taking and recall of course content.

What is the evidence base?
Active engagement has been shown to be the strongest variable between instruction and academic achievement (Barbetta, Heron, & Heward, 1993), with research clearly showing that students learn best when they are actively engaged with relevant instructional material (Rosenshine & Berliner, 1978). The effects of ASR including increased time on task (Sutherland, Alder, & Gunter, 2003), attention to relevant information (Gettinger & Walter, 2012), and overall satisfaction (Haydon et al, 2010).

Why is Frequent Active Student Responding a superpower?
Because…we learn by doing. It feels good to participate, to be active, and to get safe practice until success. When praise or corrective feedback is paired with opportunities to respond, Superhero Teachers and their students become unstoppable.

Where can I get more “how to” information?

  • Active student response strategies
  • Three “low-tech” strategies for increasing the frequency of active student response during group instruction (Heward, 1994–another one of my favorites!)

Superpower 5: Meaningful Measurement

No superhero takes off without having a plan. And they need facts and knowledge to formulate that plan. Superhero Teachers need meaningful measures of their students’ current state and progress to guide and appraise their work. Measurement provides quantitative, objective labels to help us comprehend learning and teaching. With close, continual contact with relevant outcome data (Bushell & Baer, 1994–one of my all time favorite readings), Superhero Teachers know, in the moment, where their students are, where they need to go, and whether or not they are getting there. Superhero Teachers use varied methods to obtain evidence of learning (continual indicators of progress); this information prompts their, or their students’ action. Second, evidence collection is a systematic process and needs to be planned so that teachers have a constant stream of information tied to indicators of progress. Measurement provides the tools to make informed decisions about instruction (SuperPower #6). Just like Superheros who stop the train before it rolls over the cliff, frequent, valid measurement allows Superhero Teachers to stop or change ineffective instruction before students it’s too late to change it.

What is the evidence base?
Measurement helps explicitly describe the interaction between teachers and their students, and can be a predictor of effective teaching (Greer & Hogin McDonough, 1999). There is a clear relationship between more frequent, valid assessment over smaller sections of content and an increase in student achievement (Bushell & Baer, 1994). Measurement and the systematic collection of information about student learning allows teachers and all educators to make betters decisions that result in improved student learning (Walvoord, 2010).

Why is Meaningful Measurement superpower?
Measurement and data-collection tells Superhero Teachers where their students are, where they need to go, and whether or not they are getting there. Used meaningfully and often, these are foundational tools that provide markers and most importantly, guide on the journey taken by Superhero Teachers and their students.

Where can I get more “how to” information?

Eager to know about Habits 6 & 7? Check back in the coming days…


Barbetta, P. M., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (1993). Effects of active student response during error correction on the acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of sight words by students with developmental disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 111-119.
Bushell, D., & Baer, D. M. (1994). Measurably superior instruction means close, continual contact with the relevant outcome data. Revolutionary! In R. Gardner, III, D. M. Sainato, J. O. Cooper, T. E. Heron, W. L. Heward, J. Eshleman, & T. A. Grossi (Eds.), Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction (pp. 3– 10). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.
Gettinger, M., & Walter, M. J. (2012). Classroom strategies to enhance academic engaged time. In S. L. Christenson, A. L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.). Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 653-673). New York: Springer.
Greer, R. D., & McDonough, S. H. (1999). Is the learn unit a fundamental measure of pedagogy?. The Behavior Analyst, 22(1), 5.
Haydon, T., Conroy, M. A., Scott, T. M., Sindelar, P. T., Barber, B. R., & Orlando, A. M. (2010). A comparison of three types of opportunities to respond on student academic and social behaviors. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 18(1), 27-40.
Heward, W. L. (1994). Three “low-tech” strategies for increasing the frequency of active student response during group instruction. In R. Gardner, III, D. M. Sainato, J. O. Cooper, T. E. Heron, W. L. Heward, J. Eshleman, & T. A. Grossi (Eds.), Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction, (pp. 283-320). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.
Rosenshine, B. V., & Berliner, D. C. (1978). Academic engaged time. British Journal of Teacher Education, 4(1), 3-16.
Sharpe, T., & Koperwas, J. (2003). Approaches to recording direct observational data. In Behavior and sequential analyses: Principles and practice. (pp. 199-225). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412983518.n7
Sutherland, K. S., Alder, N., & Gunter, P. L. (2003). The effect of varying rates of opportunities to respond to academic requests on the classroom behavior of students with EBD. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 11(4), 239-248.
Walvoord, B.E.  (2010). Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments and general education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Whimbey, A. & Lochhead, J. (1991). Problem solving and comprehension. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Note: “7 Habits of Super Hero Teachers” was written, under the same title, as a part of a group of commentaries on “Leverage Points for Improving Teacher Effectiveness” for The Wing Institute 2013 Summit. Summit participants (educators, policy thinkers, researchers, and professors from across the U.S.) met for two sunny days in beautiful Berkeley, CA to grapple with the questions:  “What are effective teaching strategies?” “How can we best assess teacher performance?” and “How can we best teach / support these skills?”
The 7 Habits of Super Hero Teachers represents my thoughts on these questions. 


2 thoughts on “The 7 Habits of Super Hero Teachers (Superpowers 4 & 5)

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