Academically Challenging Environment

Performance Standard 8: Academically Challenging Environment:

The teacher candidate creates a student-centered, academic environment in which teaching and learning occur at high levels and students are self-directed learners.


Performance Indicators at the Level III Level

8.1 Maximizes instructional time.

8.2 Conveys the message that mistakes should be embraced as a valuable part of learning.

8.3 Encourages productivity by providing students with appropriately challenging and relevant material and assignments.

8.4 Provides transitions that minimize loss of instructional time.

8.5 Communicates high, but reasonable, expectations for student learning.

8.6 Provides academic rigor, encourages critical and creative thinking, and pushes students to achieve goals.

8.7 Encourages students to explore new ideas and take academic risks.


Performance Rubrics

Level I

Level II

Level III

Level IV

The teacher candidate does not provide a student-centered, academic environment in which teaching and learning occur at high levels, or where students are self-directed learners

The teacher candidate inconsistently provides a student-centered, academic environment in which teaching and learning occur at high levels or where students are self-directed learners.

The teacher candidate consistently creates a student-centered, academic environment in which teaching and learning occur at high levels and students are self-directed learners.

The teacher candidate continually creates an academic learning environment where students are encouraged to set challenging learning goals and tackle challenging materials. (Teacher candidates rated as Exemplary continually seek ways to serve as role models or teacher leaders. This level is not intended for formative assessments of teacher candidates and may only be used in the summative assessment with proper documentation of the teacher candidate’s consistent performance at this level.)

Examples of Evidence/Artifacts to demonstrate performance on this standard:

  • Maximizes instructional time.
  • Engages students consistently throughout the lesson.
  • Communicates lesson objectives and/or learning outcomes.
  • Incorporates higher order questioning to promote critical thinking.
  • Provides students with constructive and specific feedback.
  • Sets high expectations for student learning through student responsibility and accountability.
  • Provides remediation for students, as needed.
  • Extends learning opportunities for all students.
  • Models how to correct and learn from mistakes.
  • Orient the classroom experience toward improvement and growth.
  • Link learning to students’ real-life experiences.


What it is:

What it isn't:

  • Active engagement: learners are directly involved in actions that support cognition and intentional learning.
  • Authenticity and relevance: learners attribute value to the learning task and see the relationship between the knowledge to be gained and their personal life.
  • Collaboration and community: noncompetitive social interaction of learners with others about the nature of the content and its meaning to themselves and others allowing for the co-construction of knowledge.
  • Learner autonomy: the learner has some degree of control over or self-selection of the content or methods of learning.
  • Cognitive complexity: learning tasks are sufficiently representative of reality, with a myriad of web-like interacting forces that must be organized and made sense of.
  • Multiple perspectives: experiences allow learners to see the same information in different ways, from different points of view or use it for different purposes.
  • Pluralism: learners develop a flexible view of reality, rather than a fixation on one single view of reality as correct.
  • Reflectivity and metacognitive awareness: learners think about their own learning processes, are involved in identifying strategies to increase their learning, and sel-monitor progress.
  • Self-regulation and ownership: learners are and asked to assume personal responsibility for their own learning.
  • Transformation: learners are expected to comprehend meaning and to use insights gained to reorganize, synthesize, or transform information into new forms or for some new purposes.
  • Productivity: learners are expected to do something with knowledge required, or use it in some way that is beneficial to themselves or others.
  • Establishing a clear academic focus.
  • Developing well-organized and well-planned lessons.
  • Making explicit learning objectives.
  • Maximizing instructional time.
  • Pacing class activities and transitioning between tasks smoothly. Ÿ Keeping students on task.
  • Making learning meaningful.
  • Identifying and communicating desirable behavior.
  • Consistently applying rules and procedures.
  • Monitoring student behavior.
  • Taking preventive rather than reactive management actions.
  • Building cooperation among teachers and students.
  • Focusing on common interests and values;
  • Pursuing common goals.
  • Determining the appropriate level of task difficulty for students.
  • Providing an appropriate instructional pace.
  • Transitioning smoothly and without disruption among small and large groups and independent learning.
  • Using classroom space and resources efficiently to support their own learning and that of peers.
  • Managing time and resources.



  • Negative and toxic classroom climates related to undesirable outcomes, such as increased bullying and aggression and social and emotional maladjustment.
  • Lack of academic focus and lower student outcomes.
  • Low expectations of students and lack of efficacy often resulting in lowered teaching standards, less teacher effort, and the use of watered-down curriculum for low achieving students.
  • Giving the answers to questions or calling on some other students rather than giving them clues or repeating or rephrasing questions, as is done with high expectation students.
  • Inappropriate feedback (e.g., more frequent and severe criticism for failure; insincere praise) or reinforcement that is not a result of desired performance.
  • Less friendly and responsive classroom interactions (e.g., less smiling, affirmative head nodding, leaning forward, and eye contact).
  • Briefer and less informative feedback, less stimulating and more lower-cognitive level questions, as well as less frequent use of effective and time-consuming instructional practices.
  • Stereotype whole groups of students based on personal characteristics such as race or gender.



Sample Questions for Conferencing:

  • How do you handle situations where students finish instructional tasks at varying rates?
  • What strategies do you use to get the class period started without time wasted?
  • How do you provide feedback to students?
  • How do you help students take responsibility for their own learning and behavior?
  • How do you convince students to believe in themselves?


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