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Total Participation Techniques (2011) Written By:  Drs. Persida Himmele and William Himmele.1

In classrooms across this country, students with disabilities and those who struggle for a variety of reasons are often the students who are still the least engaged.  A large national study funded by the US Department of Education2 showed that two out of three students with disabilities stated they were “not involved” in school, even when they had the opportunity to participate. On a classroom level, these are the same students who often do not understand the lesson and are not connecting with the teacher or other students. They have the least opportunity to “talk about the work” and too often, the level of rigor begins to fall in an effort to get students to be successful with something, anything.  There are solutions to this downward spiral.


“Profound learning happens when students are engaged.”

This simple statement was taken off the Schlechty Center’s3 website, an organization committed to helping educators define and create schoolwork that is effective and engaging. As educators, we have seen and experienced this level of profound learning and engagement; it is what motivates us and makes us come to work.

Another organization committed to the idea of building engagement is the University of Pittsburgh. Their model of Accountable Talk4 highlights the importance of assuring everyone understands what is going on in a lesson and increasing opportunities for students to interact with not only the teacher, but with each other.

Understanding a Taxonomy of Learning

To learn and retain learning, students need to engage with lessons that are complex—not difficult—and lessons that take them to a deeper experience with the material/concepts to be learned. This only occurs when teachers are mindful of Bloom’s Taxonomy5 and how to take lessons from simple knowledge of facts to a synthesis of new ideas and the ability to evaluate ideas. This is termed higher-order thinking, which is essential to quality learning experiences.

There are great educational thinkers who address these topics of engagement and the development of higher order thinking skills. The Himmeles’ have provided a distilled and powerful resource for teachers at all levels to build these into their instruction.

Putting It All Together

“Engaging experiences do not happen by chance.”

-Schlechty Center

We have all seen wonderfully effective and engaging lessons that flow like magic. Unfortunately, there is no such magic. It takes careful planning and effective strategies, especially if the lesson goes beyond engaging and rigorous to being inclusive of all learners.

Total Participation Techniques presents strategies that are meant for every learner in the classroom, whether a kindergarten class or seminar space on a university campus; gifted and struggling students alike. The book is brilliant in its simplicity of presentation, and offers teachers a treasure trove of practical strategies.

The authors paint a picture about the high cost to society and to our students that comes with disengagement.  The authors live what they write by teaching not only at the university level, but also in prison schools.  These strategies are field-tested and very practical with little-to-no cost involved.  There are available technologies today that serve some of the same purposes as the Total Participation Techniques, and probably have a higher “cool” factor, but they are no more effective and have a high price.

The total participation techniques are meant to assure involvement of students with whatever material being presented as well as provide formative assessment information to the teacher. Simple hold-up’s, including Response Cards and Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down can give the teacher critical feedback during a lesson. There are techniques that involve students getting up and moving (a personal favorite is Chart Splash) as well as ones that deal with turning the traditional note taking process into one of active and higher order learning (Confer, Compare, Clarify). Strategies that summarize lessons (3-Sentence Wrap-Up) are also included.

No chapter in this book goes without showing how each strategy works, as well as how to ensure higher-order thinking occurs within the lesson.

Total Participation Techniques is published in paperback, making it an affordable—under $30—tool for teachers. Although it is available as an e-book, having a paper copy to dog-ear and keep with my planning materials has been valuable to my own instruction in teaching teachers.

1. Available through the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
2. Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., Levine, P., & Marder, C . (2007). Perceptions and Expectations of Youth With Disabilities. A Special Topic Report of
   Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
3. Private, nonprofit organization based on the work of Phillip Schlechty, Ohio State University.
4. Registered trademark of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh.
5. Benjamin Bloom, 1956. Slightly rearranged and updated version by Lorin Anderson in 2000.

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