June 8, 2016

March Madness in the Classroom

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March Madness is once again upon us, and with the season comes the annual exercise in bracket-ology. In the wake of the Final Four of college basketball a few years ago, Jan ran across The Final Four of Everything on the $2.00 table in a bookstore. She bought it for one of her sons, who worships in the church of basketball. The Final Four of Everything, however, is about everything but basketball.

With 150 sets of brackets by 150 experts, the book has something in it for everyone, which was sufficient validation for its purchase. But this was only the beginning, because The Final Four of Everything is an idea book. It takes an array of topics, ranging from roller coasters to board games to iconic photographs, and evaluates them with brackets. For each topic, the editors, Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir, enlist an expert in that field to complete the series of brackets and identify the “best” in that category. You will be pleased to know that the editors even included “Best Children’s Book,” as “bracketed” by John Sceiszka.

Beyond finding out the best roller coasters or the best movies, we find the potential of bracket-ology inspiring. We all face myriad choices in various aspects of our lives daily: Which tasks around the house are most important? Which book should we read first? How will we spend each day? What do we want our students to learn? For a profound reflective experience, use one of the aforementioned questions, or any question that is relevant for you, and negotiate your way through the brackets.

As a tool for professional reflection, bracket-ology (which has nothing to do with numer-ology or any of the more mystical -ologies) can help teachers and coaches examine their practices. In professional learning sessions with teachers and literacy coaches, bracketing exercises consistently lead to stimulating and logical conversations about aligning our actions with our stated priorities. You can employ bracketology to build learning communities (Who am I?), to prioritize instruction within content areas (What do we want students to learn about memoir?), to help teachers plan for their professional growth (What professional learning do I want this year?), or as a needs assessment in a new coaching position as you gather information from teachers (What do I need from my coach?).

Cameron Brooks, a third grade teacher who writes for Literacyhead, used bracket-ology to reflect at the beginning of a school year. He wrote about his experience using brackets to set his instructional priorities for the year. Cameron considered everything from multiplication facts to a sense of community, from reading comprehension to social responsibility, from measurement to empathy. For instructional inspiration, read Cameron’s brackets.

What decisions are you struggling with? What long lists do you need to sort by priority? In what areas do you need to realign your instructional priorities with what you believe about developing lifelong learners? What questions might bracket-ology help you answer? Or, you can use brackets to explore categories of information: What is your favorite professional book? What is your favorite picture book?

Try bracket-ology to explore and organize your thoughts around some of your reflective priorities and let us know how it goes. We’d love to see a picture of your brackets.




  1. I can’t wait to link to this post from my upcoming Poetry Friday post! (And thanks for a WAY better blog post title!!) One of my students “versed” 16 poems from a David Elliott book to find the best poem!!

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