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Premium Member Book (Dec 2010)

Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning

by Allison Zmuda

Table of Contents

A Study Guide for Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning: Innovation as an Engine for Student Success

This ASCD Study Guide is designed to enhance your understanding and application of the information contained in Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning: Innovation as an Engine for Student Success, an ASCD book written by Allison Zmuda and published in December 2010.

You can use the study guide before or after you have read the book, or as you finish each chapter. The study questions provided are not meant to cover all aspects of the book, but, rather, to address specific ideas that might warrant further reflection.

Most of the questions contained in this study guide are ones you can think about on your own, but you might consider pairing with a colleague or forming a study group with others who have read (or are reading) Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning.


  1. Whether you are an administrator, teacher, parent, student, concerned citizen, college professor or employer, How satisfied are you with your local school? Do you really think it is doing a good job? What are the strengths and weaknesses in terms of preparation for college, career, and citizen skills? How well does your local school engage students and get them excited about learning?
  2. Educators, parents, and board members typically look for the "quick-fix" solutions to improve student achievement. How does this do a disservice to meaningful learning and implementation? Is there a common ground where something can be done quickly but in a more systematic way?
  3. Who are your guides, your "go-to authorities," who will accompany you on this reading journey? What are their philosophies about learning? Think both inside and outside of the box to come up with this answer. A basketball coach from middle school is just as relevant as Michael Fullan or Heidi Hayes Jacobs. To break our habit of having preconceived notions of what can and can't be done, how can we begin to breathe life into old and new ideas?

Chapter 1: Myths Related to Learning in Schools

  1. When do students start to become less joyful and curious about learning? When do students start shying away from robust, authentic challenges and revision of work? When do students start playing the game of school rather than learning from it?
  2. How are teachers as learners treated within the profession? What do we insist upon in terms of individual and collective growth? Does the way we currently work deliver that result?
  3. Do individual classroom teachers have too much latitude to shape the subject and grading policy? Openly consider pros and cons and try not to rush to judgment or rely on what you already believe to be true.
  4. Does the "real work" of school necessitate boredom? Does boredom fade when students take control of the coursework in high school and post-secondary education?

Chapter 2: The Illusion of Accomplishment

  1. How have work and play changed over the course of your life? What implications do such changes have for our policies, practices, and skills in schools?
  2. How has an increasingly global, interdependent world created stronger competition for services and goods?
  3. Can schools break free from the status quo and disrupt their own practice? Have the charter school, private school, and home schooling movements had a positive or negative effect?
  4. How can we prepare students for jobs that don't exist? What skills will they need in order to thrive in the Creative Age?
  5. What do you think about reversing the common question "Is my child doing well at school?" to "Is school doing well by my child?" How can we engage parents around this new question?
  6. What would we do if we had more time in school? How would students think and work differently? What would teachers do when the students went home? How would that impact achievement?
  7. Are you a chronic multitasker? Are you so used to being interrupted that you anticipate it and cannot complete a thought? How do you retrain the brain?

Chapter 3: Transforming the 21st Century Schoolhouse into a Learning Organization

  1. Why do most school mission statements have little impact on the work of the school? How do we get a mission with leverage to go after curriculum, assessment, and instructional practice?
  2. What are students already doing that we can capitalize on to make learning more engaging, rigorous, and authentic?
  3. How do you grow an idea in your school, district, or community? When is it ready to "go live"? What protocols could you set up to create a research or imagination team whose job is to think outside of the box?

Chapter 4: Designing Tasks to Focus Student Work and Measure Mission-Driven Goals

  1. How can you make a traditional assessment task more open by design? What is it that you truly want it to measure? How will that transfer in the long term?
  2. Use the performance standards on pages 94–95 as a launching pad for assessment design. What types of tasks require that work?
  3. What tasks inspire you from the Hartford Law and Government Academy? Can you adapt or be inspired by one for your particular school and grade level?
  4. How do we get students to become comfortable with struggle? How do we get students to enjoy their learning? What is the relationship between struggle and enjoyment? What policies and practices do we need to adopt in order to encourage this?
  5. What are common misunderstandings about creativity? When is creativity socialized out of our students? How can we inspire them again?
  6. How do you coach for creativity? Think about each of the four stages outlined—preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification—and describe ways to provide opportunities at school and at home.
  7. How do we encourage staff to be creative in their own thinking? Consider areas such as problem solving, use of technology, curriculum design, new ways of grading and reporting, and so forth.

Chapter 5: Designing Learning Environments that Reflect Our Knowledge of Learning and Our Realization of Mission and Vision

  1. How do we learn deeply, allowing for timely, functional retrieval? What bad habits or instructional routines prevent deep learning?
  2. Develop your own core set of learning principles as a teacher, grade-level team, department, school, or district inspired by the discussion on this chapter. You can do this based on your experience, but the principles should also reflect what we know about the brain and learning (see works cited list for good sources to consult in this endeavor).
  3. What individual characteristics define a student who is intrinsically motivated to learn? How does grading change the source of motivation? Is that true for every child?
  4. How do we report student achievement? In what ways can we reform our grading process using what we have learned about growth versus fixed mindsets?
  5. Many teachers, administrators, and parents struggle to get students engaged in learning. How can we meaningfully address this? Come up with one or two belief statements that put more responsibility and ownership on students. Based on those belief statements, what is it that you need to start doing to support learning? What is it that you need to stop doing to support learning?

Chapter 6: Revisiting and Rethinking Teaching and Learning Myths

  1. How do essential questions activate student learning? Think about those questions that are fundamental to your work. Could you frame them in language so that the students can engage in the conversation with you?
  2. Have a discussion about "The Student's Prayer" and "Fire" with your child, students, or peers. How might this discussion reframe your views about ownership and authenticity of learning?
  3. How do we design more open-ended assessments that invite students to think?
  4. Failure is a powerful learning opportunity. How can you incentivize failure as a teacher, administrator, board member, or parent?
  5. To what extent did the grades we got in school define what we do now as adults? Did they provide necessary direction? Did they identify our strengths and weaknesses? Did they clarify our calling?
  6. Where are we rushing to? What is at the finish line? Think back to "The Cup of Tea" earlier in the book (or better yet, read it again). How far has your relationship with time progressed?
  7. How do we effectively remediate students? What can we relieve them of and where do they need to still do the hard work? Where does differentiation fit in?
  8. Students are social networkers, now more than ever. How do we turn this into a powerful learning tool? Should there be parameters on this?

Author's Note

  1. How does reading the author's note shift your thinking about your reading experience here? Can you imagine yourself as a novice learner again? Would you have a growth or a fixed mindset the second time around?


  1. How can you encourage creative tension in your classrooms and your meetings?
    What are the conditions that will reawaken educators, students and parents to the possibilities of school? Who will be the hardest sell?

Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning: Innovation as an Engine for Student Success was written by Allison Zmuda. This 198-page, 6" x 9" book (Stock #109041; ISBN-13: 978-1-4166-1091-5) is available from ASCD for $19.95 (ASCD member) or $26.95 (nonmember). Copyright © 2010 by ASCD. To order a copy, call ASCD at 1-800-933-2723 (in Virginia 1-703-578-9600) and press 2 for the Service Center. Or buy the book from ASCD's Online Store.


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