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Developing Expert Learners

Developing Expert Learners
A Roadmap for Growing Confident and Competent Students

Foreword by James Nottingham, Afterword by Shirley Clarke

Additional resources:

April 2019 | 280 pages | Corwin

Finally— a roadmap for growing students’ confidence and competence in learning.

We strive to empower our students to lead their own inquiry, discover knowledge, and construct approaches to solving real-life challenges. Often, though, we make the mistake of designing learning experiences that burden students with the unrealistic expectation of expertise that hasn’t yet been developed. The solution: proper scaffolding for surface, deep, and transfer learning. 

Building upon the groundwork from Michael McDowell’s book Rigorous PBL by Design, this new resource provides practices that strategically support students as they move from novices to experts in core academics. You’ll learn high-impact strategies that ensure students develop ownership and confidence in their learning, plus essential tools to build your own efficacy and support your colleagues in building collective expertise. Chock full of mission-critical guidance, this book 

  • Provides an actionable framework for developing student expertise
  • Offers practical strategies, tools, and routines for creating a culture that cultivates expertise and builds student efficacy
  • Gives a simple, effective unit and lesson template that clarifies the steps students must take to build, deepen, and apply core content knowledge and skills
  • Ensures your students’ progress in their learning through a process for selecting instructional, feedback, and learning strategies 
  • Includes strategies for improving your professional expertise individually and collectively
“As educators, we are challenged to prepare our students for college and career readiness as they go into the real world. Developing Expert Learners addresses the intentional moves of the teacher to prepare students for challenging work at their level of learning, resulting in students reaching their fullest potential as experts in their own learning.”

Elizabeth Alvarez, Chief of Schools
Chicago Public Schools
List of Online Resources
About the Author
A Teacher’s Perspective
Chapter 1. Guiding Actions for Expertise and Efficacy
The 5Cs: Guiding Actions for Developing Student Expertise

Putting Principles of Expertise Into Practice Successfully


Chapter 2. Conditions for Impact: Creating a Culture of Collective Efficacy
Culture of Learning

Recurring Problems

Defining Efficacy

Evidence of Efficacy

Teaching Strategies for Developing Student Efficacy


Chapter 3. Planning for Impact
Focused Design

Unit Planning: Five Design Steps

Planning Process


Chapter 4. Teaching for Impact
Illuminating the Hidden Understandings of Learners

Establishing Routines

Expertise-Based Strategies

Sequencing Developing Expertise Routines


Chapter 5. Collective Efficacy: Developing Efficacy and Expertise as Professionals
Linking Professional and Student Efficacy

Designing Core Tasks for Professionals to Impact Learning

Creating a Process for Collective Learning Through Teaming

Structuring the Methods for Determining, Discussing, Debating, and Designing Next Steps for Improvement


Conditions for Impact Resources

Planning for Impact Resources

Teaching for Impact Resources

Collective Efficacy: Developing Efficacy and Expertise as Professionals



"Teaching for transfer"  - imparting knowledge and skill in a way that makes them really useful, and not just fodder for exams and tests - is the Holy Grail of education. This book is a wonderfully practical guide to how to do it in any classroom.

Guy Claxton, Author of The Learning Power Approach: Teaching Learners to Teach Themselves

As educators, we are challenged in preparing our students for college and career readiness as they go into the real world. Developing Student Expertise addresses the intentional moves of the teacher to prepare students for challenging work at their level of learning, resulting in students reaching their fullest potential as expertise in their own learning.

Elizabeth Alvarez, Chief of Schools, Chicago Public Schools

This book is the roadmap to take students from being developing experts to the experts they all have the potential to be. Providing high expectations and valuing all students as learners requires educators to plan instruction that takes students—all students—from their current level, to that place just beyond that level. McDowell suggests that in order for students to become experts, “the control over learning must be mutually shared between teachers and students.” Teaching students how to build their efficacy in learning, the ability to navigate and lead their own learning, is the optimal approach for every faculty to engage in. McDowell identifies The 5Cs (Clarify, Challenge, Check, Communicate, and Cross contexts) that are requisite for this shared partnership to flourish, and gives reflection questions and activities that allow every educator to plan their steps toward this desirable result.

Tom Hierck

As he did in Rigorous PBL by Design, Michael McDowell has once again produced an invaluable resource for educators who are striving to empower students to fully develop their own expertise and self-efficacy. Developing Expert Learners provides the practical means—through planning tools, research-based strategies, teaching practices, and special features—to enable teachers to maximize student learning at the surface, deep, and transfer levels of complexity. By integrating “The 5Cs (Clarify, Challenge, Check, Communicate, and Cross Contexts) as guiding actions for developing student expertise” into all unit and lesson planning, McDowell shows how these strategies can dramatically impact student learning. Classroom educators will find Chapter 3, “Planning for Impact,” and Chapter 4, “Teaching for Impact” particularly useful for creating and implementing their own roadmap to greater student self-efficacy. Chapter 5, “Collective Efficacy,” presents a powerful framework that teacher teams can utilize to create their own beliefs and action steps to greater student learning.

Larry Ainsworth

I appreciate and am enthusiastic about the layout of this book. For a coach, team leader, or school administrator, the book lends itself to being a manual for school improvement. It provides excellent questions to reflect on and activities after each chapter for school leaders to collaborate with and work alongside teacher teams in developing efficacy and expertise at their schools—which in the end will impact the achievement of all our learners. Our district will benefit from the content of this book and its resources, activities, and reflection questions to increase student learning at the surface, deep, and transfer levels through the work of teams.

LeeAnn Lawlor
Cartwright Elementary School District

This urgently needed book has the potential to transform schools and experiences for learners and teachers everywhere. Once again, Michael McDowell has written a compelling, practical guide for educators who seek to give their students the skills they need to be successful in our ever-changing world. This book is a must-read for new and veteran educators alike!

Cindy Johanson
George Lucas Educational Foundation

Of course, Michael McDowell has once again provided a purposeful and practical guide for teachers and leaders. Teachers, administrators, and even student leaders recognize the importance of focusing on learning through clear learning intentions, success criteria, and now—with this new book—tools and strategies to measure student progress. We have made a fundamental shift in how we address instructional practice, review student work, and more important, build our own efficacy and expertise at all levels of our organization.

Maren Rocca Hunt
Napa Valley Unified School District

In Developing Expert Learners, McDowell harnesses the research on building student self-efficacy, peer-to-peer feedback structures, and student ownership of learning through a handful of focus areas, aligned and actionable learning practices, and tools that have been road-tested. If you wish to build stronger, more invested, and more equipped learners, this book is a must-read.

Kara Vandas

As a follow up to Rigorous PBL by Design, McDowell continues to write about practical strategies to help teachers build students’ expertise. The book is filled with strategies, tools, and very useful references based on the exciting research of John Hattie and Visible Learning. McDowell shapes this book around 5Cs—promoting clarity, leveraging challenge, consistent checking, cultivating conversation, and tackling contextually rich problems. Michael’s command of lesson design and instruction make this a natural follow up to his very successful Rigorous PBL by Design. It will clearly help teachers have impact on student learning.

Ainsley B. Rose

As we move away from the age of pouring knowledge into the brains of learners and, instead, begin handing them the steering wheel of their own learning to develop efficacy and expertise, McDowell's tool kit of sound simplicity, sparked by wisdom and courage, offers clear and do-able courses of action that all educators can put into motion to change the learning lives of their students.

Melissa Schaub
The Anglo-American School of Moscow

Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell, EdD was a public school educator for eighteen years serving in the roles of classroom teacher, academic and athletic coach, school principal, assistant superintendent of personnel and instruction, and superintendent.  During his tenure as a superintendent, his school district received state and national accolades including the National Blue Ribbon Award which recognized their work for student performance and mental health and well-being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic by the U.S. Department of Education.Dr. McDowell serves on numerous boards, served as a college professor, and worked for non-profit... More About Author

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ISBN: 9781544337159

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