Organizing Instructional Tasks with Landing Pages

By Sara DeMartino

Institute for Learning

Organizing Instructional Tasks with Landing Pages

What is a Student-Centered Routine in ELA?

A student-centered routine in ELA is a sequence of actions that students are asked to take to develop a response to open-ended, text-based task.
This document shows the various elements of student-centered routines used during ELA instruction. We always recommend that students get an opportunity to capture their thinking in writing before being asked to share in pairs or with the larger groups. This practice offers students a chance to surface what they initially think, gives them a document to speak from as they share, and allows them to add to or revise their thinking.

Although we are not physically present in your districts, we’ve been working with and talking to many of you virtually throughout the fall. In reflecting on our conversations with you, it’s clear to us that teachers are leading the way in understanding how various online tools work to facilitate student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction. You’ve found that how teachers provide students opportunities to interact with a text, share their thinking with a peer (either synchronously or asynchronously), share their thinking whole group, and then reflect on what they’ve learned should remain consistent whether students are in class or at home. Keeping the routine consistent and using online tools to facilitate interactions among students allows them to know what to expect, whether they are present in the classroom or at home. It also provides opportunities for students who are in the classroom to interact with students who may be learning at home.

Teachers have found great success using landing pages to organize learning for students across one text or across multiple texts in a unit. A landing page is a page on a website where students “land” to do their work or engage in a task. We’d like to share with you an example of a landing page designed for a sequence of work with the text, “The Censors” by Luisa Valenzuela. You can access the sample landing page here.

Why Landing Pages?

Landing pages, much like task sheets, provide students with both the why and the what of an instructional task. They support more equitable access to instructional activities by making expectations clear and providing step-by-step guidance for students as they engage in learning.

Landing pages provide the why by explaining to students the purpose of the work they will be engaging in during one task and across multiple tasks. Purpose statements help students see where they are going and help them to see that the task isn’t just busy work.

Purpose statements for an arc of work across one text and for a task.

Landing pages also provide students with the what–the steps they need to take to be successful with a task and the tools they need to help them along the way. If you’re familiar with our student-centered task sheets, then landing pages should feel pretty similar. Landing pages help to alleviate some of the “Miss, I don’t know what to do!” comments we often hear from students, and students report that they appreciate the consistency that working from a landing page provides (whether students are working at school or at home).

Setting Up a Landing Page

We used Google Sites for creating instructional landing pages because it’s easy to use (no coding required!) and plays nicely with other tools in Google Suite (i.e., Google Classroom). You can link directly to landing pages in Google Classroom and provide students with a calendar of when the work will be completed.

Once students navigate to the landing page, they will see that it includes links to sub-pages for each instructional task. For example, the first linked subpage for “The Censors” is the comprehension task.

Subpages are built to mirror paper task sheets. We strongly recommend that when planning an instructional task through a landing page, that you begin planning as if you were creating a paper task sheet and then take a step back to decide how you’ will facilitate the student-centered routines (Do you need to structure the routines for a class with students who are both in school and online? Are your students entirely asynchronous?) and how students will demonstrate their learning (Will students work in a collaborative slide deck? Will you add links to an assignment in Google Classroom?). This guide provides a few suggestions for translating student-centered routines to online spaces. You will notice that we’ve annotated the following images of the comprehension landing page to provide some insight into how we structured the comprehension task for the text, “The Censors.” This task was structured for a class that utilizes some synchronous time with students.

The comprehension subpage provides students with the purpose statement and information that students may need to help them engage with the task and text.
Each step of the task is provided for students as well as links to the applications or tools needed to complete the step.
In STEP 1, students are expected to add to a Jamboard to allow the teacher an opportunity to assess what students understand about censorship.

STEP 2 engages students with the text. This work is linked through Google classroom. It allows students to individually work through reading and annotating the text, while giving the teacher an opportunity to see how students interact with the reading.
In STEP 3, after reading the text, students are asked to complete a quick write in response to a comprehension question. Working asynchronously, students are asked to post the quick write to a Pear Deck presentation with the expectation that when the class meets for their synchronous time, students will share and discuss what they wrote.

STEP 4 is the final step in the work for the comprehension task. It lets students know that they will be expected to have steps 1-3 finished when they meet with the rest of the class online to collaborate around a slide deck that will be used during a virtual gallery walk and whole class discussion of the text.

We love hearing from our teachers!

  • How are you organizing online learning experiences for your students?
  • Have you tried landing pages? How are they working for your students?
  • What are some other digital tools that have proven useful for you and your students as you work together online?

Tell us your story here.

    Tagged with: ELA, Elementary, High School, High-Level Tasks / Curriculum, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Middle School, Online Instruction, Reading / Comprehension, Writing

    Remote Coaching for Rigorous and Engaging Online Classroom Discussions: Layering New Forums with Fresh Insights

    By Lindsay Clare Matsumura and Dena Zook-Howell

    Institute for Learning and LRDC

    In many districts, teachers have worked hard to incorporate Accountable Talk® practices that enable rich classroom discussions. In the COVID-19 pandemic, inequities in resources available to students have been further exacerbated. Often student learning is interrupted by inequitable access to computers and to the internet. Burdens on teachers and other educators also are extreme. Teachers are contending with their own hardships in addition to teaching online for the first time with little training. It can feel like rigorous and interactive conversations are no longer an option. It is possible, however, to engage students in the kinds of rigorous and interactive discussions online that are foundational to student learning. Coaches, even while practicing social distancing, have an important role to play in assisting teachers to continue, rather than abandon, this important pedagogy. Here we describe some things that we are learning from our ongoing research at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center on how coaches can support teachers remotely to engage students in rigorous and interactive online discussions.

    What is different about coaching in a pandemic?

    Coaching teachers remotely during a pandemic is similar to face-to-face coaching in its focus on student thinking, rigorous content, and cultivation of an inquiry stance toward instruction. Overlaid on top of these, however, is a new role for coaches to support teachers to use features of online platforms to achieve particular learning goals and establish positive online communities. Compounding these knowledge demands is the very real uncertainty that teachers themselves are experiencing in this pandemic. Uncertainty and anxiety provide a weak springboard for learning and responding to teachers emotionally in this new environment is a larger part of the coaching context than it was previously. In the following sections, we discuss specific ways coaches can support teachers to move their discussions online.

    ⁘ Helping teachers reestablish their classroom learning community.

    Even though teachers may have established a strong learning community in their face-to-face instruction, it is likely they will need to reestablish their learning community in the new online environment. Teachers may find, for example, that students who jump in right away during in-person discussions are reluctant to participate in online conversations (and vice versa). Encouraging teachers to take the time to promote the same climate and norms online is essential. This is not a step backwards but instead a path forward to creating the necessary conditions for optimizing online instruction.

    Coaches can assist teachers to think imaginatively about options that develop a new sense of community.

    Coaches can assist teachers to think imaginatively about options that develop a new sense of community. These should begin with non-academic, low-risk interactions that build toward the academic, robust interactions that support student learning. A sample sequence might begin with each student showing a pet or a favorite toy/hobby to the group. The next interaction could require students to share or upload a picture or description of their favorite place in their home to read or relax, and then, in turn, explain to the group why they chose that place. The idea is to reintroduce students to each other, strengthen a home and school connection, and allow students to get used to the platform before launching into rigorous academic content.

    Certain features of online discussion platforms also can be useful to support a low-risk way for students to gain entry into online discussions. This can be especially important for students who are developing their English language skills or for other reasons may feel shy to participate. For example, the polling feature on many platforms can be a useful way to start a discussion or keep students engaged throughout a discussions in the same way that turn and talk can be useful for students to try out their ideas with a peer before speaking with a whole group. We describe this further in the next section.

    Establishing powerful and clear online learning routines.

    Clear and consistently applied routines that scaffold students’ engagement with complex content are critical to effective classroom discussions, and this is especially the case for online class discussions. An important job of coaches is to help teachers think through what their learning routines will be to achieve particular purposes and goals in discussions, and then connect these routines to features and functions of learning technologies and platforms. Online learners can very easily get lost and confused. Teachers must be far more explicit when giving directions to students online than when teaching face to face (which is all the more reason to develop routines and stick with them). Coaches can assist teachers by helping them develop and trouble shoot directions for participating in different activities. This can help ensure that students’ energy is spent learning and not figuring out what they are supposed to be doing. Fortunately, technologies have advanced to the level that powerful routines for in-person instruction can be translated to an online environment.

    ⁘ Learning new technologies to support student learning. 

    The ability to put online student-centered learning routines into play is dependent on teachers’ familiarity with technology (e.g., discussion platforms such as Microsoft teams). For many teachers, however, the demands entailed in learning new technologies and discussion platforms are overwhelming. The need for differentiated assistance from coaches includes understanding and responding to the range of comfort levels and knowledge of technologies/platforms that provide current instructional options. Coaches can differentiate tech support in a number of ways, such as the following:

    • Modeling a classroom online discussion. One way coaches can support teachers is to engage a group of teachers in a discussion (e.g., a model lesson), showing them ways that features can be used to meet particular learning goals (e.g., small group breakout rooms in place of “turn and talks” or a polling feature or chat box to gather individual student thinking for all to see.).
    • Creating a safe place to experiment. Coaches also can act as students in practice meetings so that teachers can “try on” various teacher moves through the features of the platform, or convene a group of teachers to take turns conducting a mock discussion and using the features.
    • Co-teaching. If teachers feel unsure about conducting online discussions, coaches can co-teach with teachers, acting as a co-host to assist with technology, if that is necessary (e.g., moving students in and out of breakout sessions, switching to a whiteboard or document reader, etc.).
    • Cultivate peer mentoring. Coaches need not have all the tech wisdom. Coaches can also assist teachers to share their knowledge and support mentor/learner partnerships between teachers via conference calls or video meetings. This is a time to cultivate peer mentoring and “think partners,” and coaches are uniquely positioned to know the strengths and needs of the individual teachers and grade levels, and harness the potential for new kinds of professional learning communities.

    ⁘ Planning lessons for teachers.

    Ordinarily, coaches support teachers to plan for class discussions. In a pandemic, however, coaches can ease the stress teachers may be feeling by creating model lessons for class discussions to support individual teachers or groups of teachers. In planning for an online lesson, it is important to consider how particular features of an online platform might be used to further particular learning goals. For example, what kinds of questions might be more productively taken up in whole group discussion or small group breakout sessions? Students can sometimes get antsy sitting in online discussions—what kinds of activities (e.g., polls, responding to teacher questions in the chat feature, doing a stop and jot on sticky notes to share onscreen) might be useful for helping students stay engaged in the discussion?

    ⁘ Choosing texts.

    Something to consider in lesson planning is that students may miss multiple days of school. It might be a good idea to plan around short texts that contain sufficient grist to support a rich online discussion but would not pose a barrier to students reengaging in discussions after several absences. Another consideration is that students are likely to feel more disconnected from school when attending online than when they are attending in person, in addition to grappling with challenges and hardships. We always want students to read engaging texts. But now more than ever is a time to think about texts that will pique student interest and get them thinking, but not require extensive scaffolding to wade through the language. Notably, if groups of teachers want to use the lessons, as described earlier, coaches could engage the teachers in a run through of the lesson with the teachers providing instruction around the platform use throughout.

    ⁘ Reestablishing a positive professional collaboration. 

    In the same way that teachers need to reestablish their classroom learning community when they move to an online format, it is important that coaches work to reestablish their professional learning communities with teachers when coaching remotely. Now more than ever, the balance of content for initial coaching conversations, if not all coaching conversations, will require much more time upfront supporting the social emotional aspect of professional collaboration. Teachers, like many other Americans, are stressed, anxious, lonely, fearful for loved ones, and/or may be experiencing financial distress. Many of their students are also facing significant hardships. Listening to teachers speak to their own experience and concerns is important for both supporting teachers emotionally and helping coaches gauge the kinds of options to pursue together, based on each teacher’s interest and readiness to try new things—one new thing or many new things. Some teachers might feel ready to learn all of the ins and outs of a platform; other teachers might want to move a little slower if they are feeling overwhelmed.

    ⁘ Reestablishing a positive professional collaboration. 

    Although the sense of co-accountability and collaborative problem solving may already be a foundation for your coach-teacher relationships, it is incumbent upon coaches to reframe an inquiry stance in light of this moment. Reminding teachers that we, as a national and global educational community, are all learning together right now, positions discussions to lean into tests of small change. Cultivating an inquiry stance about technology options and which factors seem to be supporting or impeding student learning is critical. Additionally, focusing on student engagement, which is easier to assess and address in-person, requires a critical stance.

    Adopting an inquiry stance also can help draw teachers’ (and coaches’) attention to some of the potential affordances of online instruction—for now and for later. Many teachers are reporting that some students participate more in this online environment and some participate less. By studying student engagement, coaches can support teachers to notice aspects of online instruction that support the majority of students as well as specific students. Again, approaching this as an inquiry allows actual study to occur. It may well be that some students will be most supported with a part of their day online, even when instruction becomes in-person again.


    ® Accountable Talk is a registered trademark of the University of Pittsburgh.
    Tagged with: Academic Rigor, Accountable Talk® Discussions, ELA, Equitable Instruction, High-Level Tasks / Curriculum, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Instructional Coaching, Online Instruction, Principles of Learning, Reading / Comprehension

    Using Student-Centered Classroom Routines to Improve Comprehension of Complex Texts

    by Allison Escher

    IFL, English Language Arts Fellow

    The Networks for School Improvement (NSI) work taking place among Dallas ISD (DISD), the Institute for Learning, the University of Pittsburgh School of Education Center for Urban Education, and the Learning Research and Development Center, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has largely focused efforts on improving instructional rigor, providing better supports for English language learners, and improving cultural relevance. One particular change idea that teachers have been testing in order to improve instructional rigor is the use of student-centered routines. When we ask students to engage in cognitively challenging work, we recommend doing so through a set of routines: individual writing on a question or task, sharing of ideas in pairs and trios, and whole group discussion. 

    These rituals and routines, derived from research on cognitive apprenticeship, are designed to engage all students as learners in collaborative problem solving, writing to learn, making thinking visible, establishing text-based norms for discussions and writings, ongoing assessment and revision, and metacognitive reflection and articulation as regular patterns in learning. Additionally, these routines support the Principles of Learning, specifically Self-Management of Learning and Clear Expectations. 

    Using a complex and meaningful text, DISD teachers collaboratively planned a comprehension task to use with students. The task included a high-level question that asks students to make sense of the big ideas in the text, opportunities for students to write about the text informally through quick writes, and opportunities to metacognitively reflect on how their thinking about the text changed through talking and writing.

    Additionally, teachers created student-centered task sheets to help students

    • Understand the purpose for the work that they will be doing, which sets up clear expectations for students as a rationale for why they are engaging in this particular task.
    • Understand the steps in the task as well as gain some insight into how to complete new activities or skills, such as providing tips for completing a quick write if that is new for students. These scaffolded steps present an opportunity for students to self-manage their learning by working towards the goal in incremental steps, allowing space for questions, connections, and metacognition.
    • Reflect on how their thinking has changed about the big ideas in the text and how they learned from working with classmates, which again promotes self-management of learning through metacognition an gives students opportunities to manage their own learning by evaluating the feedback they get from others.

    This test of change will be adopted as teachers overall are seeing an increase in students’ repertoire of academic skills. This is evidenced by the number of students who complete quick writes, who share text-based thinking during conversation, and who state accurate or mostly accurate understandings of big ideas. We look forward to continuing to understand how engaging in the work carried by a task sheet can provide opportunities for students to engage in high-quality and rigorous work.

    Tagged with: Continuous Improvement, ELA, High-Level Tasks / Curriculum, Partner Spotlight, Principles of Learning, Reading / Comprehension

    Creating a Map to Bridge Differences

    Sara DeMartino

    IFL English language arts fellow

    When we are working with teachers on their curriculum, we often find ourselves having to reinforce the idea that it’s important to do the tasks that we’d like our students to do. This is sometimes called dogfooding—it’s slang in the corporate world for testing your own product to work out the kinks. Teachers should complete their own tasks to make sure that the product generated by students in response to the task is the product the teacher was expecting students to create. Another reason for dogfooding in education is to anticipate the range of responses. Anticipating how students could potentially respond to a task (either in the correct or incorrect space) provides an opportunity for teachers to pre-plan for differentiation and contingency work based on what student responses tell the teacher about where the students are in their learning.

    We’ve found success using a Continuum of Potential Responses tool (Mihalakis & Renner, 2016) with teachers to plan for instruction. The tool, shown below and completed for a task on an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (2015), asks teachers to consider both less valid and more valid responses to a task, what those responses tell teachers about where students are in their learning, and how teachers might differentiate instructional next steps based on where students are.
    This work first begins by asking teachers to identify an “ideal” response and rationale for why the response is ideal. In this example, teachers were identifying the ideal response to the question “What is Coates saying about race in this text?”
    “Ideal” Response: The progress of Americans is built on violence towards black bodies (lines 12–16). Race is used in America to keep a hierarchy (lines 41–43) and is a modern invention of racism used to destroy and humiliate people (lines 33–34; 39–40; 46). Coates is also saying that how race is defined will continue to change over time to keep the “ruling class” in charge (47–50).
    Why Is That Response Ideal? This response gets major parts of Coates argument about race in America—that race is a construct used to oppress and control to keep the “ruling class” in power. It shows that students have a clear grasp of the content of the text that can be built upon as students move through additional tasks.

    Teachers then prepare for work that will bridge the gaps between where students are in their understanding of a text or of content and where they need to be to move forward in the work and toward the learning goal, rather than marching through a sequence of work in lock step.

    One of our urban partner districts has begun to utilize this document as a co-planning tool for teachers of English learners (ELs) and their ELA counterparts. The document provides an entry point for teachers to have a conversation around how ELs may respond to complex texts and tasks, and allows teachers the opportunity to work together to co-plan for difference—to think together around differentiated instruction and potential next steps to bridge gaps in student understanding around the texts and content. Having teachers of ELs and content-area teachers work together facilitates conversations around how to help ELs engage with complex texts and tasks, something that many content-area teachers have expressed frustration over knowing how to do. However, a critical component of utilizing this document, and something that is frequently a hurdle, is finding time for teachers to work together to anticipate a range of student responses. Shared PLC time among teachers of ELs and content-area teachers has proven to be an ideal time to work through co-planning instruction.

    When teachers begin to use the Continuum of Potential Responses tool during their co-planning time, we recommend that they start by discussing the ideal response(s) to the task they will be planning. This ideal response is what you would expect to hear if students totally got the text and the task you were asking them to respond to (not just what you think, say, a 10th grader would say). Teachers then work from the ideal responses to anticipate what their students might say in response to the task to create a map of differentiated next steps. We always recommend that teachers come back together after working with students to revise the Continuum of Potential Responses with the actual responses that students give and to refine the next steps based on those responses. This will provide a more complete map that you can use (and continue to revise) with future students.

    Tagged with: ELA, Reading / Comprehension, Writing

    Cognitively Challenging English Language Arts Instruction

    Anthony Petrosky

    IFL Co-director

    We have known about harmful effects of high-stakes state testing on students, teachers, and the curriculum for decades, yet we continue to perpetuate the belief that they test what students know and can do. Daniel Koretz (2017) demonstrates that they have become ends in themselves and take valuable time away from instruction designed to grow students’ intelligence rather than their test-taking abilities. Teachers, caught in the punishment and rewards systems anchored to these tests, feel pressure to teach to the test by drilling students with exercises that mirror those on the tests. Schools spend months every year on this kind of test prep. Students learn that the tests are used to categorize them as remedial, basic, general, and advanced. They learn that once they test into remedial or basic, the odds of their escaping into classes that offer intellectually challenging learning are very low.

    Rich Milner (2010) argues that the high-stake tests produce opportunity gaps for students of color. The “achievement gap” that segregates students by their test scores creates gaps in opportunities for students of color to engage in intellectually challenging work because they become stuck in classes designed to prepare them for tests. The tests and the test prep instruction create chains that are nearly unbreakable for large numbers of students of color. The test prep bores them, turns them against school, and forces them into the same skill drills every year. There are good alternatives (Meier & Knoester, 2017) to assess students’ achievements, including assessments of their work collected over time in portfolios and student self-assessments, but as a nation, we remain caught in the arguments that tie accountability to high-stakes standardized state tests rather than to teachers’ assessments of students’ actual work.

    An alternative to instruction designed as test preparation—cognitively challenging academic work, intellectual projects and tasks that push students to collaborate, to struggle, to explain their thinking in talk and writing—has always been available to advanced students. Students caught in the cycles of low performance on tests have become subject to such low expectations that it is common to hear teachers and administrators express low expectations for any but their advanced students. “My basic students couldn’t do this,” they say. “That’s great for my advanced students, but my general students couldn’t do it.” I heard a group of English teachers at a national conference say those sentences over and over during a session designed to teach them how to develop cognitively challenging text-based sequences of tasks.

    Lindsay Clare Matsumura’s research (2005) helps us to understand the relationship of cognitively challenging tasks to texts and teaching approaches. Imagine a triangle with tasks, texts, and teaching approaches in each corner. Weakness in any of the three corners can unravel challenging work for students. Weak texts can’t carry challenging work. Strong texts with weak tasks squander opportunities for cognitive struggle. Didactic teaching approaches where teachers do most of the talking and few students answer questions undermines strong texts and tasks. Students, not teachers, benefit from doing the work, from collaborating in their intellectual struggles, from talking with each other about their work, and from writing about it.
    Good cognitively challenging tasks invite students to combine skills such as identification of significant moments in texts with analyses and interpretations of those moments through perspectives framed by thoughtful questions and others’ views. Once we know what to look for in texts and tasks, we can use a simple tool (shown at right) to help us distinguish the lower versus higher-level cognitive demands of tasks.

    Before we take a look at that tool, let’s focus for a minute on two tasks for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This first question—What, according to King, couldn’t Blacks do in 1963 in Mississippi?—mimics a multiple- choice question that would rely on memory or, if the text were available, mining the speech for the right answer. Now consider this alternative task:
    As you reread “I Have a Dream,” mark those moments that seem important to King’s argument. When you’re finished reading, look across your marked moments. Then compose a quick write to capture your thinking right now on what you understand King’s argument to be. This task asks students to work across the text, identifying and analyzing what seems to them to be key moments. Once they’ve done that, students are invited to compose a quick write to get their thinking down about King’s argument.

    The higher-level task focuses students on constructing meaning across the whole speech. It asks them to track and identify what they see as key moments and to then use those moments to formulate their thinking in a quick, informal piece of writing on their understandings of King’s argument.

    Try your hand at using this tool to identify tasks, perhaps in a textbook, as either lower level or higher level in their cognitive demands. If it seems a bit daunting to use the complete chart, begin with the comprehension tasks. See if they ask students to read or reread carefully to construct meaning from the whole text or if they anchor comprehension in identifying, recognizing, or remembering specific bits of information. 


    Koretz, D. (2017). The testing charade: Pretending to make schools better. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.
    Matsumura, L. C. (2005). Creating high-quality classroom assignments. Lanham: Scarecrow Education.

    Meier, D. & Knoester, M. (2017). Beyond testing: Seven assessments of students and schools more effective than standardized tests. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Mihalakis, V. & Petrosky, A. (2015). Collaborative professional development to create cognitively demanding tasks… In Supovitz, J. & Spillane, J. (Eds.), Challenging standards: Navigating conflict and building capacity in the area of the common core. New

    York, NY & London: Rowman & Littlefield.
    Milner, R. (2010). Start where you are, but don’t stay there. Harvard Education Press.

    Tagged with: Academic Rigor, ELA, High-Level Tasks / Curriculum, Leadership, Principles of Learning, Reading / Comprehension