Typhani Harris | January 2016

STEAM-ER Series: Quality over Quantity

Welcome to the STEAM-ER series: Quality over Quantity

For the past few weeks we have been discussing Engagement through Rigor for each of the STEAM content areas. In the STEAM-ER introduction, I shared five areas that encourage Engagement through Rigor: higher level thinking, engagement, deep inquiry, demonstration, and quality over quantity (see full intro article here).

Last week, we looked at the act of demonstration by students. The main idea of demonstration was that in order for rigor to be brought to the classroom, students must be pushed to show their knowledge. It shouldn’t be about telling them what they know, and engaging them through real-world application.  This week we look at the final installment of the STEAM-ER series by analyzing quality over quantity.

Unlike the first four installments, this quality over quantity discussion will not be separated by STEAM content, but rather the introduction of one simple question: WHY?  When working with teachers on curriculum, units, lesson plans, and homework I often pose the question “why”. Often these teachers answers are “not sure.”


When mapping out your semester, or yearly curriculum work backwards.  Take a look at the standards you plan to cover, and think project-based when your ask yourself how students should demonstrate the standard(s).  Keep the big picture in mind when you finally create the project. As you design the major units needed in order to accomplish the big picture, continue to ask why.


Continue working backward as you move into the larger units of your curriculum.  What important information do students need to know or understand in order to achieve the big picture?  How and what will students do in order to prove they have learned?


As you begin designing the day-to-day lessons, keep asking why.  Everything from the opening activity to the exit slip, make sure you are asking why.  Don’t do something because you think you are supposed to, be sure each and every activity/task has a purpose.  Not only to you, but also your students, should know why the activities are being completed and the overall purpose.


Homework is probably the largest area where quality over quantity needs to be investigated.  Why do we give homework: because we are supposed to, because our teachers gave us homework, because it helps. But, does it really?  Alfie Kohn  provided 8 conclusions in his 2006 book The Homework Myth.

1. At best, most homework studies show only an association, not a causal relationship.
2. Do we really know how much homework kids do?
3. Homework studies confuse grades and test scores with learning.
4. Homework matters less the longer you look.
5. Even where they do exist, positive effects are often quite small.
6. There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.
7. The results of national and international exams raise further doubts about homework’s role.
8. Incidental research raises further doubts about homework.

So as you assign homework, keep asking yourself Why?  If you are assigning it because you think you have to, then stop.

Quality over quantity is not as easy as it seems, because it requires us to ask the hardest question of all…why?

Higher-Level Thinking
Deep Inquiry

These resources will help create Engagement through Rigor in all of the STEAM areas.
Piquès & Pirouettès

Next Week: STEAM-ER Series Recap
The last month has been devoted to providing Rigor in the classroom through Engagement in all STEAM content areas.  If you missed any of this series we will recap it next week!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.