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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:

March 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



Developing Expert Learners is a practitioner guide for the research-based classroom teacher. McDowell does an exemplary job of providing powerful strategies that can transform any classroom into a learning laboratory.
The book is filled with these strategies, relevant school-based examples, and educator testimonials that inspire. McDowell focuses on the importance of both the learner and the teacher in helping to co-construct a learning community that empowers learners to attain high levels of expertise and efficacy. The book is a wonderful balance between theory and practice and a must have for any educator trying to move their students from surface to deep understanding. McDowell brings action to research.

Sascha Heckmann
American International School of Mazambique

Michael McDowell provides practical examples in designing learning for students. Developing Expert Learners is a must-read for educators to build student expertise in a meaningful way, with many wonderful thoughts and ideas to support teachers in developing clarity for their students.

Sophie Murphy
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne

The information provided is good for early levels- though initially planned as a level 5/6 text- not adopted but recommended to learners for our level 4 programmes

Mr Julian Ayres
School of Education and Community, Wrexham Glyndwr University
March 21, 2023

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ISBN: 9781544337159

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