Sunday, September 30, 2018

10 Strategies to Strengthen Instruction and Learning

When I think back to my training to become a teacher, there were some reasonably consistent norms.  These consisted of sound classroom management, listing the learning objectives, and developing a lesson plan. I still can’t believe how much time and focus there was on how to manage a classroom effectively. When it came to the lesson plan piece, many of my colleagues and I in the Northeastern United States were educated in the Instructional Theory Into Practice Model (ITIP) developed by Madeline Hunter.  For many years this framework was the lay of the land in schools when it came to direct instruction.  

Many of the original tenets still have merit today. As a realist, there is still value in direct instruction. In his meta-analysis of over 300 research studies, John Hattie found that direct instruction has above average gains when it comes to student results, specifically an effect size of 0.59. Another meta-analysis on over 400 studies indicated strong positive results (Stockard et al., 2018).  The effectiveness of this pedagogical technique relies on it being only a small component of a lesson. The rule of thumb during my days as a principal was for my teachers to limit any lecture component. Direct Instruction should be designed so that learners can construct (induce) concepts and generalizations.  For example, lessons can be divided into short exercises (two to four minutes) on slightly different but related topics.  This sustains children's interest level and facilitates children's synthesizing knowledge from different activities into a larger whole. 


We now live and work in different times. Technology, the pursuit of innovation, and advancements in research have fundamentally changed the learning culture in many schools for the better.  As I have conducted thousands of walk-throughs in schools, I am always looking at the convergence of instruction and learning. To me, instruction is what the adult does whereas learning is what the student does. There is some gray area here, but the overall goal is to continually grow by taking a critical lens to practice with the goal of improving learning outcomes for kids. With this being said, I have gone back to the ITIP Model and adapted it a bit. Some items remain, while a few others have been added. 

Standards-aligned learning target 

These frame the lesson from the students' point of view and are presented as “I can” or “I will” statements. They help kids grasp the lesson's purpose—why it is crucial to learn this concept, on this day, and in this way. Targets help to create an environment where kids exhibit more ownership over their learning. Critical questions framed from the lens of the learner include:

  1. Why is this idea, topic, or subject vital for me to learn and understand so that I can do this? 
  2. How will I show that I can do this, and how well will I have to do it?
  3. What will I be able to do when I've finished this lesson? 

Anticipatory set 

Anticipatory set is used to prepare learners for the lesson or task by setting their minds for instruction or learning. This is achieved by asking a question, adding a relevant context, or making statements to pique interest, create mental images, review information, and initiate the learning process. A good do-now activity can accomplish this.

Review prior learning 

Research in cognitive science has shown that eliciting prior understandings is a necessary component of the learning process. Research also has shown that expert learners are much more adept at the transfer of learning than novices and that practice in the transfer of learning is required in good instruction (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000).

Modeling 

A pedagogical strategy where the teacher or student(s), demonstrates how to complete tasks and activities related to the learning target.

Check for understanding 

Specific points during the lesson or task when the teacher checks to see if the students understand the concept or steps and how to enact them to achieve the target. It clarifies the purpose of the learning, can be leveraged as a mechanism for feedback and can provide valuable information that can be used to modify the lesson. 

Practice 

Guided practice is when the students engage in learning target activities under the guidance of a support system that can assure success. Independent practice is when the kids practice and reinforce what they learn after they are capable of performing the target without support.

Authentic application of learning 

REAL learning in the classroom empowers students to manipulate the material to solve problems, answer questions, formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate, or brainstorm.   These activities deemphasize direct instruction and can include discussion questions and group exercises, as well as problem-posing and -solving sessions, to get the concepts across in a meaningful and memorable way. Pedagogical techniques such as personalized, blended and project-based learning as well as differentiated instruction and student agency can lead to greater ownership amongst learners. 

Closure 

Learning increases when lessons are concluded in a manner that helps students organize and remember the point of the lesson.  Closure draws attention to the end of the lesson, helps students organize their learning, reinforces the significant points of the lesson, allows students to practice what is learned, and provides an opportunity for feedback and review. 


Feedback 

Verbal and non-verbal means to justify a grade, establish criteria for improvement, provide motivation for the next assessment, reinforce good work, and act as a catalyst for reflection. Feedback is valuable when it is received, understood and acted on (Nicol, 2010). How students analyze, discuss and act on feedback is as important as the quality of the feedback itself. Make sure it is Timely, specific to standard(s) and concept(s), constructive and meaningful. For more strategies on how to improve feedback click HERE

Assessment 

Well-designed assessment sets clear expectations, establishes a reasonable workload (one that does not push students into rote reproductive approaches to study), and provides opportunities for students to self-monitor, rehearse, practice and receive feedback. Assessment is an integral component of a coherent educational experience.

Not all of these strategies will be implemented in every lesson nor should they. However, each provides a lens to look at practice and make needed changes that can lead to better outcomes.  It should also be noted that technology represents a natural pedagogical fit that can be used to implement these strategies with enhanced fidelity. Make the time to reflect daily as to where you are to get to where your learners want and need you to be. 

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington DC: National Academy Press.

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517.

Stockard, Jean & W. Wood, Timothy & Coughlin, Cristy & Rasplica Khoury, Caitlin. (2018). The Effectiveness of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research. Review of Educational Research: 88(4).

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