When it comes to classroom instruction, there is a tendency for teachers to overdo instructional strategies by including in their daily lessons a concoction of various strategies in the hopes of improving student comprehension or simply alleviating boredom.  It is true that, as educators, we have obtained many different instructional tools along the way.  But, have we really stopped and analyzed which instructional strategies actually produced the desired results we were looking for? In the SACI process, instruction is just as vital as the standards being addressed, the assessments being developed and the content curriculum being implemented.  We can ensure student-met learning goals by using specific, proven, research-based instructional strategies that match with the skills we want to teach, the assessment we develop, and the content we ask our students to learn. Not all strategies work with all standards. As skills are taught, it is important to focus on two or three instructional strategies per skill.  This specific focus allows teachers to gather “causal data” to make a determination of the success of the particular strategies. How would we know which strategies contributed to student learning if ten or so were used to teach a skill?  This data can then be used along with student data to reflect on their teaching and share successes in their professional learning teams.

Balancing passion with science

The primary view or “script” of American teachers is one of a passionate, autonomous, intellect transmitting knowledge creatively wanting students to succeed.  This view has value.  However, so much research proves that instruction is as much of a science as it is an art.  A science based on quantitative and qualitative data is what improves student achievement.  In addition, creating collaborative learning communities where teachers take joint responsibility for all students in reflecting, planning and assessing and moving away from our isolation “script” is the way to improved student performance.  When teachers focus on a skill they want students to master, develop the assessment that matches the complexity of the skill and use precise instructional strategies to teach the skill, they will provide their students with the greatest opportunities to succeed in and out of the classroom.  John Hattie’s 2009 synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement(Visible Learning) shows that along with teacher-student relationships and teacher quality, teaching strategies are proven to be among the top indicators of student achievement (Hattie 2009).  Robert Marzano’s research on instructional strategies that work continue to be confirmed best practice (Marzano, Pickering, Pollack 2001)

Based on the combination of Hattie and Marzano’s research, we have crafted the following list of best practice instructional strategies that can be embedded in curricular units of study.

  • Clear goals for learning
  • Formative assessment for learning and feedback
  • Concept mapping and non-linguistic/graphical representation
  • Summarizing and Note Taking
  • Cues, questions, and advance organizers
  • Early interventions for struggling learners
  • Reciprocal teaching
  • Modeling exemplars

As you continue to work with the Common Core State Standards, choose instructional strategies that match the skill being learned.  This compact approach will provide a clear focus for students as they move from the beginning level of proficiency to that of mastery.