“This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I recently attended two significant activities held in our district. At the “New Teachers” Induction and at the “Retired Teachers, Principals and Vice Principals Reception” , Teresa Grandinetti, our CTA President spoke in support of teachers in our district and the contribution they had made to the teaching profession. Her talk was both stimulating and interesting. Teresa spoke of the wonder of teaching and took time to review the responsibilities we as teachers assume when we become teachers. From her perspective teachers have the responsibility to themselves as professionals who need to continually grow and develop as teachers. She also indicated that teachers must support their union and the profession as a whole. A terrific frame of reference for practitioners. Recently I talked with Kris Magnusson, Dean, Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. His orientation to teacher responsibility is similar. He maintains that we have a responsibility to ourselves as learners, to our colleagues as members of a learning community and also to the profession as a whole. Both, I think maintain that we are teachers and learners who are governed by a sense of passion in supporting public education.
Their words and thoughts prompted me to review some of the thoughts of others on teaching and learning. As an educator, I often asked myself and others what are the components of effective instruction. I recently read a book called Turning Average Instruction Into Great Instruction by John O’Connor and forward my summary of the contents for your consideration. According to the author GREAT instruction should be:
• Guided by curriculum
• Rigorous with research-based strategies
• Engaging and exciting
• Assessed continuously to guide instruction, and
• Tailored through flexible grouping.
I use his elements as a framework to review some personal thoughts.
Guided by the Curriculum
Classroom instruction should be aligned to the performance standards articulated in our curricula. We should not rely on curricula as defined in textbooks or publishers packages. We should have a deep knowledge of skills and competencies that students are expected to master at the end of a course or school year. Doug Reeves argues for teachers to focus on the “power standards” evident in each curriculum. He suggests we refine and focus on those major standards that connect to previous learning and that allow success in subsequent courses or grades. We should also know how we expect students to demonstrate the skills and competencies contained in these power standards.
Rigorous with Research-Based Strategies
We need to provide students with the instruction they need. This includes students who are farther ahead of their peers and those that need to catch up with their peers. We must however be cautioned that rigorous does not necessarily mean harder. Rigor must be interpreted with relevant, complex and engaged learning and not a menu of work sheets. Strategies inherent to Universal Design (UDL), Response to Intervention (RTI) and Individualization need to be understood and applied where appropriate.
Research-Based Instructional Strategies
We need to have a palate of instructional strategies that we as teachers can select from in our particular situations. Marzanno, Pickering and Pollock (2001) reported on their meta-analysis of instructional strategies and recommend nine practices that impact student learning. Those strategies are:
1. Identifying similarities and differences
2. Summarizing and note taking
3. Reinforcing effort and providing feedback
4. Homework and practice
5. Nonlinguistic representations
6. Cooperative learning
7. Setting objectives and providing feedback
8. Generating hypothesis
9. Questions, cures and advance organizers
Educators must be critical consumers and select strategies appropriate to differentiation.
Engaging and Exciting
Students need to be pulled in, engaged, and involved in making magic. As Sir Ken Robinson so ably articulates we need to help students find and learn in their “element”. We must be energetic, enthusiastic, professional. As teachers we need to find the balance between “substance and style” that excites students to academic excellence.
Tailored Through Flexible Groups
I am not suggesting a return to the placement of students in one group forever. I am suggesting as does the author that we need to differentiate and tailor instruction through “flexible” grouping. Grouping can occur as learning strategy, as virtual instruction and as learning style flexibility. Teachers can apply differentiation as stations in their classroom or as choice in either application of learning or assessment. Properly applied differentiation can support student learning.
I thank John O’Conner for reminding me of how difficult teaching can be but also how invigorating it can be when we get it right in support of the children we serve.
“The only thing we have to fear is when, as a species, we don’t believe in the future anymore.” Yves Behar, Brandjein, 2007