Thursday, September 17, 2015

Effective classroom teachers successfully integrate four critical skills into their classroom:

1. Content Planning

2. Assessment
3. Instruction
4. Classroom Culture/Management

In this post, I'll describe some of the elements of effective instruction.

Effective teachers make sure that classroom activities engage all students. There are some students in every class who would love to answer every question and do every demonstration. Their hands are constantly in the air, enthusiastically waving. It's tempting to let this enthusiasm have its way, and, of course, there are many other students in the room who would be content to have it so. This must not be. All students need to know that all of them will be expected to participate in class. Cold calling is one way to do this. The best procedure is to ask a question, pause for all to consider, and then call on a student (by name, through drawing a stick with their names, etc. In the case of sticks I'd recommend putting them back into the holder so that students don't think they're finished.) Teachers should set up all individual and group activities in such a way that all students must participate. One example is to have all students write three review questions, then have students work in small groups to refine their questions down to a few. This way all students are engaged. Making sure that activities are meaningful and challenging is another way to encourage engagement. 

Effective teachers use frequent models of strong and weak work. These examples help students to come to hold a similar understanding of quality that the teacher has. When students, working individually and in small groups, apply rubrics and scoring guides to the models this makes this understanding even greater. 

In effective classrooms students are required to do most of the work. A book I read a few years ago was titled 'Never Work Harder Than Your Students', and that really says it all. Teachers should constantly monitor the ratio of talking or other work done in the classroom. Students should talk more and teachers talk less. When teachers must talk, they should look to employ more questions, helping to guide students to understanding. They should use other students, as well, drawing in the class when possible for the solution, rather than jumping in to supply the answer. I have observed classroomw where the teacher put on an impressive and interesting display of their knowledge--and the students contentedly observed in quiet, with virtually nothing expected of them but to write an occasional note. Of course there are times when the teacher will instruct directly, but the general rule is that students should always work harder than the teacher. 

When teaching a new skill many effective teachers employ an I Do, We Do, Y'all Do, You Do approach. This gradually moves from demonstration to guided practice, to partner or small group practice, to individual practice, all with feedback along the way from the teacher or other students. 

Instruction Checklist

-All students are consistently involved in class activities
-Activities are meaningful, that is, challenging and thoughtful at the appropriate level
-Models of strong and weak work are used to make the elements of quality clear
-Rubrics or scoring guides are clear and communicated in advance of the learning (students may help in designing)
-Students practice with models and rubrics
-Students are required to do most of the work during the lesson; students talk more than the teacher during the lesson
-The teacher employs I Do, We Do, Y'all Do, You Do steps when introducing a new skill
-The teacher's movements in the classroom support instruction

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