Six strategies to strengthening teacher instruction
If you want to continue honing your teaching practice, it’s worth taking a step back to pinpoint some specific areas where you could improve your instruction.
Targeting these areas can make a huge difference to the way you approach your teaching and the impact you have on your students.
Based on our experience with helping schools establish Professional Learning Communities, and drawing on the work of the Art and Science of Teaching, here are six strategies that we believe are vital to strengthening your instruction.
1. Know your students
How well do you really know your students?
Without knowing your students’ starting points or readiness levels for learning, it’s impossible to tailor your instruction to their needs. The frequent use of formative assessment is essential, allowing you to modify your teaching approaches as you go.
We believe it’s also wise to take the advice of clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller. He stresses we must build a classroom culture in which ‘having a go’ is expected and mistakes are viewed as steps towards a correct answer.
2. Know the curriculum
We have to know where we want all students to end up before we can think about how we want them to get there. To this end, clearly articulated learning goals are essential.
It is also important to determine priorities within the curriculum. For example, what are the critical concepts that students must master? And in an overcrowded curriculum, where is your time most effectively spent?
3. Engage in deliberate practice
It always pays to be purposeful in applying instructional strategies and also to monitor the impact these strategies have on students.
Discuss with students why these instructional strategies are being used and ask your students to reflect on how these strategies help their learning. A teacher might purposefully employ group processing strategies such as perspective analysis, reciprocal teaching and think-pair-share exercises to enhance students’ learning. Students could then reflect upon when these processing strategies are working or not working for them.
4. Consider the important role self-efficacy plays
Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief about their ability to perform a task and has a huge impact on motivation and achievement. Although a student may indeed have the necessary skills to successfully complete a task, they may not believe that these skills are enough.
Low self-efficacy can lead to high levels of anxiety, task avoidance and negative impacts on achievement, so as teachers we need to consider ways that we can enhance students’ self-efficacy.
An important source of self-efficacy is ‘mastery’ experiences – students seeing they are making progress. One highly effective strategy for students to track and monitor their own progress is the use of proficiency scales, first described by Robert J Marzano in Classroom assessment and grading that works (Marzano, 2006) and Making standards useful in the classroom (Marzano & Haystead, 2008). The design of the scale allows students to set challenging yet attainable goals and to see their gains as they work towards mastery of these goals. The scale also offers a platform for teachers to provide specific, performance-related feedback in a timely manner.
5. Work with colleagues in collaborative teams and engage in ongoing cycles of inquiry
Always make sure that collaborative inquiry is focused on strengthening teacher practice. If the key to improving student learning is to increase the impact of our teaching practice, then the inquiry process must constantly focus on that aspect – otherwise we are just wasting our precious time in an already frenetic and time-poor environment.
6. Remember the power of positive relationships
Teaching and learning are relational processes between teachers and their students, and also students with one another. Having an understanding of students’ interests and backgrounds, and demonstrating your interest in them, is vital to developing the positive relationships that make these relational processes sing.
Managing our own responses to our students is explicitly linked to our capacity to develop positive relationships. In the New Art and Science of Teaching, teachers are encouraged to use strategies that help students feel welcome, accepted and valued. They may for example, greet students as they enter the classroom to ensure that students feel welcome.
More resources to help strengthen your instruction:
- Thinking protocols for learning: Janelle wrote this book because it encompasses an area of great interest and passion for her, but also to supplement the New Art and Science of Teaching (NASOT) framework. It features practical strategies for grouping students to interact with content and takes an in-depth look at the development of metacognitive skills and self-efficacy. A wide range of strategies for delving deeper into creative and critical thinking, problem-solving and ethical thinking are also included.
- Collaborative teams that transform schools: This book is basically a roadmap for increasing the effectiveness of collaborative teams and enhancing PLC processes. It provides practical steps and strategies for transforming critical components of education including curriculum, assessment, instruction and teacher development.
- Collaborative teams that work: The definitive guide to cycles of learning in a PLC: This book is ideal for learning how to focus the work of collaborative teams in a very practical way. Gavin and Colin haven’t just read about the work – they have implemented and led it over many years. Taking the confusion out of the collaborative process for school leaders and educators, this guide distils the latest research into concrete actions that will help your school answer the critical questions of a PLC, and anticipate, address and overcome the challenges that collaborative teams often encounter on their quest to ensure high levels of learning of all.
Dr Janelle Wills is the lead training associate for High Reliability Schools, the New Art and Science of Teaching and other Marzano Research topics. She works extensively with schools, regions and systems throughout Australia.
With over 30 years of teaching and leadership experience, Dr Wills maintains a strong commitment to continued learning that enables her to remain both informed and innovative in her approach.