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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
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Teacher standing in front of class with students' hands raised

I remember how, as a new teacher, I would attend a professional development and feel inundated with new strategies. (I wanted to get back to the classroom and try them all!) After the magic of that day wore off, I reflected on the many strategies and would often think, "Lots of great stuff, but I'm not sure it's worth the time it would take to implement it all."

We teachers are always looking to innovate, so, yes, it's essential that we try new things to add to our pedagogical bag of tricks. But it's important to focus on purpose and intentionality -- and not on quantity. So what really matters more than "always trying something new" is the reason behind why we do what we do.

What Research Says

This leads me to educational researcher John Hattie, who wrote Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Through his research, one of his goals is to aid teachers in seeing and better understanding learning through the eyes of their students.

Hattie has spent more than 15 years researching the influences on achievement of K-12 children. His findings linked student outcomes to several highly effective classroom practices. Here I'd like to highlight five of those practices:

1. Teacher Clarity

When a teacher begins a new unit of study or project with students, she clarifies the purpose and learning goals, and provides explicit criteria on how students can be successful. It's ideal to also present models or examples to students so they can see what the end product looks like.

2. Classroom Discussion

Teachers need to frequently step offstage and facilitate entire class discussion. This allows students to learn from each other. It's also a great opportunity for teachers to formatively assess (through observation) how well students are grasping new content and concepts.

3. Feedback

How do learners know they are moving forward without steady, consistent feedback? They often won't. Along with individual feedback (written or verbal), teachers need to provide whole-group feedback on patterns they see in the collective class' growth and areas of need. Students also need to be given opportunities to provide feedback to the teacher so that she can adjust the learning process, materials, and instruction accordingly.

4. Formative Assessments

In order to provide students with effective and accurate feedback, teachers need to assess frequently and routinely where students are in relation to the unit of study's learning goals or end product (summative assessment). Hattie recommends that teachers spend the same amount of time on formative evaluation as they do on summative assessment.

5. Metacognitive Strategies

Students are given opportunities to plan and organize, monitor their own work, direct their own learning, and to self-reflect along the way. When we provide students with time and space to be aware of their own knowledge and their own thinking, student ownership increases. And research shows that metacognition can be taught.

Collaborating with Colleagues

Great teachers are earnest learners. Spend some time with a colleague, or two or three, and talk about what each of these research-based, best classroom practices looks like in the classroom. Discuss each one in the context of your unique learning environment: who your students are, what they need, what they already know, etc.

How do you already bring these five classroom practices alive in your classroom? Please share in the comments section below.

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RachelTeaching's picture

Great article. I'm a bit concerned about the female pronoun in this sentence though: "Students also need to be given opportunities to provide feedback to the teacher so that she can adjust the learning process, materials, and instruction accordingly."

Ann Weiss's picture

I was a classroom teacher for 30 years, Director of G/T Programs, Adjunct College Instructor, and now work with Alternative Certification as a teacher intern supervisor. I agree completely! If we teachers can allow students to participate to a greater degree in their learning, and be less a lecturer and more a guide, our classrooms will sparkle! Great ideas!

Mohe2016's picture

Great article!
I think it would be a good reference for teachers. Personally, I have studied some of these practices and how they are affective, but as a new teacher and with the daily busy routine I usually forget to implements these practices. I would print these out and put them in my daily agenda until I used to practice them automatically.

Juan Alacid's picture

For me, the number 1 it's so hard to achieve. How can you give the final product to the students? I think, that if you show to your student how the work should look in order to be successful you are killing all the learning process. We really need to rethink education and what we want: Complete some standards or prepare our kids to succeed in the real world (I'm not talking only about work world)?

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Writer on education, teaching and learning. Chief Education Officer at The Writing Project

Juan, I agree that we shouldn't show or give students the final product. But I think what Rebeca's post intended to highlight is that we need to help students understand what the learning outcome of the unit or assignment is. Again, there can be many learning outcomes achieved throughout a unit, but guiding students towards thinking about them can help them to better understand the learning process and more important the *purpose* of assignments and activities.

ZariffShafie's picture

Hello everybody..
I am an English teacher from Malaysia. I always have problem to determine whether my students really understand what I teach in class or not. Is there any effective approach that I can follow?

miamirealestate's picture

Effective teachers set high standards for students. They also articulate clear goals. Students should know up front what they will learn and what they will be expected to do with what they know.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Writer on education, teaching and learning. Chief Education Officer at The Writing Project

One strategy I have tried is "reflection writing" have students reflect on what they learned by providing prompt questions related to the topic/subject. Depending on the students' age group and level of proficiency you can try basic "who, what, where..." questions or more complex questions. In this way you can use their reflection piece as a way to assess their learning. The above link that Samer provided also helps to discuss "formative assessment", which is how I would assess reflection pieces of blogs.

Han Buwalda's picture
Han Buwalda
professional e-chemistry educator and helper on sustainable health and freedom

In the netherlands we have a small pocket versions of Hattue's book. Compact and great tool to start to collaborate. I find the preparation of lessons in a team My new precious.
Thanx for this great summary. My Q: what is in for me? Better lessons, easier lessons, better results and yes metacognition is something to train our students. Learning on the learning is Q to life time learning.

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