Each year, teachers across the country are given well-researched and evidence-based instructional strategies in resources aimed at helping them reflect and improve upon teaching and assessment practices. I am willing to bet what happens next falls in one of two possible categories. Either time is set aside at institute days or during PLC time to read, process, and discuss the materials provided—or, resources are often distributed without context or clear guidance and wind up becoming just another item to be shelved. Research-based lesson plans can yield to increased student achievement, but how do we determine what to implement and how? Simply put: we cannot do it all. Oftentimes the focus of the learning may be disjointed or centered on broad initiatives where the relevance to instructional practices is not immediately apparent, or the time to process and implement literally does not exist. This blog entry seeks to address this issue head-on and offer some quick steps teachers can take to try to put research-based instructional strategies into practice in their classrooms.
Three simple steps with starting points include:
- Identify key areas where you are looking to grow or improve. As a starting point, look at your most recent performance evaluation.
- Set clear, measurable goals. Consider how you will quantify if your goal has been met.
- Remember, it’s about growth—not perfection. Make it your own and return to the resource as needed.
As mentioned above, one great place to start is with your most recent performance evaluation or observational feedback. If you determine that your classroom practice requires revisiting, you may consider referring to a set of research-based teaching strategies and best practices to guide you—which, as luck may have it, might be contained within the resources that you have already been provided.
One great comprehensive list comes from The New Art and Science of Teaching, a 2017 publication by Dr. Robert Marzano that details a framework of 43 research-based high impact strategies for teachers. This model suggests beginning with a self-evaluation as a tool for individual teachers, which would ultimately help to ensure that the research reviewed is related to a key area of concern. For those unfamiliar with this framework, or those who do not want to add one more thing to their plate, the sentiment still holds: identify an area of concern, self-evaluate, implement new techniques, and measure outcomes based on data or student feedback. Each element in Dr. Marzano’s framework also contains teacher self-reflections to allow an educator to rate their current application as well as student reflections that can measure the impact that the strategy(ies) are having on student learning. Regardless of the resource, the approach should be the same, continue practicing, and more importantly, continue measuring your growth.
On to the next step
Have a clear starting point in mind and a plan of attack? Then it’s time to set some clear, measurable goals to ensure that progress is being made. But how does one sift through the multitude of areas where they may be asked to grow and improve, while ensuring efforts are focused on high-impact outcomes that align to current district initiatives?
Terry Morganti-Fisher and Anne E. Conzemius address this issue in their work More than a SMART Goal: Staying Focused on Student Learning, where they state “energy flows where attention goes;” ultimately landing on the mantra, “less is more.” And although several of these strategies are specific to this model, most are general in nature, with detailed descriptions as to how and why the strategies can have an impact, with a focus on desired student outcomes. Again, this resource can be a great place to start, or teachers can choose to identify a category of need and design goals focused on this targeted area. Teachers should consider the idea of panic zone, stretch zone, and comfort zone goals, and ensure that they are taking on a task “meaty” enough to be meaningful, but not so large that it will overwhelm them or absorb too much of their mental or physical energy. Morganti-Fisher and Conzemius refer to the Pareto principle of 80/20 which states that “80 percent of problems can be eliminated if we focus on the vital few 20 percent causes,” which they say “gives us permission to isolate a few, high-leverage priorities and seek to resolve those, knowing everything else will benefit from our improvement efforts.”
The final step
Once an area of concern is identified and clear, measurable goals have been set, it is essential that a teacher focus on a method of implementation that most closely aligns with their current practice or routines. While any purposeful change to a teacher’s practice should be grounded in research, it is not essential that research-based teaching strategies be approached or applied in a prescribed method. The books and articles that guide the work should serve as just that: a guide, with teachers adjusting and altering as necessary to meet the individual needs of their classroom or their own unique set of goals. When in doubt, teachers may be wise to return to the resources often, ensuring that their understanding is both accurate and focused on a clear, measurable outcome. At times, a closer reading may be necessary, given that a teacher’s understanding may have shifted or perhaps the passage of time has allowed for students or the teacher to better accept and apply the knowledge contained in the resource. Regardless, the research should be viewed as a starting point and a guidepost in the larger process of professional development, improvement, and reform. The ultimate goal is for any new practice to become routine, growing the toolkit at a teacher’s disposal and enhancing what is already working for them in their classroom.
Let’s face it, time in education is always limited, and the amount of information at our disposal is vast. However, it is essential to remember that real, lasting change takes just that: time. Have patience with yourself and isolate key areas where research-based instructional strategies can have the greatest impact. Set clear, measurable goals to ensure success, and always remember to make it your own because, in the end, you are the master of your domain.
About the Author
Ashley Avila is an English teacher at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Ill. She’s been an educator since 2009 and has a passion for bridging gaps in education and working with at-risk youth.