You know, staff meetings bring out a lot of things in people…not all of them good. I distinctly remember one line that was said at a staff meeting that brought out some panic in me.
But let me back up to say that I (and I bet probably you, too) got into teaching to have an impact. I do things deliberately. I don’t like to waste my or my students’ time.
Back to the staff meeting: My principal said as an aside, “Of course, we’re always striving to use research-based practices.” In silent agreement, I nodded my head and started doing a mental check of the research-based practices that I was using….yeah…umm….I didn’t hear what she said after that because I had a crazy realization:
If someone asked me point blank…I could not rattle off a list of research-based practices and that bothered me.
Honestly, between eating lunch in front of the copy machine and navigating ever-changing curriculum and standards, I had lost track of which practices were actually research-based. But as I started doing some research, there was good news:
Many of the techniques I found were things I was doing, or was at least familiar with. I bet many of these are in your repertoire as well:
Start with Review – When you spend 5 to 8 minutes at the beginning of a lesson reviewing relevant content from the previous lesson, you give students more opportunities to strengthen connections in their brains. It also helps students to activate their schema for the lesson.
Present New Material in Small Steps – Students, well, all of us, have a limited working memory and this is what we use to process information. Too much new information can overwhelm the working memory. Research shows that students need new information broken down into small steps with practice in between each step.
Think Aloud – When you read, write, solve math problems, etc. in front of your students, think aloud about the process that you’re using. Modeling and demonstration helps students to make their thought processes more like yours. Since you’re the one proficient in these things, that’s exactly what you want : )
Guided Practice – The most successful teachers present new material and then provide students with guided practice before letting them loose to work independently. Guided practice might be working through some problems together, having students summarize, rephrase, answer questions, etc. It’s like the hand holding part of learning something new.
State the Objective – Maybe even write it on the board. Maybe have students chorally read it with you. (Hey, it’s impressive to administrators in observations, if nothing else!) The goal of your lesson shouldn’t be a secret to your students. They are better set up to direct their learning if they know where they’re supposed to be going.
Use Graphic Organizers – Graphic organizers help students summarize their learning and hang on to the important points. Research shows that information is stored in the brain in two forms, visual and linguistic. Using both methods helps more students achieve.
Concept Sorting – Comparing, contrasting, and categorizing helps students break down concepts and truly understand them. Some examples are sorting words by phonics pattern, sorting plants or animals by type, sorting shapes by their characteristics, etc.
Check for Understanding – Throughout your lessons it’s important to see if students are with you. This lets you know if you need to reteach or if its time to move on. When possible, let every student respond. Students can write responses on a whiteboard, share an answer with a partner, or hold up a hand symbol with their answer.
Provide Feedback – I still remember an activity from my ed psych class in college where we threw bean bags over our shoulders and tried to get them to land in a square on a piece of paper. If you just keep throwing the bean bag on your own you never get any more likely to hit the square. However, if someone gives you feedback, “a little more to the right,” “too hard of a throw,” etc. you are much more likely to get a bean bag in the square. Students need feedback to improve.
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