Teaching Strategies: Are They Worth It?

img_0384Teaching strategies is a topic I give a lot of thought to. Hattie’s Visible Learning and effect size is getting much of my attention as of late. The FIT teaching approach as a framework for growth and leadership piques my curiosity. Carol Dwerks’s Mindsets make mind sense. And, the teachers throwing out grades (#ttog) movement has me focused on feedback versus letter grades.

Finding effective teaching methods has been a goal of mine for the past five years. I have to admit that I go into most teaching situations with an idea and content that has to be covered. Rarely do I have time to think about how to best help students learn the concepts, ideas, and content with a scaffold that helps provide structure and support in order to move learning forward.

So, I hunt for the elusive silver bullet that will help me make a difference for my students and colleagues. Recently, I purchased a book of strategies that had examples and processes for over 50 types like anticipation/reaction guide, discussion partners, mind maps, think-pair-share, jigsaw, etc. I know that I will be able use many of these with success in my classroom.

One of the problems I’m trying to solve is how to effectively teach vocabulary. img_0383I teach three sections of 9th grade theology and there is a lot of new vocabulary that then represents ideas or concepts that are highly elusive in the best of times. So, I was searching for strategies and came across a website for Marzano research that offers access to over 300 teaching strategies for $30.00 per month yearly subscription. I was wondering if anyone has used this subscription service and whether it is worth the price?

Teaching: What Works?

I teach a year 9 theology course where there are lots of new vocabulary, many abstract concepts that need to be made concrete, and students who will doubt the validity of what I teach. Because of this, I have been searching for how to best serve my students and I have run across some ideas that are tried and true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of change or trying new things, but I do want my kids to have a solid foundation in faith. The guiding principles at my school are “Inspiring Faith and Excellence.”

Visible Learning

Visible Learning, written by John Hattie and Gregory Yates

Earlier this spring I came across two sources that stated what the best teaching strategies are based upon research. Results from small research studies can be posted almost as soon as a researcher has completed a project. Which means they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I feel as though I was cheated in my teacher education program and that I need to begin teaching with strategies that have been proven through research to work.

The National Council of Teaching Quality (NCTQ) published this work that stated the following about fundamental teaching strategies:

     1. Pair graphics with words,

     2. Link abstract concepts with concrete.                 Brepresentations,

     3. Pose probing questions,

     4. Repeatedly alternating problems with solutions and problems that need to be solved,

     5. Distributing practice,

     6. Assessing to boost retention.

Some of these may seem to be pretty obvious but there were four that were new to me (numbers 3-6). I would think that having been teaching for more than twenty years I would be familiar with all six “fundamental teaching strategies.”

I also have been reading John Hattie and Gregory Yates’s book  titled Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. I was also generally surprised to see that the teaching strategies that had the greatest affects on student learning matched nicely with the NCTQ report. I keep hearing people talk about teachers being facilitators of learning, coaches, or guide on the side. But, in Hattie and Yates’s book, direct instruction, feedback, and teacher clarity had just more than double the effect size as inductive teaching, simulation and gaming, and problem based learning.

I’m also glad to see that scaffolding, as shared in this recent post from Edutopia by Rebecca Alber,  was also mentioned in the Visible Learning book as a “critical instructional component.” Hattie and Yates also state, …”there is little basis to suggest that personal discovery within itself assists a person to actually learn. In fact, additional load (cognitive load) imposed by the need to explore and find things out can detract from our capacity to assimilate the information uncovered.”

So what does all this mean for me as a teacher? It means that I need to build solid relationships with my students, use fundamentally sound research based teaching strategies that have been proven to work, scaffold learning, and make sure my kids get timely feedback. I also see a disconnect between what teachers are saying works (teacher as facilitator) and what research has proven to work (teacher as activator). Thoughts anyone?

One Block at A Time: I’m Just Learning

Following education, technology, pedagogy, brain research, as well as a plethora of other educational trends and issues has been a passion of mine over the past half decade (does the seem to look like a lot more time?). What has been weighing most on my mind as an in the trenches teacher for the past three years is, how can I become a GREAT teacher?
img_0475 I don’t want to just settle for average. I mean, my kids have enough average teachers every day. I want to be up there with elite teachers, teachers like Paul Solarz, Dave Burgess, Michael Matera, Nicholas Provenzano, Starr Sackstein, Shelly Sanchez, Alice Keeler, Joy Kirr, and Vicki Davis. These teachers are passionate about what they do and make a difference for not only the students they teach but also for the teachers that teach other students. These elite teachers have an impact on my classes here in Iowa City.
One of the things that I am coming to realize this year is that many of the trends and issues I was following didn’t or haven’t mentioned the six fundamental teaching strategies that form the basis from whence great teachers spring. My current research into the realm of educational psychology and how we learn began with reading just a bit of John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. I got just a little ways into the book before I realized that I needed to read Hattie’s and Yates’s book Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. While reading this book, going through a number of highlighters, and taking many notes, I began to realize that there was something missing from my educational foundation!

Back in college we didn’t really have any textbooks that I can recall ever buying or reading that really focused on how people learn. I recently came upon the following articles in my Flipboard feed;

The Internet Makes Us Stupid and Here’s Why, We Need to Rewrite the Textbook on How to Teach Teachers, and How Has Google Affected the Way Students Learn? These all helped to lead me to the following documents:

  1. Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.
  2. National Council on Teacher Quality (2016). Learning About Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs to Know. 
  3. Behnke, Rachel. The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction: A Guide for Administrators. TCEC Conference.
Now that I know the basics, I feel that I can move forward and better understand how to become a GREAT teacher. What was missing from my own teacher prep program has been located and I can rectify the deficiency and finally move forward. And, so I begin building, one block at a time (I knew there was a missing piece somewhere).