Best Practice Reminders
10 quick and easy (and research-based) things you can do to improve student learning in your classroom
- Make your learning objectives explicit: start every class by telling students the purpose of today’s class (what you want them to know, understand, or be able to do by the end of class). Write it on the board, have them write it on an index card (great as an exit card later), and/or discuss it as a class.
- Use Lectures Effectively: brain research shows that the adolescent brain can handle 12-15 minutes of direct instruction of new content (“Teaching With the Brain in Mind”). Then students need time to think about it, apply it, or see examples.Long lectures (meaning when the teacher is at the front of the room delivering information to the students for over 15 minutes) are ineffective and inefficient ways of improving student learning.
- Allow movement: we’ve known for decades that movement not only improves our ability to learn, but also helps keep us attentive and engaged. Science shows us that humans should, at a minimum, stand up for 2 minutes every 20 minutes (NPR Article). Build movement, however brief, into your daily plan. Consider having students switch seats or stand and stretch, or just “mingle” for a few minutes between activities. If you want students to discuss a concept or question, why not have them do this while standing and moving around?
- Use your room effectively and creatively: take the time to move desks around to best meet the needs of your lesson or your students. A few minutes at the beginning or end of class can make a huge difference in how kids learn; use the students to help you move furniture—with a little training, this can become a quick and easy habit.
- Use formative assessments to check for understanding often: All practice work (homework, classwork) is formative, so use what you learn to inform what you do next. In addition, consider using exit cards and quick checks to see what they understand or can do. Keep a pile of index cards handy, or slips of scrap paper. Take the last 5 minutes of class to revisit the objectives you made explicit at the beginning of class—did they get what you hoped they would? Make sure to use the information you get to plan your next class--formative assessments are only formative if they inform your teaching.
- Offer read aloud options: when introducing new information through reading, offer two options: reading silently, or listening to a teacher read. Consider offering the choice through an exit card the class before to avoid the “I’ll do what my friend is doing” choice. Ask a colleague, an administrator, an aide, or one of the instructional coaches to come sit with the silent readers while you take the other group to an empty room. Have them follow along as you read to improve their vocabulary, fluency, and reading rate.
- Make learning active, not passive: remember, the one doing is the one learning. If the teacher is talking, the teacher is learning; if the teacher is demonstrating, the teacher is learning. So after you talk and demonstrate, make them do it. Active learning takes more time, but the outcome is long-lasting.
- Get rid of zeroes: when using a traditional 100 point grading scale, zeroes unfairly skew results and prevent accurate reporting of skills, understandings , and knowledge.
- Be thoughtful about homework: while the current research on homework is inconclusive, almost all researchers agree on a few findings. First, homework should not require new learning (though it can introduce new learning), it should be used to reinforce, practice, prepare for, or extend learning. Second, the purpose of the homework should be clear to students, as should the approximate intended time. Third, the homework should match the skill level of the student (which may mean differentiating the homework); if it’s too hard, students will get frustrated and give up, and if it’s too easy, it will be “busy work”. Finally, provide support structures for homework help and completion. Research shows that students from low-economic homes do not benefit from homework as much as students from middle- or high-economic homes, so we need to have structures in place to ensure all students are benefiting.
- Expect greatness: all students are capable of meeting or exceeding high expectations. We may need to provide scaffolding for some students, and some may need more time or different pathways than others to get there, but all students can be excellent. Expect greatness from them, and then help them achieve it.