Mary Ewart's bPortfolio

EDU 6526 Survey of Instructional Strategies – Meta Reflection – Standard 10

Standard 10: Teacher leaders understand effective use of research based instructional practices.

“Passionately committed teachers are those who absolutely love what they do. They are constantly searching for more effective ways to reach their children, to master the content and methods of their craft…” (Zehm & Kottler, 1993).

The portion of that description addressing a teacher continually searching for more effective ways to reach children is the best description of who I was as a teacher before this course. Over the last 11 years of teaching, I have spent a lot of time taking additional coursework, participating in workshops, and attending conferences, all related to the goal of increasing my instructional effectiveness to make the math I teach more accessible to my students. That being said, the major flaw in my process was a lack of measurable effectiveness. I would learn and try new things, and I would consider student data before and after implementation, as well as empirical evidence on how the students were reacting to the strategy and I even included student surveys, but I never had a quantifiable way to determine what the best strategies were, or why.

The first evening of this class, we discussed a variety of strategies and considered their importance in terms of instructional effectiveness. I’ve included my Instructional Effectiveness Survey, adapted from John Hattie’s (2012) book Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. This survey was highly impactful and caused me to consider many of my previous understandings. One portion of this survey that I would love to have a conversation with John Hattie about is the idea that a teacher’s level of subject matter knowledge is something that has a very low instructional impact. This is something I end up butting up against regularly; I am not a math major, but I teach in a single subject math classroom. I have worked with many colleagues throughout the years who feel that my lack of a major in mathematics is something that will harm my students. I have always maintained that I have enough of a level of mathematical content understanding to be able to successfully teach my students, but I do believe that the more a teacher understands a subject, the more they can identify common misconceptions, understanding the conceptual basis for theorems and rules, and explain connections across coursework and into other subjects, thereby making their instruction more impactful. I would really like to learn if there is a level of understanding that is a required minimum in order for any additional knowledge to not matter when considering a teacher’s subject matter knowledge and how it relates to instructional effectiveness.

Throughout the course we were challenged to learn about different, highly-effective, instructional strategies and to create lesson plans to implement those strategies. A traditional math classroom has students in rows facing the front, with the teacher working through example problems and the students dutifully copying them down. Then a significant amount of time is spent allowing the students to work through more problems on their own for homework. This process is repeated daily, and is only interrupted by formal assessments. This traditional method is not effective, and must change. Although I had already started to make changes, this course provided me with multiple effective ways to implement the changes. One of the strategies that I took the most away from was collaborative groups. However, due to the traditional method of math instruction, I also chose to research direct instruction as an instructional strategy as well to determine its effectiveness and place in a classroom. A link to my collaborative groups lesson plan can be found here and my direct instruction lesson plan can be found here. What I learned in research and implementation of both strategies is those both are highly effective and have a place in the mathematics classroom.

My most successful lessons are lessons that implement multiple strategies from this course within the 54-minute class period. It is imperative that my students know what they are learning and why what they are learning is important. The most effective way to do this is through the use of intentional learning targets that are revisited throughout the lesson and to close the lesson. Many of the lesson plans I created as part of this course included direct instruction, and at least one additional strategy. Graphic organizers, summaries and note taking, and cooperative groups became very normal in my instruction. A wonderful resource for secondary math teachers when looking for examples of graphic organizers can be found here. My classroom is organized in intentionally assigned groups of four students. Students in each group have an assigned role in group activities that rotates so all students have an opportunity to be in each assigned role. Often, the most effective way to introduce a new math topic is by direct instruction, but this does not mean it is the only thing that happens in my classroom. I regularly use graphic organizers to activate schema before introducing the new concept, or as a method to compare or index the new material with prior knowledge. Students are given opportunities to “think-pair-share”, or to “rally coach” when working through problems. An example of a lesson plan where I implemented the rally coach strategy is available here. I often question student responses, asking them why they answered the way they did, and then calling on other students to critique the response and provide additional support or to challenge the answer with support of their own. When I do these types of activities, I am striving to create a dialogic classroom. Hattie (2012) states, “Dialogue is seen as an essential tool for learning, student involvement is what happens during and not ‘at the end’ of an exchange, and teachers can learn so much about their effect on student learning by listening to students thinking aloud” (p. 83).

Another main focus of this course that was very valuable to my development as a teacher leader is the importance of feedback. As a teacher who has worked in a small rural school where I had 50 students all day, and in a large departmentalized school where I have 150 students each day, I know the challenges that are faced by all teachers when attempting to provide authentic, meaningful and appropriate feedback. Shute (2008) created nine guidelines for teachers to use when providing feedback to enhance or improve the learning:

  1. focus feedback on the task not the learner;
  2. provided elaborated feedback (describing the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’);
  3. present elaborated feedback in manageable units for example, avoid cognitive overload);
  4. be specific and clear with feedback messages;
  5. keep feedback as simple as possible, but no simpler (based on leaner needs and instructional constraints);
  6. reduce uncertainty between performance and goals;
  7. give unbiased, objective feedback, written or via computer (more trustworthy sources are more likely to be received);
  8. promote a learning goal orientation via feedback (move focus from performance to the learning, welcome errors); and
  9. provided feedback after learners have attempted a solution (leading to more self-regulation). (as cited in Hattie, 2012, p. 152)

These nine guidelines are very helpful when trying to wrap my head around a task that can be very challenging. As a result of our readings and discussions on feedback, I have made it a focus of my teaching, but in a way that I feel is more manageable. For instance, I will work to give 5-7 students task feedback in each class a day for a week. By the end of the week, every student has received at least one instance of feedback from me in this way. Then the next week I will give 5-7 students process feedback on each day in each class. I will continue to do this until all students have received at least one instance of process feedback. Hopefully as I intentionally do this daily, it will become easily and more natural for me to work this into my daily routine.

In conclusion, as Hattie (2012) states, “Our role is not to enable students to reach their potential, or to meet their needs; our role is to find out what students can do, and make them exceed their potential and needs” (p. 93). The only way to do this is through intentional creation of daily lessons and activities that use a multitude of instructional strategies. Relying on only one method of instruction will not allow all your students to grasp the material, nor will it engage all students and help each exceed their potential. As I continue to be a teacher who is constantly striving to find the most effective strategies to instruct my students and engage them in learning, I will continue to work to find ways to implement the strategies covered in this course. I will continue to make my math classroom stretch and work away from what is traditional to a way that engages all students most effectively.

References:

Dean, C., Hubbell, E. , Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012) Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Donohoo, J (2010) Learning How to Learn: Cornell Notes as an Example. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 54 (3), 224 – 227. http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/JAAL.54.3.9

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That AllTeachers Should Know. American Educator, 12-19, 39. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf

Tovani, C. (2012). Feedback is a Two Way Street. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 48 – 51.

Zehm, S. J, & Kottler, J. A. (1993) On being a teacher: The human dimension. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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