Ensuring quality instruction in the classroom
An early literacy initiative that focuses on ensuring that students are at grade-level reading by the end of third grade has refocused the state’s attention on a long-used but underdeveloped strategy: explicit instruction.
Explicit instruction, in the old way of doing it, is a teacher modeling something for students and then having them mock it, much like “I do, we do, you do.” Today’s explicit instruction is far more extensive, folding in specific practices to ensure students reach the lesson’s intended goal.
Explicit instruction was the focus of a standing-room-only two-day summit in Des Moines. Some 600 people attended, representing 68 of the state’s school districts, a handful of private schools, all the state’s Area Education Agencies, and higher education officials and the School for the Deaf.
“Explicit instruction is unambiguous, structured, systematic, and employs effective methodologies for teaching academic skills,” said Keynote Speaker Anita Archer, a nationally renowned educational consultant to school districts on explicit instruction, the design and delivery of instruction, behavior management, and literacy instruction. “It is called ‘explicit’ because it is a direct approach to teaching that includes both instructional design and the delivery of procedures, or routines.
“Explicit instruction is characterized by a series of supports or scaffolds, where students are guided through the learning process with clear statements about the purpose and reasons for learning the new skill, clear explanations and demonstrations and supported practice with feedback until independent mastery has been achieved.”
The components of today’s explicit instruction work like this: The teacher states clearly to the students what they are going to learn and what they should be able to do when the lesson is over. Then, she leads the class through a step-by-step process on how to get to that learning goal. She does so by ensuring the students remain engaged in the activity, such as through interactivity. The teacher also develops signals that the students will understand, such as a motion to indicate to the students that she’s going to speak. She also has a toolbox of supports she can use to help struggling students.
Explicit instruction is the diametrical opposite of implicit instruction. In explicit instruction, for example, the teacher will start out by saying, “We are going to learn about the long E. At the end of the lesson, you will know how to identify the long E and how to use it.” In contrast, with implicit instruction, the teacher may put several words on the board with long E’s and ask the class, “What is similar about these words?”
“Implicit instruction is best used with students who have a deep knowledge of content, are good problem solvers, do not struggle with memory, and are perhaps in the talented and gifted range,” said Rhonda Ketels, consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “There is a time and a place for implicit, or discovery-type learning, for many students. However, explicit instruction is good structured teaching that takes into account the diverse needs of all students. Explicit instruction provides the appropriate supports, or scaffolding, that students need to be successful learners. It’s good instruction for all learners, especially those who struggle.”
Above all, Archer said quality of instruction in the classroom is directly related to the achievement of all students.
“From this summit, the most critical thing to learn in terms of student achievement is the quality of instruction is most important, particularly among our primary school teachers,” she said. “The quality of instruction of our primary teachers will dictate achievement for individuals, classrooms, schools, districts and upper grades.”
Archer cited research that looked at second-graders who were in the 50th percentile of their class, and followed them over the next three years.
“Students who had high-performing teachers over the next three years ended up in the 90th percentile by the end of three years,” she said. If students were placed with teachers who didn’t consistently have strong outcomes with students, they winded up in the 37th percentile after three years.
“A great teacher is a combination of art and science,” she said. “The science is what we know of instruction, from ensuring students are understanding the coursework to even the pace of the lesson. The art is teach-student relationship. Do I know the student? Do I have a safe environment that you can thrive in? We can have great teachers with great science but no art, or great teachers with art but no science. But what we really need is both – that optimizes a child’s education.”
Debunking teaching myths
Pervasive myths abound when it comes to effective teaching. Anita Archer points to research showing that when a teacher is active, or participatory, with her students, the student outcomes are superior. Topping the list is teaching students self-verbalization, or thinking out loud. This is where a teacher will ask herself questions in trying to figure out the pronunciation of a word, modeling for the students. This, in turn, teaches the students a method to which they can turn when they are trying to sound out their own words.
On the opposite end of the scale, student control overlearning – in which the teacher acts more like a facilitator and teaches children something that they don’t have a background knowledge in – is least effective. Some teachers might say they incorporate this approach to expose their students to something new. But it is wholly ineffective, Archer said.
Here is the list that Archer cited, with the most-effective teaching approach at the top and descending to the least effective.
Teacher as activator
- Teaching students self-verbalization
- Teacher clarity
- Reciprocal teaching
- Metacognitive strategies
- Direct instruction
- Mastery learning
- Providing worked examples
- Providing goals
- Frequent effects of testing
- Behavioral organizers
Teacher as facilitator
- Inductive teaching
- Simulation and gaming
- Inquiry-based teaching
- Smaller classes
- Individualized instruction
- Web-based learning
- Problem-based learning
- Discovery method in math instruction
- Whole language
- Student control over learning