For thousands of educators and school leaders around the world, the cheery presence of instructional expert Cheryl Abla ensures that McREL professional learning is engaging as well as rich in content. That’s fitting, since student engagement is one of Cheryl’s professional passions. Cheryl is a former classroom teacher and education program director, and a co-author of the influential Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works. Now she’s co-authored a new white paper about student engagement (with researcher Brittney R. Fraumeni—available now on the McREL website) so we thought we’d ask what she looks for in an engaged classroom.
In their first year of teaching, new teachers often find themselves lifted by their own idealism but weighed down by real struggles with routines and practices around lesson planning, classroom management, collegiality, and mentorship. As the gulf between fantasy and reality widens, disillusionment can also mount over the course of the year, leading some newcomers to simply fall out of love with teaching, despite their deep investment. They, instead, look for a way out.
For those of you who have coached, taught, and followed the five foundations of reading: Did you know there’s now a sixth?
It was back in 2000 when the National Reading Panel last published findings and recommendations for teaching the five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Research since then has been vetted, and last year’s What Works Clearinghouse practice guide, Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade, identifies a sixth foundation: Teaching students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language.
Ever since we articulated McREL’s six-phase model for student learning in our April 2018 white paper, Student Learning That Works: How Brain Science Informs a Student Learning Model, I’ve been having great fun talking about it with thousands of educators at conferences and workshops around the world, sharing instructional strategies and classroom practices that support each phase. (Learn more about the model in the spring 2018 issue of Changing Schools magazine and this October 2018 blog post.)
The purpose of the model is to remind us all that the goal of school isn’t teaching, it’s learning. This hasn’t been news to any of the educators I’ve interacted with. What is new is seeing the entire learning process—from disconnected data points to a robust plan for ongoing personal growth, mediated by known science on neurological and psychological processes—described in a unified model for student learning. Teachers often tell me they’ve been doing many of the strategies we endorse, yet have never before had an opportunity to think about why they work or how to sequence them in a cohesive manner (or how to tweak them to work even better for the precise mix of students in their class). In other words, they’ve long had a good toolkit and materials but often lacked the blueprints, and you need both to build a sound house.
A guest post by Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, co-author, with Bryan Goodwin, of the influential book, The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day, and the forthcoming Instructional Models: How to Choose One and How to Use One.
I have had the greatest pleasure working in schools and school districts around the world as they worked tirelessly to help their students succeed. One of the most common aspects of my work was helping schools during their transition to a new instructional model—a tool that can lead to consistently excellent instruction by explaining why successful teaching practices work and how to emulate them. I often came in after the model was chosen and was there to lead training, observation, and implementation efforts. On occasion, I had the good fortune to work with schools as they were starting the process and got to be a part of the discussions, trials, and decision making that went into making these monumental shifts.
Imagine asking hundreds of students and adults to share their unfiltered thoughts and feelings about taking notes in school. What do you think you’d get back? It turns out that our team has actually conducted this mini research experiment in schools across the country, and here are the most common responses: pained faces, deep shudders, a litany of adjectives like boring, tedious, and torture (not technically an adjective, but you get the idea.)Are these responses about what you expected? Are they similar to what your own would be if you were one of the respondents?This visceral and negative response to notes is a real problem because we know from research (and experience) just how important notes are to student success. In fact, the comprehensive meta-analytic study that underpins the second edition of Classroom Instruction That Works (2012) shows that teaching students how to make effective notes is one of the highest-yield strategies of all, with associated student gains of over 30 percentile points (Beesley & Apthorp, 2010).
Curiosity is a compelling mental and emotional force that can propel students to ever-greater educational achievement. And of all the great ideas in Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works, I’m really drawn to the Mystery tool [free tool download] because of its connection to curiosity.When we talk about trying to solve a mystery, we’re really talking about fashioning a hypothesis: Why do you think something happened, and can you prove it? While the word “hypothesis” is often associated with science, we can prompt students to phrase and answer such questions in all academic subjects—and, I would add, in all aspects of our lives. As discussed in Classroom Instruction That Works, hypothesizing pushes the brain into using one (or both) of two thought processes: deductive and inductive reasoning. And for our students, acquiring knowledge through active participation is often more engaging and effective than listening to a lecture.
We identified seven ways to use Interaction in an Instant in Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works, and Interaction in an Instant may be the least formal. Sometimes a simple opportunity to chat (within guidelines you’ll provide) is enough to generate energy in the classroom and launch students into a learning-by-talking process with many different peers
Frequently after working with a school district, we hear teachers and leaders say that one of the most valuable things they learned from their time with McREL was “a common instructional language” to use with one another and with students. You might be wondering: What exactly does this mean? And why would educators ever have felt they were deficient in their professional vocabulary?
Imagine a student who is well adjusted socially but . . .
• Is reserved in group activities; rarely contributes to classroom discussions or activities.
• Has difficulty completing tasks.
• Appears to not follow instructions.
• Is reported as not paying attention, having a short attention span, or “zoning out.”
• Makes poor academic progress.
What could be causing these problems?
One might not initially consider memory, particularly working memory, as the mechanism at work in these types of young learners’ struggles. However, research has shown that working memory problems, even in the absence of diagnosed developmental disabilities, can result in learning challenges for students (Dehn, 2008; Gathercole, Lamont, & Alloway, 2006; Gathercole & Alloway, 2007; Holmes, Gathercole, and Dunning, 2010; Willingham, 2009).