As someone who has worked extensively with teachers on Classroom Instruction That Works strategies for almost nine years, I understand how a new CITW book with different terms and structures might seem overwhelming. However, at the heart of it, the latest edition sets out to create a bridge, connecting proven teaching strategies with our understanding of how the brain processes and retains new information, known as the science of learning. The New CITW builds on and expands the previous Classroom Instruction That Works editions, while providing sequenced guidelines for application based on what we know about how students learn. When using the new structure and strategies as designed, it will highlight and celebrate teachers’ expertise and guide lessons in a more intentional, purposeful way—all with the goal of increasing student learning.
In the 10 years since the previous edition of CITW was published, we’ve learned a lot. We now have a better understanding of the critical link between intentional instructional decision making and how students become interested in learning, process new information, and eventually develop deep understanding that allows them to extend and apply what they’ve learned in new and increasingly complex situations. Our six-phase learning model reflects what we know about how students learn, and The New Classroom Instruction That Works makes the explicit link to instruction.
We’ve also benefited from advancements in research. In the past decade, there’s been an increase in scientifically designed research studies—something that wasn’t present to the same extent when the previous editions were written. From all this new research, we selected 105 studies that met the highest standards of evidence from the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse. Analyzing these studies resulted in our identification of the 14 teaching strategies we’ve shared in The New CITW. The studies span every grade and subject area, and 71% were conducted in classrooms with diverse learners, removing any guesswork about the strategies supporting equitable outcomes. Every one of the 14 strategies is backed by at least seven studies.
So, as the saying goes, now that we know better, we must do better. The New CITW not only highlights these effective instructional strategies, but also is purposeful about why and when we should use each strategy, all with the goal of making learning and teaching easier and more joyful. We also want lessons to be student-centered, which requires planning for learning that focuses on what student success looks like and how teachers can support students in achieving those goals.
Now, let’s talk strategies. If you’ve committed the nine categories of strategies from past editions to memory, fear not! That information is still valuable. Only now, we’re highlighting 14 strategies. You may notice some of the new strategies are similar to the previous ones but have been renamed and have a more targeted purpose. Others are combined, some are omitted, and some are emphasized more than before. For example, “setting objectives and providing feedback” from the previous editions are no longer standalone strategies; both are important, however, and they support a new strategy called “student goal setting and monitoring,” which highlights the student’s role within their own educational journey.
If you use one of the strategies that’s no longer listed, but you’re seeing great results from it, keep using it. One reason a strategy may not have made the list is because it didn’t meet our higher standards for research—and in some cases, that’s because it couldn’t be properly researched. For example, a study on the importance of teacher-student relationships is difficult to conduct with a scientifically designed study since we can’t deprive some students of that meaningful relationship in order to have a control group. You’ll also note that the homework strategy is no longer on the list; what you’ll find instead are specific strategies that are proven to support retention of learning. It’s not that we’ve eliminated practice (or even homework), but we now know what kind of homework or practice best supports long-term memory.
The new edition is all about being purposeful about why and when to use each strategy. However, we’re not trying to provide a rigid set of tasks we expect every teacher in every classroom to follow the same way. The process allows for flexibility and encourages teachers to embrace their expertise. It’s a necessary component for successful implementation, whether you’re a new teacher or a veteran. Teachers know what their students need most.
With this in mind, the amount of time you spend with your student on each phase of learning and the individual strategies you deploy may vary depending on where your students are in the learning process. For example, vocabulary instruction is an important part of introducing new information. But while one class may breeze through a particular lesson, another may need to devote more time to it. Your knowledge as a teacher about your students will dictate the pace. Checking in for student understanding and pausing for students to process and make sense of new information are important parts of the student-centered mentality behind The New CITW.
All these strategies and phases culminate in the most important step on the education journey—extending and applying new learning. As we’ve learned how the brain learns and remembers new material, from introduction to short-term memory to long-term memory, the extension and application of new knowledge cannot be an afterthought. It should be the end goal of every lesson and unit. This means a unit shouldn’t simply end with a test. We want students to complete a sequence of learning with a deep understanding of the concepts and skills learned and a connection to how their new learning relates to their lives. This can be achieved when students apply their learning to a relevant problem, project, or creation.
I realize change can sometimes be difficult, but as you incorporate The New CITW into planning for learning, I believe you’ll find that your students will be better able to retain and apply their learning.
Cheryl Abla, M.Ed., a senior consultant at McREL, works with K-12 teachers and school leaders to develop and implement sustainable plans for improving their professional practices. Ms. Abla leads professional learning and coaching sessions on research-based instructional strategies, instructional coaching and leadership practices, strategies for supporting English learners, and classroom culture and climate. She is a co-author of The New Classroom Instruction That Works and Tools for Classroom Instruction that Works: Ready-to-Use Techniques for Increasing Student Achievement.