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Supe's Corner
We work smarter, not harder, when students do the work
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For years, I have spent time in classrooms observing teachers teach. I've done so to be familiar with the main work of our profession, classroom instruction. More often than not, I've found teachers working hard at direct "teacher talk" or "lecture" to students. Unfortunately, I've not always seen the kids working equally hard.
So hard at work were teachers that I could not help but ask: Who should be so hard at work here, the teacher or student? Do students learn best when they are talked to or lectured, or when they are personally involved in learning that highly engages them?
To help answer these questions, I have joined many in turning to researcher Robert Marzano's book, "Classroom Instruction That Works." He details nine strategies found to be effective "for all students in all subjects at all grade levels." Sometimes called "high-yield" or "high-probability" strategies, these are found to be effective because they "make students the worker."
Over the years, I have recorded numerous classroom observations which are positive examples of instructional strategies. For when used, these strategies represent powerful teaching. They turn students into powerful workers and learners. Here are actual classroom lessons:
1. "After reading two short stories written by different authors, students were asked to fill in a diagram, of overlapping circles, with information about life in the south before and after the Civil War."
2. "Students read a passage on the electoral process and then filled in a teacher-provided outline with the main ideas."
3. "First graders are working on a project using popsicles to illustrate the different states of water. As they complete each step of the project, a sticker is placed on an individual scorecard they turn in to the teacher for special recognition."
4. "Students re-read a story at home and are asked to write an ending based on another character's point of view."
5. "In a lesson about importing and exporting products, students create picture maps based on the various products of each country studied."
6. "Students were divided into groups of five in family and consumer science. Each group was asked to implement a recipe as one part of a family meal. Each member of a group had to add the necessary ingredient to make the recipe come alive. Each student understood what went into his or her own recipe, and heard from others what went into theirs. Young cooks were being developed from this group experience."
7. "Students work together to create their own classroom rubric (evaluation criteria) for a project on the American Revolution."
8. "Before dropping food coloring into hot or cold water, students discuss what the possible outcomes will be based on water temperature."
9. "Students are given the title of a film about the French Revolution. They work in pairs to brainstorm what they already know about the conflict and create a list of questions that the film will help them answer."
Put simply, the above instructional strategies engage students, making them the "workers." It is "smart" work when it comes to learning. Can you match the nine lessons from real classrooms to Marzano's instructional strategies below?
A. Generating and testing hypotheses: Research shows that a deductive approach (from general to specific) works best. Whether a hypothesis is deduced or induced, students should clearly explain their hypotheses and conclusions.
B. Cooperative learning: Research shows that organizing students into cooperative groups yields a positive effect on overall learning. Positive interdependence, group processing, face-to-face interaction, and individual and group accountability are dominant.
C. Nonlinguistic representations: Research shows that knowledge is stored in two forms: linguistic (words) and visual (pictures, graphs, drawings). The more students use both forms in the classroom, the more opportunity they have to achieve. Visuals stimulate the brain.
D. Homework and practice: Research indicates that students need an opportunity to extend their learning outside the classroom. Teachers should explain the purpose of homework to both student and the parent/guardian while giving feedback on all homework assigned.
E. Summarizing and note taking: Research indicates that this requires substituting, deleting, and keeping some things and having an awareness of the basic structure of the information presented.
F. Identifying similarities and differences: Research indicates that a student's ability to break a concept into its similar and dissimilar characteristics allows students to understand (and often solve) complex problems by analyzing them in a simpler way.
G. Reinforcing and providing recognition: Research indicates that teachers must show the connection between effort and achievement; not all students realize the importance of effort, but they can learn to change their beliefs to emphasize effort.
H. Setting objectives and providing feedback: Research indicates that setting objectives can provide students with a direction for their learning; feedback helps them to stay on course.
I. Cues, questions, and advance organizers: Research indicates that these tools help students use what they already know about a topic (background knowledge) to enhance further learning; they are optimally effective when presented before a learning experience.
Current and future staff development in NCSS will focus, in part, on these highly engaging classroom strategies that make students the worker. We can only work "smarter!"

See the answers on Page 2C.

Dr. Gary Mathews is the Superintendent of the Newton County School System. He can be e-mailed at