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Effective Instructional Strategies

Education data and research analysis from Edvantia

Tiger Woods wouldn't win many tournaments if he used a 5 iron for every shot. Part of golf is knowing when to use which club. Likewise, effective teachers can select and use instructional strategies that move individual students closer to the goal--improved academic achievement.

Fortunately, researchers have identified instructional strategies that show positive, measurable effects on student achievement. Scholars Robert Marzano, John Hattie and Harold Wenglinsky analyzed this research and identified strategies that can be categorized into two macrostrategies (metacognition and active student engagement) and three microstrategies (higher-order thinking, cooperative learning and independent practice).

Metacognition When students are taught to think about their own thinking, they gain knowledge and control of factors that affect learning--the self, the task at hand, and strategies to be employed. From his analysis of 395 research studies, Marzano concludes that metacognitive thinking is the primary vehicle for student learning. Research strongly suggests persistent, positive effects regardless of student age, achievement level, nationality or ethnicity. Metacognitive skills transfer to other learning situations and are retained over time.

Despite this evidence, teaching strategies that incorporate metacognition are seldom common classroom practice. Marzano identifies three processes for teaching metacognitive skills: providing students with specific learning objectives before each lesson, providing feedback on the processes and strategies students use, and giving students time to consider how to approach a task, then reminding students to activate specific thinking behaviors.

Active student engagement Teachers who actively engage students use hands-on lessons that require students to use multiple learning skills and higher-order thinking to construct meaning and knowledge. To be effective, activities need to channel student thought and action to meet specific educational objectives. A valuable resource for teachers would be examples of strategies that help them to actively and effectively engage students. Generally, these strategies fall into three categories: higher-order thinking, cooperative learning and independent practice.

Higher-order thinking This can be described as the ability to use information to solve problems, analyze arguments, negotiate issues or make predictions. It involves examining assumptions and values, evaluating evidence, and assessing conclusions. Much normal thinking occurs in default patterns that are hazy, narrow and sprawling. To improve students' ability to think using higher-order skills, teachers must teach specific methods that combat these default patterns. Research suggests that

higher-order thinking skills can lead to immediate and long-term improvements in achievement and can transfer to other disciplines.

Cooperative learning Studies on cooperative learning indicate a strong impact on student achievement as well as increased motivation and improved social interactions with adults and peers. To make the strategy most effective, teachers should group students heterogeneously and eliminate competition among groups.

Independent practice/homework Research shows the positive effects of homework can be greatly increased when assignments are regular and not too lengthy, provide practice in skills and procedures targeted in recent instruction, and elicit teacher feedback. Well-designed homework assignments can also promote active parent involvement.

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