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May 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 8

Show & Tell: A Video Column / Getting Better Every Year

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When we look back on our first years of teaching, most us are far from satisfied. In fact, we've heard some teachers admit that they'd like to send a note of apology to the first class of students they ever taught, with assurances that they're a much better teacher now. Fortunately, most teachers also possess a strong internal compass that drives them to improve every year.
Of course, this professional growth is rarely linear. Our relative effectiveness can change daily. But when we cultivate the necessary skills to reflect on our practice and to recognize the opportunities for improvement while celebrating our accomplishments, we grow over time.
In this column, we present a framework with five components of effective teaching—with examples from teachers we know who exemplify excellence and professional growth. Teachers can use this framework for self-assessment; teacher peers can use it for collegial feedback in professional learning communities; and instructional coaches and school leaders can use it to highlight and build on teachers' strengths.

Planning with Purpose

Effective lessons don't just happen. They're the product of careful planning based on the long-term content goals and transfer skills students need. Wise teachers link these goals and skills to themes, problems, or essential questions that will drive student curiosity. In addition, effective teachers consider the learning progressions through which their students must move to reach mastery.
For example, when teacher Marisol Thayre plans an instructional unit for her English students, she weaves together a number of elements: her school's essential question for the quarter (What is stronger, heart or mind?); the curriculum focus of the unit (poetry); and the transfer skill goals that her content-area team developed (including close reading of complex texts to draw conclusions and make inferences). Using a backwards planning approach, she develops daily learning intentions and success criteria that will move her students through a learning progression. Only then does she begin to identify instructional materials.
"I remember when I first started teaching, I would choose the poems first, and then work from there," Marisol chuckles. "It took working with other skilled English teachers for me to realize that I'm not teaching specific poems—I'm teaching students. Now I plan on the basis of where they need to go, using the standards and the transfer skills we've identified, and only then mapping my unit."

Cultivating a Learning Climate

Classrooms that are welcoming to all students and have an organized physical environment can significantly contribute to student learning. It doesn't stop there, though. Oscar Corrigan, a 7th grade teacher, knows that a welcoming climate must extend to families as well. He and his colleagues worked with the district's high school to develop a middle school version of college financial aid workshops.
"Families who don't know how to pay for college aren't going to encourage their students on that path. No parent wants to disappoint his or her child. We show them the many ways their children can qualify for college that are either free or vastly reduce the price," Oscar says. "We welcome families into academia, which is part of what true welcoming is all about."

Instructing with Intention

It's a beautiful thing to be in the presence of a masterful teacher who is concise, precise, and doesn't overlook the nuances that reveal her students' learning and their confusions. These teachers communicate the lesson's purpose clearly; use questions, prompts, and cues to guide student learning; create opportunities for students to collaborate with peers in meaningful ways; and provide opportunities for independent learning. Each of these intentional acts builds student competence and confidence.
In the video that accompanies this column, you'll see 2nd grade teacher Yoli Banda accomplish each of these instructional moves with a group of six English language learners who are learning to use past-tense verbs. She met with these students for guided instruction based on their need for additional language practice. She models her thinking for them, reminding them of the purpose for learning, and facilitates their collaborative conversations. Along the way, she notes errors and uses prompts and cues as feedback.

Assessing with a System

Yoli also carefully assesses her students throughout the lesson as she monitors their discussions, asks questions, and frequently returns to the purpose to redirect their thinking. The most vital assessments are formative ones that enable the teacher to check for understanding, provide feedback, and organize future instruction.
New teachers need to develop formative assessment systems to regularly check for understanding. For example, Brandi Carson, a 5th grade teacher, has begun using exit slips at the suggestion of her induction coach. "She helped me set up four large pocket folders that I've posted on the wall," Brandi explains. "At the end of the lesson, I ask them [the students] to rate themselves against the success criteria." Students place their exit slips in one of the folders to communicate their level of understanding. Brandi's four levels are:
  • I understand this, and I can think of ways to use this.
  • I understand this, but I'm not sure how to use this yet.
  • I understand some of this, but I'm still confused about parts of it.
  • I didn't understand this and need more help.
"I've gotten better about using this consistently, and I can see my students are getting more comfortable, too. What I'm working on now is how to use that information," Brandi says. "The coach and my colleagues are really helping me. We're all bringing exit slips to the next grade-level meeting so we can talk about them."

Improving Student Learning

Teachers need to understand how their teaching affects students' learning. Therefore, the final component for reflection is student achievement gains—in the short-term as well as throughout the school year. In our April 2016 Show & Tell column, we described a mathematical formula to gauge the impact of instruction from pre-assessment to post-assessment. High school chemistry teacher Angela Harding used this formula for the first time during a recent instructional unit on the carbon cycle.
"I made a short pre-assessment that featured key items from my unit test," she says. "After I taught the unit, I administered the full version of the test, but I was able to compare their growth on the five items I had tested twice." She discovered that her impact was .68, well above the .40 effect size recommended as the hinge point for determining one's effectiveness. "I haven't used it yet to look at individual students, but that's where I want to go next. I'm a strong teacher, but my goal this year for myself is to develop stronger assessment skills. This is how I'm doing it."

The Tools and Time for Growth

Teacher growth is fueled by the inner intentions of each teacher to strive for deeper wells of knowledge and expertise. To facilitate this growth, schools need to build common understandings of the components of effective teaching, as well as provide the time for teachers to observe one another and the tools to discuss their practices with colleagues. When teachers build networks to support their need for professional learning, their effectiveness can grow over a career.
Instructional Strategies

EL Magazine Show & Tell / May 2016

6 years ago
End Notes

1 For a detailed look at how each of these components work within the FIT (Framework for Intentional and Targeted Teaching) approach, see our book Intentional and Targeted Teaching: A Framework for Teacher Growth and Leadership, coauthored with Stefani Arzonetti Hite (ASCD, May 2016).

2 Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. New York: Routledge.

Doug Fisher is a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State University, where he focuses on policies and practices in literacy and school leadership. Additionally, he is a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College, an award-winning, open-enrollment public school in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego that he cofounded in 2007. His areas of interest include instructional design, curriculum development, and professional learning. A passionate educator, Fisher's work is dedicated to impacting professional learning communities and nurturing the knowledge and skills of caring teachers and school leaders so they may help students improve their learning and attain their goals and aspirations.

Fisher is a member of the California Reading Hall of Fame as well as the recipient of an International Reading Association William S. Grey citation of merit and Exemplary Leader award from the Conference on English Leadership of NCTE. Previously, he was an early intervention teacher and elementary school educator. He has published numerous articles and books on literacy and leadership, teaching and learning, and improving student achievement.


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