As schools and districts are working diligently to implement the Common Core State Standards, teachers are having many discussions around instruction. The authors of the CCSS were adamant that “these standards will not dictate how teachers should teach.” However, as exemplar units emerge and sites like Achieve the Core and EngageNY share resources, the variety of instructional strategies used are quite limited. In fact, it could appear to the untrained eye that stand-and-deliver or lecture-style is preferred. This could not be further from the truth.
In an effort to redefine what quality teaching looks like in the age of the CCSS, Harvey Daniels, Steve Zemelman, and Arthur Hyde wrote Best Practice: Bringing Standards to Life in America’s Classrooms (2012). Below are the seven key best practice teaching structures defined in their book, as shared by Harvey Daniels in the spring 2013 Heinemann catalog:
- Gradual Release of Responsibility—This is the” I do, We do, You do” approach. English teachers (or all teachers, really) should be frequently thinking aloud about an unfamiliar text to show how a proficient reader approaches an unknown text.
- Classroom Workshop—When one person leads a whole-group activity, students take very little responsibility for their learning. Rather, when students are members of an apprenticeship workshop, they take on roles, assign tasks, set goals, and work collaboratively to meet learning targets. In a workshop model, the teacher is more of a coach or facilitator, working side-by-side with students.
- Strategic Thinking—Students need a repertoire of strategies they can use to read complex text, especially when their background knowledge may be limited. Teachers must use explicit instruction to address inferring, questioning, visualizing, connecting, determining importance, synthesizing, and self-monitoring at all grade levels.
- Collaborative Group Activities—The Speaking and Listening standards promote collaboration, although many of the current exemplar units don’t. We have to challenge students to work, think, discuss, and write with each other, not just in isolation. Small-group work should be a staple in every classroom. In fact, Daniels suggests that at a minimum, students should be turning and talking with a partner at least 8 times per hour.
- Integrative Units—Students are more likely to remember instruction when it is encountered within broad integrative units. These units should be centered on real-world topics that are meaningful. Inquiry Circles are one model suggested, where groups of students become experts in a field of knowledge and share their learning with their peers.
- Representing to Learn—Students need to use all of their senses to process information. They need talk, movement, drama, drawing, music, and then some.
- Formative-Reflective Assessment—While the looming PARCC assessments might pressure teachers to teach to the test, students need teachers to provide instruction and assessments with ample formative feedback. Students also need to take on some of that responsibility and assess themselves.
As we delve further and further into the CCSS, it is critical not to lose sight of the why. We need to raise the rigor of our instruction. Therefore, the strategies we employ must be more rigorous as well. Daniels notes that “we can effectively meet the CCSS standards by using curiosity, rather than coercion, as instructional fuel.”
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