Teaching Methods and Curriculum: Common Sense Prevails

Art Anderson, Concordia University - Portland facultyTo stay at the top of their teaching game, and keep their skills sharp, teachers should always ask questions: of their districts, of their students and of themselves. At least that’s what Art Anderson of Concordia University-Portland suggests.

He should know – he is a faculty member in the MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Methods and Curriculum program. In addition to teaching Concordia Portland classes, Anderson serves as a national education consultant as well as director of school improvement for a regional Oregon education service district.

Anderson discussed collaborating with other colleagues, no-fail teaching elements and why common sense goes a long way when approaching how you teach in your classroom.

What are your no-fail teaching methods?

When we teach, we have two critical elements at our disposal to help others learn: formative assessments and feedback.

  • Formative assessment: assessments during instruction to determine progress toward proficiency
  • Feedback: fair, accurate, specific and timely comments to the student

These pieces help us improve instruction as well as student achievement by providing data that assists in the answering of three essential questions for both teacher and student.

First, where am I going? Does the teacher clearly understand the standards/outcomes that form the basis for the lesson(s)? Does the student understand clearly the learning that is expected?

Second, how am I doing? Does the teacher use the data from formative assessments to analyze the effectiveness of the lesson, and make appropriate adjustments based upon the data? Does the teacher provide feedback so that it has the intended impact on learning? Is the student provided the information from the formative assessment in such a manner that they clearly understand how they’re doing in relation to a definition of being proficient in terms of the standard/outcome? Does the student receive feedback as well as the formative data in an atmosphere that invites errors without penalty, invites improvement and growth without penalty?

Lastly, what is next? Does the teacher understand what the next step in the lesson needs to be, based upon the formative assessment data – do they need to reteach the lesson or go to the next learning progression? Does the student understand what the next step in their learning is, based upon the formative information provided by the teacher as well as feedback provided during instruction?

How do you advise teachers to reach a struggling student?

In very simplistic terms, if you used a strategy and it didn’t work, don’t use it to try to reteach. Teachers also need to engage the student by providing a picture of how the information will be used in real life both within the lesson as well as application through the assessment process.

We have a class at Concordia Portland that does this called Leaning Forward: Using Performance Assessments to Improve Student Learning. In addition, performance assessments help teachers differentiate their instruction for all students, and not lose the focus of the standard(s) that are the basis for the lessons.

How do you advise working with veteran teachers who may have different teaching styles?

Teaching styles have less to do with successful instruction than applying the research on what works for students. The research on learning and teaching by John Hattie, Doug Reeves, Stephen White, Dylan Wiliam, Vivian Robinson and others shows us what works to improve instruction and increase student achievement.

We have to support teachers in understanding that research and provide the support needed to implement the appropriate strategies for the lessons being designed. You have to show all teachers, not just veteran nor just new teachers, how this improves their lessons and creates the atmosphere for learning by all of their students.

How do you suggest working with new teachers who may bring different teaching methods to school?

Any school that is to be successful has to have a common focus (standards), a common vocabulary when it comes to their school, and provide a learning environment for educator growth. It is not the issue of new teaching methods, it is the issues of whether they’re based upon the great body of educational research, and how they’re communicating what it is they are doing to other educators within the system.

If it is successful, it should be replicated; if not, it should be abandoned. The structure for this is data teams and professional learning communities (PLC) at both the instructional/classroom level and the building level. And you don’t implement these by reading a book – both take professional development and ongoing support as they are implemented.

What advice would you give a struggling teacher?

Admit that you are struggling. If you are lucky enough to be in a system that has data teams/PLC that are implemented with fidelity to the research, talk with your colleagues. I have yet to meet a teacher who intentionally seeks to not become better. But the system we have now is not set up for either students or teachers in a way that allows for errors to be made without penalty.

What are the necessities for setting students up for a successful year?

I think that John Hattie in “Visible Learning (2009)” stated it best: “Visible teaching and learning occurs when learning is the explicit goal, when it is appropriately challenging, when the teacher and the student both (in their various ways) seek to ascertain whether and to what degree the challenging goal is attained, when there is deliberate practice aimed at attainment of mastery of the goal, when there is feedback given and sought, and when there are active, passionate, and engaging people (teacher, student, peers, and so on) participating in the act of learning.  It is teachers learning through the eyes of the students, and students seeing teaching as the key to their ongoing learning.”

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