According to Dean et al. (2012), an effective teacher must set clear objectives and provide constructive feedback, reinforce effort and provide recognition, and facilitate cooperative learning to establish a successful learning environment. The strategies that teachers can utilize to support student academic achievement are cues, questions and advance organizers, nonlinguistic representations, summarizing and note taking, assigning homework, and providing practice.
For the purpose of reflecting on how these best instructional strategies might look in practice, I am analyzing a video of a 3rd grade teacher instructing a lesson on adjectives. The teacher begins to the lesson by stating the clear simple objective of learning more about adjectives, and inviting students to share what they know about the subject. When a student volunteers that an adjective comes before a noun, she presses for the purpose of an adjective. The teacher has established a clear learning target, and cued the students to share prior learning to start the lesson. She writes student responses on white board at the front of the room
Following the introduction, the teacher invites students to share a list, via raising their hands, of adjectives to ascribe to the beach. The teacher divides the list into five categories, corresponding with the five senses. Then she prompts the class to share a few a few descriptive terms for each category. When this task has been completed, an advance organizer, or “senses web”, is introduced with the directive that they will work together to assign adjectives to an Oreo cookie for each of the five senses. The students repeat the procedure of raising their hands to individually share descriptive terms that are recorded by the teacher on the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. The students have the added task of writing adjectives on their senses web. A high point of the lesson occurs when the students are allowed to take a bite of their cookie and describe its taste. The teacher closes the lesson by restating the lesson’s objective of learning more about adjectives.
I think the teacher sets a clear objective for the lesson and provides a predictable, accessible structure for students to achieve that objective. However, I feel this lesson is lacking in many ways; a learning target that communicates expectations for higher thinking, presence of nonlinguistic representations, reinforcement of effort that is non-attributive and promotes deeper thinking, and (in my opinion most importantly) cooperative learning.
According to Pitler and Stone (2012), an effective objective is rigorous and age appropriate. Considering that this class has prior working knowledge of adjectives and their job in literature, I think it would be more rewarding and engaging to ask students to think of interesting or unique descriptive words. The objective, “learn more about adjectives” is clear, yet general and sets the bar for learning low. Second, the lesson is lacking in nonlinguistic representations. Nonlinguistic representations tap into a specialized brain function, and natural tendency for visual image processing that supports long term acquisition of knowledge (Medina, 2008; Pitler & Stone, 2012, and Dean et al.). The teacher could have had students include representative drawings on the senses web, drawn representative images on the whiteboard, displayed images as prompts, and/or close their eyes to visualize descriptors. Next, the teacher did a fine job of calling on everyone in the class, but utilized a single, teacher-centered style of student engagement. She provided acknowledgement of effort by using general words like, “good.” She did prompt a couple of students to think deeper by asking them be more specific. However, I feel that she could have challenged students deepen their thinking and volunteer more interesting adjectives to describe the beach and an Oreo cookie. To be honest, I was bored and I think the students were as well.
According to Dean et al. (2012), effective reinforcement of effort asks students to track their own effort and achievement. I think the teacher was too quick too accept predictable descriptive words, and she could have cultivated a playfully challenging effort by having the students elaborate on one another’s contributions. For example, when one student volunteered that the beach smelled “fishy”, then another student called out, “gross!” She could have acknowledged that the adjective gross is another adjective that could be used in place of fishy and asked students for other ways to say fishy or gross. Another way she could have reinforced effort is by simply allowing more wait time to hear student’s thinking. She maintains a lively pace at the expense of not allowing time for students to share their thinking.
Finally, I think there is great opportunity for cooperative learning in this lesson that is not capitalized on effectively. Cooperative learning promotes positive interdependence, individual accountability, develops interpersonal and group skills, and promotes self- efficacy (Pitler &Stone, 2012). The teacher could have had students work in small groups to create posters for how to describe an Oreo cookie, and then present their work to one another. Other possible strategies for implementing cooperative learning into this lesson are having students think-pair-share, come up to the whiteboard to write or draw adjectives, or having students act out various adjectives.
Overall, this lesson was clear and well structured but, in my opinion, failed to implement engaging strategies that have the potential to spark student’s imagination to grow socially and academically. One of the most valuable pieces of feedback my internship coordinator gave me was to slow down a bit, and plan many opportunities for students to engage directly with the learning and one another. I would pass this advice on to the teacher who delivered this lesson. I think teachers often get hyper-focused on delivering all the prescribed elements of an effective lesson, with best intention, and lose sight of hearing what students have to say about the learning.
Dean, C.B. Hubbell, E.R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. J. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA. ASCD.
Pitler, H., & Stone, B.J. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works.Alexandria, VA. ACSD.