Assessment, Engagement, Opinion, Teaching

Increasing Student Learning

Are You Teaching for Understanding or Teaching by Tell & Do?

For many years now, the research around teacher quality and student achievement has been unequivocal.  In fact, we now know that teacher quality and effectiveness is the single most important determinant in student learning.  It is no secret that what a teacher knows and does matters. 

While observing teacher practice over the past 8 years as a school administrator, what is coming clear to me is that one of the differences in teaching practice that defines quality teaching and student learning is the nature of lesson design.  In fact, I have observed two distinct types of lessons; those that effectively promote interaction and understanding of new information and those that follow the “tell and do” method.  In my observation, one method leads to a deeper and more thorough understanding, and one leads to listening and task completion.  In thinking about your own practice, or classes you observe, what do you see?

Teaching for Understanding
When teaching for understanding, lesson design is critical.  We know that certain types of learning tasks lead to student engagement, but it is also critical to incorporate these tasks into well designed lessons.

1.  The first part of a well designed lesson is the Introduction.  This is often short, orients the student to the purpose and is a chance for the teacher to find out what the student already knows.  Tasks often associated with the introduction are questioning designed to link to prior knowledge, KWL charts, viewing pictures, charts,  or video clips.

2.  Following the introduction, students are given the opportunity to talk and discuss.  Usually this would happen with a partner or a group of 3.  This is the students opportunity to talk about the new information and often find out more information.  This could be an assignment of sorts; perhaps students would work with a partner to find information, answer questions, or analyze information.  This is the where the teacher roves the classroom, gathering evidence of what students are learning.

3.  Following the partner work, the teacher would call the students back to the whole group to provide more information.  This part of the lesson provides the learners with further opportunity to extend knowledge.  Learning tasks may include opportunities to predict, summarize, clarify, compare and describe new information.  During this part of the lessons, teachers observe their learners closely to determine levels of understanding.

4.  Feedback or Feedforward is now used to enhance learning.  Teachers most likely will ask students inferential questions designed to move their learning forward.

5.  Following all of the above learning tasks, finally, students are ready to show what they know.  Teachers who practice differentiated learning know that this is the step where students can show their learning in a number of ways.  The list of ways is endless and extends far beyond paper pencil tasks.  To really show their learning, students must be involved in authentic tasks.  It would be impossible for every student to demonstrate their knowledge in the same way as every other student in the class.  It would be even more impossible to discern a students level of understanding through some sort of teacher or pre-made worksheet type of a task.  The learning students are asked to demonstrate here must be directly linked back to the purpose that was identified in step one.  For example, if the purpose of this lesson was to learn that that sun is the center of the solar system and planets rotate around the sun, here is where students demonstrate what they know.

6.  The final part of the lesson is student reflection.  Students are taught to self evaluate on questions such as; What did I learn?, How did I show what I know?, What do I still want to learn.

By following the steps of strong task design, students are learning and teachers are teaching for understanding.  Students are thinking about, talking about and interacting with new information.  This type of task design is quite different from Tell and Do.

Tell and Do
Tell and Do Lesson Design is often designed to tell students new information and then have them complete an assignment,  It usually involves the following steps:

1.  You Sit While I Tell: The first part of the lesson often includes students sitting and listening while the teacher tells them all of the important information they require to complete the task.  It is often referred to as a lecture.  Depending on the complexity of the information,  this telling can often last an hour or more.  Students are expected to sit and listen during this part of the lesson, sometimes they are encouraged to jot down important bits of information.  Sometimes students are given the opportunity to ask questions.

2.  The second part of the lesson includes the student doing the task.  Often each student has the same task and it is most often a teacher or publisher created task.  Usually it is a pencil paper task and it is very difficult to modify except to make it shorter for those students who find the workload too heavy.  I have observed teachers working at their desks during this part of the lesson.  I have an occasion heard teachers tell students that if they had listened better to the Sit and Tell lecture, they would find this part of the lesson easier.

3.  The final part of this lesson includes students handing their work in for teachers to mark.  Usually students leave their papers in some sort of “in-box” and are dismissed to recess, or their next class.  Often times students who did not finish in class are asked to take their work home to finish it.

What I have observed with this type of lesson design is a significant reduction in student learning.  I have blogged more about this in my post “Just Because You Said It, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It” but the basic premise being that unless students can link to prior knowledge, generate, create, discuss, find purpose, incorporate their learning styles, work with peers, reflect, think critically, infer and reflect, they are not truly learning and the teachers is not teaching for understanding.

* Robert Marzano and his book The Art and Style of Teaching have had a significant influence on my information and understanding in student learning.

For more great reading visit my personal blog at: www.attheprincipalsoffice.com

Meet the Expert(s)

lori cullen

Lori Cullen

Lori has been an educator for 26 years with the past 11 years as an administrator with the Calgary Board of Education. She is a tireless advocate for student achievement and a school emphasizing belonging. She believes in educating the whole child, meeting them where they are when they come to school. She never gives up, in the face of challenges her favorite words are, "What will we do now?" She is constantly seeking improvement and better ways of teaching and learning. You can read more on her blog at www.attheprincipalsoffice.com Follow her on twitter @lorilynnecullen

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