Schmoker: Teach teachers how to structure lessons

well-structured lesson is one of  ”the most effective known instructional practices,” writes Mike Schmoker, author of Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, in Teacher. Yet, in most schools, “successive waves of (mostly) unproven innovations and policy requirements” have marginalized lesson design.

An effective lesson starts with a carefully-formulated, clearly-stated purpose or “learning objective” accompanied by a brief preview or explanation of why that objective is worth learning and—of particular importance—how it will be assessed. This is followed by “modeling” or “demonstrating”—whereby teachers not only explain but explicitly show students, in very small, deliberately-calibrated steps, how to do the working and thinking necessary to succeed on that day’s assessment. .

Students should practice each step the teacher has modeled under the teacher’s eye, writes Schmoker. Instead of trying to tutor individual students, the teacher must “adjust instruction” by re-teaching a step or “enlisting students’ expertise by having them work in pairs to help each other.”

The name of the game is to repeat this cycle for each phase of the lesson until all or almost all students are ready to complete the day’s assignment, project, or assessment by themselves . . .

These elements “reduce boredom, increase student engagement, and guarantee significantly higher rates of student success on assessments of everything from content mastery to critical and creative thinking, to close reading, writing, and problem-solving,” writes Schmoker.

Numerous studies indicate that just three years of highly effective instruction will allow students to make average gains between 35 and 50 percentile points—effectively altering their academic trajectory. Dylan Wiliam’s oft-cited research found that when instruction embodies these elements, students will gain an additional six to nine months of academic progress each year. . . . Matched with even decent curriculum and increased opportunities for academic reading, writing, and discussion, the impact of such lessons would indeed be game-changing.

Yet he visits dozens of schools every year and rarely sees clear learning objectives and reteaching to ensure understanding for every student. “This is a scandal on the order of refusing to administer life-saving antibiotics to needy patients,” Schmoker concludes.

Adjusting instruction on the fly for a class of students with different abilities, prior knowledge and motivation sounds a lot harder than administering antibiotics.

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