Aspects of Effective Teaching

I recently read an analysis of education practice entitled Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? from the American Fordham Institute. In Chapter 5, Professor Mark C. Shug discusses the qualities of a good teacher. It’s an interesting analysis because Shug points out something that I have observed since the days of my own teacher training: we don’t teach teachers about direct instruction, so if  teachers find “student centered instruction” to be insufficient, they then have little to fall back on. Teachers end up, as Shug says, training “themselves – often by relying on trial and error – to find methods that truly work. Many will discover the benefits of teacher-centered instruction on their own.”

If you are left to your own devices, here are some good things to remember:


On what direct instruction looks like…

… teachers on their feet in the front of the room with eyes open, asking questions, making points, gesturing, writing key ideas on the board, encouraging, correcting, demonstrating, and so forth.


On what the research says is effective practice…

1. Rosenshine and Stevens (1986) distilled the research down to a set of behaviors that characterize well-structured lessons. Effective teachers, they said:

  • Open lessons by reviewing prerequisite learning.
  • Provide a short statement of goals.
  • Present new material in small steps, with student practice after each step.
  • Give clear and detailed instructions and explanations.
  • Provide a high level of active practice for all students.
  • Ask a large number of questions, check for understanding, and obtain responses from all students.
  • Guide students during initial practice.
  • Provide systematic feedback and corrections.
  • Provide explicit instruction and practice for seatwork exercises and, where necessary, monitor students during seatwork.

2. Brophy and his colleagues also found that the most effective teachers were likely to:

  • Maintain a sustained focus on content.
  • Involve all students.
  • Maintain a brisk pace.
  • Teach skills to the point of overlearning.
  • Provide immediate feedback.

3. Finally, in a separate series of process-outcome studies that spanned the period from the 1960s to the 1980s, Gage and his colleagues at Stanford University found that effective teachers:

  • Introduce materials with an overview or analogy.
  • Use review and repetition.
  • Praise and repeat student answers.
  • Give assignments that offer practice and variety.
  • Ensure questions and assignments are new and challenging yet easy enough to allow success with reasonable effort.
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