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By Dr. Jerry Burkett and Dr. Cathy Moak
DISCLAIMER: This blog is the third in a series designed to educate and inform readers on the differences between standards, curriculum, and instruction. These blogs are not an endorsement of Common Core State Standards. In our previous articles we defined educational standards and curriculum. In this article we show the relationship between standards, curriculum and instruction. This beginning article on instruction will provide a general overview. In future articles we will explore specific approaches to instruction.
Standards are the expectations, or goals, that are established to drive student learning and mastery of content and grade levels. Curriculum is a method of ordering standards in concise tools for teachers to use to plan lessons and help inform teachers as they create their instruction. Curriculum is WHAT content the teacher delivers to students. Instruction is HOW teachers deliver that content.
Instruction is the method or way of teaching students. The standards, or goals, will never be achieved without a guaranteed viable curriculum. But, that is not enough. Without effective instruction, even the best curriculum cannot lead a student to success. Effective instruction is the most critical factor in student success.
There are a variety of instructional strategies that have been used by teachers to deliver content to students, making every students probability for success very dependent on the instructional approach in the classroom. Some teachers have stood before their students and lectured for hours and hours to deliver content with little or no student interaction (i.e., Lecture). Other teachers have repeated information over and over again (i.e., “Drill and Kill”), forcing students to memorize endless facts without explanation or discovery of their origin. And some teachers have passed out worksheets for students to complete while the teachers retreat to their desk (i.e., Teacher-Centered Instruction).
While many of us have experienced teachers who have used these types of instructional techniques educational researchers have discovered through peer reviewed research and study that these instructional techniques are NOT EFFECTIVE.
For example, many of us had to memorize the 50 state capitals during our time in school. While this information stayed with some of us, many people have forgotten over time. Unless you are a geography teacher or a contestant on a game show, have you ever had a need in your life to know the 50 state capitals?
Or, would it have been more useful for you to understand why these capitals were chosen? Maybe study the various forms of state government throughout the United States? Or perhaps to think critically about how they were built and the concepts around how they became central hubs for government?
Although you may have forgotten the factual parts of those questions, the real skills you would have acquired are the ability to think and process information related to those capitals, which are attributes that employers seek in the workplace.
Research in the area of instruction tells us that effective instruction includes a small group environment, working on projects that are designed to push students to think critically. In addition, teachers serve as facilitators of student learning, guiding students through cross-curricular lessons and infusing technology into the instruction where necessary and appropriate.
The table below outlines several strategies, their characteristics, examples, and classroom effectiveness.
Teacher-directed, practice and drill
Teacher lecture, demonstrations
Effectiveness is limited to providing information, step by step skills, and basic knowledge construction.
Inquiry, induction, student-centered
Reflective, discussion, problem-solving, guided inquiry
Very effective for problem-solving, life-long learning, student motivation, comparing/contrasting, influence, predicting, summarizing, and analyzing.
Peer-learning, discussion, multiple solutions
Socratic discussions, collaborative learning, debates
Very effective for debates, brainstorming, and problem-solving
Hands-on learning, active participation, analysis, application
Project-based learning, problem -based learning, simulations, lab experiments, building models, surveys
Most effective. Greatly increases understanding and retention compared to other strategies. Increases student motivation
Student-decision making, analysis, self-reliance
Student centers, research projects, flipped learning, essays, computer assisted instruction, online instruction
Very effective in developing student initiative, self-reliance, self-improvement, and lifelong learning.
Most educators agree that teachers should have enough autonomy to make the best instructional decisions for their classrooms. However, all teachers should be held accountable for implementing the curriculum and using classroom strategies that best meet the needs of their students. A skilled teacher will use a mix of each of these strategies when they are appropriate. For example, when given the TEKS standard:
1.6A The student is expected to: classify and sort regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes based on attributes using informal geometric language,
it would not make sense for a teacher to lecture on the differences between regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes. First grade students are not likely to retain information from a demonstration on an overhead projector describing the differences between regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes. It would be much more effective to provide the students with actual hands-on experience sorting the shapes and classifying the differences on their own, with teacher guidance.
Effective teachers analyze the standards and the curriculum to determine the best strategy for their students. Ineffective teachers stick to one approach and choose that approach based on the teacher’s needs rather than the needs of the students.
The reality in education is that the game has changed. The game changer is technology. Technology has created access to knowledge that our world has never seen. As such, students no longer have a need to regurgitate the capitals of the 50 states and they no longer need the teacher to drill and kill those capitals. Teachers are no longer the supreme keepers of the information; Google now has the stronghold on that. Facts are free and readily available.
However, what Google can’t do is help students facilitate, analyze, synthesize or process this knowledge. They need a teacher for that. They need a teacher who can take well-written standards, use a powerful curriculum tool, and plan research-based instruction to help facilitate a purposeful learning environment for students that will help them think critically about the information that is being delivered.
This is learning in the 21st century. It’s not a conspiracy.