Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008...8:46 am

High Impact Instruction

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Robin Fred
The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning

A great teacher has more impact on a student’s success than perhaps any other factor.  I’m sitting in a presentation that my colleague Rachel Porter is leading at North Carolina’s Summer Conference for Career & Technical Educators.  She’s talking about the different types of learners and how to best reach them.  A primary concept here: teachers have to vary their approach if they want to engage everyone in their classroom.

Rachel started the presentation by asking participants to classify their own learning styles based on how they would approach traveling to a new place:

  1. Those in this category would call a friend, and find out other things to do while there.
  2. This group would make step-by-step directions, find out road names and numbers.
  3. These people would draw their own maps, highlight your route on the map, and refine their directions.
  4. Those in this group say they would just head in the right general direction, and might be easily side-tracked by things of interest.

Most of the teachers in this room - and everywhere else I’ve seen this done - identify themselves as ‘2’s.  Their favorite question is “what” and they approach things in a very focused way.  Traditional schooling is built around this approach, and people of my generation have learned to think in this way.  For a teacher, it’s most natural to approach assignments and activities in this ‘linear’ way.

But MOST students are not 2’s.  They’re 1’s who are very social, or 3’s who like to analyze and deconstruct things, or 4’s who need to be directed and engaged, need time and freedom to explore.

How can a teacher address these various needs?  That’s a complicated question, but use of research-based teaching is the direction to take.  Some examples:

  • An understanding of brain-based learning - how students think, how they can best understand and remember content - can be very strong in helping teachers craft a classroom strategy.
  • An awareness of multiple intelligences - from Howard Gardner’s model - interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, visual-spatial, logical-mathematical, verbal-linguistic, kinesthetic, musical.  If you’re most comfortable in the linguistic approach, you may lean heavily on that.  Doing that all the time not only leaves out students who are musical or naturalistic or intrapersonal, or those who learn best with but it prevents the linguistic learners from engaging in a different way.  
  • Inquiry-based learning.  Have students learn by asking questions and finding their own (correct) answers rather than hand-feeding everything to them.  Today’s students are used to active involvement.  My generation grew up on television - a passive form of entertainment or information gathering. Today’s students may watch television, but many if not most are more excited by more active engagement.  Whether it’s social networking or video games, they are used to being actively engaged.  That’s a strength.  But it’s also a challenge. 

Some ways to address these concepts in the classroom:

  • Incorporating reading and writing, including lecture, discussions, storytelling;
  • Engaging students in problem solving, experiments, number games;
  • Drawing pictures or use videotapes;
  • Incorporating music into instruction;
  • Providing numerous hands-on experiences;
  • Having students work individually, in pairs, in small groups, and as a whole class;
  • Providing opportunities for self-reflection;
  • Creating connections to the natural world.

One of the most important factors: incorporating the use of technology.  Not only do they need to learn how to use tech tools, if they don’t already know, but they’re very likely used to use it and engaged by it. 

Does your own learning style or background determine the way you teach?  It’s natural for that to happen, but it’s a mistake to let it happen all the time. 

I could only cover the surface of the discussion today in a blog post, but you can see Rachel’s presentation by clicking here.

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