Educators Share: Effective instructional strategies promote student understanding


Teachers share success they have had using Utah Effective Teaching Standard 7

UEA’s Educators Taking the Lead initiative is designed to support member success in the new educator evaluation process by focusing on effective teaching practices and instructional quality.

A number of resources have already been developed, including:

  • “Evaluation Leads” in each local designated as a resource and source of information for members regarding evaluations;

  • Training on how to use the Utah Effective Teaching Standards in the classroom to improve practice;

  • An electronic “Toolkit” to collect, assess and document evidence and information about classroom practice to demonstrate performance; and

  • Materials highlighting the “teaching standard of the month” to support 10-minute building meetings focused on understanding and implementing the standards.

Each regional UniServ office or local association is implementing its own plan for how to use the available resources to support the unique needs of educators in each area. Contact your local association or UniServ for details.

This month, we have invited two teachers to share stories from the classroom about the teaching standards in action to inspire thinking about high quality instruction. November’s focus is Standard 7: Instructional Strategies.

Standard 7: Instructional Strategies

The teacher uses various instructional strategies to ensure that all learners develop a deep understanding of content areas and their connections and build skills to apply and extend knowledge in meaningful ways.

Gay Beck, UEA State Evaluation Lead and Kindergarten teacher in Alpine School District

As a kindergarten teacher, I use various instructional strategies each day to achieve my learning objectives. We start our day with a morning routine. This entails a self-start then moves to the morning meeting. This is direct instruction in a whole group setting. We begin with a morning message, attendance, calendar and counting activities on the smart board.

We have recently been doing compare-and-contrast activities. In our social studies core we are learning about the similarities and differences in families. I have broken this up into segments. The first day we read a Rigby big book about families and the way they travel, eat, vacation, play games, etc. I use a graphic organizer to show the similarities and differences.

The children share ideas and I put them in the graphic organizer. The next day we continue the lesson and I want them to have a more meaningful connection and deeper understanding of this content area so we discuss their own families. We use a graphic organizer again to compare and contrast their family traditions. I model good writing and use questioning strategies to help them engage and learn more about how to compare and contrast.

Another instructional strategy is the interactive activity called “think, pair and share.” In this activity they think about their families’ favorite foods and favorite vacations. After they have some ideas, they turn to a partner and each share their thoughts. I give a signal when time is up and then I choose some students to share what they discussed during their turn and talk.

Students share their families’ favorite foods and vacations and their neighbors! They remember the things that were the same and different. This activity develops their communication skills and ability to recall information.

After several students share, I talk about how we celebrate all families in our class and how it makes it interesting to be the same and different. I then instruct them that we will be writing about our conversation with our partners. I explain and model how we would write about foods we like or vacations and compare it with our friends. I then have them go in to small groups and work with 5-6 students and differentiate instruction to meet their needs. I can redirect, focus and deepen their writing ability as I conference individually with them. I help with varying needs such as beginning sounds, ending sounds, sentences structure, etc.

They write some great sentences and match them with pictures they draw. They do a great job remembering how to do writers’ workshop. The finished writing is fun to read. For example, one student wrote, “I love cookies and Ellie likes fruit. We both like food!” The samples were appropriate developmental spelling. I file and keep the writing samples. Using several instructional strategies ensures that all the students can extend their knowledge in a meaningful way.

Signe Balluff, UEA State Evaluation Lead and Fourth-Grade teacher in Davis School District

As a classroom teacher, I have found that reading through the Standards can be time-consuming and often challenging. I know what it means to use appropriate instructional strategies and provide “opportunities for students to develop higher-order and meta-cognitive skills,” however, I often feel a little inadequate at actually putting these into play.

What I have come to realize is that it is easy to see someone else doing something and know they are using correct strategies, but to recognize it in my own practice is more difficult. The first thing I had to teach myself is to recognize the good things I do in the classroom. Then, I had to learn to define my practices in terms of the teaching standards.

One thing I do is tell my students some of the vocabulary and define it for them. Then, I tell them “research has shown…” They LOVE it when I talk to them with this language.

For example, we will be in the middle of a reading lesson and I will ask them to think about what the author means (inferring). When someone answers, I then ask why he thinks this. I will then stop and say, “Do you know what I’m asking you to do?” They will usually not have an answer, but sometimes they do. I then say, “I am asking you to actually think about what you are thinking. That has a special word that very smart people use. Would you like to know the word?” Of course, they say ‘yes,’ because they want to be one of the very smart people. “The word is ‘meta-cognition’. What is the word? What does it mean? That’s right! So every time I ask you to think about what you are thinking we are actually making our brains do something very scientific. Research shows that when we ask students to use meta-cognition strategies, they do better with reading comprehension.”

In this manner, I not only involve the students in understanding what we are doing, but I am promoting engagement and learning because now they look for ways they use meta-cognition strategies. Often students will use these strategies in math, social studies, science, etc. They are very proud of themselves when they come to me and say, “Guess what? I used meta-cognition when I was doing…” Additionally, I am teaching myself to look for opportunities to promote higher-level thinking because all of us in the classroom are using the same language.


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