Introducing Content Logically, Clearly, and Concisely
Teachers in high-performing schools help students master new content by keeping presentations brief. Rarely did we observe long lectures. Overwhelmingly, we heard student voices more than we heard teacher voices as we visited classrooms. Often teachers would present a concept in a few minutes and immediately begin engaging students in a discussion of the concept. By keeping the presentation of information brief, teachers forced themselves to be clear and concise. Students knew precisely what they were expected to learn and how they were expected to apply or use the new information.
In many cases, teachers were able to be more concise because they were teaching students strategies for accessing information and finding answers on their own. In other words, many teachers did not present all of the information they wanted students to learn and then hope students would remember all of the lecture’s contents. Instead, teachers presented important core ideas and helped students learn how to access information quickly and reliably. For example, a social studies teacher from one high-performing school NCUST has studied did not offer a lengthy lecture concerning the various facets of life during the Civil War. Instead, she offered a clear explanation of the role she wanted her students to assume as speechwriters for Abraham Lincoln. She explained the importance . of the task and she offered them a cart full of library books from which they could draw general ideas, specific facts, and compelling anecdotes.
By teaching students strategies for acquiring information, teachers can proceed more quickly to challenging academic tasks than they could if they tried to get students to memorize all of the information that is more typically perceived as prerequisite knowledge. For example, in several high-performing elementary schools, teachers reported that they were able to help students progress to more advanced mathematics, even though students had not memorized all of the multiplication facts. Teachers explained that they taught students strategies for getting the correct answer reliably and relatively quickly. A teacher at Signal Hill Elementary in Long Beach, California, explained, “We could get just about every student to learn to multiply by one, two, three, four, five, and ten. It was harder to get some students to master the rest of the facts. So, we started teaching students how to use the distributive property to make multiplication easy. If they wanted to multiply eight times six, we showed them that it’s the same as multiplying eight times five and adding eight times one.” This teacher taught her students a strategy that allowed them to acquire the correct answer reliably. Although students may not have initially demonstrated automaticity with multiplication facts, as many teachers desire, they acquired correct answers and developed a greater sense of personal efficacy concerning mathematics. By consistently acquiring the correct answer, students increased the likelihood of eventual memorization. In the meantime, students were able to advance to more complex mathematical concepts and skills.
Teachers were also able to spend less time presenting information when they helped students learn how to use rubrics or scoring guides to evaluate the quality of their work. Often teachers gave students rubrics before students began working. Sometimes, they engaged students in helping create the scoring rubric. Often, teachers in high-performing schools prompted students to use rubrics as students were completing assignments. This not only resulted in less teacher presentation time but also resulted in students’ perceiving that they could ensure their academic success.
The logical, clear, and concise lessons we observed helped students acquire greater levels of mastery than we see in more typical urban schools.
Teachers worked diligently and collaboratively to plan, organize, and deliver instruction that made challenging concepts understandable.
What It Is
Keeping presentations of information brief.
Example: The teacher presents short two-minute clips from a movie. Each clip includes examples of characters using figurative language. After each clip, the teacher engages students in a discussion of the examples and types of figurative language observed.
What It Isn’t
Example: The teacher presents a feature-length film with many great examples of characters using figurative language. At the conclusion of the film, the teacher asks students to recall some of the examples of figurative language used in the film.