In part three of our series, we highlight research-based practices that are making a profound impact on student learning at 175 award-winning NCUST schools. We discovered 8 specific practices common in these schools. In this post, we shine a spotlight on the teaching practice of Promoting Clarity.

From Research to Practice

This lesson planning template is a guide that includes elements of the teaching practices featured in “Teaching Practices From America’s Best Urban Schools.” Included in the process is how teachers would introduce lessons with clarity and in a logical manner, increasing the likelihood that students will master challenging concepts. The template can also guide teacher teams to engage in thoughtful, collaborative planning to ensure that all students are able to apply their learning in powerful ways that will lead to deep, meaningful understanding.


Sapphire, Haley-Speca, and Gower (2008) insisted, “Skillful teachers are clear about what is to be learned, clear about what achievement means, and clear about what they are going to do to help students attain it.” In high-performing urban schools, teachers enable students to access information in a manner that facilitates understanding. Teachers plan instruction so that understanding is likely, without the need for remediation or intervention. By promoting clarity, teachers focus on getting students to understand and master important concepts. As well, by promoting clarity, teachers increase the likelihood that students feel valued and capable.

Cruikshank (1985) emphasized that logical and clear teaching requires planning and effort. He explained that effective teachers have to orient and prepare students for what is to be taught, communicate content so that students understand, provide illustrations and examples, and demonstrate … teach things in a related step-by-step manner and provide feedback to students about how well they are doing. Several researchers have referred to the process of breaking complex concepts and skills into a logical sequence as “chunking”.

Marzano (20007) summarized this research and explained the importance of organizing information into ‘digestible chunks’ for students. Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack (2001) emphasized the value of nonlinguistic representations (visual aids) in promoting clear understanding. They explained that when teachers engage students in creating various kinds of graphic representations, physical models or pictures, students not only understand the concepts in greater depth but also recall them much more easily.

Teaching Practices from Americas Best Urban Schools

Authors of Teaching Practices From America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. Perez, 2019 pgs. 39-47) write, “Hattie emphasized that teacher clarity had a stronger effect on student achievement than most other variables (almost twice the effect of a typical year of formal schooling)”. Fisher et al. (2018) described teacher clarity as ‘the combination of teachers knowing what they are supposed to be teaching, informing students about what they are supposed to be learning and reaching an agreement with students about the success criteria”.

Authors of When Black Students Excel (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Stanley J. Munro, Jr., 2023 pgs. 11-13) write about Patrick Henry Preparatory School in East Harlem, New York, “Discussions about rigor has changed how teachers and administrators plan what is taught, when it is taught and how it is taught so all students are more likely to achieve deep levels of understanding. Throughout the past two decades, Principal Pantelidis and his colleagues have pushed themselves to elevate the rigor of what they teach, because they believe they can change students’ lives by leading them to master concepts and skills that many students of color are never given the opportunity to access.”

Leadership in America's Best Urban Schools

Authors of Leadership Practices in America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. Perez, 2017 pgs. 54-55 also writes, “By introducing lessons with clarity and in ways that students perceive as clear, logical, and concise, lessons are more likely to maximize student learning. In our award-winning schools, teachers deconstruct complicated concepts, algorithms, and processes. They worked together to consider how they could make the complex seem logical and understandable. They planned the introduction of concepts in ways that might help students avoid common misunderstandings. As they planned, they recognized that textbooks often omitted important steps or quickly glossed over critical ideas. In some cases, they found that students were being asked to climb a ladder of understanding on which multiple rungs were missing. In more traditional classrooms, students would likely fail or pass through with partial understanding. In these high-performing schools, students thrived because teachers constructed lessons with rungs added exactly where students needed them the most.”

Concourse Village Elementary School
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