Teacher actions promoting student learning
While there is no formula that will guarantee learning for every student in every context, there is extensive, well-documented evidence about the kinds of teaching approaches that consistently have a positive impact on student learning. This evidence tells us that students learn best when teachers:
- Create a supportive and engaging learning environment;
- Encourage reflective thought and action;
- Enhance the relevance of new learning;
- Facilitate shared learning;
- Connect to prior learning and experience;
- Provide sufficient opportunities to learn.
Creating a supportive and engaging learning environment
Students learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their fellow students and when they are able to be active, engaged members of a learning community. Effective teachers foster positive relationships within environments that are caring, inclusive, non-discriminatory and cohesive. Effective teachers attend to the cultural diversity of all their students.
Encouraging reflective thought and action
Students learn most effectively when they develop the ability to stand back from the information or ideas that they have engaged with and think about these objectively. Reflective learners assimilate new learning, relate it to what they already know, adapt it for their own purposes and translate thought into action. Over time, students develop their creativity, their ability to think critically about information and ideas and their metacognitive ability (that is, their ability to think about their own thinking). Teachers encourage such thinking when they design tasks and opportunities that require students to critically evaluate the material they use and consider the purposes for which it was originally created.
Enhancing the relevance of new learning
Students learn most effectively when they understand what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will be able to use their new learning. Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to apply or transfer what they discover in new and authentic ways. This encourages students to see what they are doing as relevant and to take greater ownership of their own learning.
Facilitating shared learning
Students learn as they engage in shared activities and conversations with others. Teachers encourage this process by cultivating the class as a learning community. In such an environment, everyone, including the teacher, is a learner. Learning conversations and learning partnerships are encouraged, while challenge, support, and feedback are given to each student. As they engage in reflective discourse with others, students build the language that they need to take their learning further.
Making connections to prior learning and experience
Students learn best when they are able to integrate new learning with what they already knowand understand. When teachers deliberately build on what their students know and have experienced, they maximize the use of learning time, anticipate students’ learning needs and avoid unnecessary duplication of content. Teachers can help students make connections across learning areas as well as to the wider world.
Providing sufficient opportunities to learn
Students learn most effectively when they have time and opportunity to engage with, practice, and transfer new learning. This means that they need to encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different contexts. It also means that when curriculum coverage and student understanding are in competition, the teacher may decide to cover less but cover it in greater depth. While that may be a difficult choice for a teacher it is definitely the right choice!
These are time-proven and research-supported principles of effective teaching. They generally run counter to teaching techniques promoted in “test-prep” environments. As I visit classrooms throughout our school district, I see teachers applying these principles on a regular basis. I appreciate each of our teachers for their dedication to children and commitment as professionals. Your efforts definitely make a difference in the lives of all students!