One of the challenges with professional development and improved instruction is there is an ever-present environment of new ideas. While most teaching accept the fact that education is ever-changing, and it should for the most part, it does make it hard to focus in on high-yield instructional strategies when there is always the “latest and greatest” strategy. So, what’s the answer to this challenge; it is simple, work smarter, not harder.
A few years ago I took part in a consortium with Debra Pickering, who is a part of the Marzano Research Laboratory. As a part of this consortium, we had to conduct an action research on one of Robert Marzano’s nine high-leverage instructional strategies. I chose the strategy of setting objectives, because this one caused the most doubt in my mind about how much it could really improve student achievement. Prior to this action research, I obviously set objectives for my class—while writing my lesson plans, but I do not think I effectively shared those objectives with the class. They were shared, just not in a clear and focused manner. After conducting the action research with a fifth-grade unit on early American settlements, my doubt of the effectiveness of this strategy was diminished. I was pleasantly surprised about how much more focused the students were. There are so many tangents one can go off on when teaching American history (especially when you have a passion for it as I do), but setting objectives at the beginning of each lesson and re-visiting them at the end of each lesson not only made learning intentions clear to students, it helped me keep my instruction focused where it needed to be. There was a clear difference in test scores with my experimental group as compared to my control group.
It is now a few years later and I am reading John Hattie’s Visible Learning. First of all, I highly recommend this book for any teacher who is wanting to step up their game. Hattie’s book is a meta-analyses of meta-analyses, which basically means he compared results of thousands of studies. He expands on the importance of learning intentions (ie setting objectives). Teacher clarity is tenth on his list of top strategies/approach to education that has the highest affect on student achievement. While reading this book, I realized that I had lost sight of this since doing my action research. So, I have refocused my efforts on making learning intentions clear to my students (and myself!) and, it is no surprise, that our learning is once again more focused and students seem more appreciative that they are not overwhelmed with trying to master every bit of information I throw at them.
The bigger lesson learned for me and the lesson I hope you take away from this: the key to professional development is not always learning more (aka doing more), it is working smarter. Education is, and should be constantly changing, but there are research-based strategies that have been proven time and again to be effective. Focus on those strategies as opposed to the newest latest and greatest strategies that promise to transform your teaching.