Program Goal IV: Instructional Strategies

An important aspect of our departmental philosophy is the fundamental belief that all students can learn. We realize, however, that students have different learning preferences and learn at different rates. Therefore, we agree with Joyce, Weil and Calhoun (2009) that teachers must not only be knowledgeable about the content they teach, but must also know and be committed to making decisions that involve the use of a variety of instructional strategies and approaches suited for particular purposes and appropriate to meet  the diverse learning needs of students. This document describes some of the models and techniques that we believe are most important.

Models of teaching: Drawing from the major philosophical and psychological beliefs regarding how humans learn, Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2009) have described four families of instructional strategies: The Informational-Processing Family, The Personal Family, The Social Family, and the Behavioral Systems Family. These families of strategies are merged below with the more traditional terminology of behaviorism, cognitivism, and humanism.Cognitive Approaches: Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun's Information-Processing Family consists of techniques that are clearly cognitive in nature. They emphasize ways of enhancing students' innate desire to make sense of the world by acquiring and organizing information, solving problems, and developing concepts and language for conveying them. Though constructivism is often considered separately from information processing approaches, it is clearly a cognitive teaching technique and, therefore, will be described within this category. Other techniques consistent with cognitivism are discovery learning, reception learning, and reciprocal teaching. These techniques are also described below.

Inquiry, Discovery and Constructivism: According to the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education (2000), inquiry "refers to the activities of students in which they develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world." According to this organization, inquiry-based classrooms require engaging in scientifically oriented questions, giving priority to evidence in responding to questions, formulating explanations from evidence, connecting explanations to scientific knowledge, and communicating and justifying these explanations.

Often associated with the work of Jerome Bruner (1966) and Jean Piaget (1960), discovery learning is one method of inquiry-based instruction. This approach often involves structured or directed activities that require students to formulate and test "hypotheses through hands-on experiences" (Schunk, 2012, 491). One popular discovery-based procedure is the three-step learning cycle. Derived from Piaget's developmental theory, lessons based on this instructional model typically begin with exploration that involves a concrete, hands-on activity related to the lesson objectives. This concrete experience leads to the concept invention step, during which students discover or "invent" an important concept or relationship. The third stage of the learning cycle, concept extension, requires students to "directly apply the concept or skill learned during the invention activity" (Hartshorn, 2005, p. 2).

Though structured discovery learning, including the Learning Cycle, has long been a part of the science curriculum, the latest trend in discovery-based learning, constructivism, has resulted in renewed and multidisciplinary interest in this form of instruction. Cognitive constructivism, based on the ideas of Jean Piaget and others, holds that students are active learners who construct and give their own meaning to knowledge based on their prior experiences and background knowledge. The best learning occurs through exploration of a topic from multiple perspectives and through active manipulation of materials (Schunk, 2012). Social constructivism, which has its roots in the views of Lev Vygotsky and others, "emphasizes the role of culture and social interaction in meaningful learning" (Snowman, Biehler, & McCown, 2012, p. 331). Conditions that foster learning from the constructivist perspective include "the use of realistic learning tasks" (situated learning) as well as discussions that allow "students to share different perspectives of realistic problems" (Snowman, Biehler, and McCown, 2012, p. 363).

Reception learning is often associated with the ideas of David Ausubel (1963). This form of learning involves receiving and processing structured information that has been presented by the teacher. According to Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2009), teacher presentations are most effective when they begin with a clarification of the aims of the lesson and then provide an advance organizer, which contains introductory ideas that help "explain, integrate, and interrelate the material in the learning task with previously learned material" (p. 253). Advance organizers often contain examples and analogies and utilize terms and ideas that are familiar to students. Following the advance organizer, the content is presented in a top-down, general to specific manner (subsumption) and typically includes both expository organizers that clearly define and describe key concepts as well as comparative organizers, which emphasize similarities and differences between new and previously-learned material (LeFrancois, 1999).

Reciprocal teaching is an approach designed to increase comprehension of expository material and draws heavily from information processing theory. It teaches students the cognitive techniques of questioning, summarizing, clarifying, and predicting in order to promote reading comprehension (LeFrancois, 1999). The teacher initially models these skills, and then the teacher and students take turns leading the class through their use (Schunk, 2012).

Humanism: Joyce. Weil, and Calhoun's (2009) personal and social families are consistent with humanism's emphases on holistic learning and the development of human potential. As these authors noted, "The personal models of learning begin from the perspective of the selfhood of the individual. They attempt to shape education so that we come to understand ourselves better, take responsibility for our education, and learn to reach beyond our current development to become stronger, more sensitive, and more creative in our search for high quality lives" (p. 31). Teachers who use a humanistic approach attempt to develop a classroom atmosphere that promotes the accomplishment of affective as well as cognitive outcomes and seek to increase students' "self-awareness and sense of responsibility" (Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun, 2009, p. 31). Humanistic teachers often Take a nondirective teaching approach and act as a facilitator who helps students "clarify goals and participate in developing avenues for reaching those goals" (Joyce. Weil, and Calhoun, 2009, p. 31). Having much in common with constructivism, humanistic approaches include cooperative learning, teaching through discussion, and confluent (or holistic education). These approaches are summarized below:

Cooperative Learning is an instructional method in which "students work together in small groups so that each member of the group can participate in a clearly assigned, collective task" (Lefrancois, 1999, p. 539). As noted by Putnam (1997), these tasks "engage students in discussions with others, enable students to participate in authentic learning activities relevant to real life, and encourage students to teach one another" (pp. 8 and 9). In order for cooperative learning activities to be successful, they must contain five critical components: positive interdependence, individual accountability, cooperative skills, face-to-face interaction, and group reflection and goal setting (Johnson and Johnson, 1991). Approaches to cooperative learning include Donald and Roger Johnson's Learning Together (1994); Student-Teams-Achievement Divisions (STAD) developed by Robert Slavin (1994); and the Jigsaw Classroom, developed by Elliot Aranson (2000). Research on cooperative learning has consistently shown such benefits as improved self-esteem, acceptance of students with academic disabilities, improved attitudes toward school, and enhanced abilities to work cooperatively (Slavin, 1996). One recent study by Slavin, Lake, and Groff (2009) found that middle and high school students' math scores increased when cooperative learning strategies were used. Though cooperative learning is most consistent with the humanistic model, it is employed by educators with other perspectives as well.

Discussion-Based Learning: According to Kindsvatter, Wilen, and Ishler (1996), teaching through discussion, as opposed to recitation, involves the facilitation of student-to-student interaction and conversation related to instructional outcomes. These authors described three types of discussion: guided discussion (promoting student understanding through processing information), reflective discussion (stimulating critical thinking about issues and problems), and small-group discussion (in which students assume responsibility for their learning. Phases of discussion include entry (identification of a problem, issue, or topic), clarification (establishment of procedures and definition of terms and concepts related to the topic), investigation (questioning, maintaining discussion, and requesting students to support their opinions), and closure (summarizing, connecting discussion to the lesson, and applying discussion outcomes to other situations) (Kindsvatter, Wilen, and Ishler, 1996). Research on the effective use of discussion indicates that this technique is as effective as other teaching techniques and may be more effective in achieving higher-level outcomes. (Kindsvatter, Wilen, and Ishler, 1996). However, as noted by Schunk (2012), a comfortable, non-threatening classroom atmosphere is essential for discussion-based learning to be successful.

Confluent/Holistic Education: Based on the work of educators such as George Brown (1971), confluent education, also referred to as holistic learning, involves instruction that integrates the affective and cognitive domains within the same lesson. Therefore, it focuses on students' feelings and values as they relate to the content being taught and is an important means of promoting holistic learning and the development of students' full potential (Lefrancois, 1999).

Thematic Instruction: This strategy for interdisciplinary teaching, which involves the use of cross-curricular themes (Voigt, 1997), is an important means of promoting holistic learning. A more detailed description of thematic instruction is provided within Goal I: Subject Matter. Content-Based Instruction, a related technique, refers specifically to a curricular approach in which language and other academic content are taught concurrently (Brinton et al., 1989). What qualifies as "content" varies from traditional academic content appropriate to a student's grade level (Curtain and Pesola 1994) to broader topics or themes that are of interest or importance to the learner (Genesee 1994).  Content-Based Instruction is closely related to language immersion and bilingual education, wherein some portion of the school day is conducted entirely in the target language with the aim of producing learners who have high functional proficiency in the target language as well as a solid grasp of traditional academic content.

Behaviorism: Drawing particularly on the work of B. F. Skinner, the behavioral systems family consists of techniques designed to take advantage of human tendencies to modify behaviors based on experiences and related positive and negative consequences. The Madeline Hunter (1980) model, Instructional Theory into Practice (ITIP), draws heavily from behaviorism, particularly the operant conditioning paradigm. A form of direct instruction, this model involves the use of an anticipatory set to focus student attention, behavioral objectives to specify outcomes, modeling or demonstrating, checking for understanding, guided practice, independent practice, and closure (Kellough and Roberts, 1991). According to Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2009), "Direct instruction plays a limited but important role in a comprehensive education program" (p.368). Similarly, Ryan and Cooper (2004) contend that behavioral psychology is not as evident in today's classrooms as in decades past. Never the less, the behavioral model remains useful in teaching basic skills as well as in special education settings.

Differentiated Instruction: Not necessarily directly associated with any of the above models or "families," differentiated instruction is an important aspect of effective teaching. Though the term is fairly new, educators have long recommended that teachers know and use a variety of techniques to adapt instruction to the individual developmental levels and learning needs of their students. We concur with Ryan and Cooper (2004) that differentiated instruction is a commitment on the part of the teacher to find a match between the learner and instructional content. Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999) contends that in order to effectively differentiate instruction, teachers must be committed to knowing their students' interests, readiness levels, and learning preferences. With this knowledge, teachers can effectively differentiate content, process, and product. Tomlinson maintains that while the core of the content must remain the same, the way students engage in learning varies depending on learning needs and the readiness of the student. The end product, how the student demonstrates what is learned, may also be varied. Effective differentiated instruction often involves the use of scaffolding, a process in which students are given various forms of support or assistance while learning new or difficult tasks (Larkin, 2002). It helps to control for aspects of the task "that are beyond the learners' capabilities so they can focus on and master those features of the task that they can grasp quickly" (Schunk, 2012, p. 245).  The amount and form of scaffolding varies depending on the students' individual needs.
Instructional Technology: As school districts embrace the use of technology, particularly computer technology, it is increasingly important that beginning teachers possess the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to effectively use this teaching tool. That meaningful learning can occur when the use of instructional technology is based on sound instructional decisions is not in dispute. Literally thousands of studies exploring the impact of digital tools on student learning have been conducted over the past 40 years. For example, Tamin, Bernard, Borokhovski, Abrami, and Schmid's (2011) second-order meta-analysis comparing student achievement in classrooms where computers were and were not used revealed that the achievement of computer-using students was slightly to moderately higher than students who did not use computers in the classroom. They recommend a cautious response to their findings, however, because of the many pedagogical variables that may have contributed to student achievement but were not accounted for in the study. This comprehensive analysis of the literature confirms our beliefs about and approach to preparing future teachers to integrate technology into their teaching. In short, it is not the digital tool but rather the appropriateness of the pedagogical approach for achieving specific learning goals that matters. In the following paragraphs we provide a brief overview of selected research on ways technology use might improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning in K-12 schools and clarify our conception of effective computer use.

In their analysis of the impact of educational technology on student learning, Ross and Lowther (2009) organized instructional uses of technology into three primary domains: technology as a tutor (computer-assisted instruction), technology as a teaching aid, and technology as a learning tool. They used these domains as a way to organize and interpret the research on effective use of technology in the K-12 classroom. 

Computer-assisted instruction (CAI) is one area of instructional technology use that has been covered rather extensively in the research literature. CAI programs typically utilize a format that integrates basic instruction, drill and practice exercises, and immediate feedback. After years of research, Ross, Morrison, and Lowther (2010) concluded that very few differences in students' learning exist regardless of whether they are taught with CAI applications or traditional teacher-led instruction. Therefore, these researchers conclude that educators should focus on identifying appropriate ways to implement the use of CAI programs in K-12 classrooms. Some effective uses of CAI recommended by these authors include allowing students to practice with skills and content, thereby freeing the teacher to work with other students; providing opportunities for remediation and/or enrichment; and providing alternate ways for kids to learn content or skills that were not grasped during initial instruction (Ross and Lowther, 2009).

Technology can also be used as a teaching aid that helps teachers organize information and resources in an engaging manner. While multimedia resources, interactive white boards, and clickers can be used to actively involve students in learning, unfortunately, according to Mosenson and Johnson (2008), beginning teachers often do not feel adequately prepared to teach with these technologies. To help better prepare them, these authors recommend content-specific modeling of technology and encouragement of self-efficacy through positive examples.

Ross and Lowther (2009) emphasize the importance of instructional uses of educational technology that allow students to solve problems and create authentic products. Researchers have discovered a variety of benefits associated with using computers as a tool for learning, including increases in cooperative and higher level learning; improvements in students' writing, problem-solving, and ability to use computers; and more positive attitudes about technology among students, their families, and educators (Ross, Morrison, and Lowther, 2010). Unfortunately, many students in the U.S. lack in-school opportunities to use computers as a tool for creating, communicating, and collaborating. Particularly disturbing are the differences in technology-enhanced learning experiences for students from high and low socio-economic backgrounds. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to use CAI programs to complete lower-order drill and practice exercises and less apt to have Internet access in school or at home than their more affluent peers (Ross, Morrison, and Lowther, 2010; Lazarus, Wainer, and Lipper, 2005).

This research provides a helpful framework for teachers who must make decisions about when to integrate digital tools into their teaching. Ultimately, the value of the tool is derived from the extent to which the teacher is able to use it to meet his/her instructional goals effectively and efficiently. For example, if the goal is to provide a small number of fourth graders with additional opportunities to practice basic multiplication skills while the teacher introduces another group of students to multiplying two-digit numbers, a computer-assisted instructional program might represent a very effective use technology. By comparison, CAI would probably not be the most appropriate tool if the goal is learning to efficiently access, evaluate, and organize information available on the Internet. Our aim is to prepare teachers who can select the digital tool that will allow students to efficiently meet the lesson's objectives.

The National Educational Technology Standards for Students: Second Edition, developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is also a helpful resource for teachers who want to make appropriate use of digital tools in their classrooms. The standards provide educators with a clear vision of what students should know and understand about technology. Each of the standards has been translated into specific indicators centered on developmentally appropriate practices, which is a tremendous boon to educators seeking ways to make effective classroom decisions regarding the use of instructional technology.
We conclude this chapter by returning to our original premise: No one instructional model or approach is best for all situations. Therefore, it is important for teachers to be knowledgeable of multiple techniques in order to teach a wide range of content and meet the diverse learning needs of their students.

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Updated July, 2012 by Edmund J. Sass