I Dare You to Disagree With These Three Instructional Shifts

I want to focus this post on what Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde call the Cognitive cluster of their Best Practice Principles in their book “Best Practice: Bringing Standards to Life in America’s Classrooms”. I have to admit that I’m naturally skeptical and very critical of books chosen by district level administration that are supposed to cover all levels of schools and content areas; however, this book seems to be an excellent choice thus far for our district level professional development on instructional leadership.

Here are, as the title foreshadows, the three instructional shifts you can no longer ignore (if you value learning). And if your instructional leader disagrees with you implementing any of these, have them give me a call (I can guarantee that won’t be able to tweet at me since they obviously must not be on Twitter)

1. Active prior understandings.

“New understandings are necessarily constructed on a foundation of existing understandings and experiences”

Far too often we ignore the importance of students’ preconceptions. If we value actual learning, we must activate prior understandings (which are often misconceptions), to help make students aware that they do indeed have something to learn. Changing your mental model in not an easy task, yet plenty of research has shown that students (and adults) do not actually change their minds unless first confronted with some type of discrepant event. Only then is your brain able to make the necessary changes (which is what I call learning).

2. Embed facts within concepts.

“Factual knowledge must be placed in a conceptual framework to be well understood. Concepts are given meaning by multiple representations that are rich in factual detail”

Thanks to Daniel Willingham, I am able to visualize exactly what this first sentence means. I even tweeted about this (look at this one first & come up with your answer and then attempt this one). I used to believe that my class could be successful if I only used higher order thinking & questioning, but I now understand the importance of factual background knowledge as a necessary precursor to deeper thinking. Yes, students need the basics, but they need to be taught it in any way other than basically.

3. Reflection is not optional.

“Appropriate self-monitoring and reflection can support learning with understanding. Helping students to become effective learners means enabling them to take control of their own learning, consciously define learning goals, and monitor their own progress”

This is called metacognition and its importance can not be understated. John Dewey, back in the 1930's said “ We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” I enjoyed this post by Mark Clements entitled “The Importance of Reflection” which does a great job expanding on this idea.

To summarize, the three shifts (or checks) for each lesson are

  1. Activate prior knowledge
  2. Embed facts within conceptual framework
  3. Reflect!

Now your homework: tweet at me @AGHolman how you’ve updated a lesson based on any (or all) of these ideas and let me know how it goes! I’d love to see these in action!