Teaching Opinion

Response: ‘Best Practices’ Are Practices That Work Best for Your Students

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 29, 2014 7 min read
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(This is the last post in a three-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

This week’s question is:

Based on your research and what you’ve seen and experienced in the classroom, what are the five best practices teachers can do to help their students become better learners?

Though the question asks for five best practices, I’ve also given readers the option to share just one or two suggestions.

In addition to publishing three posts responding to the question, you can listen to a nine-minute BAM! Radio podcast where I interview two educators, Diana Laufenberg and Jeff Charbonneau, whose written responses appeared in Part One.

Along with contributions by Diana and Jeff in Part One, Ted Appel and special guest John Hattie shared their thoughts.

In Part Two, Eric Jensen, Jason Flom, and PJ Caposey responded to the question.

Today’s post features contributions from Roxanna Elden, Barnett Berry and Pedro Noguera, along with comments from readers.

Response From Roxanna Elden

Roxanna Elden is a National Board Certified high school teacher in Miami. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is widely used as a tool for teacher training and retention. Roxanna also speaks at events around the country, providing training and support for teachers and sharing a teacher’s eye view on a variety of education issues.

As Larry and several other contributors to this topic have pointed out, the concept of “best practices” can be problematic. (My own take is in this piece on “The Worst of Best Practices”) With that in mind, here is a list of practices that should be good for most teachers, most of the time.

Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Teachers get constant reminders that our job is important. Hence, the temptation to stay up until we have that perfect lesson plan or final graded essay. Sometimes, though, we forget that taking care of ourselves is an important part of the job. Lack of sleep combined with energy drinks and fear of failure is not a recipe for good teaching. It is a recipe for making avoidable mistakes. A well-rested teacher is better equipped to make in-the-moment decisions and has the emotional reserves to show compassion when kids need it.

Make the path of least resistance lead where you want to go. Your classroom layout can work in your favor if you think about what you’d like students to grab as they walk in, what you’d like them to see when their eyes wander toward the clock, or how they can access your classroom library without bumping into one another. You can also use this principal to deal with issues like participation: Have the whole class stand up, then let students sit down as they answer. You may find slackers and shy kids become eager participants.

Stop problem behavior before it becomes a problem. If you don’t want second graders pushing in line, the procedure should be, walk with your arms folded. If you don’t want high school students using cell phones, your rule should be, keep phones silent and out of sight at all times. This will keep you from having to argue about whether a student was sending a text message or “just checking the time.”

Beg, borrow, steal... then adapt. Teachers are often encouraged to “beg, borrow, and steal,” from colleagues. This is good advice. Just remember that every classroom is different. Not only that, you are different. Even when you snag a system that could work for you, you have to adapt it to your teaching style and your needs. This applies to all advice - even the tips offered above. The real “best practices” are the practices that work best for your students.

Response From Barnett Berry

Barnett Berry is the founder and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, a nonprofit that connects, readies, and mobilizes teacher leaders to transform their profession. Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead but Don’t Leave (Jossey-Bass 2013) authored by Barnett and CTQ colleagues Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder, documents the bold leadership journeys of eight classroom experts who are spreading their expertise beyond their schools, districts, and states as well as nation:

My list is definitively not inclusive - as there are large number of best practices that teachers must employ to help their students become better learners. And what a teacher focuses upon is often defined by context. In any case here is my top five list - all of which are (not surprisingly) interconnected.

First of all, teachers need to be well prepared to help their students learn “metacognition” -- or how to understand the way they are processing information. Through scaffolding and reciprocal teaching, students are able to practice the skills that lead to these overt acts becoming automatic.

Second, teachers need to be strategic in building relationships with the many students they teach. Powerful learning requires more than good content that teachers make accessible for students. It requires relationships of trust between teachers and students so the latter will take the risks necessary to stretch themselves, make mistakes, and learn to apply knowledge and create their own.

Third, teachers need to know how to analyze student knowledge and skills in relation to established standards -- like the Common Core -- and communicate clearly to those who they teach what kind of progress is being made or not.

Fourth, teachers need to communicate the extent of a student’s progress to his or her parents as well. We know that productive communications rest on teacher knowledge of language and culture of their students and the community context in which they live.

Finally, deep learning by students does not emerge solely as a result of what one teacher does in one classroom with his or her students. Deep learning is anchored in the team sport of teaching. Therefore, teachers need to learn how to communicate effectively with teaching colleagues as well as administrators, and other support providers in order to plan teaching, analyze student needs, draw on special services, and manage school policies and even politics.

Response From Pedro Noguera

Pedro A. Noguera is Professor of Education at New York University and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education.

I think we should be much more focused on motivating students to learn than with raising achievement.

The key questions are:

1) How do I make this lesson, skill, concept relevant to my students by tapping into something they are interested in or familiar with already?

2) How do I create a learning activity that will make this fun, engaging and interesting? Generally, when students can become actively involved in learning they are more engaged.

3) How do I convince my students that learning is material is important and meaningful? Simply saying that it will appear on a state exam is not good enough.

4) Is there evidence that my students are learning the material? Assessment should be a constant feature of teaching. Have they mastered the concept or skill? Do they know how to apply it? Is there sufficient foundation to move forward and introduce new material?

Responses From Readers

Several readers sent comments in via Twitter. I’ve used Storify to collect them:

Thanks to Roxanna, Barnett and Pedro - and to readers - for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. I’ll be publishing comments from readers in a few days.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind. You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers. I’ll be highlighting one particular publisher every two months, and it’s Routledge’s turn now.

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe to blog for free via RSS Reader or email.... And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first two years of blog, you can see a categorized list of them here. You won’t see posts from school year in those compilations, but you can review those new ones by clicking in the monthly archives link on blog’s sidebar.

You can also see annual lists of my most popular posts.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Last, but not least, I’ve recently begun recording a weekly eight-minute BAM! Radio podcast with educators who provide guest responses to questions. You can listen and/or download them here.

I’ll be posting the next “question-of-the-week” in a few of days....

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.