Educators’ approaches to teaching have an enormous influence on both the learning and life outcomes of students. Out of many variables in these outcomes, instructional practices are the one over which teachers have the most control; therefore, it is essential to mediate learning through the most effective training approaches (Cook, Melody, & Landrum, 2016). Teaching can take place in a wide variety of formats that depend on the content area, outcomes, and characteristics of learners. Furthermore, choices about instructional practices have to be aligned with a school’s vision and mission. It follows that instructional decisions should be guided by sound principles and learning theories that are related to a high level of student performance control.
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This paper aims to outline a practical guide for identifying and implementing effective instructional practices. The paper will also discuss the role of different educational stakeholders in making instructional decisions.
Identification and Selection
Experimental studies can help to identify instructional practices with high empirical validity (Cook et al., 2016). By familiarizing themselves with educational research, principals can arrive at many empirically validated practices that should be analyzed in detail to select those that match their settings.
Teachers should be empowered to take a more autonomous approach to manage students’ learning activities (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2014). Educators should be encouraged to “self-regulate her/his instructional practices” (Hughes & Silva, 2013, p. 71). For example, teachers can use self-assessment techniques to select the most effective instructional practices.
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
Effective classroom teaching hinges on the ability of administrators to create in their institution a harmonious relationship between three foundational elements of a formal educational setting—curriculum, instruction, and assessment (Lissitz, 2013). Curriculum and instruction define the content and the nature of all learning experiences that help students to reach certain learning outcomes. Whereas curriculum structures concepts that constitute a base of discipline, instruction assists students in developing a framework for organizing knowledge. However, without measuring both the depth and breadth of students’ learning at a different point of the educational process, it is not possible to improve their comprehension. A multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) or Response to Intervention (RtI) is a great example of a framework that can help educators to adjust their instruction based on results of formative assessments (IDE, n.d.). The framework is based on continuous monitoring of students’ progress; therefore, it is instrumental in instructional activities planning.
Given that instruction is always directed by a curriculum, the selection of teaching methods should also be informed by educational content and assessment criteria. Experienced school administrators know that “overemphasis on any of the three elements can lead to an imbalance that ultimately harms the students attending the school” (Fiore, 2013, p. 51). It means that during the process of instructional practice selection, it is necessary to ensure that they improve the alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
Educational Resources and Instructional Practices
Instructional materials, tools, textbooks, and technology along with instructional practices are the vehicles that carry an educational message to students (Elliott-Johns & Jarvis, 2013). The selection of proper educational resources is a stage in the instructional system design process that has to be preceded by the adoption of instructional practices. To align educational resources with instructional strategies, it is necessary to understand how the latter will help to realize training goals. By doing so, educators will be able to better understand what type of instructional media has to be chosen to achieve optimal training results.
The following dimensions of instructional materials should be assessed to align them with instructional strategies: level of difficulty, individualization, clarity, domain-specificity, and goal orientation (Elliott-Johns & Jarvis, 2013). When selecting instructional materials, educators should think about assessments that match instructional practices (Elliott-Johns & Jarvis, 2013). The assessment component will help teachers to determine whether education materials accommodate the provision of an effective instructional process. It should be borne in mind that educational resources that are poorly aligned with instructional strategies will make it difficult for students to comprehend their content. Therefore, materials should be selected only after an educator is fully cognizant of the instructional properties of a practice.
To align instructional materials with practice, an educator has to overview a table of contents, and glossary to understand the coverage of key topics. It is important to assess whether a material has relevant student activities that will help young learners to meet their learning needs (Keengwe, 2015). An educator has to conduct a thorough content analysis to determine if instructional materials correspond to national content standards (Keengwe, 2015). Finally, the analysis of pedagogy will help a teacher to understand whether materials facilitate learning.
Modern education requires frequent evaluation of teachers’ performance. Effective principals should be able to use teacher evaluation as an instrument for controlling school performance. Observation of instructional practices is a complex process that has to be regularly conducted by a principal to make judgments about retention and tenure (Jason & Youngs, 2016). While teachers’ value-added (TVA) scores can be effective for assessing teachers based on achievement measures, they cannot help administrators to access the use of instructional practices by educators. Therefore, it is recommended to apply the Danielson Framework for Teaching, Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), and the 7-scale Tripod survey to provide teachers with actionable feedback on their instruction practices (Jason & Youngs, 2016). These assessment systems inform principals on what skills should be developed by their teachers to improve the quality of instruction.
Communication with Parents
Teachers should establish strong communication with students’ parents or guardians to facilitate young learners’ accommodations and achieve high levels of academic attainment. Professional educators have to adjust their approaches to instruction by regularly interacting with parents via a wide range of communication channels. It is especially important if students come from different racial, ethnic, cultural, or socioeconomic backgrounds.
At the beginning of the school year, a teacher should send to all parents or legal guardians an introductory letter that, in addition to providing personal information about them, outlines instructional practices and classroom expectations (Boogen, 2012). The letter should be followed by regular emails that discuss current lesson topics and instructional practices. Teachers can send such emails at the beginning of each week; however, it is recommended to inform parents or legal guardians only when changes to the instructional practices are introduced (Hindin & Mueller, 2016). Other sources of communication that can be used to provide students families with information on instructional practices are teacher websites, phone calls, and parent-teacher conferences (Hindin & Mueller, 2016). It has to be borne in mind that regardless of the type of communication used by an educator, a high level of parental involvement is associated with the improvement of student outcomes.
Students can help teachers to refine and streamline their instructional strategies. By engaging in discussions on the application of instructional practices with students, it is possible to determine how they react to instruction. Therefore, classroom observations and conversations with students should become indispensable instruments in a toolbox of a forward-looking principal.
To ensure that an instructional practice is effective for students, school districts can use a wide range of assessment measures. For example, the Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) can help to measure fluency, grade-level reading, comprehension, vocabulary, and oral reading accuracy (Reading Rockets, n.d.). Multidimensional Fluency Scale (MFS) can be applied to assess the effectiveness of instructional practices in the following areas “expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pace” (Grant, Golden, & Wilson, 2014, p. 74).
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The characteristics of the population of young learners should enter deliberations on the instructional practices. It has to do with the fact that students from various cultural, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds respond differently to instructional approaches. It means that school administrators should be keenly aware of factors that shape a classroom mosaic to properly manage the learning process (Stronge, Richard, & Catano, 2008). It will allow educators to provide all students with equal opportunities while showing respect for their differences.
Common Instructional Practices
Culturally Responsive Instruction
Culturally responsive instructional practices are extremely effective for imparting knowledge and skills to diverse learners. Educators who incorporate culturally-centered approaches into their practice can build and sustain meaningful relationships with their students, thereby helping them to develop their best selves. Outstanding education specialists willing to provide their students with culturally responsive teaching have to develop “the capacity for interpersonal attention” (Shevalier & McKenzie, 2012, p. 2012). It is important to underscore the teachers should not base their approaches to instruction on race. Instead, it is necessary to incorporate elements of students’ cultures into their lessons. It will help to create zones of comfort and engage young learners on many levels. The practice can be linked to Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of development (Learning Theories, n.d.a; Shevalier & McKenzie, 2012).
An activity titled ‘Meaningful Objects’ can serve as a theory-practice link. Diverse learners are asked by an educator to bring personally meaningful objects in school. The students then encouraged to write a poem or essay about their objects while using culturally relevant metaphors and language (Muniz, n.d.). Teachers should strive to use student-centered vocabulary and learn more about their students’ cultures. Culturally responsive approaches to instruction have been found to positively influence student engagement (Sleeter, 2012). Also, young learners whose teachers use culturally-responsive instructional practices describe them as caring and fun (Sleeter, 2012).
Fluency-Oriented Reading Instruction
Gonzalez (2015) argues that volunteer reading or popcorn reading, which has been widely used in different educational contexts, cannot be properly applied in diverse settings as an instrument for building and assessing fluency. Instead, the scholar recommends utilizing a choral reading or fluency oriented reading instruction (FORI) (Gonzalez, 2015). It has been repeatedly maintained that FORI is an effective method for helping children to “read words accurately, automatically, and with the appropriate and meaningful expression” (Turner, 2012, p. 267).
A teacher using the instruction should allocate time for reading and ensure that environment is conducive to comprehension. The teacher and students read aloud the material, which helps to minimize public exposure of struggling readers (Finley, 2014). Another version of the instruction’s application presupposes the omission of keywords by the teacher during oral reading. Students engaged in a reading session should say the words out loud (Finley, 2014). One can trace a connection of this instructional practice to a cyclical theory of learning outlined by Kolb (Learning Theories, n.d.c).
The effectiveness of the use of instructional practice in diverse learning environments has been confirmed in a longitudinal study conducted by Stahl and Heubach (as cited in Turner, 2012). The researchers state that teachers who had utilized this practice experienced from 1.77 to 1.88 years of growth in their students’ reading ability, which was measured with the help of the Qualitative Reading Inventory-II (Turner, 2012).
Learning agreements is an instructional practice that can help educators to meet the needs of their diverse learners. The practice is based on the acknowledgment of the fact that “the educational experience belongs as much to students as to teachers” (Coy, 2014, p. 230). Chalkboard learning agreements revolve around a participatory learning process and require teachers to ask students in which order they prefer to complete tasks. In another variation of the practice, an educator presents learners with different sets of activities based on their individual needs and asks them whether they agree with their assessment. If students are not capable of completing assigned tasks in a predetermined period, during the next agreement, they will not be allowed to choose their activities (Coy, 2014). The practice can be linked to the discovery learning theory outlined by Bruner (Learning Theories, n.d.b).
n order to meet the needs of diverse learners in a classroom, educators should show their students “how to think when reading” (Challenge, n.d., p. 232). The instructional practice helps struggling readers to understand how to experience readers interact with the text. Taking into consideration the fact that reading is a mental task that involves an interaction between a writer and a reader, it is necessary to provide children with the background knowledge that will be used as a framework for interpreting information from a printed page.
A teacher using the practice has to examine a text for a reading session to identify key elements that will be emphasized during a lesson. The teacher then helps learners to interact with the text by thinking out loud (Challenge, n.d.). It is important to engage students in oral responses and ask them to identify connections between various linguistic clues in the text. For example, the teacher may ask students how pronouns are connected to nouns and how meanings of unknown words can be extracted from the context (Challenge, n.d.). The exercise helps the teacher to eradicate common misconceptions and monitor students’ progress. It has to be borne in mind that during re-readings, the level of support from the teacher has to be slowly diminished. The practice is closely linked to the discovery learning theory proposed by Bruner (Learning Theories, n.d.b).
The paper has outlined a practical guide for instructional planning that can be used by school administrators to enhance their ability to properly select and implement instructional strategies. The paper has described three instructional practices that can be used to improve the educational outcomes of diverse students.
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