Most teachers I know care deeply about helping their students succeed at school, and if you are reading this article, you are undoubtedly one of them. Yet, research has revealed some teaching strategies have far more impact than others. These are evidence-based teaching strategies. Busy teachers have so many demands on their time that it is hard to keep abreast of what the research really says – especially amidst the noise of trendy fads.
That’s where I can help. I am a passionate teacher who recently had both my legs amputated. This gives me time to read the research and share my findings with teachers like you.
If you want to make a larger difference to how well your students do, then learn about these 10 evidence-based teaching strategies. Some of them may surprise you!
Evidence-Based Teaching Strategy 1: A Clear Focus
You need to be crystal clear about what you want your students to learn, whether this is within a single lesson or a series of lessons. This includes being clear about what you want your students to:
Be able to do
Know and understand
A clear focus enables you to focus everything you do and everything you get your students to do on achieving this intended learning. In turn, this has a sizeable impact (d = 0.75)1 on your students’ learning.
Note, the impact of a clear focus relies on you adjusting your teaching and learning activities in line with that focus. It doesn’t come from fancy names such as learning intentions or learning targets. You can call them goals, intentions, objectives or anything else – it doesn’t matter.
Teaching Strategy 2: Show & Tell
I call the second evidence-based teaching strategy show and tell, although the research refers to be various other names. It is grounded in the idea that novice learners learn best with explicit instruction2 and that instruction should make use of:
Meaningful and carefully crafted visuals3
The nature of show and tell varies with the nature of learning.
Procedural Show & Tell
With procedural learning, show and tell involves:
Modelling what students need to be able to do (show)
Explaining what students need to understand (tell)
Modelling often involves working an example, which has a moderate-to-large impact on students learning4.
When worked examples are coupled with a verbal explanations of the steps or actions needed, they have even more impact5.
Conceptual Show & Tell
With conceptual learning, show and tell involves:
Verbal explanations (tell)
Supporting visuals (show)
Visuals may include text, but they are not text-based. Research on the modality and multimedia effects3 show that combining meaningful visuals with verbal explanations enhances learning.
However, visuals must be used carefully. See The Use of Visuals article.
Checking for Understanding
Strategy 3: Integrate Prior Understandings
Students (everyone really) make sense of things by integrating new information with what they already understand. I use the term prior understanding, rather than the more common term prior knowledge to highlight a key issue – i.e., students existing understandings are often wrong.
Before you can integrate new information with prior understandings, you must first activate those prior understandings. Activating prior understanding involves having students bring to mind what they they have already learned, which can be done in a number of ways, including:
Students could complete a quick revision quiz
You could give a verbal summary of relevant prior knowledge
You could show a graphical summary of pertinent prior knowledge
Students could brainstorm what they already understand
Activating prior understandings is only the first step. You also need to prompt your students to integrate the new information with what they already understood, with questions such as, how does/is this new information:
Add to what I already understand
Distinct from similar concepts or procedures
Change what I previously understood
Relate with what I already understood
Relationships could be sequential, hierarchical, cause-effect or comparative.
And, the impact is even larger in mathematics when integrating prior understandings is coupled with worked examples.