In my (so far) ten year teaching career, I have always enjoyed the process of discovering, testing, and reflecting on new instructional strategies. The very fact that you can always improve, innovate, and try out new ideas is a primary reason that I love teaching as a career. The endless cycle of improvement helps sustain my professional enthusiasm. Therefore, I entered this course with dual sensibilities; I already knew a lot about instructional strategies and I had so much more to learn about instructional strategies. By the end of the course, my feelings were validated; I feel like I have been exposed to valuable new ideas and reintroduced to ideas that I had forgotten about in the day-to-day flow of my teaching. I would like to share a couple of ideas/concepts related to instructional strategies that I am most excited about as this course comes to a close.
The “first instructional strategy reawaking” occurred for me when I listened to my classmates give a team presentation on nonlinguistic representations. The inherent value of such approaches was supported by our course readings. An example can be found in Dean et. al. (2012): “When teachers use nonlinguistic representation strategies, they help students represent knowledge as imagery. These strategies are powerful because they tap into students’ natural tendency for visual image processing, which helps them construct meaning of relevant content and skills and have a better capacity to recall it later.” (p. 64) Further reading indicates even peer reviewed studies validate the benefit of nonlinguistic representations. Bryan and Karshmer (2014) found that “the use of nonlinguistic representations (graphic images, physical models, and kinesthetic activities) significantly improved performance in the visual/ experimental group as compared to the nonvisual/control group, which relied solely on linguistic presentations.” (p. 584)
As I listened to my classmates’ presentation, I realized that there two types of nonlinguistic representations that I not adequately explored/utilized; the use of pictographs/symbols to enhance understanding when taking notes, and generating mental pictures (visualizing). With regards to pictographs/symbols, I had worked hard throughout the last couple of years to help my students become proficient at taking two-column notes, but had not taught my students the strategy of integrating small visual images into such notes. On the next appropriate activity that came up in class, I worked in teaching about this nonlinguistic strategy. The students eagerly adopted it as we took notes about how Washington became a state. We even used happy/sad faces to indicate how different stakeholders (such as settlers and Native Americans) would feel about event we were reading about, as seen in this example from a student’s notes:
As for visualization, I have been trying it in a variety of situations since the nonlinguistic presentation. During science, we have visualized procedural steps to support better execution of experiments. While reading literature, we have used visualization to better understand complex situations characters have been placed in by imagining ourselves in the place of the character. We have also used visualization to brainstorm about sensory imagery that could enhance our writing. I have found that these underutilized (by me!) nonlinguistic strategies have supported lesson goals and improved student understanding by given us all another way to think about what we are trying to learn.
Another mind-expanding instructional strategy that I encountered came from our class instructor as part of an in-class jigsaw reading activity. I read about metaphorical expression. Silver et. al. (2007) describe the strategy as seizing “on this uniquely human ability to find and make meaning through creative comparisons.” (p. 133) The authors provided many contexts where the metaphor approach could be used across subject areas, as well as two thought provoking questions an instructor can ask themselves when planning a lesson; “Do I want to make the familiar strange, or do I want to make the strange familiar?” (p. 138) They give an example of making the familiar strange by posing the question “How is a colony like a child?”, with the question being asked after instruction on colonies has already taken place. While I have sporadically used such metaphors during instructional units, I have rarely made it a deliberate part of unit design. Given the timing of my exposure to this strategy (end of the year), I look forward to deliberately incorporating it into some of my units as I redesign them during the summer and fall. When I do think of using metaphorical expression, I will remember the admonition of Hattie (2012) to “consider the appropriate use of prompts depending on where the students are in the learning process”. (location 3080) I would like to focus on using this strategy when the students are ready for prompts at the “self-regulation” level as described by Hattie. Such prompts include questions related to justifying, evaluating, and teacher peers. This category of prompts aligns well with the metaphorical expression instructional strategy.
Finally, I appreciate the discovery of new resources during a course. I was already familiar with the textbooks we used, but I discovered a fantastic resource during one of our weekly assignments. The K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma has published an online instructional strategies page that I have already used multiple times (K20Center, 2014) Each strategy is represented on a webpage by a user friendly pictograph that includes a visual and basic description. Clicking on the strategy take the user to a detailed description of the strategy and how to implement it. You can even print out a card that summarizes the strategy. A favorite that I discovered on the site is called “fold the line”, and is used to match students in discussion pairs based on their opinions regarding an issue. The strategy is kinesthetic because the students must move around based on their opinion. The great thing is that it matches students with opposite opinions quickly and efficiently, and therefore allows students to learn more about opposing points of view. This is a powerful way to provide students with strong ideas related to opinion writing.
As I take one final look at what this course has meant to me, I see that it has provided a potent reminder of the power of finding new and revisiting old instructional strategies, not only to improve student learning, but to rekindle a teacher’s enthusiasm for their craft.
Bryan, J. E., & Karshmer, E. (2013). Assessment in the One-Shot Session: Using Pre- and Post- Tests to Measure Innovative Instructional Strategies among First-Year Students. College & Research Libraries, 74(6), 574-586.
Dean, Ceri B.; Hubbell, Elizabeth Ross; Pitler, Howard; Stone, Bj (2012-01-05). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, 2nd edition (p. 64). Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Kindle Edition.
Hattie, John (2012-03-15). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (Kindle Location 3080). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Silver, H., Strong, R., & Perini, M. (2007). The Strategic Teacher (pp. 133-141). Denver, CO: Thoughtful Education Press.
(2014, October 14). In Instructional Strategies. Retrieved May 4, 2016, from https://k20center.ou.edu/instructional-strategies/