What We Know Works (ShiftEd21: #8)

The history of “reforming” schools is peppered with trends and gimmicks. These come and go while the problems remain. One of the key points we make in Shift Ed, however, is that we already know a great deal about what works in K-12 education. We just don’t do a thorough, consistent job of applying our knowledge year in and year out – much less leveraging new technologies to help us broaden access and improve upon what we already know.

One good source for a snapshot of teaching and learning approaches we know work is the first chapter of the ASCD publication Educating Everybody’s Children: Diverse Teaching Strategies for Diverse Learners: “Educating Everybody’s Children: We Know What Works—And What Doesn’t.” You will need to read the full chapter (about 20 minutes or so of reading) to get all the detail, but here are the “universal” strategies that its author, Robert Cole, covers:

  • Strategy 1.1: Provide opportunities for students to work in a variety of social configurations and settings.
  • Strategy 1.2: Use reality-based learning approaches.
  • Strategy 1.3: Encourage interdisciplinary teaching.
  • Strategy 1.4: Involve students actively.
  • Strategy 1.5: Analyze students’ learning and reading styles.
  • Strategy 1.6: Actively model behaviors.
  • Strategy 1.7: Explore the fullest dimensions of thought.
  • Strategy 1.8: Use a multicultural teaching approach.
  • Strategy 1.9: Use alternative assessments.
  • Strategy 1.10: Promote home/school partnerships.
  • Strategy 1.11: Use accelerated learning techniques.
  • Strategy 1.12: Foster strategies in questioning.
  • Strategy 1.13: Emphasize brain-compatible instruction.
  • Strategy 1.14: Activate students’ prior knowledge.
  • Strategy 1.15: Use a constructivist approach to teaching.
  • Strategy 1.16: Organize instructionally effective classroom environments.

Even without knowing all the details, you may notice that these have an air of common sense about them. Even if different teachers use different approaches to achieving these objectives – as well they should – the objectives themselves are pretty clear and well within our current reach.

Another good resource – though one that requires a good bit of effort to sift through – are the companion sites Best Evidence Encyclopedia (created by Johns Hopkins University School of Education and the What Works Clearinghouse (maintained by the U.S. Department of Education). Both provide information on educational approaches for which there is substantial evidence of effectiveness. The Best Evidence site notes several characteristics of successful comprehensive reform efforts in K-12 education that – like the strategies above – seem within our reach if we have the collective will to pursue them.

  • Innovative approaches to instruction and curriculum used in many subjects throughout the school
  • Extensive, ongoing professional development, and coaches or facilitators in the building to help manage the reform process
  • Measurable goals and benchmarks for student achievement
  • Emphasis on parent and community involvement

As always, what do you think? What have you found effective in your own or your children’s education, and what “quick fixes” would we be better off without?