PD Anywhere Professional Development Blog

Want to Improve Student Achievement? Improve Teaching in the Classroom, Starting with These Three Skills

March 20, 2018

Educators tend to agree that some basic systems and processes have to be in place for students to succeed—regardless of demographics, geography, or grade levels/content areas. All schools and districts should have:

  • Clear, rigorous, and relevant standards
  • A comprehensive and consistent curriculum aligned to the standards
  • A system for evaluating student progress that includes collection, analysis, and dissemination of individual and group data
  • Strong, knowledgeable, and effective leadership, and
  • Adequate financial resources to ensure safety, security, and access to information and teaching resources.

But then what? If we assume (sometimes wrongly) that these basics are a given in most schools and districts, what really makes the difference in levels of student achievement? Why do students in some schools and districts do well, and others consistently fail to reach their goals, often despite intensive interventions and initiatives? One answer seems obvious: The better the instruction in the classroom, the better students do. A recent White Paper from Generation Ready, supports the proposition that educators can improve student achievement by improving classroom instruction and that professional development plays a critical role in this process.

If we know that better teaching means higher student achievement, then how can we support teachers as they improve classroom instruction? Professional development, or professional learning, is expensive and can be time consuming. Unfortunately, the PD provided doesn’t always make a difference and for some schools and districts, achievement remains flat. School districts and their leaders have an obligation to determine which skills teachers need to improve instruction and the provide high quality professional development specifically targeting those skills.

We found three great sources of information to help identify the skills that teachers should be mastering in order to raise student achievement. We looked at the University of Michigan’s High-Leverage Practices, the Victoria State Government Education and Training’s High Impact Teaching Strategies, and John Hattie’s revised list of factors that influence student achievement. (See sources below.) We looked for skills that all three of these resources identified as critical, while using slightly different language to describe them. Of course, there are many more than three critical teaching skills, but schools and districts have to start somewhere. Starting with these three skills ensures that teachers’ time in PD will be practical, useful, and make a difference!

If you are a teacher, coach, or administrator with input into your school’s or district’s professional development plan, consider starting with these and other classroom instruction skills that will improve student achievement. Focus on specifics and give teachers the time, support, and feedback they need to improve or sustain excellent, effective instruction. Then, measure their mastery of these skills. We suggest that professional development focus on:

  1. Formative Assessment
    We found a cluster of teaching skills in these three documents that relate to determining where students are in their achievement, what their patterns of thinking are, and questioning and providing feedback. These skills, which we can all be addressed by effective, frequent formative assessment, let teachers to know whether their teaching is working and if not, how to adjust so that students learn. Keeping in mind that we measure effective teaching by student learning, using formative assessments and the information gained from them is a critical teaching skill that correlates to improved student achievement.
  2. Backwards Design Lesson Planning
    The three resources mentioned above all addressed effective lesson planning. Some of the skills mentioned include designing single and sequences of lessons that include effective discussion, explanations, and modeling; structuring lessons with clear objectives; and including processes for responding when students do not master content the first time it is presented (response to intervention). No doubt, there are some situations when teachers can “wing it” and get away with it, but over time, a lack of systematic instructional planning impacts student achievement. Teachers and coaches should master the skills involved in backwards design planning instruction with clear objectives, methods of differentiation, and aligned measures of mastery.
  3. Positive Approaches to Student Behavior and Teacher-Student Relationships
    The three resources mentioned several specific factors that related to classroom behavior and teacher-student relationships. Students and teachers typically have difficulty in environments that are chaotic, unorganized, and unpredictable. The skills related to relationships and positive behavioral approaches that impact student achievement include implementing norms and routines, ensuring teacher credibility, and building respectful relationships between teachers and students. When schools and districts plan professional development, the plan should include positive and preventative behavioral supports and relationship building.

Using educational research to prompt changes in practice makes sense. Educators have identified the classroom teaching skills that will lead to higher achievement, so the next step is for school leaders and teams to plan and implement PD that makes a difference—for both teachers and students!

Sources of Information for This Post:
Teaching Works. The University of Michigan. High-Leverage Practices. Retrieved from the Internet on March 17, 2018. http://www.teachingworks.org/work-of-teaching/high-leverage-practices

Department of Education and Training. Victoria State Government. (2017) High Impact Teaching Strategies: Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from the Internet on March 17, 2018. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/teachers/support/highimpactteachstrat.pdf

Killian, S. (2017) Hattie’s 2017 Updated List of Factors Influencing Student Achievement. Evidencedbasedteaching.org. Retrieved from the Internet on March 17, 2018. http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/hatties-2017-updated-list/

Generation Ready. Raising Student Achievement Through Professional Development. Retrieved from the Internet on March 17, 2018. http://www.generationready.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/PD-White-Paper.pdf

PD Anywhere offers rigorous, engaging, and cost-effective research-based micro-credentials to help educators master these and other important teaching skills. View the PD Anywhere micro-credential programs