Effective teaching practices

For a long time, we have known a lot about effective practices in teaching. Of course, there is debate about whether the specifics are exactly correct, whether some studies have been discredited, or whether the paradigm fits people’s biases. Despite these debates, some general guidelines about effective teaching can be distilled from educational research. Here is one general description of effective teaching practices. I consider it a helpful guide to explicit, systematic instruction. In the parlance I use, this set of features describes “direct instruction” (note the lower-case letters):

In general, researchers have found that when effective teachers teach well-structured subjects, they:

  • Begin a lesson with a short review of previous, prerequisite learning.
  • Begin a lesson with a short statement of goals.
  • Present new material in small steps, with student practice after each step.
  • Give clear and detailed instruction and explanations.
  • Provide a high level of active practice for all students.
  • Ask a large number of questions, check for student understanding, and obtain responses from all students.
  • Guide students during initial practice.
  • Provide systematic feedback and corrections.
  • Provide explicit instruction and practice for seatwork exercises and, where necessary, monitor students during seatwork.

Source: Rosenshine, B. , & Stevens, R. (1986). Teaching functions. In M. C. Whittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 376-391). New York: Macmillan.

If educators would follow these general guidelines, I suspect that we could increase the chances of success in our general education classrooms. Sadly, this level of direct instruction (“little di” in my language) is not only not practiced in US classrooms, but is probably rejected in the so-called “teacher education” many prospective teachers receive.

Sigh.

7 Responses to “Effective teaching practices”


  • Steve, thanks for the link. The video will be useful to me in teaching.

  • Steve Bissonnette, Ph.D. Université du Québec en Outaouais, Québec, Canada

    Like me!

  • The list of effective practices above is a solid set of practices to implement. It would be interesting to gather data on the fidelity of implementation of those practices, with tools like:

    Distribution of Time which tracks the amount of time the teacher spends in review, teaching, guided practice, independent practice, and assessment.

    Reference to Goals which tracks the number of times the teach refers

    Teacher Talk which tracks the amount of time the teacher versus student has the floor

    Student Question Type to track the student’s questions re procedure, clarification, content, and housekeeping

    Time on Task-Group to track the time students are activity involved in learning.

    Numerous tools to track questions, from Bloom’s Taxonomy, to Divergent Question Type, Questioning Rate, etc

    Student Error Response to track how the teacher responds to students when they make an error

    Repeat Directions to track how often the teacher repeats and repeats with changes directions to students

    ….and many more. None of this data is evaluative and can easily be gathered teacher to teacher. Having objective frequency and timer data on the fidelity of implementation of any desired practice will reduce the ‘black box’ effect where a school implements a curriculum/teaching method but only measures success by the student test scores.

    All this and more is part of the eCOVE Observation Software, which I wrote after a full career in education. I’m glad to answer any questions – john@ecove.net You can search for eCOVE Software as well.

  • Hello John L. You mentioned, “Sadly, this level of direct instruction (”little di” in my language) is not only not practiced in US classrooms, but is probably rejected in the so-called ‘teacher education’ many prospective teachers receive.”

    I thought you would be pleased to know that your “little di” list is exactly what I am learning in my classes (MS EDUCATION). As a matter of fact your page popped up when trying to find resources for a paper about effective teaching strategies. Both the book and the instructor have drilled this system in our heads. So please, don’t sigh, we’re working on it. :)

  • Ahh, Rosemary. Thanks for the encouraging note. It’s nice to know that the world of teacher education has bright spots. Folks in your classes would probably feel at home in a course I teach, as I restate these ideas in pretty much every class session.

  • Thanks for this useful article. It is nice to know that the world of teacher education has bright spots. I teach, as I share these ideas in every class session.

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