Looking for powerful student learning strategies? Begin with research-based practices. Sprinkle in some new approaches. Always challenge your learners – then scaffold to help them get there. And, of course, collect a big bag of teaching tricks.
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Ms. Sneed Gets Interviewed
When our favorite fourth grade teacher arrived at her classroom, her student teacher was already there.
“Good morning!” said Mr. Grow, handing her a cup of coffee.
Ms. Sneed set her bag on her desk and smiled. “You’re here bright and early. Thanks for the coffee.”
“Well, I have a favor to ask.”
Ms. Sneed’s eyebrow shot up. “Yes?”
“For my next assignment, I need to interview a teacher about powerful student learning strategies. Would you be willing?”
The mentor’s face softened. “Of course. But let me do a little thinking first.”
A Big Bag of Student Learning Strategies
On Thursday morning, the two teachers sat at the side table.
“Okay, I’m ready for my interview.” Ms. Sneed pulled a book and some notes from her bag.
Quickly, Mr. Grow opened his laptop and prepared to type.
“After much thought,” said the supervising teacher, “I’d like to open with two important ideas. First, every teacher needs a big bag of student learning strategies. The year is long, and kids like to shake it up. Therefore, you need many, many activities. Second, be like Goldilocks. Lessons should be just right. In other words, not too easy and not too hard.”
Student Learning Strategies from the Experts
“Of course, you must pay attention to research-based practices.”
Ms. Sneed picked up a tattered book. Pointing to the title, she continued. “I’ve had this copy of Classroom Instruction That Works by Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock since it came out in 2001.
Now she pointed to a sticky note that marked a page. “In this part of the book, the authors listed student learning strategies that increase achievement. Many of these methods have been used by teachers for years. For me, it’s comforting to know that they are effective. In our education classes, for example, we’re taught to:
- Activate prior knowledge to get kids ready for learning.
- Set and communicate objectives. Provide feedback along the way.
- Identify similarities and differences. As kids compare concepts, they think critically and help construct understanding.
- Use graphic organizers and other images.
- Ask kids to summarize and take notes.
- Practice at school and home.
- Acknowledge success and give recognition.”
“Wow,” said Mr. Grow, “you’re right. I can’t believe that simple strategies like this are so effective.”
Ms. Sneed nodded. “Cooperative learning also made the list. For me, this makes so much sense. Learning is social. Whenever my students work together, they’re much more engaged.”
More Student Learning Strategies
After setting the book aside, Ms. Sneed continued. “In addition to those timeless student learning strategies, let’s explore a few more recent buzzwords:
- Active learning means putting the student in the driver’s seat. To me, this goes right along with cooperative learning.
- In a flipped classroom, kids prepare at home. Then they apply what they’ve learned with meaningful classroom activities.
- Project- and problem-based learning ask students to create something to solve a real-life (or seemingly real-life) problem.
- Gamification integrates technology to make learning fun. Asking kids to practice with an online game adds quick and easy reinforcement.
- In the growth mindset approach, students (and teachers) acknowledge that learning is a struggle. It’s basically a no pain, no gain mentality.”
Mr. Grow quickly typed as his mentor spoke. “Look!” he exclaimed. “I’m using one of the research-based practices: note-taking.”
Ms. Sneed grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.
The Sweet Spot
“Moving back to what I was saying earlier about the Goldilocks principle,” she said. “This student learning strategy doesn’t come from a book. It comes from my own experience as a teacher.”
She looked intently at Mr. Grow. “For effective teaching, you must find the sweet spot – just a little beyond their comfort zone. Choose concepts that require a bit of struggle. And scaffold instruction to get them there.
“Just a few words of warning,” Ms. Sneed continued. “When working with the high group, we sometimes expect too much. Remember, much of the material is new to them too. While they may catch on faster, they don’t learn by osmosis.
“Conversely, when working with the low group, don’t spoon-feed. For example, a student may need support reading the material, but they can do many other things on their own.
“The sweet spot makes kids work for it. Provide a challenge. Provide support to get there. Celebrate and enjoy the fulfillment learning brings.”
Projects for Engagement
Mr. Grow stopped typing and looked up. “I have to admit, I’m surprised by all of this. When we began this interview, I expected a list of activities kids could do.”
With a smile, Ms. Sneed slid a typed list across the table. “Ah, I have prepared that for you too. Best of luck with your assignment. I hope all of this helps.”
The student teacher looked over the list of projects.
- Advice column
- Blog post
- Board game
- Book jacket
- Cartoon strip
- Cereal box
- Cell phone photo or text
- Choice board
- Commercial – television or radio
- Contraption that solves a problem (STEM)
- Cootie catcher
- Crossword puzzle
- Curated list
- Diagram or flow chart
- Diary or journal entry
- Dress up as a character
- Handbook or instructions
- Letters, emails, or messages
- Letter to the editor
- Magazine or online ad
- Memory game
- Mock court case
- Museum exhibit
- Newscast or article
- Photos from trip/adventure/event with captions
- Puppet – craft stick, paper bag, sock
- Pictorial biography (snapshots of person’s life)
- Questions for other student
- Reality show episode
- Set design
- Song or rap
- Story arc
- Time capsule
- Venn diagram
- Wax museum
- Word search
- Write story as play or poem
- Venn diagram
“All of this will help me enjoy teaching,” said Mr. Grow. “Sure, I love this list. But the sage advice you gave about effective student learning strategies helped me understand where to focus.”