As of March 2020, the landscape of education yet again changes and is changing dramatically. With school building closures and school still in session, educators and policymakers scramble to design distance learning, both hard print and digital, for all students. For example, in my school district, the school as we knew it was in session Friday, March 10th. Students filled the classrooms and walked the hallways during passing period. Principals and assistant principals supervised students during lunch. Teachers delivered instruction to a class full of students sitting at their school desks or tables. Teachers wrote on the whiteboard or shared documents through the Google TV or interactive board. Through strategic questioning or an organized class discussion, students interacted face to face with the teacher or interacted face-to-face with their classmates. At the end of the class, students most likely handed the teacher a hard-print assignment. By Monday, March 13th, buildings were closed; buses remained parked in the transportation barn. The halls were quiet; the classrooms were dark and empty. Principals greeted their teachers through a virtual staff meeting. Students were at home, eagerly or maybe indifferently waited for correspondence from their teachers and principals about what instruction and learning would look like from a distance. The current unparalleled situation for society and education challenges even the best of leader.
Under the COVID-19 conditions, educators and educational leaders worked to figure out how to incorporate research-proven instructional practices into digital distance learning or into a hybrid instructional model. I define research-proven instructional practices as those that can cause over one year’s growth (an effect size of .4 or higher) in one year. Researcher John Hattie devoted 15 years to synthesizing over 1200 studies that included over three-quarters of a million students. In his research, Hattie identified over 250 influences and used a standardized and common scale, effect size, as a standardized scale to rank the degree of impact on student achievement (Cohen, 1988; Kline, 2004). Certain anchor practices are independent of the instructional model and, despite the circumstances, that, when implemented well, can correlate to over one year’s growth.
Before the pandemic (four years ago), my school district built a quality first instructional model founded on the research of John Hattie. Initially, the instructional plan was supported by four of these fundamental or anchor instructional practices, a) teacher clarity, b) formative assessment practices, c) student-teacher relationships, and d) useful feedback. These four foundational instructional practices have a d=.75 or higher (Hattie 2009). Instructional practices with such an influence can more than double the learning rate in one year when done well. Currently, in my school district, the four instructional practices are incorporated into a more prescribed instructional model that we named “quality first instruction.”
Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2020, when my school district, along with many school districts in the State of California, launched the start of their school in a distance digital learning phase. With the assistance of an outside consultant, several teachers and I developed a Google Slide deck that facilitated the consistent implementation of our Quality First Instructional model. Markedly, the teachers and I found something as simple as opening the day’s lesson using two slides: one slide was titled “what we are going to learn today,” and the second slide was titled “how we will learn today. At this juncture, the teacher stated the learning outcome for the day and how students would achieve the outcome for the day positioned the teacher and students for success. The teachers and students also discovered great triumph by something as simple as using a slide to close the day’s lesson. The slide was titled “Let’s Measure Our Success”. At this time, the students and teacher revisited the success criteria and how each student demonstrated that learning.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, the purpose of education remains to instill both content knowledge and character. Since the 20th century and into the 21st century, educators and educational leaders want to instruct and lead in a way that includes the student on their learning journey: learning where students gain knowledge, cognitive abilities, and capacity. I am defining power by the sixteen habits distinguished in Costa’s (2009) work and the 21st Century skills outlined in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s Framework (2019). The 3Cs, content knowledge, cognitive abilities, and capacity enable students to successfully navigate their ever-changing world. Students that demonstrate in-depth content knowledge, superior cognitive skills, and remarkable power can answer these three fundamental questions:
1. What are you learning?
2. How are you doing in your learning?
3. What is next in your learning?
Such students represent kids who are on the trajectory to make one year’s growth or more during their school year.
The instructional example shared in this article is just one design and is a very prescribed instructional design for staff and students. My school district’s instructional example is by no means the only way to influence students’ substantive growth. School districts throughout the nation continue to develop their instructional model that are both steeped in current literature, that correspond with distant learning and can have a substantial impact on student learning. Whether face-to-face or remote school, whether a very prescribed direct instructional model or a more facilitative conceptual instructional model, the notion still prevails, plans for, and delivers quality instruction that causes over one year’s growth for all students.
Battle for Kids P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2019). Retrieved at https://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21/frameworks-resources
Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. UK: Routledge.
Hattie, J., & Klaus Z. (2019) Visible learning insights. UK: RoutledgeRobinson, V. (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: Educational Administration Quarterly,44(5), 635-674