Teachers Can Make Greater Use Of Instructional Strategies
Educators must ensure that America’s students are provided with adequate opportunity to learn. The phrase “opportunity to learn” (OTL) was coined in 1963 by John Carroll to indicate whether students were given sufficient time to learn a particular concept or unit of course material. This definition embodies an assumption that has followed the basic premise of OTL to the present-with appropriate school and classroom conditions and effective instruction, all students can master challenging course work.
Today’s view of OTL is broader, encompassing a set of conditions believed to be essential to effective teaching and learning. The conditions differ from many behaviors that research shows are correlated with pupil performance-specific classroom strategies and organizational skills that can improve learning once the basic elements are in place. The conditions of OTL are the foundation needed for effective instruction to all students.
The first OTL condition, so fundamental that it is often assumed rather than discussed, is the provision of a safe and orderly environment in which teaching and learning can occur. Every distraction, from violence and illegal behavior on school grounds to interruptions as minor as “PA” announcements, has a cost.
Second are school policies and practices-for example, course offerings, graduation requirements, and tracking-that provide access to important course work by some groups of students while denying access to others. Academic performance suffers, for example, when schools do not offer algebra to eighth graders or do not offer a selection of advanced courses to students who have the motivation and ability to take these courses. Graduation requirements assure that all students take a certain number of basic courses; increased requirements benefit low-ability students in particular. However, very few schools have universal requirements in subjects such as computer science or foreign language. Tracking limits course work severely for students assigned to nonacademic tracks. Unfortunately, students are locked into lower tracks by mechanisms that make mobility all but impossible.
Third, instructional practices determine the extent to which students are provided with adequate learning opportunity. There are four classroom OTL practices:
– Content Coverage: The extent to which the topics specified by the course syllabus and/or the textbook are covered in a course or school year. Adequate content coverage means that students are exposed to a full and adequate breadth of course material.
– Content Emphasis: The extent to which topics are covered in depth. Adequate content emphasis occurs when important topics are selected and covered extensively by teaching more facts, principles, and examples, and by expecting students to process material at higher cognitive levels-e.g., analyzing and applying the material, posing and/or solving real-life problems that involve the course content, or engaging in critical thinking about the topic.
– Content Exposure: The extent to which sufficient time is allocated for students to learn the material presented, including those needing more time than others to reach mastery.
– Quality of Instructional Delivery: The extent to which lessons are planned and delivered in a coherent manner and employ a range of resources, so students can understand and use the information presented.
These conditions, often lacking in urban schools, represent the essential requisites needed to provide students with true OTL.
OTL INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
Research shows that OTL instructional practices improve student achievement. Studies relating content coverage to learning demonstrate that the extent to which a teacher covers course material to be tested is an important antecedent of student achievement. Although little research has been published that documents content emphasis, it is clear that basic facts and principles are emphasized in American schools, while insufficient attention is given to teaching higher order thinking skills. The typical American curriculum in science and mathematics has been characterized as “a mile wide and an inch deep”. Research demonstrates that teachers can make greater use of instructional strategies that foster more complex cognitive skills, and these will impact the development of higher order thinking among students. More research is needed on this aspect of OTL.
Different students require different amounts of content exposure to master the same material, even under the best instructional conditions. Much research has explored the relationships among time needed to learn, time allocated by the teacher, and student achievement. A synthesis of this research concluded that other things being equal, the amount learned is generally proportional to the time spent in learning. The review emphasizes the importance of productive time—that is, time spent on lessons appropriate to the learner’s skills and prior knowledge—and describes strategies to increase productive time in the classroom.
Research on quality of instructional delivery emphasizes the effective allotment of learning time, (i.e., content exposure), and teaching is characterized by: (a) coherent presentation and sequencing of material, (b) ample opportunity for students to engage in guided practice, (c) the use of regular, periodic assessments, and (d) constructive feedback to the students. Without these features, students are not provided with adequate OTL, and academic achievement may be impaired rather than promoted.
HOW CAN WE ASSESS OTL PROVIDED IN THE CLASSROOM?
A recent report assembles a set of strategies that can be used to assess OTL instructional practices in a particular classroom, and whether or not certain strategies work for all students. Teacher logs and journals reveal the emphasis placed on particular curricular contents and the productive use of instructional time. Observations, whether by fellow teachers, administrators, or others, reveal the quality of the lessons and the emphasis on higher order thinking skills. Surveys of teachers reveal factors that obstruct attempts to provide adequate OTL, such as outside interruptions, inadequate materials (e.g., textbooks, laboratory equipment, calculators, or computers), or insufficient support from other school staff. Finally, periodic student assessments reflect the impact and quality of the core curriculum.
But how teacher-friendly are these OTL assessment strategies? Are teachers willing to undertake OTL assessments and change their instructional styles based on the feedback they receive? In a recent survey of 455 urban elementary, middle, and high-school teachers, OTL assessment strategies were ranked on the basis of how teacher-friendly and sustainable they are.
Teachers ranked student assessments as the highest rated strategy. At the other extreme, keeping journals or logs was viewed less favorably, with comments indicating that the time required for this task would be burdensome. In general, teachers approved of having an administrator or fellow teacher observe lessons to determine coherence and teaching time allocation. However, a number of respondents expressed concern that the observer may not be appropriate or that they would feel threatened if the quality of their teaching was being evaluated. Surveys about school resources received stronger endorsements than student surveys of teaching. While resource surveys were viewed as an important OTL assessment strategy, some teachers were reluctant to place students in the position of evaluating their teaching competence.
HOW CAN OTL ASSESSMENTS IMPROVE INSTRUCTION?
The information obtained through OTL assessments can promote positive changes in the classroom, and can also be useful in building an OTL model to improve teaching practices and ultimately students’ academic achievement. Results from the survey of teachers reveal which aspects of OTL assessment strategies have the highest probability of success and which need improvement to be more fully acceptable to teachers. While educators must be sensitive to adding time-consuming activities to a teacher’s workload, we know that OTL—when provided to students and assessed—can bring about positive results in the classroom.
Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.