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Five Surefire Ways Revisited

Five years ago last month, the final in a series of blog posts called Five Surefire Ways to Engage Students was posted here. That last post, in the series begun early in 2009, was actually only the fourth of the intended five discussions. The five strategies originally highlighted were (click the links to read the original posts):

  1. Brain-Based Learning
  2. Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles
  3. Cooperative Grouping
  4. Graphic Organizers
  5. Inquiry Based Learning

I’ll get to why I think it is particularly interesting to pick up that remaining fifth strategy for discussion a little later, but first I have to explain the reason I personally want to revisit this list. That is the fact that they support something I wholeheartedly believe – two things, really: that very little actually changes about the core elements that help us learn and also that good teaching is good teaching.

Back in 2010, Common Core was still in development, BYOD and blended learning were still fairly radical ideas for schools and no one was yet Racing to the Top. And these ‘five surefire ways’ were not new. Educators and researchers have known for a long time that teachers should teach according to the way the brain works, that we as human beings learn in lots of different ways, that learning is social, and so on. Yet, when the original posts were written, they pointed to research-based, heavily tested, and proven strategies that were still not being embraced wholesale in our education system. Now, I could stop here and ask Why? But I don’t want to rehash the reasons from 5 years ago.

What I do want to ask is – Is it any different today? I would love to yell, “Heck yeah, it’s different!!” but I’m not sure. Yes, we now have flipped classrooms and increased “rigor” and MOOCs and clickers and online testing with constructed responses and rubrics. Yes, there have been changes. Dramatic changes – in technology, tools, standards …but in teaching? As much as I want to say yes, I know that lecture is still pretty much the most widely used teaching practice; that many teachers continue to be the center of attention in their classrooms; that I still see lots of desks arranged in rows and hear way more teacher talk than student discussion.

So, as much as things have changed, a lot has stayed the same. We know the best, most effective ways to teach – just like we have since Socrates, or at least since Dewey – but we still…Don’t. do it. If you are that teacher reading this and thinking I’m wrong, take a trip down the hall and listen to the talking coming out of the various rooms. Is it students you hear? Or is it mostly teachers talking?

(By the way, I would love to hear from teachers who will say their school IS the change we want to see, so please comment on this post to tell us how it’s done!)

But back to my original point about how good teaching is good teaching and not a whole lot about the ways we learn has changed. What I am really trying to say is that these five surefire ways all come back to one thing – constructivism. A student-centered, constructivist approach to teaching and learning easily aligns to what we know about the brain, takes learning differences into consideration, embraces social and collaborative structures, encourages students to organize their learning in ways that are meaningful to them and, last but not least, promotes inquiry. And, by the way, constructivism is an old idea. Like, 1960’s old.

So this all brings me to that fifth “surefire way” – the one that never got its own post in the series. It may have been left hanging back in 2010, but it is getting plenty of attention now. As schools become more career and STEM-focused, Inquiry and Problem-Based Learning are becoming the most recent new/old thing. When this particular teaching strategy is done well it is transformative. For proof, you can listen to high school teacher Will Squires describe how his class engaged in PBL and changed their community. And if you think that Inquiry/PBL deserves to finally have its own post here, and that we should get cracking on bring closure to that series, just see Ben Furse’s January 2015 post, Teachers as Project Managers , aka “Five Surefire Ways to Engage Students: Part 5.”

-Rachel Porter, PhD
  Executive Director

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The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning expands and supports high quality teaching and effective, supportive leadership. QTL Processes bring together technology, teamwork, student data and research-based instruction to create more engaging lesson design for greater student achievement.

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