Thursday, March 5, 2009

What is a “Best Practice” ?

How can I find out the best practices for my classroom, for my subject area, and for my students? People in the education system like to throw this phrase out but it brings out so many questions for me. It is important because I teach grad courses where I’m supposed to share “best practices” with my students. Is there a difference between “Best Practices” and “Effective Teaching Practices?”

In Effective teaching practices by JohnL, he states, “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.”

I thought this was so important that I had to share it. I have heard so many people talk about “Best Practices” but I really can’t find information on who determines what these are, how do they determine what is or isn’t one, and how can teachers use this information. I’m sure that everyone wants to do what is a “best practice” because who wants to use a “worst practice.” I looked at the above list and I see these are things that I was taught in college during my teacher training thirty years ago. These are things that I have done in my class practically on a daily basis. I also wonder if something can be a “best practice” for one student and not for others. When people are talking about “best practices,” are they also taking into consideration different learning styles, different teaching styles, the environment students and teachers are in, and what the purpose of the lesson may be?

Maybe you know some research that can answer my question. Or maybe you have a way to determine what is or isn’t a “best practice.” If so, please share it with me because I would really love to see this and possibly use it in my classes. You can email me or leave it as a comment on this blog post. I really want to know and share information that would help me have a more successful classroom!

Original image: 'final exam' by: John


TechNorth said...

There's a little Madeline Hunter in there. ;-)

I think we have lots of examples of what "works." One thing I like about approaches like Understanding By Design is that is addresses all ages, all content areas, all learners. Without knowing what you want to accomplish, it's hard to design a path to get there. And without planning for assessment, you won't know if you got what you wanted.

A minor point: I prefer "excellent practice" over "best practice" b/c all instruction can be improved, depending on the teacher, students, goals, resources, etc.

And we've got a bzillion examples of successes out there!

Oh yeah - we also need leadership that "gets it." Absent progressive leadership from principals and other school leaders, we can still have excellent practice but it's more likely to exist in pockets rather than being common and ubiquitous.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the most surprsing best practices found by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, is that homework assignment should have a lot fewer problems for students to do, and many more worked examples for them to follow.

Here is the link:

Clix said...

"Best" implies a hierarchy. Of the strategies for accomplishing task ABC, Strategy X tends to work best.

Marzano's The Art and Science of Teaching is a small book but is packed with lots of information comparing different practices and how they stack up to each other.

loonyhiker said...

TechNorth: You are so right about the importance of assessment whether formal or informal. I also like your term of "excellent practice." Thanks for your comments!

loonyhiker said...

Mitch: Thanks so much for the link! And thanks for commenting!

loonyhiker said...

Clix: Thanks for the name of that book. I will definitely check it out!

Anonymous said...

"Best Practices" is a misunderstood term by a lot of teaching professionals. I believe it truly depends on your classroom environment, student-makeup, and content area. So, unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer... what works best for the student individually and collectively is the ultimate goal. Good luck!

loonyhiker said...

Anon: Thanks for your comments. I guess I'm trying to find a "rule" or some kind of standard to measure my practices but there really isn't one because each student is unique.