High Leverage Practices
Our elementary teacher education program is centered on teaching practice, content knowledge for teaching, and a set of ethical obligations.
With regard to teaching practice, the program focuses on 19 high-leverage teaching practices, selected based on considerations about which practices are highest leverage in teaching (across content areas and contexts) as well as considerations about which practices can most productively be worked on and learned during initial teacher education. Interns in the program develop these practices over time. This helps interns in the program become well-started beginners—beginning teachers who are able to engage in the work of teaching with integrity. Here, the practices are listed and a brief description is provided. The practices are at different grain sizes and some practices are necessarily entailed in other practices; this reflects the realities and complexities of teaching. The names and descriptions are written to be content-neutral. In our program, we work on these practices across content areas. We support interns in learning these practices and we expect them to develop beginning levels of proficiency with each of them while in the program.
The following descriptions build on descriptions developed by TeachingWorks (2013).
Explaining core content
Making content explicit is essential to providing all students with access to fundamental ideas and practices in a given subject. Effective efforts to do this attend both to the integrity of the subject and to students' likely interpretations of it. They include strategically choosing and using representations and examples to build understanding and remediate misconceptions, using language carefully, highlighting core ideas while sidelining potentially distracting ones, and making one's own thinking visible while modeling and demonstrating.
Posing questions about content
Teachers pose questions about content. To effectively pose questions, a teacher considers the core ideas related to the content at hand, and carefully phrases questions that elicit, probe, and advance students' thinking about the content.
Choosing and using representations, examples, and models of content
Teachers strategically choose and use representations and examples to build understanding and remediate misconceptions. To choose representations and examples effectively, a teacher must consider core ideas of the discipline, likely patterns of student thinking, and the experiences that students are bringing to the classroom. To use them effectively, a teacher uses language carefully, highlights core ideas while sidelining potentially distracting ones, and makes their own thinking visible while modeling and demonstrating.
Leading whole class discussions of content
In a whole-class discussion, the teacher and all of the students work on specific content together, using one another's ideas as resources. The purposes of a discussion are to build collective knowledge and capability in relation to specific instructional goals and to allow students to practice listening, speaking, and interpreting. In instructionally productive discussions, the teacher and a wide range of students contribute orally, listen actively, and respond to and learn from others' contributions.
In the first semester literacy class, interns learn to plan and enact interactive read alouds (IRAs) of picture books. The IRAs are interactive in that interns engage the elementary students in thoughtful discussions before, during and after the reading. The interns plan the initial questions and follow-up questions to provide opportunities for the students to focus on building collaborative meaning from the text and to use the text as evidence of their thinking. In Teaching with Digital Technologies, interns learn how to lead a whole group discussion in a blended or virtual learning environment. The course uses a blended format and each intern develops and enacts a whole class lesson (webinar) on the core content of web2.0 and web3.0 resources for K-8 social studies teaching for their peers. There is a focus on learning to establish norms of discourse and management.
In the second semester, interns continue to learn to lead whole class discussions. In the second literacy methods course, interns plan and enact a whole class Interactive Read Aloud (IRA) of a social studies related picture book. They analyze the text for social studies content and for the comprehension strategies that students would use to access the content. They plan questions for before, during and after reading that provide students with opportunities to focus on the text and the author's purposes to build meaning collaboratively. In Facilitating Classroom Discussion, interns lead three discussions with one or two middle school students. The course focuses on uptake moves and responsiveness to students' thinking, as well as supporting students' learning of the social studies content. In the social studies methods course, interns plan and enact a Visual Inquiry Lesson, which includes a whole class discussion of historical images. The course builds on the Facilitating Classroom Discussions focus on "accountable talk" and "uptake."
In the third semester in the mathematics methods course, interns plan and enact four problem-based discussions with decreased scaffolding as the course progresses. Interns develop skill with discussion-enabling practices (selecting a discussion-worthy mathematics problem, setting up a mathematics problem, monitoring students while they work independently) and discussion-practices (launching a discussion; orchestrating a discussion; concluding a discussion).
Early in the student teaching semester, interns plan and enact a series of math lessons called Instructional Cycle One and Instructional Cycle Two. These math lessons are designed to have interns look at student assessment data, plan a lesson using that information, enact the lesson, and complete the cycle with the collection of new assessment information. These whole class math lessons include a discussion as a central part of the enactment. Interns plan and teach the discussion using tools and strategies developed in their mathematics methods course.
Working with individual students to elicit, probe, and develop their thinking about content
Teachers pose questions or tasks that provoke or allow students to share their thinking about specific academic content in order to evaluate student understanding, guide instructional decisions, and surface ideas that will benefit other students. To do this effectively, a teacher draws out a student's thinking through carefully-chosen questions and tasks and considers and checks alternative interpretations of the student's ideas and methods.
Interns begin working on eliciting student thinking starting in the first week of the program. In Managing to Teach #1, interns learn to elicit student thinking in order to have a short relationship-building conversation with a child. In Children as Sense-makers #1, interns work on eliciting student thinking about science (day and night) through a series of highly-scaffolded interactions in which interns elicit a student's thinking in several modalities, use a reading to support the student's understanding, and assess the student's learning. In their first literacy methods course, interns conduct interactive read alouds with groups of K-2 students and learn to develop questions to elicit understanding of key ideas in the readings.
In the second semester of the program, interns begin work on eliciting student thinking with older students and with different subject matter. In Facilitating Classroom Discussions, interns are introduced to frameworks for making thinking visible and accountable talk and they work with small groups of middle school students and elicit students' thinking around social student content. This work leads into the social studies methods course, during which interns conduct think alouds with upper elementary school students to elicit their thinking about historical texts. In Children as Sense-makers #2, interns learn to elicit and probe students' mathematical thinking related fractions through a series of different activities in which interns interview students based on their written work and design and enact follow up instruction with an individual student. Scaffolding is provided through unpacking the focal mathematics and by providing question shells, types of questions that can be applied to a wide range of mathematics content. In the second literacy methods course, interns plan and enact book club discussions with small groups of upper elementary and/or middle school students and work on eliciting student thinking in the context of these discussions. At the end of the first year of the program, interns are assessed on their skill at eliciting and probing student thinking through participation in a simulation in which each intern elicits the mathematical thinking of a standardized student. In the third semester of the program, work on eliciting and student thinking is embedded within larger practices. In their mathematics methods course, interns work on eliciting and probing student thinking in the context of leading a mathematics discussion. They do similar work in their science method course, with focused attention on eliciting students' initial ideas about a scientific phenomenon and then their explanatory ideas after experiencing an investigation.
Setting up and managing small-group work
Teachers use small group work when instructional goals call for in-depth interaction among students and in order to teach students to work collaboratively. To use groups effectively, teachers choose tasks that require and foster collaborative work, issue clear directions that permit groups to work semi-independently, and implement mechanisms for holding students accountable for both collective and individual learning. They use their own time strategically, deliberately choosing which groups to work with, when, and on what.
Engaging students in rehearsing an organizational or managerial routine
Teachers implement routine ways of carrying out classroom tasks in order to maximize the time available for learning and minimize disruptions and distractions. They organize time, space, materials, and students strategically and deliberately teach students how to complete tasks such as lining up at the door, passing out papers, and asking to participate in class discussion. This can include demonstrating and rehearsing routines and maintaining them consistently.
Establishing norms and routines for classroom discourse and work that are central to the content
Each discipline has norms and routines that reflect the ways in which people in the field construct and share knowledge. These norms and routines vary across subjects but often include establishing hypotheses, providing evidence for claims, and showing one's thinking in detail. Teaching students what they are, why they are important, and how to use them is crucial to building understanding and capability in a given subject. Teachers may use explicit explanation, modeling, and repeated practice to do this.
Recognizing and identifying common patterns of student thinking in a content domain
Although there are important individual and cultural differences among students, there are also common patterns in the ways in which students think about and develop understanding and skill in relation to particular topics and problems. Teachers who are familiar with common patterns of student thinking and development and who are fluent in anticipating or identifying them are able to work more effectively and efficiently as they plan and implement instruction and evaluate student learning.
In the first semester of the program, interns work on recognizing and identifying common patterns of student thinking in science and language arts. In Children as Sense-makers #1, interns learn the many ways in which young children make sense of one scientific phenomenon, day and night. They begin to develop an orientation towards children as sense-makers and work on developing skill at interpreting the patterns of sense-making. In the first literacy methods course, interns learn to conduct running records of reading. As a student reads a text aloud, interns learn to make a visually notated record of the oral reading. Interns learn to analyze the running record for the student's use of meaning, visual, and grammatical cues as they decode unfamiliar words and also note the reader's self-monitoring and use of self-corrections and fix-up strategies. Interns compare this record of strengths and needs with developmental checklists.
In the second semester of the program, in the second literacy methods course, interns plan and conduct a think aloud assessment using a grade-level common text with two students. The interns identify five stopping places in the text and ask the student: "What were you thinking as you read that?" Interns analyze their students' use of comprehension strategies and in collaboration with other interns look for common patterns of thinking and use of strategies. In Children as Sense-makers #2, interns continue to learn to view children as sense-makers through a variety of experiences including analyzing students' verbal and written responses to mathematics tasks that are focused on foundational fractions concepts. Through this work, they develop a sense that "incorrect" answers are often correct answers to a different question and the common patterns of student thinking around foundational fraction concepts.
In the third semester in their mathematics methods course, interns analyze students' work with place-value related tasks including the use of computational algorithms to identify common patterns of student thinking around these mathematical topics and they develop skill with identifying those patterns in student work.
Composing, selecting, adapting quizzes, tests, and other methods of assessing student learning of a chunk of instruction
Effective summative assessments provide teachers with rich information about what students have learned and where they are struggling in relation to specific learning goals. In composing and selecting assessments, teachers consider validity, fairness, and efficiency. Effective summative assessments provide both students and teachers with useful information and help teachers evaluate and design further instruction. Teachers analyze the results of assessments carefully, looking for patterns that will guide efforts to assist specific students and inform future instruction.
Selecting and using specific methods to assess students' learning on an ongoing basis within and between lessons
Teachers use a variety of informal but deliberate methods to assess what students are learning during and between lessons. These frequent checks provide information about students' current level of competence and help the teacher adjust instruction during a single lesson or from one lesson to the next. They may include, for example, simple questioning, short performance tasks, or journal or notebook entries.
Identifying and implementing an instructional strategy or intervention in response to common patterns of student thinking
Specific instructional strategies are known to be effective in response to particular common patterns of student thinking. Teachers who are familiar with them can choose among them appropriately and use them to support, extend, or begin to change student thinking.
Choosing, appraising, and modifying tasks, texts, and materials for a specific learning goal
Teachers appraise and modify curriculum materials to determine their appropriateness for helping particular students work toward specific learning goals. This involves considering students' needs and assessing what questions and ideas particular materials will raise and the ways in which they are likely to challenge students. Teachers choose and modify material accordingly, sometimes deciding to use parts of a text or activity and not others, for example, or to combine material from more than one source.
In the first semester, interns begin work on choosing, appraising, and modifying tasks, texts, and materials for a specific learning goal in the Teaching with Curriculum Materials course. Interns develop of a set of analytical skills that guide their reading of curriculum across content areas and that support their abilities to translate published curriculum into lessons that meet the needs of their students and contexts. Interns are introduced to and use an Instructional Planning Considerations Framework to read and critique many curriculum-based lessons in mathematics, science, and social studies. Interns are introduced to a Instructional Planning Template which they make use of throughout the program and they use this template to create modified lesson plans that improve the curriculum-based lessons and increase the likelihood that every student will achieve the lesson's learning goals. In the first literacy methods course, interns choose, appraise, modify and plan a phonics lesson for students in their field placement classroom.
In the second semester, in the context of the second literacy methods course, interns plan for and conduct an Interactive Read Aloud (IRA) of a social studies related text. The interns locate an appropriate text for the social studies content goals and plan for ways for the text and discussion to strengthen the social studies content learning for the students. They make use of the Instructional Planning Considerations Framework in their planning. In their Teaching Children with Exceptionalities in Inclusive Classrooms course, interns learn how to identify critical content for a given lesson or unit and using that critical content as a foundation, how to develop instructional materials at a range of complexity and how to select supporting texts in the content areas that are at appropriate reading levels for students with a range of comprehension skills. Interns connect the work that they are doing with the Instructional Planning Consideration focused on learners. In Teaching with Digital Technologies, interns participate in a unit on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and develop and teach a lesson using the UDL considerations that integrates technology into their field placement. Interns connect UDL considerations with the Instructional Planning Considerations Framework. At the end of the first year, interns complete an in-person assessment that involves analyzing and modifying a social studies lesson plan. Interns are assessed on their skills with choosing, appraising, and modifying tasks, texts, and materials for a specific learning goal.
In the third semester, in their science methods class, interns apply the Instructional Planning Considerations to lessons they are preparing to teach in their placement classrooms, based on lesson plans from their classroom's science curriculum. They then use the Instructional Planning Template to construct a lesson plan, and then enact and reflect on their lesson.
In the fourth semester, as interns begin planning the Unit Teaching Experience, they work closely with their mentor teacher to choose a content area, identify district-adopted curriculum, and adapt and modify curriculum to fit the learning goals for their particular students, employing the Instructional Planning Considerations. This is a collaborative process with the mentor teacher's input and also informed by assessment data from students, previous experiences using the curriculum and tailoring the lessons to meet the current learning goals.
Enacting a task to support a specific learning goal
During a lesson or segment of instruction, the teacher sequences instructional opportunities toward specific learning goals and represents academic content in ways that connect to students' prior knowledge and extends their learning. In a skillfully enacted lesson, the teacher fosters student engagement, provides access to new material and opportunities for student practice, adapts instruction in response to what students do or say, and assesses what students know and can do as a result of instruction.
Designing a sequence of lessons on a core topic
Carefully-sequenced lessons help students develop deep understanding of content and sophisticated skills and practices. Teachers design and sequence lessons with an eye toward providing opportunities for student inquiry and discovery and include opportunities for students to practice and master foundational concepts and skills before moving on to more advanced ones. Effectively-sequenced lessons maintain a coherent focus while keeping students engaged; they also help students achieve appreciation of what they have learned.
Enacting a sequence of lessons on a core topic
During a sequence of lessons, the teacher sequences instructional opportunities toward specific learning goals and represents academic content in ways that connect to students' prior knowledge and extends their learning. In a skillfully enacted sequence of lessons, the teacher attends to the overarching goals of the sequence of lessons in enacting the lessons, assesses what students are learning within and between lessons and adapts the sequence of lessons as needed in response to assessment data, and assesses what students have learned as a result of the sequence of lessons.
Conducting a meeting about a student with a parent or guardian
Regular communication between teachers and parents or guardians supports student learning. Teachers communicate with parents or guardians to provide information about students' academic progress, behavior, or development; to seek information and help; and to request parental involvement in school. Productive meetings and other forms of communication are attentive to considerations of language and culture and designed to support parents and guardians in fostering their child's success in and out of school.
Writing correct, comprehensible, and professional messages to colleagues, parents, and others
Teachers routinely communicate with fellow teachers, administrators, other professionals, and parents or guardians in order to plan teaching, discuss student needs, secure special services for students, and manage school policies. Skillful communication is succinct, respectful, and focused on specific professional topics. It uses clear, accessible language, generally in standard English, and is attentive to its specific audience.
Analyzing and improving specific elements of one's own teaching
Learning to teach is an ongoing process that requires regular analysis of instruction and its effectiveness. Teachers study their own teaching and that of their colleagues in order to improve their understanding of the complex interactions between teachers, students, and content and of the impact of particular instructional approaches. Analyzing instruction may take place individually or collectively and involves identifying salient features of the instruction and making reasoned hypotheses for how to improve.
In the first semester, in the first literacy methods course, interns analyze their planning and enactment of Interactive Read Alouds (IRAs). Interns review video records of their lesson and identify specific aspects of the lesson for their strengths and as well as aspects that could be improvement. They focus both on how they planned for the IRA and the enactment. In addition, interns meet with field instructors after enacting their IRAs to reflect on the lesson.
In the second semester, in Facilitating Classroom Discussions, interns analyze the video of one of their discussion lessons and reflect on their teaching. The reflection includes attention to students' thinking and understanding, teaching moves, and how the lesson might be improved in the future. Although this assignment is submitted individually, interns often talk with their teaching partner about the lesson before writing their reflection. Interns set two goals for themselves in the future and identify specific strategies for reaching those goals. In the second literacy methods course, interns continue to analyze their planning and enactment of IRAs.
In the third semester, in the Beginning the School Year course, interns observe beginning of the day routines in K - 5 classrooms with a focus on particular managerial routines including particular uses of teacher language. They write a focused e-mail to the teacher they observed commenting on these elements. They move from this to enacting routines in their own classrooms, videoing their work and critiquing their enactment of these routines. In their science method class, interns reflect on two science lessons taught in the field, using reflective questions oriented to (a) the instructional framework introduced for structuring science lessons, (b) the Instructional Planning Considerations, and (c) the equity practices emphasized in the class. They use their video records from the lesson enactments to make their reflection concrete and specific.
During student teaching semester, interns have many cycles of feedback and reflection to support analysis of their developing teaching practice. In the Instructional Cycles One and Two, the Unit Teaching Experience and through informal and formal observations with their mentor teacher, field instructor and other colleagues, interns receive both written feedback and have ongoing dialogue about particular aspects of their planning and teaching. Through the use of technology they also receive feedback on very specific elements of their practice and share their own reflections on their teaching as they move through the program.