Today’s classrooms implement a variety of teaching strategies to ensure that students achieve success. When teachers use multiple strategies to support the teaching and learning process, student achievement and engagement are both evident. Each strategy can be easily included in classroom instruction at any grade level, in any subject or content area.
While gifted education has been a pioneer in implementing these strategies, research shows that each one is effective in supporting the learning of all children. In fact, many elementary schools around the country have established themselves as PBL (project-based learning) schools or EL (experiential learning) schools.
Each form of learning requires quality professional development or training before implementation. Great planning and execution on the part of a teacher is also essential to ensure the learning process is cohesive and results in comprehension. It is only when the teacher is prepared and organized creating these strategies do they yield positive results for students.
Differentiation provides personalized and tailored instruction to meet the individualized needs of all students. This framework of instruction supports the strengths and challenges of each child in academic and behavioral settings. The use of formative assessments in reading and math throughout the year equip teachers with the knowledge they need to appropriately differentiate for each child. This means through small group instruction, partner work, or one-on-on instruction.
In literacy, children receive instruction to support their instructional reading and word development levels while helping them maintain their independent reading levels. Reading is developmental; therefore, differentiation supports every child’s reading journey.
In math, differentiation is evident when all of the children are learning the same concept at their own pace in small groups or one-on-one instruction. This may also include decreasing the amount of problems. In content area reading, differentiation may include alternating the length or reading levels of text to match the same topic. In this capacity, children are learning the same material in a format that best supports their needs.
Experiential learning, or EL as it is often called, refers to a learning process based on experiences. It not only places an emphasis on hands-on learning but also focuses on exploration and reflection. It truly exemplifies learning by doing through simulation, role play, or real-life experiences. It involves a great deal of collaboration and teamwork; the students are active learners in this structure.
Examples of experiential learning are evident when students are acting as participants in the three branches of the government. It is also clear when students are participating in a lab experiment such as making homemade ice cream or planting flowers. The use of manipulatives, games, and artifacts help make the learning experience more real.
Experiential learning is exactly as the name implies — creating a learning experience that resonates with the children. When this happens, children remember facts, understand content, and truly comprehend how the knowledge obtained is relevant to them. As Aristotle stated, “we learn by doing.” This style of learning exemplifies his belief.
Project-based learning, or PBL as it is often called, uses questioning and problem-solving skills as the basis of instruction. It is often used as a unit of study for students to explore. Topics may include global warming, animal habitats, or the election process. Students can play, explore, or simulate scenarios based upon guided questions. Students can create a list of questions they want to find out about.
Questions including: How is global warming currently affecting our home? What animal habitats are found in my region? Does my vote count? Students can complete observation journals to exhibit or document effects of global warming. Classes can take a nature walk to observe animal habitats or visit a local nature center. Classrooms and schools can participate in their own election process to vote on a field trip destination or class president to determine how their vote counts. Teachers can easily implement project-based learning in two to three-week units to match science and social studies objectives.
Children’s literature is a great way to introduce a lesson on project-based learning because it gives readers the opportunity to think of scenarios in a variety of ways. Children’s picture books including The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Most Magnificent Thing, and What to do with a Box are popular titles to introduce the critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Teaching perspective is a powerful tool to support project-based or problem-based learning, a similar strategy with slight differences.
Cooperative learning takes place when students are placed into small groups to learn a new concept together. Each student has a designated role to play in the group, which holds everyone accountable to the learning process. It is recommended that the groups are strategically created so that students of different ability levels are grouped together. Students are then provided with a task that they must complete both individually and together that matches a lesson. Often times, children can learn something differently from a peer, which is why cooperative learning can be both engaging and effective. Student strengths and challenges are evident in this scenario, but the end result is created by the entire group working together.
Inquiry-based learning is based solely around questioning to seek knowledge. Curiosity and student exploration are the central focus of the teaching and learning experience in inquiry-based learning. This type of learning occurs when students form questions, research answers for questions, share the knowledge gained with classmates, and then reflect about the process.
The questions and research process are student driven rather than teacher driven. Students get to choose questions that match their interests. When students have ownership of their learning, their engagement levels also increase. Inquiry-based learning supports the 5 Cs in education including communication, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and citizenship.
Problem-based learning follows the same principles as project-based learning in the sense that questioning and problem-solving skills are present throughout the entire process. Teachers and/or students often pose a driving question before reading a book or introducing a lesson in science or social studies or something that affects daily life.
The goal of the lesson or unit is to find sufficient evidence and gather pertinent information to answer the posed question. A research block is a great way for students to explore the question and answer cycle in solving real-life problems like How do we improve attendance in our school? or Is there a way to prepare healthier school lunches? Students can use resources including books and technology to help find solutions for the current problem, no matter how big or small it may be.
When teachers are competent and comfortable with implementing multiple strategies that will significantly increase student motivation and engagement, students succeed. Student achievement also increases. Many of these strategies provide teachers the opportunity to be a facilitator of learning putting students in the driver’s seat of instruction.
When students have ownership and choice during their learning experiences, they are more invested in the process. Students are active participants in how they acquire the knowledge and fully comprehend the task at hand or content objectives. Educators should begin to allow our youngest children to experience learning that supports both independence and collaboration as well as inquiry and research. This helps students become better prepared for what the teaching and learning process often looks like at the secondary level, in college, and of course, in the real world. These strategies promote life-long thinkers, readers, and learners.