Unpacking Successful Practice

We expect our teachers to know what innovative and engaging instruction looks, sounds, and feels like. We expect administrators to know how to recognize effective instruction and coach teachers in their bettering practice. However, how do we ever define successful practice? How clear are we in our criteria and communication of criteria?

“Engaging Students, Exceeding Standards” (2012) by Harvey Daniels (@smokeylit) outlines seven structures of best practices.

1. Gradual Release – This cycle of teaching begins with teacher explanation or demonstration of a skill. Then, learners are invited to join the teacher. Next, students engage in carefully planned guided practice before they are finally released to work on their own.

I am sure you have heard this system before: I do it for you. You do it with me. I do it with you. You do it. (At Mount Vernon, we also like to add a fifth level – you do it for someone else.)

2. Workshop – In a workshop model, the student works alongside the teacher like an apprentice would a master. Students in the workshop model are actively engaged from beginning to end and have choice. The teacher acts more like a coach here.

3. Strategic Thinking – If we get nothing else right, let us teach children to ask good questions, analyze ideas, and inquire about a topic. You will not hear students memorizing in this structure, but you will see deep thinking on puzzled faces and hear rich questions posed to the other learners in the room. We assume you know, of course, the teacher is considered one of the other learners.

4. Collaborative Activities- Offering student the opportunities to work on team as co-researchers and partners fosters social energy to learn both about the topic and the importance of teamwork.

5. Integrated Units- Teachers provide the most authentic and complex opportunities for children to explore what really matters in the world. A well-designed integrated unit of study does not end with a classroom prototype but impacts the world beyond school.

6. Representing to Learn – Children using this structure are required to make their thinking visible (or audible) by sharing thoughts and processes in verbal explanations, art, writing, or by using movement.  (At Mount Vernon, we talk about requiring evidence from our students by asking, “What makes you say that?”)

7. Formative- Reflective Assessment – Teachers and students alike benefit from taking the time to understand what learning has happened and what remains to be learned. Reflection must be intentionally planned and shared. Formative assessments is an important practice that should be frequently seen in classrooms and learning experiences.



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