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Ask an Expert: What makes a teacher effective?

Q. The new legislation (Senate Bill 10-191) is aimed at ensuring an effective teacher in every classroom in Colorado. What is an “effective teacher”?

A. The state will be setting up committees to define what effective instruction looks like, and who an effective teacher is. I happen to like the work of Dr. Jere Brophy, at Michigan State University. He and his colleagues have analyzed the best research out there on teacher effectiveness. Here is their list, and I quote:

  • Supportive classroom climate: Students learn best within cohesive and caring learning communities.
  • Opportunity to learn: Students learn more when most of the available time is allocated to curriculum-related activities and the classroom management system emphasizes maintaining students’ engagement in those activities.
  • Curricular alignment: All components of the curriculum are aligned to create a cohesive program for accomplishing instructional purposes and goals.
  • Establishing learning orientations: Teachers can prepare students for learning by providing initial structuring to clarify intended outcomes and cue desired learning strategies.
  • Coherent content: To facilitate meaningful learning and retention, content is explained clearly and developed with emphasis on its structure and connections.
  • Thoughtful discourse: Questions are planned to engage students in sustained discourse structured around powerful ideas.
  • Practice and application activities: Students need sufficient opportunities to practice and apply what they are learning, and to receive improvement-oriented feedback.
  • Scaffolding students’ task engagement: The teacher provides whatever assistance students need to enable them to engage in learning activities productively.
  • Strategy teaching: The teacher models and instructs students in learning and self-regulation strategies.
  • Cooperative learning: Students often benefit from working in pairs and small groups to construct understandings or help one another master skills.
  • Goal-oriented assessment: The teacher uses a variety of formal and informal assessment methods to monitor progress toward learning goals.
  • Achievement expectations: The teacher establishes and follows through on appropriate expectations for learning outcomes.

I hope the state will use what we already know in educational research, and not waste great gobs of money recreating the wheel. We did that already with standards and CSAP testing.

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