Ensure Effective Instruction - Lessons and Units

Effective instruction refers to research-based teaching strategies that have been shown to increase student learning.

These highly interactive strategies are based on the following tenets:

  • Asking Not Telling: Posing questions leads to learning that is more likely to be retained because students have actively engaged with the material.

  • Grading as Feedback: Redefining grading as 'feedback' that students can use to improve their practice.

  • Making Thinking and Learning Explicit: Explaining the purpose of the learning to students, in addition to the content scaffolds higher level cognitive skills that students will learn over the course of twelve grades.

Ensuring effective instruction implies providing teachers with the training and instructional time to use these strategies, as well as to assess their impact on student learning. KW21 is an educational software system that makes using effective instructional strategies easier and even more effective because it is designed to provide evidence that students are learning.

Nine Effective Instructional Strategies

Nine instructional strategies have been identified by Marzano and other researchers as the most effective for instruction.

1. Identifying Similarities and Differences

2. Summarizing and Note Taking

3. Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition

4. Homework and Practice

5. Nonlinguistic Representations

6. Cooperative Learning

7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback

8. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

9. Generating and Testing Hypotheses

1. Identifying Similarities and Differences

Comparing and contrasting information is the first step in teaching higher level analytic skills. Students are instructed to break down the information into “chunks” and to look for essential shared and differentiated characteristics. As students master this skill they move from the specific elements toward creating more general classifications of categories representing shared features.

2. Summarizing and Note Taking:

Learning to summarize and distill essential information into written form is an early step in learning to synthesize information. Effective instructional strategies guide students in recognizing essential information and converting it to a written form in their own words.

In order to become effective as an instructional strategy, the teacher must review notes and provide feedback for student revision. Using KW21 teachers can develop rubrics with clearly articulated criteria for proficient note-taking, accompanied by examples at each scoring level.

3. Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition:

Not all students believe that "trying" will make any difference on their performance in school. Effective instructional strategies focus on changing that belief by providing timely feedback on student work that demonstrates the impact of effort on achievement.

Learning Gains vs. Scores

KW21 utilizes students’ learning gains as a metric demonstrating students’ learning progress. The system enables the teacher to recognize and reinforce effort in an ongoing way and reinforces the goal as “progress” not grades. A visual representation of learning gains is a powerful demonstration of the impact of effort, or lack of effort.

4. Homework and Practice:

The effectiveness of assigning homework is increased when teachers explain the role of practice in the learning cycle and the need to practice new skills outside of the classroom. Reviewing homework and providing feedback for improvement is an instructional strategy that reinforces the importance of practice outside of school. KW21 can support homework compliance by enabling teachers to provide feedback on students’ work in "real time", according to a clearly articulated scoring rubric. It also enables students to engage with new material independently and to self-assess their learning progress.

5. Nonlinguistic Representations:

Use of non-linguistic forms of information as an instructional strategy is based on research showing that visual representations increase brain activity. Instructional strategies incorporating both linguistic and visual forms of information processing expand students’ opportunities to learn. Instructional strategies include using pictographs, flowcharts, three dimensional models, and even kinesthetic ways of processing information.

6. Cooperative Learning:

Organizing students with diverse learning levels into cooperative groups has been shown to have a positive impact on overall learning. Cooperative learning is an essential, cross disciplinary 21st Century skill in which students learn several, complex skills including communication, collaboration, leadership, and reflection.

Clear Objectives

Using cooperative learning effectively as an instructional strategy requires teachers to set clear objectives for individual and group performance, along with deadlines for completing the work. Using KW21, teachers can develop rubrics to score specific norms for group behavior, such as staying focused, supporting each other, listening respectfully, and giving and accepting feedback.

7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback:

Setting a core goal for the learning at the beginning of the instruction and articulating clear criteria for assessment is a highly effective instructional strategy. Reframing grading as "feedback" demystifies the assessment process and reinforces the concept of the learning cycle stages (practice, feedback, revision, etc.). The degree of effectiveness is related to the timeliness of the feedback. Feedback is most effective when it is given during the period of instruction. Reframing grading as "feedback" demystifies the assessment process.

Using KW21 teachers can provide scoring rubrics and targeted feedback on students’ progress, relative to the learning objectives in real time. Since the rubrics can be aligned with specific skills, teachers can pinpoint the areas within the student’s work in need of further practice. Students can also access "Student Proficiency Profiles" to learn the results of their most recent assessment.

8. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers:

Advance Organizers are inferential instructional strategies that guide students to mentally retrieve existing knowledge in order to incorporate and retain new information. It is the basis for students learning to transfer knowledge; an end goal of education.

Advance Organizers are often confused with other instructional strategies such as overviews, skimming, and previewing upcoming lessons.

Advance Organizers are characterized by:

-Teachers posing questions to introduce a new topic, rather than asking questions afterward..

- Questioning that is higher order and complex. For example, a teacher might describe a scenario and ask students to generate rules based upon prior knowledge.

-Teachers pausing longer for students to respond to questions; allowing them to mentally access the related knowledge and to formulate ideas. Increasing wait time after posing questions has been shown to increase students’ depth of understanding.

Increasing the Effectiveness of Advance Organizers

The effectiveness of Advance Organizers depends on the student’s prior familiarity with the learning. Using KW21 teachers can assess the student’s level of understanding and customize Advance Organizers accordingly. In the example of generating rules for a hypothetical scenario, students must be able to use cues to access prior learning about rules and the contexts in which they apply in order to extend their understanding to a new scenario. KW21 can enhance the effectiveness of Advance Organizers by pinpointing the student’s level of familiarity with the content and adapting Advance Organizers to that level.

9. Generating and Testing Hypotheses:

Generating and testing hypotheses is an overarching instructional strategy that can be applied to all subjects in all grade levels. It is an inquiry-based approach in which the teacher uses questions to guide students’ activities and understanding. Inquiry engages and deepens students’ analytic skills through activity-based exploration. Textbook-based learning typically does not provide the basis for explanations whereas evidence is central to inquiry-based instruction.

Guiding Developing Analytic Abilities:

Generating a good hypothesis requires learning to pose a question that is narrow enough to explore, and then developing explanations based upon observable evidence. Asking students to present their explanations to the class allows the teacher to pose questions that challenge students to revise explanations unsupported by observable evidence.

Building Upon Students’ Thinking:

Building upon students’ thinking is central to the effectiveness of generating and testing hypotheses as an instructional strategy. Acknowledging and valuing student thinking is often in marked contrast to instructional approaches in which the teacher "uncovers" the "Right" answer. The use of hypothesis generation and testing as an instructional strategy primes students to become increasingly self-directed, independent thinkers.

The Big Picture View of Effective Instructional Strategies:

Hypothesis Generation and Testing can be viewed as an essential end goal on a learning trajectory of increasingly complex skills. Learning to compare and contrast information ("Identifying Similarities and Differences") is a strategy used in beginning to recognize patterns and relatedness in information that enables students to develop hypotheses. Learning to synthesize relevant information ("Summarizing and Note Taking") from multiple sources is a higher level skill students will use in making relevant observations about a phenomenon. Advance Organizers guide students to call upon prior knowledge (transfer learning) that might be related to new contexts, such as the findings that result from their hypothesis testing.

Learning is built on prior knowledge. Each grade level contributes developmentally appropriate instruction and practice along a trajectory of mastering and deepening skills essential to preparing students for the 21st Century workplace. Although it is not explicitly stated, teachers actually share the responsibility for students’ learning to master these skills over the course of twelve years. Moving our thinking about instruction beyond the boundaries of one grade or academic discipline toward a more seamless progressive model of learning requires recognizing the power of collective practice and the need to use a common language of key skills and pedagogy. A cohesive effort of shared instruction would make the practice of effective instructional strategies more viable and could synergize the impact on student learning.


Chamberlain, Burger, Smith, Tice (2004) Twenty Instructional Strategies for Success with Standards. Oswego’s (OCSD) Instructional Design.

Eick, C. Meadows, L. Balkcom, R. (2005) Breaking into Inquiry. The Science Teacher, October.

Hattie, J.A. ( 2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routlege.

Marzano, R. Pickering, D., Pollock, J. Classroom Instruction that Works. Mid-Continent Research on Education and Learning (McREL). http://mcrel.org.

Silver, H.F, Dewing, R.T., Perini, M.J. (2012) The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core. Alexandria: ASCD.

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