June is the time of the year when you might find yourself attending a Kindergarten, Middle School, High School or College graduation. What a feeling of accomplishment for family, friends and educators! Everyone involved can be confident that their graduates are ready for the next phase of learning. Teachers make this possible by carefully ordering and ranking the learning criteria and objectives to ensure that a commencement truly means each graduate is prepared to move to the next level.
Good teaching doesn’t just happen, it has to be finely crafted and graduated through levels. The teacher delivers the lesson all the while assessing students’ level and ability to move through the stages of learning. The stages are; Introduction, Modeling, Highly Structured Practice, Guided Practice and Independent Learning. The following is an example of this process: My objective for this lesson was to teach the class how to identify a noun. I begin with the Introductory Stage where I state my objective and check for prior knowledge. “Today we are going to learn a part of language that is called a noun.” Next, I check for prior knowledge through familiar vocabulary. “Stand up if you are a person.” All my students stand. I ask, “Where are you?” My students answer, “In school, in the classroom.” I reiterate this and I then say, “hold up a thing from your desk.” Students hold up pencils, erasers, scissors, etc. I confirm that these are all things. Now my students know the vocabulary needed to comprehend the objective, to identify nouns. Now I’m ready to move into the next level of the lesson, Modeling. I have the words “person, place or thing” written on the board. I have prepared a bag that contains pictures of persons, places and things, while making sure to include some items for comparison. I tell the students, “I have pictures in my bag. I want to sort out the nouns. I’m going to use the three vocabulary words on the board as my helper words, because I know a noun is a person, place or thing.” I go through the modeling stage placing pictures under the correct word, demonstrating the activity and the process. Next, I move into Highly Structured Practice where I have all the students do the activity with me. Giving corrective feedback as needed. I assess the class’ learning as students answer my “why” questions, such as “why does boy go under person?” I assess the answers and decide the students are ready to move to the next level of learning, Guided Practice. Now the students must give their responses independent from the support of the class. I pass out individual pictures to my students, “anyone holding a person picture, please stand-up.” The students usually respond appropriately, but if not, I give immediate corrective feedback, which is crucial at this level of learning. Students must demonstrate they know how to practice the learning with up to 80% accuracy. When this level of accuracy is met, it is time to graduate to Independent Learning, where the students are asked to reproduce the learning with little support from me and are ready to be assessed for mastery.
Graduating through the learning stages gives students opportunities to demonstrate their ability to achieve the lesson’s objectives, no matter how difficult! I’ve observed and sometimes find myself starting the introductory part of the lesson with this question, “Who Knows______?” For example, “who knows what a noun is?” This method has been called discovery teaching. With this teaching a student can be listening to incorrect information that will have to be later undone. Another dilemma I find with not graduating through the stages of learning during a lesson is students may begin practicing incorrectly. This can happen when the Highly Structured Practice and Guided Practice are skipped and the learning is graduated from Introduction and Modeling to Independent Practice. These two teaching examples can be avoided by remembering the purpose for each of the lesson stages. That is making sure the student has the needed knowledge to graduate through each level.
Parents can also assess the stages of learning discussed in this article. For instance, if a child cannot do homework independently then this child will need to return to guided practice. Careful assessment of mastery at each stage of learning is good teaching, and good teaching ensures that a diploma truly means each graduate is prepared for the next phase of learning.