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’Doing What Works’ Website Adds New Guidance on Effective Teaching


Advises instructors on how to organize their teaching

What is “spacing” learning and how does it benefit teachers and students? Do students learn more when solved problems are alternated with problems to be solved? And how do “higher order” questions enhance student learning and help students articulate their answers?

Visitors to the U.S. Department of Education’s “Doing What Works” Web site can find out the answers to these questions and much more. Just click on, and enjoy an engaging and interactive experience with Psychology of Learning: How to Organize Your Teaching, the latest addition to the site, which will empower educators and administrators with research-based strategies to help instructors organize their teaching and improve student learning.

“These research-based practices can be helpful to every teacher, no matter what grade level or subject area they teach,” U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said. “It’s wonderful that research gives us such clear guidance on how to best structure teaching to be most effective to increase student achievement. The Doing What Works site makes these practices come alive in a very useable, helpful way for all teachers.”

The “Doing What Works” site offers a user-friendly interface to quickly locate teaching practices that have been found effective by entities such as the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the Department’s research arm. In addition, it cites examples of possible ways, although not necessarily the only ways, teachers and designers of teaching materials may use this research to help students reach their academic potential.

This latest addition is based on an IES What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide called Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, which was released in September 2007.

Some of the practices described include:

* Space learning over time with review and quizzing.
A key aspect of effective teaching and learning is promoting the ability of students to retain information over the course of the school year and beyond. Research has shown that exposing students to key concepts and facts on at least two occasions, separated by several weeks to several months, greatly reduces the rate at which information is forgotten. This is easily accomplished by spacing and reviewing material over time with short quizzes, review games, targeted homework assignments, and exams.
* Alternate worked examples with problem-solving practice.
Students learn more when worked examples, or solved problems, are alternated with problems to be solved. For example, teachers can demonstrate solving a single problem, then have students practice on a similar problem, which is followed by another problem demonstration and opportunity for practice. The benefits are that students learn effective problem-solving strategies, can transfer these strategies more easily, and solve problems faster.
* Connect abstract and concrete representations of concepts.
Connecting abstract ideas with concrete contexts can help students understand challenging topics and transfer their understanding to new situations. There are a range of ways teachers can connect the abstract and the concrete, including stories, simulations, hands-on activities, visual representations, and real-world problem solving.
* Use higher-order questions to help students build explanations.
Across subject areas, when teachers ask higher-order questions and provide rich opportunities for students to develop explanations, learning is enhanced. The implementation of this practice ranges from creating units of study that provoke question-asking and discussion to simply having students explain their thinking after solving a problem.

The Department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation & Policy Development leads the “Doing What Works” site. Other offices and programs within the Department also assist in the initiative.


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