As an aspiring elementary teacher, my goal has been to obtain the best possible training to prepare myself for my future classroom. I put full faith in my university's teacher preparation program and its professors to expose me to all of the various instructional strategies that I should know and be able to implement. It was only after reading NCTQ's Learning About Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs to Know that I learned that textbooks used in teacher preparation programs generally lack information on the six instructional strategies identified by the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences (IES) as having the strongest evidence of being impactful on student learning. In fact, the sample of textbooks NCTQ evaluated for the report includes some of the textbooks I've used!
Needless to say, this concerns me. In many classrooms, professors rely on textbooks and I've paid considerable amounts to buy them and have them available for assignments and reference. While the books can and should contain valuable information on other topics, these six instructional strategies should be front and center in the chapters on instruction if I am to understand these effective strategies and their importance.
Now that I've had these six strategies pointed out, I realize that I've seen some of them in action. For example, the strategy of "distributing practice" helps retention because students are exposed to information more than once, with spacing between exposures. As a college student, I've experienced the difference between teachers who touch on a topic once versus teachers who reiterate information, increasing my depth of understanding and my ability to remember. I want to learn how to best do the same for my students.
Important as NCTQ's efforts to raise this issue are, teacher candidates can also help to raise awareness. For example, sharing the report with deans is one possible step forward. We can also take the initiative to write reviews on textbook websites whenever it's clear that textbook content is not adequate—or when books fail to cite the same sort of specific articles we're required to cite to support our own research papers. If textbooks don't improve, we can support production of an open source textbook on evidence-based teaching practices, which would be both valuable and help reduce the heavy burden of purchasing expensive college textbooks.
With the facts in front of us, how can we not do our part to tackle this issue?
- Sarah Rahimi
Sarah is preparing to be an elementary teacher at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas) and is a member of the NCTQ Teacher Candidate Advisory Group