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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

July 24, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Guest: Teachers need more than one formula for student success

Andrew E. Kelly

Andrew E. Kelly

The battle around “what works” in education continues to rage nationally and in our great state. What is the best way to ensure that each of our kids, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and personal background are able to successfully meet our educational standards and move through elementary, middle and high school to graduate prepared for college and a career?

One argument centers on whether schools should use direct instruction, a teacher-centered approach that commonly uses call-and-response, or a more free-flowing structure where students talk out their thinking and make sense of what they already know to build the scaffolding for their future.

Yet, as I work to support our state’s lowest-performing schools through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, I see more similarities than differences when it comes to what goes on in the classroom. Across the state, schools are succeeding with kids using both explicit instruction and constructivist learning. The bottom line: Great teaching is great teaching

Lakeridge Elementary School within the Renton School District is one school in our state experiencing phenomenal results. After receiving a federal school improvement grant three years ago, Lakeridge has taken on a new approach that emphasizes not just teaching content but, just as importantly, teaching kids how to think.

Third-grade students at Lakeridge Elementary School in Renton ponder a math problem during a recent class. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Third-grade students at Lakeridge Elementary School in Renton ponder a math problem during a recent class. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

In a unique partnership with the University of Washington, Lakeridge has posted impressive gains, especially in mathematics, by empowering teachers to collaborate, plan, and dissect how kids learn math skills. This intentional professional development coupled with outstanding classroom pedagogy demonstrates at least part of the solution to ensuring that all kids can reach the performance standards and beyond.

Amazing teachers know what the standards are and share those desired outcomes with kids so that the kids know the targets. Phenomenal teachers don’t change the standard for the child but, rather, find a way to make the standard accessible for each student they serve. Sometimes this is done through explicit instruction. Sometimes a constructivist approach yields a more positive result.

In either case, results matter. The best teachers don’t ask their kids to swallow one instructional pill and call it good. Rather, the best teachers realize that each child is unique and tailor their instruction to meet the needs of that child.

This is what works in education.

Andrew E. Kelly is the state assistant superintendent for student and school success. His office focuses on school improvement efforts.

Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Andy Kelly, direct instruction, Lakeridge

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