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5 Common Teaching Practices I’m Kicking to the Curb

Kick-to-the-Curb-Pin

 

Are any of these ineffective teaching methods still part of your practice? Time to reconsider.

 

So many of us teach the way we were taught. We may not even realize we’re doing it. And that means certain practices get passed down year after year without question, methods that are such a normal part of the way we do school, we perpetuate them without realizing there are better alternatives.

Today I’m going to roll out five of these for your consideration: five teaching practices used every day that are not backed by research. In many cases, these practices are not only ineffective, they can be downright harmful.

A few caveats before I start: First, I have used every single one of these methods. Every one. I’m going to tell you why I used them, and why I would avoid them in the future. Second, I don’t believe in all or nothing when it comes to teaching. An argument could be made for the occasional use of any of these, even #3. The point is that in most cases, better options exist. You don’t necessarily have to give up any of these methods entirely. But if you want to see better results, replacing them with more powerful strategies will get you there a lot quicker.

 

Popcorn

1. Popcorn Reading

A.K.A.: Round-Robin Reading, Volunteer Reading

What it is: A teacher wants her class to read a text—a short story, a chapter in a textbook—so she has each student take a turn reading out loud while the others follow along silently. Sometimes students read in seat order; other times the teacher selects students at random to keep everyone on their toes. And in some variations, kids actually call out the word “popcorn” at the end of their turn and choose the next person to read. (I never knew this part. Honestly, I always thought the term came from the image of different students reading around the room looking like a pot of kernels “popping” to life, one at a time.)

Why I did it: I used popcorn reading occasionally as a language arts teacher, when we were doing a whole-class novel, to “get through” the text. I didn’t do it a lot, but I definitely did it. Here’s why: (1) It consumed class time. Sure, in theory I wanted to pack as much high-quality instruction into a class period as possible, but some days I just wanted to fill the time. (2) It kept students quiet and controlled. Interactive, engaging activities can be loud and messy, but an activity like popcorn reading lets you convince yourself you’re accomplishing something. (3) It “covered” the material. Because everyone is ostensibly looking at and listening to the text, it stands to reason that everyone is digesting it in some way. (4) It allowed me to hear my students reading, acting as a kind of formative assessment for fluency.

What the research says: If the Internet was a yard, and articles that criticize Round Robin were dog poop, your shoes would be a mess. The main criticism of this strategy is that it simply does nothing to improve student comprehension or reading skills. On top of that, it embarrasses students whose read-aloud skills are behind those of their peers, offers only a tiny window of time for each student to actively read, and often reduces comprehension, as students who are not reading tend to check out when it’s not their turn. Plus, listening to their classmates read at varying levels of skill can actually teach students to read more poorly as they begin to pick up the habits of their peers. When I was a student, I hated popcorn reading. My comprehension plummets when I listen to something read out loud, rather than reading quietly to myself, so any time a teacher had us do Round Robin, I knew I would have to re-read the whole thing later.

What to do instead: Consider where you want students to end up. If you are working with younger kids and want to build fluency and proper expression, try a teacher read-aloud, a choral reading, or a method known as FORI (fluency oriented reading instruction). If you are working with older students and want them to eventually be able to do rigorous, challenging reading on their own, schedule regular periods of silent reading scaffolded with a KWL chart or an anticipation guide, or have students do reciprocal teaching in small groups.

Learn More:

11 Alternatives to “Round Robin” (and “Popcorn”) Reading, by Todd Finley, Edutopia

A Literacy Spring Cleaning: Sweeping Round Robin Reading out of Your Classroom, by Katherine Hilden and Jennifer Jones, Reading Today

 

Curb

2. Giving Students Prepared Notes

What it is: When a teacher delivers content (often via lecture), he provides students with a handout that contains pre-written notes on that content. In many cases, this takes the form of notes pages that can be generated automatically from a PowerPoint presentation.

Why I did it: As a college instructor, I usually delivered some portion of my content via PowerPoint (I would approach this differently now, but that’s another subject for another time). Because I wanted students to pay attention to what I was saying, rather than scrambling to write everything down, I just gave them notes straight from the PowerPoints and made the slideshows available online as well. This system, I felt, made it easy to catch up students who had missed class, and it prevented students from missing important points made during the lecture.

What the research says: Since reading Make It Stick this past summer, I realize I was doing my students a big disservice by making things so easy for them. The book’s authors, who pull together years of brain research, maintain that when no effort is required in the learning process, learning doesn’t last very long. They cited one study where students were allowed to copy notes word-for-word on some material, but made to rephrase other material in their own words. When tested later, students did a far better job of recalling the latter—the material they had to put into their own words. Although it’s more convenient to provide notes for students, the lack of effort inherent in this arrangement handicaps them.

What to do instead: Teach note-taking skills. It’s going to be slow, but in the end, it will be worth it. Provide students with a variety of options for note-taking methods. Let them try a few and decide what’s right for them. Allow students to compare notes with each other, discuss them, and revise them. Another powerful way to support students in their note-taking is to provide them with pre-lecture diagrams, visual structures that help them understand the relationship between the concepts you’re about to teach.

Learn more:

Teaching Students to Take Better Notes: Notes on Notetaking, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Graduate Studies

Why Students Should be Taking Notes, by Maryellen Weimer, Faculty Focus

 

No-recess-for-you

3. Whole-Class Punishments

What it is: The teacher punishes the whole class for some behavior infraction committed by only some students. Often, this takes the form of a lost privilege, like recess.

Why I did it: I can’t even count how many times I did this. I would promise some kind of reward to the class, something along the lines of “If everyone works quietly for the next ___ minutes, I’ll give you five minutes of free time at the end of the period.” Then, as middle school kids tend to do, around half the class would fool around or get too noisy, and I’d announce that they had lost their free time. I did it because it was faster and easier than trying to figure out exactly who caused the disruptions; I knew it wasn’t everyone, but there were too many to count. Also, honestly, I often issued the threat of whole-class punishment hoping I wouldn’t have to enforce it.  I wanted to motivate them, to get them to behave in order to earn the reward. When it didn’t work and I had to crack down, I hoped the memory of the loss would get them in line the next time.

What the research says: In looking for research on the effectiveness of whole-class punishment, I came up empty-handed. There’s plenty of public opinion against the practice, but no formal research. (If readers of this post are aware of any, please post a link in the comments.) Still, some parallels can be drawn: Research on economic sanctions—where the government of one country penalizes another, often by withholding necessary resources from the whole country—has shown it to be largely ineffective, often creating new problems. Another study on collective punishment concluded that it is “fairly ineffective at best and strongly counterproductive at worst in shaping group behavior.” Even though specific research on whole-class punishment is lacking, it’s hard to argue with common sense: Many of us have been that kid who tries to behave but gets punished along with the class. Or maybe it’s our own child who has been put in that position. Even if you’re the one who causes the trouble, the weight of “ruining it for everyone” certainly won’t lead to healthier relationships with your peers.

What to do instead: The best way to deal with a rowdy class is prevention: If you have a lot of days when your whole class feels chaotic, this is symptomatic of a larger problem. It may be that your directions aren’t clear. Your students might be bored. You might need to build more opportunities for interaction and movement into your lessons. Or it might be time to re-establish clear behavior guidelines and consequences. When small disruptions do come up, it’s best to deal with them quickly before they grow into bigger problems; to achieve this, the Distract the Distractor method worked well for me. And on days when things did get out of hand, I started using a notebook strategy that got my emotions under control and allowed me to accurately pinpoint where the trouble was coming from. The two articles below offer other productive methods for dealing with large-scale disruption.

Learn more:

How to Handle Whole-Class Misbehavior, by Michael Linsin, Smart Classroom Management

Positive, Not Punitive, Classroom-Management Tips, by Larry Ferlazzo, Edutopia

 

learning-styles

4. Using Learning Styles to Plan Instruction

What it is: Because we were taught that every learner is either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic—learning best through seeing things, hearing things, or experiencing things, respectively—teachers may attempt to differentiate instruction by separating students into groups based on these tendencies. Other learning styles models also exist, each one offering labels to define how students process information. Once a student has been labeled with one particular learning style, the teacher attempts to adjust her teaching style to reach students through their identified learning mode.

Why I did it: This one I didn’t really do too much. What I did instead was beat myself up for not doing it. I was aware of learning styles, yes, and I’d even heard of diagnostic tools, tests you could give students to figure out what their style was. You could then take those results and plan instruction that perfectly fit each student’s preferred learning mode. I thought this was something I was supposed to be doing, but I never quite got around to it, and I felt bad about it. To be fair, I was always mindful of the need to present information in different ways. One case in point: As someone who has a lot of trouble following spoken instructions, I have always tried to include written instructions as well. Still, I never really felt competent in this area.

What the research says: Researchers in a 2008 study set out to find evidence that matching our teaching style to our students’ learning style results in greater learning gains. They looked at study after study and ultimately found nothing. No proof that this practice has any impact at all. Since then, other studies have confirmed these findings. Although personal experience may tell you that you do, in fact, learn better through different modalities, this is actually just a preference. There is no research that supports the idea that you actually learn better through that modality. And attempting to label students and narrow our teaching strategies with them can ultimately limit them, making them believe they are only capable of learning in one way.

What to do instead: Provide a variety of learning experiences to all students. Instead of spending time on learning styles inventories and stressing about how to evenly divide instructional time between the different groups, plan your instruction to reach all students through different pathways: Teaching students to recognize text structures will help them develop mental models for understanding challenging texts. Using culturally responsive teaching strategies will help students from all backgrounds absorb material more fully. The mind’s eye strategy has students visualize rich vocabulary in a text before they read it. And the concept attainment model requires students to begin constructing concepts before you even tell them what they are. In the same way that eating a variety of foods helps ensure you get all the nutrients you need, using a variety of instructional strategies will help you reach every student.

Learn more:

Learning Styles & the Importance of Critical Self-Reflection, TED Talk by Tesia Marshik

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students, by David Glenn, The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

pairings

5. “Differentiating” by Having Advanced Students Help Struggling Students

A.K.A. Peer Tutoring

What it is: The teacher plans a lesson aimed at his “middle group” of learners. Then, to provide extra assistance to students who need it and extra challenge for students who grasp the material quickly, the teacher plans to have students who finish the assigned task early help those who are behind.

Why I did it: It just made so much sense. I couldn’t be everywhere to help all the students who needed it, and my more advanced kids were just sitting around with nothing to do (red flag!!), so it seemed like an obvious solution. The kids who needed help got it, and the advanced kids got to learn the material really well by teaching it to someone else. Easy-peasy. Two birds killed with one stone. Differentiation, yes?

What the research says: No. Not differentiation. Although mixed-ability groups and tutoring can benefit the students who need the help to some degree, these arrangements do very little for the advanced student. In order to receive appropriate challenge, high-ability or gifted students need regular opportunities to be grouped with like-ability peers. Having advanced students do this kind of tutoring doesn’t necessarily do them any harm, but if this practice is overused, it takes the place of true differentiated instruction, offering learning experiences that would challenge these students at an appropriate level.

What to do instead: It’s perfectly reasonable to have higher-ability students help other students occasionally; all students should share their unique gifts with their peers. Just don’t call this differentiation. To meet the needs of all learners, try strategies recommended by Carol Ann Tomlinson in her book, The Differentiated Classroom, including learning stations, tiered assignments, orbital studies, and learning agendas, where students are given a list of tasks to complete in whatever order they want over a period of several weeks, much like the kind of personalized agendas given to students in Montessori classrooms.

Learn more:

My View: Ten Myths about Gifted Students and Programs for Gifted, by Carolyn Coil, CNN Schools of Thought

What It Means to Teach Gifted Learners Well, by Carol Ann Tomlinson, National Association for Gifted Children

 


So where do you stand on all this? Have you already abandoned the use of these practices? Do you plan on making any changes? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.


 


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Jennifer Gonzalez

Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy
Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

Latest posts by Jennifer Gonzalez (see all)

Jennifer Gonzalez

Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

85 Comments

  1. Excellent article and podcast. I had read earlier about the learning styles movement being debunked buy research. Has there been a lot of pushback about that in the learning community or personally for you? (We do have a few sacred cows in our business).

    • We’ll see. I literally just learned about that one this summer…it was a surprise to me, but like I said on the podcast, I’d had my reservations before. I think the researchers who did that 2009 study got some pushback, but I don’t think anyone has been able to produce conclusive evidence to the contrary. I suspect I’ll get some pushback here sooner or later.

      • My co- teacher and I do personality surveys to determine learning preferences,and then, group students into what are called SiLK (Spatial, Linguistic, and Kinesthetic learners) groups, taken from research-based co-teacher training by Rick Welsh. Students aren’t taught in homogenous groups based on their learning style. The SiLK groups then work together using their strengths to help each other and learn from each other. There is much more to this instructional method than I can explain here in just a few short sentences. However, I believe if done correctly, learning styles can be effective.

        • Christy, my son is has a LD and he is a Kinesthetic learner. He has been tested he is currently in the 7th grade reading on a 4.5 grade level. I’ve been trying to get him help for a couple of years from his school with accommodations, but they state his grades are good. Will you give me some things we can do at home to support his learning style etc. and improve his reading comprehension. A helpful link. Anyone? Thank you.

          • I used to teach middle school ELA and now I teach 4th grade. I’ve been teaching since 1996. I’m guessing his lexile is in the 700 range but grade level would be closer to a 1,000. I am also guessing that he may not read for pleasure, based on boys I knew at that age who were kinesthetic and below grade level readers. Since his attention for reading may be limited I recommend focusing on non-fiction since his reading skills will impact his ability to comprehend high school and college level texts, most of which are non-fiction. A good resource is newsela.com. You can adjust the reading level of current news articles from 700 to about a 1000 as he improves. There are questions to test his comprehension, I strongly believe students should read 30-60 minutes per day outside of school to improve as readers. I also recommend audiobooks at grade level because they will improve his vocabulary, which will impact his reading. A child stuck at the fourth grade level usually struggles with multi-syllabic words. The program Rewards is very good at helping with this. Studying Latin and Greek roots also helps with vocabulary and multi-syllabic words. At home you can help him develop his vocabulary and knowledge about the world. Improving these will improve his reading comprehension. If his problems are more serious the program that I know of that has the best reputation is Lindamood-Bell. This is more though for those with diagnosed dyslexia. Good luck. -Temple S. n CA

        • Hi Julie! I’m glad that helps! I am always bothered when I learn about something I “shouldn’t” be doing in the classroom, but don’t know what to do instead, so I wanted to provide useful alternatives.

    • Great article! I actually just wrote a similar blog post about your #1 kick to the curb, and would love for you to link it too…in my post, I list 19 reasons why Round Robin (and other turn-taking) Reading is *not* a best practice. The post URL is bit.ly/nomoreRRR

      Thanks,
      Jen Jones

      • Hey Jen Jones! Thanks so much for contributing this to the conversation. I clicked over and read it and it’s a great post, with even more suggested alternatives to RRR. Anyone here interested in reading more should definitely take a look!

    • I started teaching in 1978. Yes. I have done every one of these ineffective teaching methods. I knew they were ineffective, but I couldn’t figure out what else to do, especially in large, noisy classes. I am retired now, but I could have used some of your alternative methods 37 years ago! Thank goodness they are there for new teachers now.

    • I see a lot of it in preference. There are students who learn better one way or another, but that is because they CHOOSE to focus on what is being taught. It goes back to preference

  2. I love this post because it deals with some of the teaching practices which on the surface seem appropriate and logical, but which can actually be counterproductive or even useless. I’d never head the term ‘popcorn’ reading either, but as an ESL/EFL teacher I certainly had experience with that going around the room reading technique – thankfully after years of experience, training, and PD, I don’t set my students up to fail by employing that method, but I think it’s still the very common practice amongst newbie teachers. By the way, I really appreciate how you integrate educational research into your posts, it really elevates the content on your blog and makes it a great resource – thanks!

  3. Excellent post– once again, perfectly concise. I have to add one exception to #2, providing notes. I agree with you, mainly because I’ve found that when they get the notes, they rarely look at them; also, as they’re writing them down it’s just one more avenue for them to absorb the information. My caveat: I have a class of 6th graders who are fairly new English speakers. I like to keep my powerpoints as text-free as possible (thank you Zen Presentation– added bonus, text-free slides allow you to use the same PPTs for all levels, you just differentiate by what you say). The other day I did a lecture where I handed out their notes first, so they could see the words in front of them as I covered each topic, they knew where to find them in the notes after that, and we could all practice saying the words together. When I finished the lecture with review questions, they could look down at their list of vocab to help them remember. It worked beautifully.

    • It sounds like you’re applying this strategy thoughtfully, Abby. It also sounds like your ELL students are actually engaging with these printed notes. Some teachers will leave blank spaces on pre-made notes where key vocabulary terms need to go and have students fill these in as the lecture moves along. This builds in more engagement from students, and the physical act of writing down those key terms will add an extra layer of participation for students. Have you tried that?

      • I’ll offer another caveat to notes: students with ADHD or certain types of LDs may not have the attention or writing ability to pick out main idea and supporting detail during a lecture. Scaffolding notes for them, where you give them the main headings and they fill in the points, is one way to go with that. Another way is to provide them with the scaffolded notes to fill in during the lecture, and then a checklist at the end to make sure they got all the important points; they have to cross-reference the two.

    • As a teacher of English as a Second Language at the university level, I particularly appreciated the references you found supporting the abandonment of Round Robin reading–much better than the ones I could dig up to contribute to a thread on a professional mailing list.
      Regarding note taking, my Intensive Reading students’ favorite form of it was to snap photos of the blackboard with their cellphones, which didn’t seem interactive enough to me. Our classroom routine was for them to read a somewhat difficult, but heavily annotated passage from the textbook as homework and to e-mail me their questions about it several days before the next class session. Based on those questions, I would put together a handout comprising bare-bones notes with room for them to provide their own examples of whatever grammar or vocabulary point had been raised by a classmate. Of course, the lecture contained lots of pauses during which they could come up with examples, individually or in pairs, while I moved through the room to check on comprehension. Not only were students more engaged in compiling their notes, but they began better to appreciate the questions about the text that had been raised by their classmates, I think.

  4. I’ve done all of these except #5. As a student, English teachers often gave me assignments to help peers. I think they meant well and thought they were complimenting me. I mostly thought it was a pain in the butt. Isn’t it interesting how our experiences as student shape us as teachers?

    • Absolutely! So many of my own teaching decisions were influenced by my experiences as a student. I’ve found it’s like that with parenting as well. I think you’re right about teachers thinking they’re complimenting the advanced students with this move, and as a student, I didn’t mind it too terribly (maybe because it wasn’t overused?) but it would have been pretty amazing if I had been given truly challenging material in the subjects where I really was advanced.

      • As a teacher of the gifted, discouraging classroom teachers from implementing “peer tutoring” was a battle I constantly fought. Our state gifted coordinator referred to the practice as “brain pimping”. Gifted students deserve to be challenged in their learning, and struggling students deserve to be taught by a “real” teacher and not a 10-year-old classmate.

    • I didn’t like having to help all the time either. Most of the time I was finished and would much rather have spent the time reading. However now I am a special education teacher and absolutely love it! My teachers helped give me a ton of compassion and helped me see everyone can get it they just need some extra time and help!

  5. Excellent article! Some real surprises for me. I appreciated the research and the “what to do instead” suggestions, all with links. Sharing!

  6. Another great post! This one will be added to my instructional planning course for secondary pre-service teachers. It is difficult to change practice or to not repeat what has been seen. I appreciate the format of this because it helps explain why someone might use the strategy and why it can/should be abandoned.

      • Hi! I’m currently a junior in college studying to be a high school Biology and Piano teacher. I thoroughly enjoy reading these types of articles from well-seasoned and experienced teachers so that I can glean as much wisdom and advice as I can before I finish school and go into the field as a real teacher! Great read!

  7. …found your information helpful, as usual, Jennifer, and wanted to add a “yes, and…” to points 3, 4 and 5. Yes, one of the reasons learning style research (point 4) is being questioned is because the definitions of the styles are different in each study. And multisensory learning, similar in terminology to learning styles with the sense of smell and taste added, is still useful–even required–when differentiating (point 5) instruction in classes that include ESL/ELL students, as well as students with sight or hearing impairments, language-based learning disabilities, cognitive challenges, ADD/ADHD, and so on. In our efforts to “teach more; talk less” Michael Grinder also recommends that you “go visual” with instruction whenever possible for clarity and efficiency because many teachers are primarily auditory with instructions (less effective), and we all know students don’t move enough (tactile-kinesthetic processing mode) in class, which is a detriment to development, understanding, and engagement. So, even though learning style research is refuted, multisensory learning is still important. Your excellent point about using multiple learning experiences is solid and I wanted to point at the terms used for learning styles–sight, sound, etc.–are the same used in multisensory learning and still necessary considerations.

    Yes!, point 3 is critical, especially given the same offenders are targeted repeatedly for causing the whole-class punishment. And in schools where rewards are encouraged–or even required–as part of school-wide behavior plans (even though Alfie Kohn and others convincingly question effectiveness), group rewards where all students are recognized for “earning” the reward is better than punishment. Paula Kluth writes that this is a way to turn the chronic offenders into heroes in the eyes of the class when they “earn” a marble or other step towards a preferred class activity (that reinforces the lesson) at the end of class.

    Thanks, Jennifer, for another helpful article! –Kevin

    • Hi Kevin! Thanks for adding more elaboration to the topic of learning styles and multisensory learning. I do hope I was clear that teachers should still definitely be delivering content through a variety of channels. I was unaware that there was a distinct school of thought called multisensory learning, although it’s pretty intuitive, so thank for introducing that here. I did a quick search and found this article on the multisensory approach from Landmark School Outreach Program that has some great free downloadable resources that are applicable across content areas and grade levels.

  8. Excellent post Jennifer. You had the courage to say what a lot of us think about these practices in a way that is not to make anyone feel gulity about having used them. You also offered interesting alternatives. I particularly enjoyed rading #5, one of my biggest pet peeves. Students are not challenged appropriatey by providing peer tutoring. When doing so, we simply admit that we do not know of a better way to provide them with an interesting challenge. Thank you for writing and sharing!

    • Romain, I appreciate your saying that bit about not making people feel guilty. I tried very hard to accomplish that, because I’ve found people are much less willing to grow and change when they feel criticized and defensive. All five of these are so common and such natural responses to instructional and discipline situations we may be ill-equipped to respond to, so no one should feel guilty about using them…well, maybe if they keep them up after reading this, they should feel a little guilty!

  9. Well written and researched, Jennifer. I’m particularly happy that you addressed #4. Here we are, though, almost a decade after this concept was initially debunked and yet it persists in education. Jack

  10. I enjoyed the post very much. It was thoughtful, researched based and well written.
    I teach middle school math and several years ago I began teaching my students to put, what I called “thought bubbles” alongside the examples and definitions in their notes. After giving an example, I would ask the students what they thought was important to remember and then have the kids write that in their thought bubbles. At first we would do this as a class, but as the year progressed I began pausing to give students time to do this on their own and then they could share their ideas with the class if they wanted to.
    I also am not a fan of having students of higher ability tutor those that are struggling. Instead I like to give those kids with higher ability the chance to work together, they challenge each other and I can differentiate by giving those students more challenging problems to work on, this frees me up to work with struggling students.

    • Kyle, I love that thought bubble idea. If you are able to take a few pictures of these with students’ notes inside, I would love to see them and share them here.

  11. Your post is timely indeed. I just read a Tobias Wolff short story aloud with my class using the “popcorn” strategy (a senior English class) and vowed afterwards never to do it again. In fact, I reread the story aloud a second time the next class meeting due to the fact that I thought, myself, the story was very hard to follow when there were a lot of different readers involved. In short, it just kind of ruined the story, too–no offense to students–to have so many readers taking a stab. I agree that if older students are still learning things like voice, cadence, etc. that teacher read-alouds can be a good way to instruct. Just plain old modeling. I have my doubts about another teaching strategy, too: the jigsaw puzzle, which in my experience often gives students incomplete access to important parts of the curriculum, especially if assigned individuals or groups do not present their information to the class in a way they can easily understand. Personally, when I was in a jigsaw group, I chose to read everything myself, to make sure I completely understood everything, so while I believe in sharing work and collaborating, I also think we need to give students access to complete texts. Just a thought.

    • David, your experience with the Tobias Wolff story is powerful. And Tobias Wolff stories are so rich…what a shame that students had a lukewarm first experience with that one! About the Jigsaw issue: I felt the same way. I did more research and discovered I wasn’t quite doing it right. Jigsaw also has a few other variations that further strengthen learning and accountability that I was unaware of. So I put everything I learned in a post all about the Jigsaw Method. It includes a step-by-step video showing you how to do it. I’d love to hear if there is anything in the article or video that might make the strategy work better for you.

  12. great ideas, and the initial consideration that teacher’s reach the way they were taught seems to be the hurdle for growth and expansion implementing new strategies…Teach BE-Cause addresses the inward journey to outward change! I invite you to give it look. Peace in, everyone!

  13. I just forwarded this to colleagues and got some questions about 4 and 5… I “clarified” them from my understanding and then thought, hmmm, I should see if that’s what the author is actually thinking:

    People’s surprise at 4 and 5 is in part because of the specificity of the author’s wording.

    As to number 4- learning styles- there is, according to John Hattie, “zero evidence” of effectiveness for matching student learning styles to instructional techniques. HOWEVER, there is lots of evidence for using multiple learning strategies. That is, it’s actually critical to have students have multiple exposures to material with different methods. There’s just no evidence that matching learning styles to instruction is valuable.

    For number 5, there is a LOT of evidence in favor of peer work and even peer tutoring (.54 for peer tutoring according to Hattie’s meta-analysis and .59 for cooperative work). The author seems to be stating that peer tutoring just shouldn’t count as your “differentiation.” It’s not offering differentiation, though it has other benefits like offering multiple exposures to the information.

    Did I clarify correctly??

  14. I do read aloud with students in class…middle school Language arts….and we read every novel aloud in class together. I let students read for a substantial amount of time…two, three, four pages or until a logical point where I call on another student. Everyone reads aloud in my class. I give my students who are not as fluent the others a heads up the day before as to what they will read the next day so that they can practice it at home. (And they do!) I don’t care if others read ahead as long as they don’t give anything away to others and will turn back to read aloud when I call on them. We discuss what we read along the way. They ask questions…I ask questions. We enjoy the book together and I don’t have to worry about anyone not doing the reading as homework. It is slower going but I think it pays off. And my readers who aren’t as fluent as the others? They all read FLUENTLY by the end of the year and they ASK to read aloud and they know how good they sound when they read. That is the pay off for me. 🙂

    • Hey Jen,

      It sounds like you’re having a lot of success with this approach. I think it would be worthwhile for you to ask your students how they feel about it, or whether any of them would prefer a different method. As long as they are comfortable giving honest feedback, you may find that some would prefer to read the text on their own. If some really do enjoy it, you may be able to separate students into two groups–those who prefer to read on their own (maybe with earplugs?) and those who like reading aloud.

      • I hated the round robin reading at school, even multiple pages at a time. I’ve never been a full time, trained teacher, but I have helped out by taking a grand total of twelve classes this year (not enough to have any real knowledge of classrooms). My primary interaction with any kind of student has been helping kids informally, mainly to learn to enjoy reading.

        The biggest problem I’ve run across is that hearing only a chapter a day makes them lose interest, and they can’t follow a plot to the end. When they learn to read at their own pace, in their own time, they finally see a story as something that sticks together outside the teacher’s notes, and I love it. I find it sad how any interest the students once had in the story was lost by the fact that it took so long to get through it in class, the other readers were boring, and school virtually punishes you for reading the whole set book ahead of time.

        Something I’ve done with the kids I’ve helped is I’ve helped find a book at their level that interests them (usually one I’ve read), and then had them read it in their own time, and when I see them, I ask them how far they are, and discuss themes and characters up to that point. Unfortunately, classrooms don’t seem to allow that kind of flexibility.

        Thank you for a wonderful article.

  15. Thanks so much, the podcast was great and didn’t feel like you were just reading from your post. You mentioned in the podcast a book about giving better presentations. Was that another post or a book you read? Also it would be interesting to have another perspective to give a little discussion in the podcasts. See The Ihnatko Almanac as an example (not educationally related but similar in style of just thoughts of one person with someone else to make it a conversation).

  16. ” these arrangements do very little for the advanced student.”
    There is more to learning than learning. this teaches the more advanced student to be a leader, to guide someone, it teaches them social skills and reinforces what they already know. it teaches them to empathize with others and work together. Hardly very little in my books.

    • I understand what you are saying, but having higher students work with lower students as a regular thing is not beneficial for them. You are right, they do learn great leadership skills (and patience!), but they also need time to learn at their level and be challenged in that sense too.

    • I help out in my son’s class during group time (the whole school does differentiated reading groups over three rotations). The kids who aren’t at a reading group are working on things that have already been assigned. When they finish up they are supposed to have free reading time, but are sometimes told to help those who aren’t finished yet. The teacher is busy and doesn’t see that many of the helpers “help” by just saying oh it’s this and sometimes even just take the paper and write it out for the other student if they are being too slow or not getting it. This kind of help is something we can do without.

  17. I really appreciate your thoughts and the links embedded in this post, Jennifer. This year, I have entered a new-to-me grade at a new-to-me school, and in the newness of it all, I found that I was having some doubts about my pedagogy, especially in reading instruction. You see, I went in wanting to glean all of the information that I could from my fellow second grade teacher and the teacher who I was replacing, because they both have many more years of teaching experience than I do. It seemed logical and respectful to hear them out. This is what I heard: workbooks, basal readers, no reading groups, round robin reading. I was disappointed and confused. I knew that these things felt to me to be out of touch and outmoded. I knew that I had been educated in a fine and progressive education school. But still, I began to doubt. They held to their beliefs to strongly. To them, workbooks were better than hunting down random resources online. Basal readers were aligned to the curriculum and offered a shared reading experience. Round robin reading gave everyone a chance to participate, and unlike independent reading time (which is my preference) you could tell if the students were actually reading. Differentiated reading groups “tracked” students and made the highest groups feel superior and the lowest of the low feel like dimwits.
    Hearing this was confusing.
    It felt bad and uncomfortable to rub up against these “old school” ways of instructing. They were counter-intuitive to my own experience in the classroom, but they were the same methods of instruction that I had experienced when I was a young girl. And I turned out okay, right? Education has only gone down hill from then, right?
    I was beginning to doubt myself. You’ve given me the research to support my gut feeling. I was taught what is best and most beneficial for my students at university. I have seen it myself when I implement best practice in the classroom. But for some reason, I didn’t have the ammo I needed. Now, with your research in hand, I feel like I can very easily justify my teaching methods to my colleagues and to myself. Thank you for the well-thought out words you have written here and the well-researched additional resources you have included.

  18. #3 reminded me a bit of The Good Behavior Game, which is not whole class punishment, but there are parallels to be drawn. It does have a fair amount of research that supports its use for increasing on task behavior. It may be worth mentioning as an “alternative” to whole class punishment: Half class reward.

  19. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this article!!!!! I agree that all five of these might be OK every once in a blue moon, but they should no longer be the norm.

  20. I teach in a Technical school and we receive very little info about where our students stand with their literacy skills. I use “popcorn” reading at the start of the year, having the students read from the Student Handbook after I randomly pick them to read. I use this to get a general idea where each student stands with their reading ability. If a student is having a hard time I will not pick them again to avoid humiliating them. Is this a bad idea if I only employ it once each year?

    • Great question, Michael. Once a year doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, except for the fact that those who lack reading proficiency will have that momentary humiliation to deal with, which isn’t the greatest way to start the year in your class.

      An alternative that would allow them to skip the embarrassment would be to get the whole class started on some kind of project that will generate some level of noise in the classroom, then have individual students sit with you for 2 minutes each and read something to you without having the whole class as an audience. If it were me, I would just be transparent about my goal, telling students that I’d like to hear them read to see what their skill level is. Before having them start, I would even ask them to tell me how confident they are in their reading skills.

      After having them read–especially if they struggle–I would ask how they feel they did, and what they think they need help with. This turns the same kind of assessment into something that’s more collaborative between you and the student and is likely to feel less threatening. Obviously this will take longer than a single session of popcorn reading (maybe several class periods compared to 15 minutes), but you’ll be building trust with those students and laying the groundwork for a year when they will see you as someone who really wants to help them improve.

  21. Thank you for posting this! This article reiterated what I felt in my teaching heart. I too have unfortunately used several of these strategies in my class but I knew they were wrong. It is great that you have the research included that takes it beyond my feelings to the actual science. This is an article that I plan to share!

  22. Thank you for this post. I’d like to add another “kick to the curb” practice. Jigsaw research projects with presentations (clarifier: in science). I see my fellow teachers asking students to research a particular topic within a theme then present what they learned to their classmates. I find that all this does is take the misconceptions one students has or develops and spreads it to other students. And if you as teacher try to correct the misconception later, you embarrass the students who got it wrong the first time. Not to say that jigsaws don’t have a place, but as with any practice in teaching it must be carefully used. I love to hear what others do instead….

  23. THANK YOU! I am nearing the end of my teacher education program. We are being taught to do these things. But in my gut, it felt so wrong for exactly the reasons you’ve listed. Your post has given voice to my concerns.

      • Hi. Great article. I spend a lot of time trying to get my graduate special education students to understand the myth of learning styles. I flip when I see it taught in the education program at my university. So, yes it is still taught. I also encounter it in in services I have delivered. There has also been a misuse of Gardner’s 7 intelligences.

  24. Wow what a refreshing approach. My son is in the 11th grade and is still dealing with teachers who have this old school mindset. As a parent I thank u for this article.

  25. Great information! I am currently reading Make It Stick and have changed many of my teaching practices, especially in strategies for studying. I use popcorn reading during reading and writing workshop. Students just pop up when they want to read their own writing. No one is forced to read and everyone who does want to read just pops up when no one else is standing, and starts reading. My sixth graders love it!

  26. I have 2 perfect examples of how whole group punishment does NOT work. When my oldest son was in middle school, boys were required to wear belts with their shirts tucked in. As could be expected, each day about 10 boys of the 150 in eighth grade showed up without a belt. The principal tried many methods to get them all to wear a belt, to no avail. His final effort was to not allow any boy in 8th grade to have break if more than 5 boys showed up without a belt. Within a week, I noticed that my son had quit wearing a belt. When I asked him why, his reply was, “Why should I? I’m not going to get break anyway. I might as well not be miserable in a belt all day for nothing.”
    Another son in 5th grade had a teacher that would give assigned seats at lunch if the class got a certain number of strikes. With an additional number of strikes, students would have silent lunch. I overhead my 5th grader plotting with a friend in the class about getting silent lunch for the whole class. When I inquired about their desire for silent lunch, they replied, “If we have to sit in assigned seats, she puts us in between the bad kids, who spit in our food and put their hands on us. If we have silent lunch, she will watch closer to make sure they don’t talk, so they won’t mess with us. If we get assigned seat strikes, we make sure we get enough strikes for silent lunch, too.”
    Obviously, these methods were completely ineffective and actually caused students who normally follow the rules to become non-compliant.

  27. Hi. I’m the author of one of the articles you cited above about learning styles. Here is the citation for my most recent peer reviewed article on the subject (and two more will come out in the next year or two, all with similar findings):

    Cuevas, J. A. (2015). Is learning styles-based instruction effective? A comprehensive analysis of recent research on learning styles. Theory and Research in Education, 13(3). 308-333. doi: 10.1177/1477878515606621 http://tre.sagepub.com/content/current

      • Thank you Jennifer.

        I believe that you accurately summarized the current research on learning styles in your piece above.

        One of my main concerns as a professor, former high school teacher, and teacher of teachers is that the term “research-based” is too often used to justify practices that are not at all research-based. It is often nothing more than a label attached to strategies that are advocated for in commercial “how-to” books and workshops (read: profit-making entities) or anecdotal accounts written up as essays in practitioner journals. The problem with this is threefold- 1) the practices in question are not actually supported by research, such as the case with learning styles, and are likely a waste of time or possibly detrimental, 2) those practices that research does support go unused and therefore students don’t see the benefit of them, and 3) educators end up not understanding the difference between research-based and non-research-based strategies and either become skeptical of research or learn to distrust the entire concept of research-based instruction.

        It’s important that research and instruction come together and that educators gain a better understanding of what science tells us about how humans learn.

  28. Good article. I have been blessed to never have been required to use a basal reader. I search all the time for excellent chapter books. While I don’t do round robin reading, I do assign reading and we meet together to share our feelings about what we’ve read. As my students get more and more into stories, this can take some time. From time to time in our fifth grade, I pick out conversation and assign parts. I started this after realizing that literally half my class or more did not realize who was speaking in heavy dialogue. How in the world can you understand the story if you don’t know who is speaking? I’ve even gone so far as to have them dress the part. In Becoming Naomi Leon, Gran stuck curlers on his/her head, etc. Reading dialogue and understanding who said what really improved. I expose all my children to different styles of learning-singing, signing, acting it out, game playing, handwork, writing. We do a lot of interactive simulation games where the product reflects the child’s own way of expressing what is known and understood. As to making it stick, I believe finding fun ways to review is the answer, regardless of your learning style. We work throughout the year on saying what is most important about what was learned in a five line paragraph, then one sentence, then the essence in a word. This is also a very helpful strategy. Love all the sharing we are able to do these days.

  29. This is the third time I’ve read this post since it was published – lots of good information and the comments are helpful too.
    This time, I had a memory from 1972, when I was in 2nd grade. We were learning how to add larger numbers where it was necessary to “carry.” (I’m not sure if it is called something else now.) I remember struggling, and my teacher asked another second grade student to help me. The student was able to explain it to me, and (obviously) I’ve never forgotten that hearing how to do it in the words of a peer worked perfectly for me.
    This was not “differentiating” for advanced learners, but that was the topic that brought back the memory. I just wanted to share this, as it reminded me that often other students have the words that teachers may have forgotten or can’t think of, and peer teaching can be a lovely thing.
    I really appreciate your articles Jennifer, and how you are so forthcoming in acknowledging that you (and most readers) have used these methods at some time in our practice. Teaching is not something that we will ever perfect, so it is great to have someone like you who takes the time to post about practices we should consider as we all try to improve. This is my 30th year, and I hope I retire (or they kick me out) the day I think I know it all. Cheers to lifelong learning!
    Thank you!

  30. Very nice! I am glad to see some more information on the learning style issue. I attended professional development this past summer that included the debunking of the learning styles myth. We watched a short clip that ended with the line,”you do not need to adjust your teaching to match student’s learning styles.” You could have heard a pin drop!

  31. Very informative. With the kind of learners we are handling in the 21st century, it is good to stop and question our teaching practices.

  32. It’s an amazing article all these things were used by me but fortunately atleast now I have found this.thanks a lot for ur wonderful article to share with us

  33. Jennifer,
    I appreciate that in this article you have not only said what not to do, but gave some great alternatives. It is so hard to read an article saying “Never do this in your classroom” and then walk away scratching your head about what to do instead. Thank you for sharing these helpful insights!

  34. I’ve learned so much from this article. Most of what’s in here wasn’t taught in class.

  35. I would add two things. One is that as the student who was pretty much doing what I was supposed to 99% of the time, I appreciated when my teachers did “whole class” “punishments.” It was better than dealing with the classmates who were out of control. I have also observed as a teacher that my students who rarely cause trouble never complain about the “whole class consequences.” It was only the students who actually caused the problems who complained. The second is that there is actually a huge advantage to a higher student helping a struggling student, I did this as the “higher student.” Teaching requires the highest level of thinking. When your advanced student is helping another student they are actually using high level thinking. They also are actively thinking of another way to solve or understand the problem their peer is struggling with. Most likely the reason the research doesn’t show this is because sometimes the advanced student is being allowed to give the struggling student the answer (doing the work twice) instead of reteaching them.

  36. Heading into my 32nd year of teaching and believing that I am a life-long learner who wants to continually refine my practice, I found your article to be one of the most helpful and interesting articles I have read in a long time. The links you’ve provided to videos and other articles and resources are much appreciated. Thanks!

  37. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I appreciate your honest take on these practices. I am so pleased to read your list as I try to apply and teach future teachers. I feel as if you read my mind! Thank you again!

  38. I was the high school student who counted a head to see which paragraph I had to read. I was in honors classes and could read well above grade level but I’d never heard some of the words or names or places used in conversation. Yes, I am the student who got snickers from others in the class when I pronounced Hippocrates as Hippo crAtes. Fifty years later, I still remember that day and others like it.

  39. Hi, Jennifer!
    Thank you for writing this article! My principal shared it with the whole faculty.

    I really like your suggestion of not using Pop-Corn reading because it does not directly teach reading comprehension skills.

    In addition to your other strategies, I wanted to add Visible Reading as an alternative to Pop-Corn reading. In Visible Reading, the teacher’s role is to model the reading decisions a reader makes when constructing text. As the teacher reads a sentence that is complex, the teacher stops and explains the reading decision she would make to comprehend the text. The students then collaboratively apply the reading decision to that sentence. The teacher lets students work as she monitors their process. Once the sentence is correctly comprehended, the teacher moves onto the next sentence and repeats the process.

    I have videos of my students working and have described the process in greater detail here http://www.empoweringells.com/2016/09/02/a3-making-reading-visible-to-ells/ I also referenced this article in my post as an example of a non-effective reading instruction.

    THANK YOU for your contribution to the field of education, Jennifer. I just found about your site 4 months ago, and I feel like it was an engaging college course in pedagogy.

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