Nine ‘Outstanding’ Teaching Skills Shared by ‘Exceptional’ First-Grade Teachers
When looking at various careers, there are some that get instant
|Teaching the Little Scientist|
Back in 1998, the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement conducted a longitudinal study best teaching practices, to find out the key skills or traits held by highly successful first-grade teachers across the United States. Why? What can or should we all learn from these ‘exceptional’ first grade teachers? In truth, the study has proved to be sage advice since it was published, a primer for pre-service teachers, trainee teachers and yes even veteran teachers. Improving the teachers we already have is a critical goal for all schools that are preparing tomorrows leaders. Today, we will reexamine the nine traits that were shared by all if these outstanding teachers and the common themes that appeared in the 1998 study. In all of the classrooms chosen, the students were seeing huge success; the majority of all students were reading and writing above their current level in schools. Without further ado, let’s take a look!
Excellent Classroom Management - For a class to be efficient, engaged, and productive, classroom management is essential, yet sadly, it is something that not all teachers have a firm handle on. In the most effective classrooms, student behavior, engagement, cooperative exploration, dialogue, Socratic investigation, and depth of learning was “managed” as well as the joy and happiness of the students. In addition to this, administrators, librarians, specialists and instructional aides were also used to engage students in a harmonious school environment. The students learning and engagement is the top priority in a school that uses exceptional classroom management techniques. Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures, Whole Brain Teaching, Socratic Seminars, and hands-on multisensory engagement protocols are a critical part of Reading Boot Camps Outstanding teaching practices!
When effective classroom management “engaged minds” isn't in place, a classroom can quickly get out of hand and then nobody in the room is benefiting and the students aren't learning. Sometimes, teachers will have one method of keeping the class under control. However, students soon learn to work around this and then the teacher is left demoralized. With outstanding teachers, they have a variety of methods to keep a class engaged, curious, learning, and yes under control and prevent huge distractions that waste instructional time that is even more precious in today’s high stakes environment.
Ability to Motivate - Next up, the best teachers find a multiple ways to create a learning environment were the students work conscientiously for themselves as well as the teacher. The allusive intrinsic motivation is a worthy and critical skill that must be developed and internalized in all students. Students are supposed to take ownership of their education, work hard, stay curious and be intrinsically motivated, right! Teachers need to stay curious, continuously work on improving their skills, read, read, and get inspired and stay motivated by studying other outstanding teachers. Success really does breeds success! If a non-skilled teacher was to teach in the average classroom, the students might do as they are told for a while, but as soon as the teacher leaves, work would come to an end, they would start talking to their friends, and it would be bedlam. With the best teachers, they have an ability to keep students motivated even when they leave the room or even more impressive when they are out sick. Strengthening Pedagogical Knowledge is critical for all teachers, yet reading self improvement books is also a big priority for me to stay motivated! I read books like, John Medina’s- Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School," Steven Covey’s- "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Sean Covey’s-"The 7 Habits Of Happy Kids."
Intrinsic motivation “self persuasion” is vital to lifelong learning, understanding, and enduring curiosity, this is pivotal because students need to know how to learn “alone” rather than relying on the teacher always being there. Dump truck pedagogy or teachers filling the empty bucket is fraught with peril for future success, students with without :self persuasion: skills leaves students at risk for failure when challenges arise. As students grow older, the teacher will have less one-to-one time and less engagement so developing intrinsic motivation in a student at a young age will give them the thirst for knowledge and academic challenges.
Teaching in Context - When teaching, good teachers will allow the students to discover the basics in a student centered environment. After leaving the classroom, they should then be able to apply this whether it is numeracy, literacy, or any other topic. With a great teacher, it is always hands on first, not about learning from a worksheet or a list of words, but exploring the ideas and phenomena in context. Often, the complaint about education is that it bears no relevance to the real world. Even in the first grade, context is very important laying the foundation for further learning and building critical background knowledge. Reading poignant books or singing emotional songs creates a 1,000 teachable moments. Reading aloud daily with your class and discussing the literacy devices, language, vocabulary, the authors inferred ideas, themes, perspectives, and feelings it invokes. Teaching in context prepares students for a more rote education that comes later. If they go through the education system thinking ‘what is the point?’, this thought will only get stronger as time goes on.
For example, most classes have vocabulary, spelling, writing activities, and reading comprehension skills taught daily as part of grade level standards. In order to prepare students for the next level, but teachers that focus on contextual teaching will integrate this knowledge to real reading and writing tasks. If they learn about a certain feature of fictional writing, this would then be followed with a real example in a popular book. As soon as they see it in action, they see why they are learning it and will have the ability to apply it outside the classroom.
Focus on Literature - When we think back to our own education, it is quite easy to recall times where we read a favorite books series; for many years, this has been a staple of school life. Today smart phones, video games, and cable TV stand in for amusement and diversion, reading for enjoyment and getting lost in a great book or series is lost in many classrooms today. This being said, a key trait in an outstanding teacher is to put a significant emphasis on real literature whilst digging deeper into the authors view points, explicit or inferred ideas, opinions, language, and literary devices used to learn why they wrote what they wrote and how it was written. By completing comprehensive literature studies that are integrated with multiple subjects, themes, ideas, students develop a deeper perspective on literary elements and literary devises, close reading comprehension strategies, and they expand their language and oracy skills exponentially. Reading Boot Camp is based on a concentrated focus on contextual language development “oracy” and deep integrated literature studies spiraled through Socratic inquiry process.
Of course, this can be fairly limited with students in the first grade and it won’t involve long essays but this is still improving their understanding. Over the years, there has been a criticism that students are taught to remember “rote learning” rather than actual hands on learning. For example, repeating a set of sight words over and over again will certainly help a kindergartner remember their sight words. However, they won’t be able to understand how to use the words in context. If you want them to be able to read sight words and build background knowledge, you have to teach them the ‘what, how, where, and the why the word is used’; why does the word “look” have multiple meaning? Without this information, how can students work out what the word ‘look’ means in a sentence? With literacy, this is critical to teach reading with an emphases on spiraling contextual examples, and what may be even more important is building oracy and dialogue skills built around literature. Literature studies help student develop critical thinking skills, empathy, reasoning, and it is something that all outstanding teachers do.
Positive Atmosphere - Let’s not forget, these 1st grade students are only six years of age and they have spent the majority of their life free from educational requirements or any type of restriction on their curiosity. The good old days before Common Core and test prep. Therefore, they need the same safe and secure environment that they should be getting at home. Gobs of positive behavior support, a nurturing atmosphere, and building on the positive encouragement they may or may not have receive at home. Manners and positive behaviors that are experienced and practiced become habits. If there are the odd discipline problems, they can be handled with care to improve the relationships between students rather than allowing them to deteriorate early.
When students achieve an academic goal or exhibit a positive behavior, this achievement is shared with the class and praised in person, this creates an atmosphere where all good deeds and work is appreciated and acknowledged. Soon enough, the students will be encouraging each other without any input from the teacher and the whole classroom feeds off of positivity. Creating a positive culture of praise and positive feedback that celebrates academic and behavioral goals is a classroom game changer! Corrective feedback from teachers and peers in a supportive atmosphere should be a classroom norm. Creating a Culture of Peer Critique and Revision Creates an Atmosphere of Positive Academic Success!
Realistic Expectations - According to some teachers, they have to set unrealistic goals for their young students, the high standards and unrealistic expectations soon demotivates the students because they feel as though they aren't good enough or worse are failures. Imagine kindergartners and 1st graders feeling they are failures! With so much learning yet to come, it is important to gradually raise expectations, while educating and motivating students to take risk without fear of failing. Creating an classroom atmosphere that rewards struggle is a skill many teachers need to understand and develop. Failure, struggle, challenges, and academic risk taking can make some students shut down, or opt-out at a young age. Great teachers know how to keep students learning, motivated, curious and “struggling” with games, novelty, competition, praise, and just enough support to reinforce learning. Great teachers turn around students that opt out, lose hope, or feel like failures. At all times, outstanding teachers push, challenge, and have high expectation that their students will show exceptional growth. A teachers intuition must take precedence over fidelity to set of standards, curriculum or external expectations. Realistic expectations mean many things to teachers, staying motivated, curious and feeling amazing when students achieve a challenging goals daily, is a realistic in an exceptional classroom. Set SMART goals daily, weekly, and monthly that are low your student to take risk in a nonjudgmental environment.
Furthermore, we should also point out that these outstanding students weren't allowed to settle for something that wasn't quite good enough by their teachers. Rather than just scraping through, students were encouraged to continue improving by taking on more challenging tasks; at no point were they overwhelmed though, this actually had the opposite effect, students were building stronger intrinsic motivation as they pushed through the challenges.
Dedicated Time - Instead of ‘trying’ to find time to read or write, the outstanding teachers all set aside a large blocks of time in the day where everyone is working on listening, reading, writing, and discussing great literature. Whether it was 80, 90, or even 120 minutes, this is something students did every single day. Also, it wasn't just the same thing every day as the teacher would mix it up. For example, one day they would read to themselves whilst reading to a partner the next day. On every third day, they might even read as a group so the teacher can give feedback. Time on task, distributed practice over time or spiraling curriculum, and dedicated time targeting language and vocabulary is a primary goal to help my students succeed! Focus on critical literacy skills, we are what we practice and spend time improving on. If you want students to become cogent readers and erudite thinkers you need to read, read, and read some more!
Ultimately, this is a superb system to have because it provides each student with multiple opportunities and exposures in a spiraling ELA skills. If the teacher were to set up a fixed schedule of reading aloud with the class, reading with small groups, and then reading and researching alone, they would go through a natural process of improvement. On day one, they learn new vocabulary words ‘front load concepts’ or discuss literary devises / literary techniques as a group. On day two, they work with a partner and help each other with these new ideas. On day three, they have a chance to work individual on a topic they wish to explore deeper before then going back into a group to iron out any creases. After this, many successful teachers also had their students write and reflect in a daily journal which brings its own benefits.
Integration - Earlier, we discussed integration or “interleaved curriculum” within a single subject/topic and how students are allowed to discover how these multiple ideas, concepts, and theories applies in practical real world circumstances. After this initial level of integration, top teachers also create deeper connections between different subjects and this is important today with the mandate for students to develop higher order thinking skills. For example, reading and writing skills might be integrated with math or it could even be used with topics like science and history. Whenever a topic sees the students writing, there is a chance to enter an element of literacy into the class. Immediately, they notice how the knowledge is useful in more areas than just literacy class.
As these students grow older, it contributes to the thirst for knowledge once more. Instead of telling them why certain rules or writing techniques are important, why not show them? As you have seen from many of these tips, this is one of the biggest differences between a good and a superb teacher. Sure, they need to be taught certain information but we need to teach them the ‘why’ to go with it. Otherwise, they aren't quite sure why they have to remember it or what it means.
Self-Regulation - Finally, there is one last skill “self regulation or self persuasion” and it comes from the fact that teachers aren't always around to push, help, or explain. In classrooms, there will always be a reliance upon teachers as guides, sages, coaches, and learning partners, but great leaders help to remove this dependency somewhat. How? In essence, they help the students to help themselves and each other by creating a culture of constructive feedback and cooperation . Rather than waiting for the teacher to come around and give assistance or not asking a question at all, they are encouraged to be proactive, choose an approach themselves, ask a peer for feedback, a critique, or seek support from the teacher or peer to develop deeper understanding or clear up a misconception. Cooperation, collaboration, and dialogue are essential in every class.
In a classroom, the teacher is the only person “different”. For this reason, students will always learn more effectively from their peers, colleagues and friends; this is why group projects are so important as they get older. At no point are we saying that the teacher isn't needed because this would be ludicrous, but the classroom would certainly be more effective if students are teaching each other whilst the teacher is there for support, a guide, and a learning coach.
Conclusion - There we have it, “easy?” the nine key skills that all outstanding teachers have that help student thrive and exceeded expectations. If we are to see an improvement in the education system, it needs to come at the beginning because this is where the foundations are laid. If students get a bad start, they lose motivation and, more importantly, they lose trust in the system. With a solid start, their quest for knowledge will take them further than any teacher can accomplish alone. By utilizing these nine outstanding teachers traits, we could create a generation of incredibly effective teachers!