Research on instruction comes from three sources. One source is cognitive science research focusing on how information is used and acquired. Another source is research on the classroom practices of effective teachers. Teachers whose students made the highest gains on achievement tests were observed as they taught. Researchers then identified ways in which the more and less effective teachers differed. The third source is research on cognitive supports to help students learn complex tasks such as thinking aloud; other sources include provision of models and scaffolding for students. These three sources are complementary.
When considering research on instruction, it is important to consider a body of evidence rather than a few studies. It is also important to realize that even though research provides guidance regarding the nature of effective teaching, no amount of research can identify the ultimate model of instruction because there are too many variations in situations and content and types of students in schools. Research can provide general direction that must be interpreted by individual districts, schools, and teachers so they can evaluate each unique circumstance.
ACT, Inc. (2006). Reading between the lines: What the ACT reveals about college readiness in reading. Iowa City, IA: Author.
By using data from high school students who took the ACT in 2005, these researchers concluded that high school students in the United States are not ready for college-level reading, and that the clearest differentiator in reading between students who are college-ready and students who are not is the ability to comprehend complex texts.
Only 51 percent of students who took the ACT in 2005 were ready for college-level reading as determined by meeting the ACT College Readiness Benchmark for Reading. This percentage is considerably lower for boys; students who are African American, Hispanic, and Native American; and those who are from families whose yearly income is below $30,000. More students are on track for college-level reading in Grades 8 and 10 than in Grade 12, according to this study.
The percentages of literal and inferential comprehension questions answered correctly, or the questions based on the five kinds of textual elements answered correctly, do not differentiate students who are more likely to be ready for college. Nor does answering questions associated with uncomplicated or more challenging texts. Performance on complex texts is the clearest differentiator in reading skill between students who are more and less likely to be ready for college.
Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72, 167–180.
This longitudinal study tracked Baltimore students from first grade through age 22. Low-income students in the study made as much progress in reading during the academic year as did middle-income students. However, reading skills of the low-income students declined during the summer months. The researchers attribute two-thirds of the ninth-grade reading achievement gap to unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.
Alexander, P. A., Kulikowich, J. M., & Schulze, S. K. (1994). How subject-matter knowledge affects recall and interest. American Educational Research Journal, 31(2), 313–337.
Previous research on cognition and instruction has supported the generalization that what students know (prior knowledge) exerts a powerful influence on what they will learn. These researchers investigated the effects of subject matter knowledge in the forms of topic knowledge (specific subject-matter knowledge referenced in the text) and domain knowledge (knowledge broadly related to a particular field of study) on students' recall of and interest in two physics passages.
The physics-related passages—one on Stephen Hawking modified from a Newsweek article and one on the search for the truth quark modified from a Discover article—were read by 209 college students. Before reading the passages, students took tests of topic and domain knowledge. During reading, students rated their interest in each passage and paragraph. After reading, students were administered a recall measure.
Results of this study reconfirm the effect that students' knowledge, especially domain knowledge, has on topics they remember and find interesting. The topical knowledge directly related to the text affects reading comprehension. For example, when given a passage about polar bears, a student who knows a lot about polar bears is at an advantage.
Applebee, A. N., Langer, J. A., Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-based approaches to developing understanding: Classroom instruction and student performance in middle and high school English. American Educational Research Journal, 40, 685–730.
A total of 64 classes and 1,111 middle and high school students in both urban and suburban schools in five states were observed in this correlational study examining the relationship between amounts of extended classroom discussion and literacy outcomes.
Teachers were asked to identify a class that included discussion of a work of literature. Field researchers then observed four lessons being studied in each classroom (two in the fall, two in the spring). Researchers used a formal, computer-supported, real-time observational system to record classroom observations and collected data through student and teacher questionnaires. Writing tasks assigned at the beginning and end of the year were used to measure students' literacy levels. Students were asked to explain why a particular character in fiction appealed to them and describe an experience that taught them something and why it was important. Responses were scored for levels of abstraction and elaboration.
Open discussion (defined as a free exchange of information among students involving at least three participants and lasting longer than 30 seconds) averaged 1.7 minutes per 60 minutes of class time. Findings also revealed considerably more open discussion in high-track than in low-track classrooms. Students in high-discussion classes regardless of track showed more improvement on literacy tasks during the year than did students in low-discussion classes. It cannot be concluded that greater opportunities for participation in discussion-oriented instruction caused stronger growth in literacy skills across the year because this study was not experimental, but the results of this correlational study are consistent with this conclusion. Researchers also observed that lower-track classes received significantly less instruction of the kind that previous studies suggest contributes to higher literacy performance.
Rich discussion about text may increase both literacy outcomes and understanding of content.
Barron, B. (2000). Problem solving in video-based micro worlds: Collaborative and individual outcomes of high-achieving sixth-grade students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(2), 391–398.
This study was designed to test the impact of collaboration on problem solving and learning. An even number of boys and girls were selected to participate, with all 96 students instructed by the same mathematics teacher. The students in the sample were randomly assigned to individual or collaborative working groups.
This researcher analyzed group interaction through videotapes of sixth-grade students working in triads to solve a complex mathematics problem. She contrasted teams that were more and less successful in solving the problem. She coded the students' conversation and through a quantitative analysis determined that groups that differed in their levels of success did not differ on a number of variables such as prior achievement, the number of turns, and the number of times correct proposals were brought into the group. The thing that distinguished more- and less-successful groups was the way in which peers responded to ideas. The more successful groups responded to correct proposals by engaging, accepting, or documenting further discussion, whereas less-successful groups were much more likely to respond to ideas with silence or to reject them without rationale.
Beecher, M., & Sweeny, S. (2008). Closing the achievement gap with curriculum enrichment and differentiation: One school's story. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(3), 502–530.
This case study of an elementary school that used enriched curriculum and differentiation with all students highlights the narrowing of the achievement gap between Caucasian and low-income students of color in mathematics, reading, and writing. Achievement gains occurred across student groups, and attitudes about school also improved.
Biancarosa, C., & Snow, C. E. (2006). Reading Next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
Reading Next was funded by the Carnegie Corporation as a part of its Advancing Literacy initiative. Five nationally recognized researchers were convened and asked to articulate an ideal picture of adolescent literacy framed with their knowledge of the research as well as the changes needed in instructional practice. This review identifies the following 15 key elements of effective adolescent literacy programs:
Direct, explicit comprehension instruction
Effective instructional principles embedded in content
Motivation and self-directed learning
Text-based collaborative learning
Technology as a tool for and topic of literacy instruction
Ongoing formative assessment of students
Extended time for literacy/li>
Ongoing summative assessment of students and programs
A comprehensive and coordinated literacy program
In addition to the identification of key elements of effective adolescent programs, the report discusses the foundational elements upon which success hinges.
Boaler, J., & Staples, M. (2008). Creating mathematical futures through an equitable teaching approach: The case of Railside School. Teachers College Record, 110(3), 608–645.
This five-year longitudinal case study of 700 California students followed students in three high schools. Railside was an urban high school and Hilltop was a rural high school, and each had a large proportion of minority and English language learner students. Greendale had a more homogeneous, primarily white student body.
At the start of the study, incoming ninth graders at Railside High School performed significantly lower than the students in the other two high schools in mathematics. Railside High School designed its algebra and geometry courses to highlight multiple dimensions of mathematics concepts and approaches to problem solving, self- and group-assessment, and development of good questions. When tested at the end of the first year, the students at Railside had caught up with their peers in algebra, and they performed significantly better than students in the other two schools the following year. By the fourth year of the study, 41 percent of students at Railside were taking calculus, compared to only 27 percent of students at the other two schools.
Achievement gaps among various ethnic groups at Railside that were present on incoming assessments disappeared in nearly all cases by the end of the second year. The mathematics department at Railside taught heterogeneous classes using a deeper learning approach. Compared with the other two schools in the study, Railside students learned more, enjoyed mathematics more, and progressed to higher mathematics levels.
Brown, D. E., & Clement, J. (1989). Overcoming misconceptions via analogical reasoning: Abstract transfer versus explanatory model construction. Instructional Science, 18, 237–261.
Researchers in science education have found that one of the main reasons students often find scientific concepts like force and energy difficult to understand is because they bring intuitive concepts about the natural world to the classroom, often resulting in student misconceptions (alternative conceptions). Because misconceptions can impede learning, conceptual change research has investigated instructional strategies to address student misconceptions.
One such instructional strategy is the use of analogies. An analogy involves a source idea (something that is known or familiar) and a target idea (something that is unknown and is to be learned). Instruction through analogy reveals the relationship between the two. Analogies help learners put new science content into context by using ideas or scenarios that are already familiar to the learner.
Brown and Clement investigated the use of analogies by analyzing four case studies of tutoring interviews. Based on their analysis, they list factors important for success in overcoming misconceptions via analogical reasoning. For example, there must be a usable anchoring concept. The connection between the anchoring example and the target situation needs to be developed explicitly through processes such as the use of bridging analogies. The teacher may need to engage learners in a process of analogical reasoning in an interactive teaching situation rather than simply presenting the analogy by reading a textbook or lecturing. The analogies need to be used to enrich the target situation so the students construct a new explanation.
Chi, M. T. H., DeLeeuw, N., Chiu, M. H., & LaVancher, C. (1994). Eliciting self-explanations improves understanding. Cognitive Science, 18, 439–477.
Research has shown that a student's metacognitive processes have the most powerful effect on his or her learning. This researcher investigated the metacognitive technique of self-explanation as a tool to promote understanding of the human circulatory system.
In this experiment, one group (the prompted group) of eighth-grade students was asked to read a line of text silently and was then prompted to explain to themselves, out loud, what the text meant. The instructions to self-explain given by the researchers were as follows: "We would like you to read each sentence out loud and then explain what it means to you. That is, what new information does each line provide for you, how does it relate to what you've already read, does it give you a new insight into your understanding of how the circulatory system works, or does it raise a question in your mind? Tell us whatever is going through your mind—even if it seems unimportant." A control group (nonprompted) was asked to read the line of text silently twice to approximate the same amount of time dedicated to learning the material by both groups.
Pretests and posttests measured students' knowledge of the circulatory system and their ability to apply complex ideas of the circulatory system to problems related to human health. Both groups of students improved from pretest to posttest. However, the students who were prompted to use the self-explanation technique improved significantly more overall than those who simply read the text twice.
The posttest scores of both high-achieving and low-achieving students improved, suggesting that all students can benefit from this technique. The prompted students did better than the control-group students on the more difficult questions that required students to integrate knowledge of what they had just learned about the circulatory system with prior knowledge. Students who explained more when prompted to self-explain the text showed greater gains from pretest to posttest than those who explained less.
Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227–268.
Researchers reviewed 39 studies examining the effects of summer vacation on standardized achievement test scores. Of these 39 studies, 13 were included in a meta-analysis of the results.
This meta-analysis of research on summer learning loss found that students' test scores were at least 1 month lower on a grade-level equivalent scale when they returned to school in the fall. The researchers found differences in the effect of summer vacation on different skill areas. Summer learning loss was more detrimental for mathematics than for reading and most detrimental for mathematics computation and spelling. Findings from cognitive psychology research suggesting that without practice, facts and procedural skills are more susceptible to being forgotten may help explain these results. Mathematics computation and spelling represent factual and procedural knowledge, whereas mathematics concepts, problem solving, and reading comprehension are conceptually based.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1–62.
These researchers reviewed more than 60 research studies on homework conducted between 1987 and 2003. The researchers found that homework has a positive effect on student achievement. The positive correlation is much stronger for secondary students than for elementary students. Too much homework, however, can be counterproductive for students at all levels, thus the recommendation of the 10-minute rule stands: Students should receive 10 minutes of homework times their current grade (e.g., first grade, 10 minutes; fifth grade, 50 minutes; ninth grade, 90 minutes), with a limit of two hours.
This study reconfirms many of the findings from Cooper's 1989 study, with which he reviewed 120 studies on homework conducted between 1967 and 1987.
Coiro, J., & Dobler, E. (2007). Exploring the online reading comprehension strategies used by sixth-grade skilled readers to search for and locate information on the Internet. Reading Research Quarterly, 42, 214–257.
Findings from this qualitative study suggest that reading on the Internet requires new skills and strategies beyond traditional reading comprehension ability and prior knowledge.
The researchers met individually with 11 sixth-grade students selected from among a group of 150 sixth graders in three different middle schools because they had the highest combination of standardized reading scores, reading report card grades, and Internet reading experiences. The students were instructed to complete two separate tasks involving reading on the Internet and then were asked specific questions about their strategy in a follow-up interview.
After analyzing the think-aloud protocols, field observations, and semistructured interviews, the researchers concluded that reading Internet text requires more complex applications of prior knowledge sources, inferential reasoning strategies, and self-regulated reading processes.
Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1997). Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later. Developmental Psychology, 33, 934–945.
These researchers followed up a group of first-grade students who were administered a battery of reading tasks as part of a previous study. In the first-grade study, 56 students from a middle-class school were recruited and tested. It should be noted that for the follow-up testing, 27 of these students remained in this school district and were recruited to participate.
First-grade reading ability was a strong predictor of the grade measures of exposure to print, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and general knowledge administered to these same students 10 years later. This study features multiple analyses and provides many striking conclusions. For example, first-grade reading ability was a strong predictor of all of the 11th-grade outcomes, even when measures of cognitive ability were partialed out. The research team continued to analyze the data and pose additional questions such as "(w)hat cognitive variables predict the reading habits of adolescents?" Despite limitations, the authors felt able to claim that "early success at reading acquisition is one of the keys to success that unlocks a lifetime of reading habits" (p. 943).
Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 18, 105–115.
In this experimental study, Deci had subjects solve puzzles for money or no money. He found that those who received money became less inclined to work on the puzzles once they were no longer paid to do so. Those who were not paid to work on the puzzles continued to show interest in the puzzles.
Based on the findings of this study, Deci concluded that extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the motivation to perform an activity because the activity leads to something else, or describes the rewards or benefits associated with the activity. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to perform an activity out of the enjoyment derived from the activity itself. Deci concluded that extrinsic motivation negatively influences intrinsic motivation.
Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627–668.
These researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 128 studies examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. They found that extrinsic motivation has a negative impact on intrinsic motivation. Tangible rewards, which greatly weaken intrinsic motivation, included both material rewards such as pizza parties for reading books and symbolic rewards such as good-student awards. Tangible rewards tended to be more detrimental for children than for college students. Verbal rewards tended to be less enhancing for children than for college students. It was noted that unexpected tangible rewards can be given without hurting extrinsic motivation; however, expectations for future rewards can be created. The authors cautioned those who might offer rewards to consider the impacts and possible effects.
Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939–944.
In this two-part study, self-discipline better predicted the future grade point average (GPA) of two groups of eighth-grade students. Students with the highest IQs had a GPA only a few points higher than those with the lowest IQs (91 versus 85), but those with the highest self-discipline as measured by the researchers had a GPA almost 15 points higher than those with the lowest self-discipline.
The self-discipline of one group of 140 eighth-grade students from a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse magnet public school was measured in the fall by self-report, parent report, teacher report, and monetary choice questionnaires. These measures of self-discipline predicted final grades, school attendance, standardized achievement test scores, and selection into a competitive high school program the following spring.
This study was replicated with another group of 164 eighth-grade students. Researchers added a behavioral delay-of-gratification task, a questionnaire on study habits, and a group-administered IQ test. Highly self-disciplined students earned higher final GPAs and achievement test scores, came to school more often, watched less television, started their homework earlier, and were more likely to gain admission to a competitive high school program than did their more impulsive peers. The correlation between academic performance and self-discipline was 1 to 2 times as large as the correlation between academic performance and IQ. When looking at student performance, the variable of self-discipline may need to be considered.
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.
These researchers hypothesized that grit may be as essential as IQ to high achievement. Grit was defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. They developed and validated a self-report questionnaire called the Grit Scale to test the importance of the non-cognitive trait of grit.
Using this self-report questionnaire, they found that grit accounted for an average of 4 percent of the variance in success outcomes of the groups they studied. They investigated educational attainment among two samples of adults. Grit did not relate positively to IQ, but had predictive validity of success measures over and beyond IQ and conscientiousness. Based on the evidence they gathered, the researchers suggest that in every field, grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment.
Elbaum, B., Vaughn, S., Hughes, M. T., Moody, S. W., & Schumm, J. S. (2000). How reading outcomes of students with disabilities are related to instructional grouping formats: A meta-analytical review. In R. Gersten, E. P. Schiller, & S. Vaughn (Eds.), Contemporary special education research: Synthesis of the knowledge base on critical instruction issues (pp. 105–135). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
In this meta-analysis, researchers investigated grouping for instruction with students with special learning needs. They examined the link between reading outcomes and the following grouping formats: cooperative learning (mixed-ability groups work together on class assignments), student pairing (students work together in groups of two), peer tutoring, small-group instruction, and multiple grouping formats (use of several grouping formats previously listed).
The researchers found that grouping formats such as small groups, reciprocal tutoring, and peer tutoring positively influenced the reading performance of students with disabilities. They found that instructional groups of six to eight students were generally more effective than smaller or larger groups or one-to-one instruction. The researchers also found that the magnitude of the effects for student pairs differed considerably depending on the roles of the students within the pair. When students with disabilities were paired with same-age partners, they benefitted more from being tutored than from engagement in reciprocal tutoring. The tutors were students without disabilities who had better skills and were able to provide more effective instruction. When the student pairs were cross-age rather than same-age, students with disabilities benefited more when they served in the role of tutor.
Fisher, D. (2009). The use of instructional time in the typical high school classroom. The Educational Forum, 73(2), 168–173.
This researcher shadowed three average 10th-grade students in a suburban school with a population of approximately 1,500 students. The majority of the students in the school was Caucasian and came from lower-middle-class or middle-class working families. Fewer than 10 percent of the students qualified for free lunch, and fewer than 150 students were English language learners. The school was neither high- nor low-performing and met its annual yearly progress targets, with the exception of subpopulations of students with disabilities and/or English language learners. The students selected to be shadowed for the study were neither high-achieving students nor students in academic trouble.
The two boys and one girl attended 15 different classrooms. The researcher attended class with each of these three students for three days each for a total of nine consecutive full days of observations, or 2,475 minutes of class time. The researcher focused his observations on the target student and what he or she was doing in class. The students were not aware they were being observed, and the teachers did not know the names of specific students in the study.
The majority of class time was spent in listening activities such as lecture and film (48 percent). Waiting was the second-most-common use of time (17 percent). Whole-class discussion accounted for 13 percent of time. Time spent on independent work (7 percent) was significantly influenced by specific class type. Considerably more time in mathematics classes was devoted to independent work. Small-group work accounted for 7 percent of time. Students were reading only 6 percent of the time. Students wrote an average of 1.3 minutes per class per day, or about 6.5 minutes per day (2 percent). The researcher noted much wasted time and a lack of comprehension instruction and modeling.
Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents' standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 645–662.
This study was designed to test ways to help students champion anxiety caused by stereotype threat and thereby improve outcomes on standardized tests. Researchers matched a group of largely minority and low-income students with a college student mentor to discuss various issues.
Discussions with one group of students focused on the expandable nature of intelligence. The mentors helped students learn more about how the brain is able to form new connections throughout one's lifetime. Mentors working with a second group of students told them that all students have academic difficulty during the transition to junior high school, and that most students are able to overcome these difficulties and reach high levels of achievement. The mentors combined these two messages for a third group of students. Students created webpages that advocated the messages they were learning from their mentors. A control group of students that was mentored on the dangers of drug use created antidrug webpages. The college students attended one 90-minute mentoring session each semester with the seventh-grade students and communicated with them during the rest of the semester via e-mail.
Girls in the experimental groups earned significantly higher mathematics standardized test scores than girls in the control group. Students in the experimental groups earned significantly higher reading standardized test scores than students in the control group.
Graham, S., & Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
In support of ongoing efforts to improve the literacy of adolescents, the Carnegie Corporation funded this research project. Experts in writing research used specific statistical methods to comb through the research studies. This meta-analysis of 93 studies provides the following instructional recommendations:
Have students write about the texts they read.
Teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text.
Increase how much students write.
Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high school. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
This meta-analysis of 142 studies found the following instructional interventions to be effective:
Setting specific product goals
Process writing approach
Study of written models with direct, guided practice
Based on this meta-analysis, writing instruction should emphasize explicit, direct, and systematic instruction, offering many opportunities for students to engage in meaningful, extended writing. Studies of grammar instruction alone or as a primary writing instructional approach revealed negative results for students' overall writing quality.
Kim, J. S., & White, T. G. (2008). Scaffolding voluntary summer reading for children in grades 3 to 5: An experimental study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 12(1), 1–23.
These researchers investigated summer reading intervention programs as a way to close the achievement gap attributable to summer learning loss. The study involved 24 teachers and 400 students in two elementary schools within a large suburban school district in the Mid-Atlantic United States. Sixty-nine percent of the students were black, Hispanic, and/or Asian, and 38 percent received free or reduced-price lunches. There were no differences in attitudes towards reading among the students.
Students completing third, fourth, and fifth grades were randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups. Students in Group 1 (control) received no additional instruction or materials. Students in Group 2 received eight books in the mail that were matched to their reading levels and interests. Students' parents were asked to encourage them to read, but the students received no special reading instruction. Students in Group 3 received eight books matched to their reading levels and interests and fluency lessons at the end of the school year. Students in Group 4 received eight books matched to their reading levels and interests and fluency and comprehension strategy lessons at the end of the school year.
Students who received books but no instruction (Group 2) did not make greater spring-to-fall gains in reading achievement on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) than the control group. Students in Group 4, who received books and fluency and comprehension lessons from their teacher, made significantly greater spring-to-fall gains on the ITBS. Black, Hispanic, and low-income students in Group 4 gained between 1.78 and 5.1 months on the ITBS.
Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254–284.
These researchers reviewed every research study on the effects of feedback published between 1905 and 1995. Of the 2,500 journal articles and 500 technical reports they found, many had significant limitations such as no control group or one participant, or feedback was combined with another intervention such as goal setting.
In the 131 well-designed studies they investigated after applying quality criteria, they found that, on average, feedback did significantly improve learning. However, in 50 of these studies, giving feedback made learners' performance worse. The effects of feedback depended on the reactions of the recipient. The nature of the feedback itself was less important than the kind of responses triggered in individual students. Feedback is more effective when it provides information on correct, rather than incorrect, responses and when it builds on changes from previous trials. The impact of feedback was also influenced by the difficulty of goals and tasks. The impact is highest when goals are specific and challenging and task complexity is low. Giving praise for completing a task appears to be ineffective. Feedback is more effective when there are perceived low, rather than high, levels of threat to self-esteem.
Lou, Y., Abrami, P. C., Spence, J. C., Paulsen, C., Chambers, B., & d'Apollonio, S. (1996). Within-class grouping: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(4), 423–458.
This meta-analysis of small-group instruction concluded that students in small within-class learning groups achieved significantly more than students not learning in small groups. The students in small groups also had more positive attitudes about learning and scored stronger on self-concept measures. When teachers used instructional materials that varied by need for different groups instead of the same materials for all groups, student gains were most robust.
Marks, H. M. (2000). Student engagement in instructional activity: Patterns in the elementary, middle and high school years. American Educational Research Journal, 37(1), 153–184.
This study involving 3,669 students representing 143 social studies and mathematics classrooms in a nationally selected sample of 24 restructuring elementary, middle, and high schools (eight at each grade level) evaluated the effect on engagement of school-reform initiatives. The study draws on surveys completed by students about themselves, their schools, and their classroom experiences in mathematics or social studies. Student engagement in instructional activity consisted of four measures: student effort, attentiveness, lack of boredom in class, and completing class assignments.
Little of the variance in engagement among students was attributable to personal background. Only gender made a difference for elementary and middle school students, with the finding that girls were more academically involved than boys. Mathematics classes had higher levels of engagement among elementary and high school students than did social studies classes. Among middle school students, subject matter did not influence their level of engagement. Social class for middle school students proved significant. At all grade levels, positive orientation toward school as reflected in school success predicted engagement, whereas negative orientation as reflected in alienation predicted disengagement. More authentic work (higher-order thinking, depth of knowledge, substantive conversation, and connectedness to the world outside the classroom) brought about greater engagement. The implications for instruction as well as connected assignments are clear: Students prefer classrooms that demand critical thinking, call for involved activity, and dive deep into subject matter.
McKeown, M. G., Beck, I. L., & Blake, R. G. K. (2009). Rethinking reading comprehension instruction: A comparison of instruction for strategies and content approaches. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(3), 218–253.
This two-year study conducted in fifth-grade classrooms in a low-performing urban district compared the effectiveness of two approaches designed to enhance comprehension—content instruction and strategies instruction. These methods were compared to a control group using basal instruction. Content instruction focused on text content through meaning-based questions about the text. The focus of the strategies approach was direct teaching of explicit comprehension strategies.
The results were consistent across the two years of the study. The content approach showed an advantage over the strategies approach. For narrative recall and expository learning probes, students in the content condition outperformed students in the strategy condition on a variety of measures.
These researchers demonstrated that focusing students' attention on the content of the text through the use of open-ended questions was more effective in developing comprehension than the same amount of time invested in strategy instruction.
Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33–52.
These researchers found that students behaved very differently depending on the kinds of praise they received. In this study, fifth-grade students were given a first set of problems to solve. When each student was finished, he was told "You did really well on these problems. You got a really high score." In addition, each student received one of three treatments. He or she was either praised for his intelligence ("You must be smart at these problems") or effort ("You must have worked hard at these problems") or given no additional feedback (the control condition).
Students were then given a set of very difficult problems and were asked to explain why they performed poorly. On a questionnaire administered soon after, the students who had been praised for their intelligence on previous tasks attributed more of their failure to a lack of intelligence. Students praised previously for their effort responded the same way as the students in the control condition by attributing their failure to a lack of effort.
Praise from an adult that emphasized ability or effort influenced students' views about intelligence. Students with a malleable view of intelligence believed that effort was useful, while students with a fixed view of intelligence did not. Students with a fixed view of intelligence believed that if a person is smart, they don't need to work hard, and working hard is a sign of not being smart. Students who were praised for their intelligence tended to avoid challenges and preferred easy tasks. They were also more interested in how they measured up relative to others than in learning how to improve their future performance. Students who were praised for their effort preferred tasks that were challenging and were more interested in learning new strategies for success than finding out how the other students had performed. Students praised for their ability were more likely to give up after a failure, more likely to perform poorly after a failure, and more likely to misrepresent how well they did on a task. Students praised for their intelligence were more likely to view their failures as evidence of low intelligence.
Murphy, P. K., Wilkinson, I. A. G., Soter, A. O., Hennessey, M. N., & Alexander, J. F. (2009). Examining the effects of classroom discussion on students' comprehension of text: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 740–764.
The meta-analysis of quantitative studies provides evidence of the effects of different approaches to text-based discussion on measures of teacher and student talk and/or of individual student comprehension and reasoning outcomes. Researchers investigated nine approaches to discussion: Book Club, Collaborative Reasoning, Paideia Seminar, Grand Conversations, Instructional Conversations, Junior Great Books Shared Inquiry, Literature Circles, Philosophy for Children, and Questioning the Author. Most participants in the reviewed studies were in the fourth- to sixth-grade range.
One of the major findings of this meta-analysis was that the approaches to discussion differentially promoted high-level comprehension of text. Questioning the Author, Instructional Conversations, and Junior Great Books Shared Inquiry were highly effective at promoting students' comprehension. Collaborative Reasoning and Junior Great Books were effective at promoting students' critical thinking, reasoning, argumentation, and metacognition about and around text.
A second major finding was that student comprehension did not necessarily increase just because of an increase in student talk. A particular kind of talk was necessary to promote comprehension. The success of discussions depended not on increasing the amount of student talk per se, but in enhancing the quality of the talk.
Another major finding was that effects varied by students' academic ability. Results indicated that the approaches had stronger effects when used with below-average and average-ability students, and weaker effects with above-average students. Above-average-ability students may be able to understand a text and think independently about its meaning without participating in discussion.
Nuthall, G. (1999). The way students learn: Acquiring knowledge from an integrated science and social studies unit. Elementary School Journal, 99(4), 303–341.
This study of elementary students found that different types of learning experiences—visual instruction, dramatic instruction, and verbal instruction—produced different effects on students. Visual instruction involved helping students generate mental pictures for the information being taught. In dramatic instruction, the content was acted out.
In terms of the percentage of information recalled one year after completion of the unit, visual instruction resulted in 77 percent recall, dramatic instruction 57 percent, and verbal instruction 53 percent. Because stories involve both visual and dramatic instructional techniques, Nuthall suggests the use of narratives/stories as an effective way to present important new content to students.
Nye, B., Konstantopoulos, S., & Hedges, L. V. (2004). How large are teacher effects? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analyses, 26(3), 237–257.
In this study involving 79 elementary schools in 42 school districts in Tennessee, students were randomly assigned to classes that were controlled for factors such as previous achievement of students, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, class size, and whether or not an aide was present in the class. They found that the difference in achievement gains between having a 25th percentile teacher (a not-so-effective teacher) and a 75th percentile teacher (an effective teacher) was more than one-third of a standard deviation (0.35) in reading, and almost one-half of a standard deviation (0.48) in mathematics. In practical terms, this means that students who have an effective teacher will outgain students who have a not-so-effective teacher by 14 percentile points in reading and 18 percentile points in mathematics. Similarly, the difference between having a 50th percentile teacher (an average teacher) and a 90th percentile teacher (a very effective teacher) is about one-third of a standard deviation (0.33) in reading and somewhat smaller than half of a standard deviation (0.46) in mathematics, or a gain of 13 percentile points in reading and 18 percentile points in mathematics.
Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (1991). Instructional discourse, student engagement, and literature achievement. Research in the Teaching of English, 25(3), 261–290.
Researchers observed the practices used in 58 eighth-grade and 54 ninth-grade language arts and English classes in eight Midwestern communities. They collected data on more than 1,895 students by observing each class four times per year and assessing students' understanding and interpretation of literature at the end of each year.
The researchers found that open-ended, whole-class discussion averaged only 52 seconds per class in eighth grade, and only 14 seconds per class in ninth grade. Their results indicated that the features of open-ended, whole-class discussion were positively associated with students' reading comprehension as measured by both recall and depth of understanding as well as response to aesthetic aspects of literature.
Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1(2), 117–175.
This study reports the results of two instructional studies investigating an intervention designed to improve the reading comprehension of seventh-grade poor comprehenders. This intervention, reciprocal teaching, was among the first of the interventions designed to teach struggling readers to engage in the kinds of activities that skillful readers seem to spontaneously engage in—questioning, summarizing, predicting, and clarifying.
Teachers modeled the use of and taught these four strategies by having students and teachers take turns leading a dialogue. In Study 1, 24 poor comprehenders were divided into four groups with six students per group. Two control groups received no intervention and there were two treatment groups, reciprocal teaching and locating information. Study 2 replicated Study 1. The procedures and materials for Study 2 were identical to those of Study 1, with the only difference being that the intervention was conducted by teachers instead of by the researcher as in Study 1.
These studies were considered successful for several reasons. There was clear qualitative evidence of improvement in the students' dialogues, quantitative improvement on the comprehension tests was large and reliable, and the effect was durable and generalized to the classroom setting.
Quin, Z., Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1995). Cooperative versus competitive efforts and problem solving. Review of Educational Research, 65(2), 129–143.
In a comparison of four types of problems presented to individuals or cooperative teams, researchers found that teams outperformed individuals on all types and across all ages. Problems varied in terms of how well defined they were—a single right answer versus open-ended projects such as writing a story—and whether they were more or less reliant on language.
Redfield, D. L., & Rousseau, E. W. (1981). A meta-analysis of experimental research on teacher questioning behavior. Review of Educational Research, 51(2), 237–245.
This meta-analysis focused on higher-level questions versus lower-level questions. The researchers found a positive overall effect for the use of higher-level questions on student achievement. The influences on achievement ranged from 12 to 27 percentile points gained on standardized achievement tests by students whose teachers consistently used higher-level questions compared to students whose teachers did not regularly use such questions. Although some studies show little influence of higher-level questions on student achievement, the overall literature suggests a positive influence of higher-level questions on achievement (as these researchers found).
Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., & Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching students to generate questions: A review of the intervention studies. Review of Educational Research, 66(2), 181–221.
Generating questions about what is read is a cognitive strategy that good readers use to improve their comprehension. These researchers reviewed 26 studies to evaluate the impact of students' question generation on both reading and listening comprehension and ways to teach this cognitive strategy of question generation.
The researchers concluded that teaching question generation is a useful instructional procedure for raising student achievement. They found that the question-generation component of reciprocal teaching is powerful in its own right, and that question generation can be taught in both a traditional format and a reciprocal teaching format. Similar results were obtained using only the question-asking strategy as were obtained teaching the four cognitive strategies of reciprocal teaching (questioning, summarizing, predicting, and clarifying). They concluded that the most powerful way to teach students question generation that improves achievement is to use generic question stems such as "How are _____ and _____ alike?" and generic questions such as "How does this passage or chapter relate to what I already know about the topic?
Rowe, M. (1974). Relation of wait-time and rewards to the development of language, logic, and fate control: Part one–wait time. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 11(2), 81–94.
This often-cited study has informed countless teachers and others interested in classroom practices. Many studies have been designed to further the findings; however, we feature the original study on wait time as a seminal piece in inquiry behavior. Mary Budd Rowe described wait time as the following: wait time 1 (pausing after asking a question) and wait time 2 (pausing after a student response). She observed that after asking a question, teachers typically wait 1 second or less for students to start to reply, and after the student stops speaking they begin their reaction or ask the next question in less than 1 second. She found pronounced changes in student use of language and logic as well as in student and teacher attitudes and expectations if teachers increased the average length of the pauses to 3 seconds or longer after a question (wait time 1) and after a student response (wait time 2).
In this study, Rowe asked teachers before wait time training to list the top five and bottom five students in their classes. She found that teachers gave the top five students an average of 1.2 seconds of wait time 1, and the bottom five students slightly less than 1 second. She attributed this difference to teacher expectations.
Schneider, R., Krajcik, J., Marx, R. W., & Soloway, E. (2002). Performance of students in project-based science classrooms on a national measure of science achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(5), 410–422.
These researchers investigated the effects of a project-based science curriculum on student achievement as measured by the twelfth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress science test. They defined five key elements of project-based science: projects engage students in investigating a real-life question or problem that drives activities and organizes concepts and principles; projects result in students developing a series of artifacts or products that address the question or problem; projects enable students to engage in investigations; projects involve students, teachers, and members of society in a community of inquiry as they collaborate about the problem; and projects promote students' use of cognitive tools.
They compared the results of 142 high school students in project-based science classrooms with both the national average and a demographically comparable subgroup and found the students in the project-based science classrooms significantly outperformed the national sample on 44 percent of the test items.
Shanahan, C., Shanahan, T., & Misischia, C. (2011). Analysis of expert readers in three disciplines: History, mathematics, and chemistry. Journal of Literacy Research, 43, 393–429.
Historians, mathematicians, and chemists were asked to do think-alouds while they read as researchers compared their reading. The researchers contended that various disciplines have different traditions and approaches to reading and writing. This is the basis of the concept of disciplinary literacy.
Stahl, S. A., & Fairbanks, M. M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56(1), 72–110.
These researchers found that vocabulary knowledge correlates to academic achievement as measured by grades and standardized tests. The effects of vocabulary instruction were assessed by using two types of comprehension measures: global measures in which the passages did not necessarily contain the taught words, and word-specific measures in which the words were a part of the passages that were taught.
The results of this meta-analysis showed that direct instruction of words positively affected vocabulary. Directly teaching dictionary definitions for words did not enhance student comprehension of a text containing those vocabulary words. Other methods that were not supported by the data in the meta-analysis include methods that had only one or two exposures to the word and drill and practice associative methods.
Taylor, G., Pearson, D., Peterson, D., & Rodriguez, M. (2003), Reading growth in high-poverty classrooms: The influence of teacher practices that encourage cognitive engagement in literacy learning. The Elementary School Journal, 104, 3–28.
A total of 88 teachers and 792 students in nine high-poverty schools from five areas in the United States were part of this large-scale observational study designed to identify instructional practices associated with strong reading growth in Grades 1–5. Between 70 percent and 95 percent of participating students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, and 67 percent to 91 percent were members of minority groups.
Researchers used a structured observation system to record field notes about classroom events and aspects of classroom organization and materials for one hour in each classroom in the fall, winter, and spring. They later coded the field notes for the occurrence of specific instructional events and processes. A standardized measure of reading comprehension was given at the beginning and end of the year.
The study found that the extent to which teachers asked higher-level comprehension questions during reading instruction was consistently related to higher levels of student growth in reading comprehension. Even though the study found that higher-level questioning matters, the actual rate of higher-level questioning among teachers in this study was relatively low. The more a teacher asked higher-level questions, the more growth the nine target students in class experienced on a variety of measures.
Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., & Walberg, H. J. (December 1993/January 1994). Synthesis of research: What helps students learn? Educational Leadership, 51(4), 74–79.
A knowledge base of 11,000 statistical findings on influences on student learning emerged from this study, which analyzed the contents of 179 handbook chapters and reviews, compiled 91 research syntheses, and surveyed 61 educational researchers. By combining the results from the content analysis, the research synthesis, and the survey of experts, researchers obtained an average score for each of the categories of influence in a 28-category conceptual framework.
This framework was grouped into six broad types of influences: student characteristics; classroom instruction and climate; home, peer, and community context; program design; school organization; and state and district characteristics.
These findings show consensus on the most significant influences on learning. Direct influences such as classroom management were found to have more influence on learning than indirect influences such as policies adopted by a school, district, or state. Classroom management, metacognitive processes, cognitive processes, home environment/parental support, and student and teacher social interactions had the most influence on school learning. Program demographics, school demographics, state-level policies, school policies and organization, and district demographics had the least influence on learning. These findings can be translated into practical application at both leadership and policy levels.
Wolfe, M. B. W., & Goldman, S. R. (2005). Relations between adolescents' text processing and reasoning. Cognition and Instruction, 23, 467–502.
These researchers studied the relationship between background knowledge, reasoning, and explanation. For this study, 43 sixth-grade students from five different classrooms read two conflicting accounts about the fall of the Roman Empire. The students had received 6 to 8 weeks of instruction by their social studies teachers during the school year on the Roman Empire. The researchers asked each student to describe his or her background knowledge about the Roman Empire, and then had each student read two documents and think aloud as they read. The researchers recorded the types of associations and reasoning the students used to understand the documents, including irrelevant associations.
Students who used their background knowledge appropriately scored higher on measures of reasoning for the task. A significant percentage of the students did not effectively use their background knowledge to help them understand. This study suggests that teachers have to constantly guide students in developing and activating relevant background knowledge.
Yazzie-Mintz, E. (2010). Charting the path from engagement to achievement: A report of the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy.
Since 2006, more than 350,000 students in more than 40 states have taken this annual survey conducted by the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, which investigates the levels and dimensions of student engagement. The 2009 survey covered 103 schools in 27 states.
Of 42,754 student respondents in 2009, 49 percent report being bored in school every day (17 percent are bored in every class). The numbers between 2006 and 2009 have been consistent. Only 41 percent of students stated that they went to school because of what they learn in classes.
Discussion and debate is one of the highest-rated teaching types, with 65 percent of students agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement, "I like discussions in which there are no clear answers."
Zhang, S., & Duke, N. K. (2008). Strategies for Internet reading with different reading purposes: A descriptive study of 12 good Internet readers. Journal of Literacy Research, 40(1), 128–162.
Research has shown that good readers are highly active and strategic when reading. Researchers have also proposed that people need both the traditional skills associated with reading printed texts and new skills associated with reading on the Internet to identify questions and to locate, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate information. This study was designed to explore Internet reading strategies used for three different reading purposes.
Twelve adults who were experienced Internet readers met individually in a computer laboratory for one hour with the researcher. They were asked to do three tasks: seek specific information, acquire general knowledge, and be entertained. Data were collected through navigational records and participants' stimulated recall about their reading process following the three tasks.
Readers adopted different patterns of reading strategies for different reading purposes. Results of this study further the understanding of which Internet reading strategies may be worth teaching for individual purposes.