The Journal of Effective Teaching |
Stack
the Deck in Favor of Your Students by Using the Four Aces of Effective Teaching
Sean
M. Bulger
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Department of Kinesiology and Athletics
Eau Claire, WI 54702
Phone (715) 836-3722
FAX (715) 836-4074
bulgersm@uwec.edu
Derek
J. Mohr
Appalachian State University
Department of Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science
Boone, NC 28608
Phone (828) 262-3143
FAX (828) 262-3138
mohrdj@appstate.edu
Richard
T. Walls
West Virginia University
College of Resources and Education - Research and Training Center
Morgantown, WV 26506
Phone (304) 293-5313 ext. 1874
rwalls@wvu.edu
Key
Words:
Outcomes, Clarity, Engagement, and Enthusiasm
Abstract
The
research on teacher effectiveness has provided educational professionals with a
relatively clear understanding of the fundamental principles for effective
instructional practice. Teaching professors should use these empirically
supported principles as a basis for the determination of their own instructional
effectiveness in the classroom. The purpose of this article is to describe the
Four Aces of Effective Teaching (Outcomes, Clarity, Enthusiasm, and Engagement)
as a conceptual framework for increased self-reflective practice among teachers
in higher education settings.
Introduction
If
you had to select four instructional principles that best describe your
teaching, what would they be? How do the instructional principles that you have
identified contribute to student learning in your classroom? What strategies do
you employ to systematically implement these instructional principles in a
variety of educational contexts?
The
types of self-reflective questions listed above provide the basis for the
continual refinement of an individual's instructional practices. As a teaching
professor, you should be willing to engage in the rigorous self-examination of
your own teaching philosophy, methodology, and effectiveness. The
purpose of this article is to describe the "Four Aces of Effective
Teaching" (Walls, 1999) as a conceptual framework for increased
self-reflective practice among teachers in higher education settings [7].
Following the completion of this article, the reader will be able (a) to explain
the theoretical rationale for the Four Aces of Effective Teaching, (b) to
describe the Four Aces of Effective Teaching, and (c) to provide suggestions for
the application of these fundamental instructional principles to teaching
practice.
Research
on Teacher Effectiveness
Teaching
effectiveness is dependent upon the interaction between the instructor's
subject-matter knowledge and teaching (pedagogical) ability.
The following scenarios illustrate the nature of the complex interaction
between these two critical variables:
1.
An individual may possess a substantial amount of subject-matter
knowledge, yet be unable to design and implement instructional methods to
enhance student learning due to a lack of pedagogical ability.
2.
Conversely, an individual may possess some generic pedagogical skills,
yet have limited subject-matter knowledge and again be predisposed to
ineffective teaching.
These
scenarios indicate that it is impossible to be an effective teacher without
being competent in both subject-matter knowledge and pedagogical ability.
Consequently, subject-matter knowledge remains a necessary prerequisite for
effective teaching, not the sole determinant.
Teachers,
instructors, and professors are required to fulfill many roles and perform many
duties that may be considered ancillary. At the core of the roles and duties is
the actual practice of teaching. The primary purpose of this teaching practice
is to facilitate student learning. Learning may be defined as a change in
behaviors, attitudes, or capabilities. Effective
teachers promote student learning, and related instructional methods have been
extensively documented in the educational research literature.
The
research literature on "teacher effectiveness" and reviews written
summarizing that body of research provide guidance (e.g., Brophy & Good,
1986 [1]; Dunkin & Doenau, 1980 [2];
Fisher, Berliner, Filby, Marliave, Cahen, & Dishaw, 1980 [3];
Rosenshine & Furst, 1973 [4]; Smith, 1979 [5];
Walls, 1994 [6]). The findings are based on
"process-product" research. In other words, when a teacher does this
(process), it results in this sort of student achievement (product). When a
teacher causes this to happen (process), it results in student learning
(product). Rosenshine and Furst (1973) wrote the first major review of this
research literature [4]. They concluded that the five most important
teacher-effectiveness variables are (a) Clarity, (b) Variability, (c)
Enthusiasm, (d) Task-oriented and/or Businesslike Behaviors, and (e) Student
Opportunity to Learn Criterion Material. Brophy and Good (1986) [1] wrote a
major review of the literature to that date, finding strong support for the
components of effective teaching identified by Rosenshine and Furst (1973) [4]
but summarizing the strong elements under different headings. They also found
increased support for such process variables as "time on task." Walls
(1994) was not so parsimonius, listing 99 process-product relationships for
effective teaching [6].
The
Four Aces of Effective Teaching
The
"Four Aces of Effective Teaching" (Walls, 1999) summarize the most
prevalent recommendations from the teaching-effectiveness research literature
[7]. They are the strongest links between what teachers can do and the learning
that students achieve. The Four Aces represent a consolidated way of thinking
about the "process" of teaching as it influences the
"product" (student learning). You may think of them as catalysts for
learning. Student learning is better, faster, and/or more long-lasting when
teachers are able to play the Four Aces. The Four Aces
of Effective Teaching are summarized in Figure 1.
Ace
1: Outcomes
The
first Ace of Effective Teaching concerns the utilization of an outcomes-based
instructional orientation. Outcomes enable students to focus their attention on
clear learning goals. These outcomes inform students of where they are going and
how they will get there. Outcomes also provide the teacher with a framework for
designing and delivering the course content. Furthermore, outcomes enable
teachers to assess student learning as a measure of their own instructional
effectiveness. More effective teachers use designated outcomes as a basis for
the establishment of curricular alignment. Curricular alignment is the degree to
which the employed instructional methods and assessment techniques enable the
student to acquire and/or demonstrate the desired outcomes.
What
were the desired student outcomes for your last class meeting? Were the outcomes
directly stated or implied? What did your students actually learn, and how was
that learning documented? Did the employed instructional strategies effectively
contribute to each student’s ability to accomplish the stated outcomes?
Ace
2: Clarity
The
second Ace of Effective Teaching involves the clarity of instruction. More
effective teachers typically provide students with highly explicit directions
and explanations concerning the course organization and content. When delivering
instruction, nothing should be left to chance. If students are not meeting your
expectations, your methods of delivery may lack the required degree of clarity.
When a teacher tells, shows, and makes the message available from alternate
perspectives to alternate senses, that teacher is engaged in effective
instructional practice. Additionally, the course should be structured in a way
that affords students the opportunity to make connections between the new
material that is being presented and the concepts that they have already
learned. This instructional strategy is referred to as curricular scaffolding.
When a teacher helps students connect new information with what they already
know, the teacher is assisting these students in accurate organization of
information.
During
your last class meeting, what instructional techniques did you employ to provide
the students with a clear explanation of the lesson content? What types of
illustrations, demonstrations, heuristics, and the like were used to supplement
and clarify verbal explanation? Were there any concepts and/or skills that you
were able to incorporate from previous lessons and courses? Did you allocate
sufficient time for your students to ask questions so that you could clarify
information? Did you make complex subject matter clear and easy to learn?
Ace
3: Engagement
The
third Ace of Effective Teaching is engagement. This principle suggests that
students learn by doing. The formal lecture represents an archaic model defined
by instructor as deliverer and student as receiver. This model exemplifies
one-way communication and perpetuates an incomplete model of education.
Accordingly, teachers must create a dynamic, educational environment that
affords students the opportunity to practice every concept that they are
learning. More effective teachers utilize instructional strategies that engage
students repeatedly throughout the entire lesson. This engagement should begin
early in the lesson and continue throughout the lesson introduction, body, and
closure. As a general rule, a teacher should limit a
lecture to no more than thirty minutes before employing a learning activity that
actively engages all students (Walls & Cather, 1987) [8].
Furthermore, these engagement activities are intended to facilitate the
development of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable the student
to accomplish the previously identified lesson outcomes. This type of curricular
alignment is a critical component of an effective, student-centered learning
environment.
In
your last class, how much time were your students engaged in learning activities
other than note taking? On how many occasions during your last class did
students have the opportunity to be actively engaged in the learning process?
How many of your students are asleep or off-task at any point in a given lesson?
Ace
4: Enthusiasm
The
fourth Ace of Effective Teaching is enthusiasm. As straightforward as it may
seem, "if you hate to teach it, your students will hate to learn it.”
Conversely, if you love to teach it, your students may very well love to learn
it. Enthusiasm is contagious. More effective teachers display a high level of
enthusiasm that reflects their professional competence and confidence. These
characteristics are derived from the individual teacher’s subject matter
knowledge and instructional experience. Teachers can begin to establish a
positive learning environment by showing their passion for the subject matter,
using student names, reinforcing student participation during class, and being
active in moving among the students. The most critical component for fostering
classroom enthusiasm, however, is student success. Accordingly, it is the
teacher's responsibility to establish a classroom environment that allows for a
high degree of student achievement. Ultimately, high levels of student
achievement serve as a powerful motivator for both student and teacher.
Were
your students excited about attending your last class? Were you excited about
teaching your last class? What have you done to effectively communicate your
passion for the subject matter that you teach to your students? What strategies
do you employ to stay current in your field of study and communicate your
excitement about new developments? How have your past teaching, research, and
service been used to positively impact the teaching-learning environment for
your students?
Sample
Lesson
In
order to optimize student learning, teachers should plan to integrate the Four
Aces of Effective Teaching throughout each lesson. The following sections
describe the components of an effective lesson, the purpose of each component,
and respective strategies for the practical application of the Four Aces of
Effective Teaching.
Instant
Activity
An
instant activity is an educational intervention that is used to engage students
immediately upon entering the classroom. An instant activity can serve as a
review of previous course material, a preview of upcoming information, and a
management technique for organizing the class. An instant activity can be used
with individuals, small groups, or an entire class. To achieve success with an
instant activity, the tasks should be clear, simple, and based on students’
prior knowledge and/or skills. For example, the teacher could engage students as
they enter class by (a) asking the students to formulate questions based on the
assigned readings for that class period and having peers answer them, (b)
administering an informal pre-test on the lesson's key concepts, (c) allowing
students to work in small groups to answer teacher-directed questions that have
been written on the board, or (d) encouraging students to reflect on their own
personal experiences regarding the day's topic as a catalyst for in-class
discussion and subsequent learning of subject matter to be introduced.
Lesson
Objectives
After
the students complete an instant activity, the teacher should present the
students with daily objectives (outcomes). The central concept is to specify
these objectives in terms of student performance. These outcomes inform students
of what they should know or be able to do at the completion of the lesson.
Teachers can subsequently assess student achievement of the stated objectives as
an indicator of student learning and their own instructional effectiveness. For
daily objectives to be utilized effectively, they should be clear, measurable,
and directly related to the desired course competencies. For example, following
a lesson on cardiovascular fitness, the students in a health promotion course
may be required (a) to define cardiovascular fitness, (b) to identify the body's
physiological response to exercise and the associated health-related benefits,
and (c) to design an exercise program to enhance a patient's cardiovascular
fitness. In another example, following a lesson on buoyancy, students in a
physics course may be required: (a) to define Archimedes principle, (b) to solve
a problem involving buoyancy, (c) to make an object that floats, and (d) to
discuss the effects of water displacement on boat design.
Advance
Organizer
An
advance organizer can be a topical outline, diagram, or concept map that has the
primary purpose of providing a coherent structure for the presentation of the
involved instructional material. An effective advance organizer clarifies the
scope and sequence of a lesson for the teacher and student by providing an
overview of the lesson content. Accordingly, an advance organizer assists
students in structuring their thinking, class notes, and out-of-class study. A
lesson on stress management, for example, may include the following sequentially
arranged components: (a) definition of stress, (b) physiological response of the
human body to stress, (c) causes of stress, and (d) effective stress management
techniques. In another example, a statistics
teacher might present a diagram to represent the types of graphing techniques
that will be discussed during the lesson and the amount of time that will be
allocated to each technique (see Figure 2).
Lesson
Body
The
lesson body typically represents the major portion of the lesson where the
teacher provides information to the students and assists in their construction
of functional knowledge structures. Traditionally, the lesson body is
constituted by a lecture or lecture-discussion format. More effective teachers
use the Four Aces of Effective Teaching during the lesson body. During this
time, information should be presented enthusiastically and clearly. Furthermore,
the lesson should build upon students' prior knowledge and actively engage the
students repeatedly. In addition, the material presented and the assigned
activities should serve as a means for students to achieve the daily lesson
objectives (outcomes). To accomplish this, teachers should design learning
activities and distribute them throughout the lesson body. For example, a
teacher may have students (a) write a question that others answer, (b) assemble
slips of paper to construct a sentence or a story outline, (c) draw a graph of a
phenomenon from memory, (d) speculate about effects of recycling, (e) circle
words on a worksheet, (f) locate Disney on the Internet, (g) discuss Hamlet's
dilemma, (h) build a mutual fund, (i) tell each other messages about a ball's
trajectory with their backs turned to each other, (j) brainstorm provisions for
a treaty, and (k) about 500 other ideas.
Lesson
Closure
A
closure should bring your lesson full circle. Although a closure is considered a
necessary part of an effective lesson, many teachers may sacrifice this portion
of the lesson due to time constraints. A closure, however, is a vital part of an
effective lesson and can serve as the time to reiterate the lesson objectives,
clarify the organization of the lesson, summarize the lesson body, check for
student understanding, and preview the upcoming lesson. Most importantly, a
closure can maximize student engagement time through the use of a variety of
reflective activities. Your students should engage in an effective closure on a
daily basis. For example, after reviewing the key points of a lesson on cultural
diversity and communication skills in the workplace, the teacher can engage the
students in a reflective activity by requiring them to list three strategies for
improving their own communication skills in a culturally diverse work
environment.
The
preceding illustration of a sample lesson represents one systematic approach for
integrating the Four Aces of Effective Teaching into educational practice. Only
your imagination and commitment to your students limit the possibilities of how
you might employ these principles.
The
Final Hand
A
teacher's primary responsibility is to facilitate learning. The research
literature on teacher effectiveness gives excellent guidance for doing the job
of teaching well. The Four Aces of Effective Teaching (outcomes, clarity,
engagement, and enthusiasm) assist in bringing order out of potential chaos. The
aces represent principles that, when systematically implemented, can enhance
student learning and be used as a vehicle for continual self-examination to
improve your instructional effectiveness. The basic tenets of the Four Aces of
Effective Teaching should be stock items in the arsenal of conscientious
objectors to bad education. Therefore, if you fancy yourself a student advocate
who does not want to gamble with instructional practice and student learning,
then bet on a sure thing and stack the deck in favor of your students by
utilizing the Four Aces of Effective Teaching.
Can
you find and mark examples of the components of an effective lesson in this
article? Can you find and mark examples of the Four Aces of Effective Teaching
in this article? Can you explain the Four Aces of Effective Teaching to a
colleague? Can you design a new lesson or redesign a previous lesson using the
instructional and organizational principles described in this article?
References
Brophy,
J., & Good, T.L. (1986). Teacher behavior and student achievement. In M.C.
Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3^{rd} ed.).
New York: Macmillan. [R]
Dunkin,
M., & Doneau, S. (1980). A replication study of unique and joint
contributors to variance in student achievement. Journal of Educational
Psychology, 72, 394-403. [R]
Fisher,
C.W., Berliner, D.C., Filby, N.N., Marliave, R., Cahen, L.S., & Dishaw, M.M.
(1980). Teaching behaviors, academic learning time, and student achievement: An
overview. In C. Denham & A. Lieberman (Eds.), Time to learn.
Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education. [R]
Rosenshine,
B., & Furst, N. (1973). Research on teacher performance criteria. In B.O.
Smith (Ed.), Research in teacher education: A symposium. Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. [R]
Smith,
L. (1979). Task-oriented lessons and student achievement. Journal of
Educational Research, 73, 16-19. [R]
Walls,
R.T. (1994). Concepts of learning: 99 truths. In Federal Emergency Management
Agency (Ed.), Instructor one. Emmitsburg, MD: National Emergency Training
Center. [R]
Walls,
R.T. (1999). Psychological foundations of learning. Morgantown, WV: WVU
International Center for Disability Information. [R]
Walls,
R.T., & Cather, W.L. (1987). Principles of instruction. Emittsburg,
MD: National Emergency Training Center. [R]
Figure
1.
The Four Aces
of Effective Teaching [R]
Figure
2.
Advance Organizer for Statistics Class on Graphing [R]
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