Next Practices: The Evolution of Instruction

Whether you're an educator or not, you've probably heard the buzzword best practices. In education, this refers to strategies or activities that are backed by data and have shown success in the classroom. 

While there’s nothing wrong with some of the tried-and-true practices in education, some questions do arise:

  • When was the last time the practice was researched and deemed as “best”? 
  • Is the practice flexible enough to accommodate special situations without being too cumbersome? 
  • Do students buy into the practice?  
  • Is the individual educator given autonomy in which practices he or she chooses?
  • What exciting opportunities for improving learning are missed by not trying new things?

Recently, I was speaking with a student in an academically rigorous program. He was complaining about being put into cooperative learning groups in most of his advanced classes on a regular basis. His issue is that he doesn’t need group work to learn. In fact, he prefers to take notes during a lecture and engage in whole group discussions. Although he agrees that some tasks do call for cooperative groups and that the skills learned by working with others are valuable, he feels that his teachers overutilize this “best” practice and that it often doesn’t fit the task.  

This is a perfect example of how best practices can fall flat. The student definitely doesn’t buy in and all the students---and teacher---are missing out on some potentially exciting learning opportunities by sticking with the same old strategy. And, if student learning is truly the goal, educators must have the freedom to try some outside-the-box ideas. Students won’t acquire creative thinking skills if they aren't exposed to fresh approaches. 

What’s Next?

The two-part solution is pretty simple: 

  1. Don’t toss what works; just tweak it and use the re-vamped activity strategically to maximize its learning potential. 
  2. Experiment with innovative ideas to see what else works. While not everything you try will work, you will be amazed at the outcomes of most of your creative visions. 

It does take a certain amount of moxie to give new things a whirl, especially in front of an classroom full of your worst critics. The fear of an epic fail is real. Bucking the system, if even a little, can be scary. Take baby steps. Yes, you will have some fails, but when an innovative approach yields results beyond your wildest imagination, you'll be hooked. 

 If data is a must, gather your own!  Who knows, maybe the next best practice is just one experiment away!