Top 5 Research-Proven Instructional Strategies

According to research done by the Marzano Institute, these are the top 5 ways to increase student learning. They are listed in order of effect size; in other words, the first strategy listed is proven to have the highest effect on student learning.

1. Have Students Identify Similarities and Differences

  • Ask students to compare and classify information
  • Ask students to create a metaphor
  • Ask students to create an analogy
  • Ask students to create a graphic representation

2. Have Students Summarize and Take Notes

  • Ask students to leave out unnecessary information and keep important information
  • Ask students to rewrite information in their own words

3. Reinforce Student Effort and Provide Recognition

  • Use symbolic recognition (not tangible rewards) to reward student performance

4. Practice/Homework

  • Always state the purpose
  • If practice is assigned, it should be commented on later

5. Non-linguistic Representations

  • Ask students to participate in a kinesthetic activity based on the lesson
  • Ask students to create a model
  • Ask students to create a drawing


Marzano, R., & Pickering, D. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Making Pretests Matter

Most of us have given a pretest and then realized upon looking at the results that no student was able to answer any of the questions correctly. This can be a frustrating experience for both students and teachers and feel like wasted time. I hear teachers say, “I don’t need to give a pretest to know that none of my students know how to do this. I haven’t taught it yet.”

The most valuable data comes from pretests that stretch both up and down.

The most valuable data comes from pretests that stretch both up and down.

But… this feeling is not the fault of the concept of pretesting itself, it is often the fault of pretests that are narrowly constructed.

The best pretests stretch both up and down, meaning that there are questions on the test that, when answered correctly, not only show if the student understands the grade-level concepts, but also questions that show if the student remembers the concepts from the previous year (stretching down). These questions can make the students feel more successful when taking the pretest, and can also show the teacher which students best remember the previous concepts.

It is also a good idea to have a few questions that “stretch up” and touch on concepts that might not be part of the true curriculum until the next unit (or school year, depending on the concept).

Broadening the scope of the types of questions on a pretest can help to produce data that teachers can use to better design their instruction and  group students, and can make pretesting feel more like the truly valuable strategy that it is.

What Successful Teachers Do Differently

These 5 things are from a list called 25 Things Successful Teachers Do Differently I guarantee all of these things are going on in our school! I thought it was a good reminder as we head into April and May.

Successful teachers have clear objectives
How do you know if you are driving the right way when you are traveling somewhere new? You use the road signs and a map (although nowadays it might be SIRI or a GPS). In the world of education, your objectives for your students act as road signs to your destination. Your plan is the map. Making a plan does not suggest a lack of creativity in your curriculum but rather, gives creativity a framework in which to flourish.

Successful teachers have a sense of purpose
We can’t all be blessed with “epic” workdays all the time. Sometimes, life is just mundane and tedious. Teachers with a sense of purpose that are able to see the big picture can ride above the hard and boring days because their eye is on something further down the road.

Successful teachers are able to live without immediate feedback
There is nothing worse than sweating over a lesson plan only to have your students walk out of class without so much as a smile or a, “Great job teach!” It’s hard to give 100% and not see immediate results. Teachers who rely on that instant gratification will get burned out and disillusioned. Learning, relationships, and education are a messy endeavor, much like nurturing a garden. It takes time, and some dirt, to grow.

Successful teachers have a positive attitude
Negative energy zaps creativity and it makes a nice breeding ground for fear of failure. Good teachers have an upbeat mood, a sense of vitality and energy, and see past momentary setbacks to the end goal. Positivity breeds creativity.

Successful teachers expect their students to succeed
This concept is similar for parents as well. Students need someone to believe in them. They need a wiser and older person to put stock in their abilities. Set the bar high and then create an environment where it’s okay to fail. This will motivate your students to keep trying until they reach the expectation you’ve set for them.

EDPuzzle for Making Videos into Lessons

Last week I attended the 2015 Midwest Education Technology Conference and learned a lot! More than I have really had time to process, honestly. But one of the cool technology tools that I learned about was EDpuzzle, a tool that can be used to manipulate videos and make them into interactive lessons.

You can use EDpuzzle in 3 main ways:

  1. Crop a video to get right to the point and show only the part you want.
  2. Record over the existing video in your own voice.
  3. Embed questions into the video. The video will pause and give the students time to answer, then continue to let the students view and answer at their own pace.

All of the features of EDpuzzle are cool, but I found this last feature to be really amazing. Below is an example of a video I cropped (from 3:30 to 1:28) and added 2 questions to.


Here are some video directions for using EDpuzzle, OR shoot me an email and I will come and help you get started using it one-on-one.

Everybody Likes Dessert: Learning Menus in the Classroom

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 2.38.53 PMLearning Menus are a way to provide choice for students, and can be a great tool for differentiation in the classroom. A Learning Menu is traditionally divided into 3 sections: Appetizer, Entree, and Dessert.

– The appetizer section is done first.
– The teacher provides a choice of tasks (at least 2).
– The tasks in this section should address the first 2 levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Knowledge and Comprehension)
Example Appetizer tasks:
– Define the vocabulary terms for the chapter over Westward Expansion.
– Summarize the strategy for solving multi-step equations.

After the student completes their chosen Appetizer they must check their work with the teacher to ensure that they are ready to move on to the Entree.

– The teacher provides a choice of tasks that require deeper understanding of the content.
– The tasks in this section should address Application and Analysis of the content.
Example Entree tasks:
– Make a labeled drawing of the water cycle.
– Choose 2 pieces of music of different genres and describe their similarities and differences.

After the student completes their Entree, they must “Quiz Out” with the teacher to prove that they have mastered the content and are ready to move on the the Dessert.

– The teacher provides a choice of tasks that require the deepest understanding of the content.
– The tasks in this section should address Synthesis and Evaluation of the content.
Example Dessert tasks:
– Write a short piece of fiction that uses sensory description to establish a clear mood.
– Make a slide presentation justifying or disputing Vincent Van Gogh’s lack of commercial success during his life.

Watch this 5 minute video for examples and info on Learning Menus:

CLICK HERE for and Education Week article on Learning Menus.

I like THIS CHART for help with writing questions at the different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.