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Strategies and Research in Instruction

As seasoned teacher will tell you, there are as many instructional strategies as the stars. Teachers become frustrated when a school district goes from one strategy to the next. This is why it is good to stick with sound research and best practices.

There are small windows of opportunity to teach students effectively. Motor development begins in the womb and closes around the age of two. The window of opportunity to learn a second language opens at birth and closes around the age of 10. The window of opportunity for mathematics and logic is from the age of 3 until 6. Of course this doesn't mean that students can't learn outside these ages, it means it is much more difficult.

Information from Brain Research & Brain Compatible Learning

Fact: According the researchers Renate & Geoffrey Caine, children who learn from flashcards learn it better when the cards are round. The circular design is least distractive. This has been confirmed in the classroom environment.

.Application: If your art students need to memorize material, use circular flashcards. Use the circle when you want students to focus and concentrate on the content of the circle.

Fact: According to researchers Marlin Languis, Tobie Sanders and Steven Tipps, physical movement ties in both hemispheres of the brain and makes it easier to pass information between both hemispheres. Younger children learn better while moving around while learning.

Application: Allow your students to stand at their table or move around the room between learning centers. Use drama as a way to teach art. Refer to the section on the integration of art and drama.

Fact: According to researcher Pat Wolf, the average human brain has about seven memory "spaces." From about the age of three, a space is added each year. If a student learns while stressed, they will develop these spaces slower. Initially, students can learn only one dimension at a time. For example, a blue "A" and red "A" can't be the same letter to them. A taller glass can hold more, even if it can hold more volume than a short, wide glass.

Application: Give younger children manipulatives that enable them to sort, classify, and solve problems. Geometric shapes and colors can be used to hasten this development.

Fact: Pat Wolf also says that the wrist is not fully developed until the age of seven. Because of this, they can't draw details or shapes easily until this age. A child younger than seven also doesn't realize that 2-dimensional abstractions can represent real life. Students have reached this point when they can draw a diamond.

Application: Have students draw pictures that force their eyes to track in a full circle rather than vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Don't give seatwork or worksheets to students younger than seven.

Fact: Pat Wolf says that the brain in all ages loses interest in something after 18 seconds. The brain will then either drop the input or retain it. Visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation is retained or dropped in less than a second!

Application: Have a great introduction that captures students' attention. Use exciting and attention-grabbing visuals. This is especially important in a world of video games and text messaging.

Fact: According to Hotz, the brain has reached its peak of activity at the age of five. By the teen years, thousands of neurons are being lost per second. Neurons that are reinforced through experience survive.

Application: Continually reinforce material and give plenty of hands-on work.

Fact: When the brain hears music, neural circuits are strengthened- especially in the area of mathematics.

Application: Here's your permission to have the radio on while students work on art.

Fact: Rote memorization is not retained or transferable unless it is immediately associated with an experience. Sylvester says that activities that draw out emotions, role playing, and cooperative learning help prompt students to recall information.

Application: If students need to memorize something, have them do it in groups, while role playing, or in engaging activities.

There are hundreds of other facts and applications with recent brain research. Because there isn't enough space to contain this information on this page, here is a collection of links for further study:
This site includes brain research, learning styles, and the effects of caffeine and sleep on the brain.


Personality Tests

Gregorc's Learning Styles

Web Corner [Archive]
This is a collection of brain research-related links.

Arts with the Brain in Mind
Jensen has compiled and reviewed research studies on the arts, the brain, and learning, which has convinced him that the arts are vital to educating our children and should be taught every day in our schools, just like language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Brain-based Learning
This is a summary of the brain and principles of learning

IAD Brain Research Articles

Major Instructional Programs and Strategies

There are many instructional strategies out there. Here are a few:

Project Based Learning

Students are challenged by working on real-life problems. Learners decide how to solve problems and decide what activities to pursue. The teacher guides and advises rather than manages students. See Project-based Learning: a Primer [Archive]

Integrated Thematic Instruction

There are nine brain compatible elements in ITI. They are: Absence of threat, meaningful content, choices, movement to enhance learning, enriched environment, adequate time, collaboration, immediate feedback and mastery. See Integrated Thematic Instruction (ITI). An example of thematic instruction can also be found here on IAD. You can also see a nice thematic lesson with social studies and art.

Inquiry Based Learning

Students are actively engaged in activities in small groups on the floor or at tables. Observation and discussion is occurring on a regular basis. There is plenty of exploration and inquiry. Typical questions are "I wonder what would happen if I do this?" See Connect: Inquiry Learning [Archive]

Learning Styles

Students learn in different ways. Some are visual learners, some are auditory, others are kinesthetic. A smart teacher will design lessons that address all learning styles. You can take a learning style questionnaire here and here. Gregorc's learning styles include concrete, abstract, random, and sequential learners. See Mind Styles- Anthony Gregorc

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner says all people excel in certain areas or intelligences. Some have linguistic intelligence, some have musical, logical, spatial, kinesthetic, personal and intra-personal, and more. See Howard Gardner's site

Bloom's Taxonomy

Benjamin Bloom categorizes levels of learning. Lower methods are called knowledge an comprehension. Higher methods are called synthesis and evaluation. Teachers can use his methods to formulate questions that enable students to increase critical thinking skills, retain and learn information better. See IAD's detailed page on Blooms Taxonomy here.


Strategies for Empowering Students- Activities that promote higher order thinking. The page is divided by primary, intermediate, and upper grade levels.


Hunter's Mastery Teaching

There are seven basic elements of the Madeline Hunter Method:

  • Setting objectives

  • Setting standards

  • Anticipatory Set (the introduction that sets up the lesson)

  • Teaching Presentation

    • Input

    • Modeling

    • Check for Understanding

    • Questioning Strategies

  • Guided Practice/Monitoring

  • Closure

  • Independent Practice

Hunter's TESA (Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement)

TESA, created by Madeline Hunter, is a training program that trains teachers how to improve the classroom climate, set high expectations, and use initiatives to close the achievement gap. TESA modifies the way teachers interact with students in order to improve student performance, gender and diversity awareness, and reduce discipline problems. TESA is an approved program of the No Child Left Behind Act.


Following are links pertinent to TESA websites:

Other big ones:


Many students get overwhelmed when assignments seem long. One solution is to break assignments down into smaller units. Chunking allows students to confidently complete an assignment comfortably without feeling pressured. As the students work on the smaller units, they learn and build on information they learn as move from one chunk to the next. I also often use collages which give students the freedom to represent information as they understand it and also using items that interest them. It brings out the individuality in the students and they appreciate that they are not seen merely as a group. From time to time, we do work in groups though which allows students to learn from each other as they discuss assignments. When students of different levels are expected to come up with the same product, I usually will break down the criteria for the product depending on the ability of students; for those who are below grade level I will expect so much and of course increase the requirements as the abilities advance.

In Summation

Good educators will take parts of strategies and programs and tailor it to their own classroom. Because all communities, teachers and students are different, it would be wrong to only use one philosophy or style. I believe this is the mistake of many districts who adopt a program to the exclusion of everything else.

I recall the controversy over outcome-based education years ago. There are aspects of this philosophy that are based in sound research. The problem was that schools gave their program this name rather than adopt portions of several strategies and call it their own program.

Nothing can beat keeping up on the latest research and adjusting your teaching methods so that your students learn to the best of their ability. Because poverty has been directly linked to poor achievement, you will need to make a few adjustments. Ruby Payne's book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty is a good one to give you ideas.


Pertinent Links:

Lesson Plan Mistakes [Archive]
An excellent site that reviews common mistakes in lesson plans.

Instructional Strategies [Archive]
A list and discussion of strategies
Instructional Strategies Online [Archive]
A huge collection of strategies listed alphabetically.

Arts Education Partnership [Archive] - A collection of PDF documents that include information on research, partnerships, assessment, and instruction.
Best Practices and Instructional Strategies [Archive]
This is a page of links and ideas by teachers from the Prince George's County Public Schools.
Glossary of Instructional Strategies
This page by Kelly Jo Rowan is a list of practically every instructional strategy in existence.

Instructional Support Services, Inc.
This site includes a wealth of information including hand-outs, research, strategies and more.

Phi Delta Kappan- Phi Delta Kappa is an educational honors association. They publish research on the latest teaching strategies and brain research.