The new report Leadership Perspectives on Public Education: The Gallup 2017 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents identifies the key challenges that school leaders believe are facing public education today.  Not surprisingly, superintendents say that quality teachers who can engage students and build excitement about learning are the most critical element in improving student outcomes. However, surveyed superintendents underscored the difficulty of finding talented teachers. The report’s conclusion explains:

Superintendents believe having teachers who create excitement about the future is, more than any other proposed strategy or initiative, extremely important for preparing students for success later in life. But finding enough quality teachers is a difficult task, and superintendents are much less likely to see their district as effective in recruiting new teachers as effective in selecting, developing or retaining them. A majority also see the quantity of new teacher candidates decreasing, and more view the quality of those candidates as decreasing rather than increasing (p. 31). [Read more…]

This result suggests that districts are increasingly involved in training new teachers and providing ongoing professional development to ensure all teachers provide high quality instruction. In this two-part blog series, Learning List will discuss the ways in which districts can use (1) their instructional materials, and (2) the resources and tools on to support teacher growth and improved instruction.

In this first blog post, we will discuss the embedded teacher supports that publishers often provide to ensure their materials are used effectively and to optimize student outcomes. While not all publishers offer such supports, the resources we find to be most common are discussed below.

  • Detailed lesson plans. Many products provide teachers with lesson plans that have lightly- or heavily-scripted “teacher talk” and examples of possible student responses. The responses typically include a variety of possible correct responses as well as incorrect responses and the underlying student misconceptions. These lesson plans discuss the materials required for instruction and pacing options. They provide step-by-step guidance in implementing activities and include teaching tools, such as graphic organizers, learning games, and hands-on activities. In some instances, the lesson plans are so detailed, that they “teacher-proof” instruction. That is, the guidance is so detailed that the most inexperienced teacher can deliver the lesson effectively. This may make some experienced educators uncomfortable; however, publishers generally allow teachers to modify the plans to meet their teaching styles and their students’ learning needs.
  • Strategies for differentiating learning. Recognizing the importance of providing instruction for all learners, many publishers offer detailed activities and/or mini-lessons that support English language learners (ELLs) at different levels of language acquisition, Response to Intervention (RtI) at Tiers 2 and 3, and gifted students. Often, these resources are embedded in lesson plans or included in wrap-around teacher editions. However, as more resources are offered online, teachers increasingly have access to fully developed differentiated learning resources that address different learning needs. Such resources may include leveled reading materials that cover the same content, but at different reading levels; adaptive learning tools that adjust instruction to meet each student’s learning needs; and online tools, such as audio-readers and translation features that help struggling readers and ELLs master content.
  •  On-demand professional development. We see many publishers offering on-demand training in the form of videos, webinars, and interactive tutorials. This training often includes guidance in planning and implementing lessons; background in content, pedagogy, and learning standards; strategies for differentiating instruction; videos of expert teachers modeling instruction in classrooms; and support for using the product’s resources and/or online features.
  • Monitoring tools. Products increasingly are offering monitoring tools that allow educators to track student progress, identify struggling students, and design interventions. These tools support data-driven instruction and provide powerful information in training teachers in the use of data, measurement of learning objectives, and effective assessment.
  • A community of users. To facilitate effective use of instructional materials, publishers often seek to build online communities of teachers. These communities enable teachers to share teaching tips, lesson plans, and best practices through chatrooms, discussion boards, and other social media tools.
  • Teacher portals. In addition to traditional teacher resources, such as teacher editions and answer keys, some publishers are providing access to additional materials through online teacher portals.  Materials offered through portals supplement traditional teacher resources and often include articles that offer deeper discussions of content and pedagogy, alternative instructional approaches to satisfy different teaching and learning styles, and links to additional resources.

As noted earlier in this blog, not all publishers offer these supports. In our reviews of over 2,500 instructional materials, we have found some products that provide no support for teachers, while others offer each of the resources described above. Learning List’s editorial reviews discuss each product’s teachers supports in detail and the Academic Inventory page of our Spec Sheet provides a check list of the supports available in each product (e.g., on-demand professional development, monitoring tools).

As districts look to invest more resources in teacher training, selecting instructional materials that facilitate teacher development is one strategy that makes sense.  By investing in high quality instructional materials that help students master content and improve teachers’ instruction, districts are getting a two-for-one deal. To our way of thinking, this reflects responsible stewardship of district resources and an effective approach to improving teaching and learning.

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about how Learning List can help you choose and use materials effectively for  instruction.