Essential Traits of Student Education

In ‘Focusing on the Essentials’, in the latest issue of American School Board Journal (subscription required) , Douglas Reeves details what he sees as the six practices that have the most impact on student education:feedback, educator efficacy, time, nonfiction writing, formative assessment, and expectations. 

Four of the practices Reeves mention stand out and align with much recent research, including our own.  Much has been written on the importance of feedback to a student’s educational development.  In Next-Generation Assessments , our own Dr. Malbert Smith explains the important elements of what it takes to move from novice to expert in any human endeavor, including “real-time corrective feedback that is based on one’s performance”. Or as Reeves writes: “When students receive feedback that is accurate, specific, and timely, the impact on achievement is so great that it is more significant than the socioeconomic status of children.”

Time is another critical element of success.  We know that intensive, distributed practice is essential to developing any skill.  And we’ve recently detailed stories on organizations, like KIPP, which have extended the instructional time for students with promising results.  Reeves puts the point another way:

If a quarterback needed to improve passing skills, a basketball player needed to work on free-throw shooting, or a musician had a difficult time playing a particularly challenging piece, we would not hesitate to prescribe ‘more practice’ as the remedy.

Reeves argues that nonfiction writing is another key practice for struggling students.  There has been compelling research on the importance of the reading-writing connection:

Reading Next (2004) and Writing Next (2007) have documented the importance of the reading-writing connection.  Both reports affirm that students’ reading and writing abilities are complimentary and growth in one skill inevitably leads to growth in the other (i.e., students become better readers by strengthening their writing skills and vice-versa).

In the same way that it is important for students to ingest a well-balanced diet of informational text, Reeves argues that, “Few activities have a greater and more consistent positive impact on every other discipline than nonfiction writing.  Description, persuasion, and analysis help students at every level improve thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills.”

Finally, Reeves contends that classroom data must drive instruction, that the most recent results should drive teacher and principal reaction and behavior.  As we’ve written here , our own tools, MyReadingWeb and MyWritingWeb, attempt to blend assessment and instruction by constantly monitoring student performance and targeting activities and material based on their performance. 

Reeves points are well-taken.  Let’s hope we see more emphasis on these practices in schools around the country.

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