Preparing the Soil for Learning

What makes teaching effective? How do we prepare the learning “soil” for instruction that sticks in the classroom?

Traditionally, classrooms have followed a historic model of teaching involving teacher-centered instruction or lecture. Questioning for comprehension by the teacher, practice on the skill independently to solidify the concept by the student, and a homework assignment to apply the concept may follow.3611714107_fcd6a40b7f Kids listen, they may take notes, but soon they glaze over, zone out, or are lost inside their private worlds. It doesn’t matter if the kids are in kindergarten or college. In such a classroom, the longer the teacher talks, the more students disengage. Research in classroom learning indicates that students begin to tune out after only 10 minutes of a teacher talking.[1]

Active Learning has been a catch phrase thrown around classrooms and teacher lounges for many years. Often it was associated with being a creative teacher or “having fun” in the classroom, but over time we realized that it made learning more effective. Active learning was about finding multiple ways to present information while getting students engaged in the material in different ways.

The first step of effective teaching comes before we even begin the actual teaching of the concept. We need to prepare our students’ brains for what is about to come. Learning becomes more effective if we set the stage, helping students to anticipate the content in which they are about to engage.

Start by hooking the new concepts to past learning pegs. What have they learned in the past about this content, what personal experiences have they had with the concept, what shared experiences can you refer to as they prepare for new content? Review past learning, talk about relevant vocabulary words, brainstorm what they already know about the subject, and ask what other things they would like to explore.

Next, hook the content forward by helping them anticipate and prepare for the learning that is about to occur. Create interest in the subject by using concrete objects, video clips, personal experiences, and stories. Visualize the concept with them by helping them see what it looks like through brainstorming, concept-mapping, pictures, maps, or diagrams. Share the objectives of the lesson with them, giving them a clear road map for their learning. When we prepare the learning soil for the next phase of instruction it results in information that sticks…

7306440928_484600299dHelping students to recall old information and presenting new information is best done in chunks.  Begin with micro-lectures or short durations of direct instruction that utilize visual learning by creating gestures and images of key concepts. Add an experiential component through the use of cooperative learning, think-pair-share discussions, class games, drama, role-playing, or reciprocal teaching. Design note-taking strategies such as concept mapping, mind mapping, foldables, three-column journals, and quickwrites to help students organize and visualize the information in a new way, letting it leap off the textbook page and transforming it into a student-initiated organizational tool.[2] Students can better utilize the learning when they have engaged the material in a new way and transformed it into something that actively involves them.


Susan Alford, Ph.D. and Michelle Lundgren, Ed.D.
Teacher Education Department
Grace University

Today’s OnPractice is excerpted from the article “Purpose-Driven Instruction: Planting the Seeds of Learning” published in ACSI’s education journal CSE. Vol.18. No. 3. 2014/2015. To read the entire article visit the ACSI publications website.  The excerpt has been used by permission.

[1] Biffle, C. 2013. Whole brain teaching for challenging kids. Seattle, WA: Whole Brain Teaching LLC.

[2] Rozelle, Jan, and Carol Scearce. 2009. Power tools for adolescent literacy. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Photo Credits: Mind-mappingKalsau via Compfight ccBoredom. sean dreilinger via Compfight cc, Students Sharing. via Compfight cc