Matching Instructional Strategies to Learning Goals

Choose instructional strategies mindfully, aligning them with learning targets to promote transfer and deep learning.

Editors note: This post provides a deeper look into the ideas of Equity of Opportunity, one of JumpRope’s Core Values.

As teachers, we get excited about the things we learn, new ideas we’re exposed to, and often, activities we find through reading and talking with colleagues. It’s tempting to incorporate those new ideas and activities into our practice, and sometimes that’s exactly what we should do. But we need to do so mindfully and with purpose so we avoid the first of the “twin sins” Wiggins and McTighe speak of in Understanding by Design: activity-focused teaching and coverage-focused teaching. When the origin of our ideas is the cool new activity we’d like to try with our students, we risk presenting them with disjointed instruction that, in the end, might be engaging for the time it takes to complete the activity, but the learning likely won’t transfer to new contexts, it won’t “stick”. (For more on transfer see How People Learn and for more on “stick” see Made to Stick) So, as we plan our lessons, bring new material into our content, and seek to incorporate novel activities into our classroom, let’s keep in mind that knowing what our students should learn must guide the choices we make. We should choose our instructional strategies, and corresponding activities, based on our learning targets.

Conceptual image that supports the idea of matching strategies and goals

In previous posts, I’ve discussed various methods for deriving and categorizing learning targets. In my own planning process, as I think through which instructional strategies I’ll use to help my students engage with content so they can later invoke it, use it in new ways, build from it, I consider the type of thinking involved in the learning. Broadly defined, thinking can be factual, conceptual, or procedural. Careful consideration of a thinking taxonomy (Bloom, Webb, and Marzano are a few of my favorites) helps us see these three categories. Here are some examples:

Rubric with thinking types

Once I am clear on the intent of the learning target and the level of thinking required by it, I can more successfully choose an instructional strategy to support it. My chosen strategy or activity will actually support the thinking required by the target. JumpRope users who have access to Education Modified are able to consider specific, research-based strategies to support students with IEPs and 504 plans by accessing the integrated database. Form and function are aligned to improve the chances that the learning will transfer, that it will stick. Here are a few examples of learning targets intentionally paired with instructional strategies or activities:

Rubric with learning strategies and learning targets

One of the most energizing parts of teaching is the creative process. Thinking about how to teach well is just as important as thinking about the content we teach and the people who learn from us. When we choose the right instructional strategies and activities for our students, we leverage them to deepen learning. As we find new activities to add to our practice, we should pause to see how best to incorporate them, and sometimes we even need to choose to not incorporate them. The fulcrum for making the decision about which strategies, methods, and activities is the learning target. The “what” needs to be the driver for the “how”.