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close this bookTeaching (IAE - IBE - UNESCO, 34 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe International Bureau of Education - IBE
View the documentSeries preface
View the documentOfficers of the International Academy of Education
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. A supportive classroom climate
View the document2. Opportunity to learn
View the document3. Curricular alignment
View the document4. Establishing learning orientations
View the document5. Coherent content
View the document6. Thoughtful discourse
View the document7. Practice and application activities
View the document8. Scaffolding students’ task engagement
View the document9. Strategy teaching
View the document10. Co-operative learning
View the document11. Goal-oriented assessment
View the document12. Achievement expectations
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences
View the documentThe International Academy of Education

2. Opportunity to learn

Students learn more when most of the available time is allocated to curriculum - related activities and the classroom management system emphasizes maintaining their engagement in those activities.

Research findings

A major determinant of learning in any academic domain is the degree of exposure to the domain at school. The lengths of the school day and the school year create upper limits on students’ opportunities to learn. Within these limits, the learning opportunities actually experienced by students depend on how much of the available time they spend participating in lessons and learning activities. Effective teachers allocate most of the available time to activities designed to accomplish instructional goals.

Research indicates that teachers who approach management as a process of establishing an effective learning environment tend to be more successful than teachers who emphasize their roles as disciplinarians. Effective teachers do not need to spend much time responding to behaviour problems because they use management techniques that elicit students’ co-operation and sustain their engagement in activities. Working within the positive classroom climate implied by the principle of a learning community, the teacher articulates clear expectations concerning classroom behaviour in general and participation in lessons and learning activities in particular, teaches procedures that foster productive engagement during activities and smooth transitions between them, and follows through with any needed cues or reminders.

In the classroom

There are more things worth learning than there is time available to teach them, and so it is essential that limited classroom time be used efficiently. Effective teachers allocate most of this time to lessons and learning activities rather than to non-academic pastimes that serve little or no curricular purpose. Their students spend many more hours each year on curriculum-related activities than do students of teachers who are less focused on instructional goals.

Effective teachers convey a sense of the purposefulness of schooling and the importance of getting the most out of the available time. They begin and end lessons on time, keep transitions short, and teach their students how to get started quickly and maintain focus when working on assignments. Good planning and preparation enable them to proceed through lessons smoothly without having to stop to consult a manual or locate an item needed for display or demonstration. Their activities and assignments feature stimulating variety and optimal challenge, which help students to sustain their task engagement and minimize disruptions due to boredom or distraction.

Successful teachers are clear and consistent in articulating their expectations. At the beginning of the year they model or provide direct instruction in desired procedures if necessary, and subsequently they cue or remind their students when these procedures are needed. They monitor the classroom continually, which enables them to respond to emerging problems before they become disruptive. When possible, they intervene in ways that do not disrupt lesson momentum or distract students who are working on assignments. They teach students strategies and procedures for carrying out recurring activities such as participating in whole-class lessons, engaging in productive discourse with classmates, making smooth transitions between activities, collaborating in pairs or small groups, storing and handling equipment and personal belongings, managing learning and completing assignments on time, and knowing when and how to get help. The teachers’ emphasis is not on imposing situational control but on building students’ capacity for managing their own learning, so that expectations are adjusted and cues, reminders and other managerial moves are faded out as the school year progresses.

These teachers do not merely maximize ‘time on task’, but spend a great deal of time actively instructing by elaborating content for students and helping them to interpret and respond to it. Their classrooms feature more time spent in interactive discourse and less time spent in solitary seatwork. Most of their instruction occurs during interactive discourse with students rather than during extended lecture presentations.

Note: The principle of maximizing opportunity to learn is not meant to imply maximizing the scope of the curriculum (i.e. emphasizing broad coverage at the expense of depth of development of powerful ideas). The breadth/depth dilemma must be addressed in curriculum planning. The point of the opportunity-to-learn principle is that, however the breadth/ depth dilemma is addressed and whatever the resultant curriculum may be, students will make the most progress towards intended outcomes if most of the available classroom time is allocated to curriculum-related activities.

Note: Opportunity to learn is sometimes defined as the degree of overlap between what is taught and what is tested. This definition can be useful if both the curriculum content and the test content reflect the major goals of the instructional programme. Where this is not the case, achieving an optimal alignment may require making changes in the curriculum content or in the test content, or in both (see next principle).

References: Brophy (1983); Denham & Lieberman (1980); Doyle (1986).