7 Innovative Instructional Practices to Engage Students and Support Learning

By Jenny Burns, Community Coordinator for Allen Distinguished Educators
February 10, 2016

Now is a great time to implement new innovative practices in your classroom. At the Allen Distinguished Educators (ADE) program, we understand how hard teachers work to stay up-to-date with trending topics in education. That’s why we put together a list for you with 7 innovative instructional practices you can implement in your classroom. This list was curated with research-based content from our ADE Partners as well as insights and testimonials from exceptional teachers within the ADE community.

1) Join the maker movement

“All of us are makers, I really believe that,” exclaims Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE magazine and creator of Maker Faire during his popular TED Talk, We are makers. The maker movement is more than just 3D printers, laser cutters and building robots, it is a movement that supports engineering concepts, hands-on learning and the spirit of innovation. Now gaining tremendous popularity, this movement is rapidly making its way to classrooms across the nation. You can bring the maker movement to your classroom! Learn how to design a classroom makerspace with tips from this Edutopia article, ReMaking Education: Designing Classroom Makerspaces for Transformative learning, and follow the hashtag #MakerED on Twitter to connect with educators involved with the maker movement across the world.

2) Apply inquiry-based teaching techniques

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Ask more questions and lecture less through inquiry-based teaching. “In inquiry teaching, the learner constructs meaning from new information and experiences,” explains Kimberly L. Mitchell, co-founder of Inquiry Partners, in a recent article, 3 Ways to Teach Everything Through Inquiry. Mitchell references cognitive science by Daniel T. Willingham and claims that inquiry-based teaching is the most powerful teaching strategy in both classroom and non-classroom settings because people learn best when they construct their own meaning. <Image credit: “Basketball” by Zoe Mitchell >

3) "Radically" collaborate with teachers in your school and around the world

Growing popularity for open-source educator resources and collaboration opportunities for teachers online is making it easier for educators across the nation and around the world to share project ideas, resources and strategies. Working closely with a teaching partner(s) can help spark ideas, make teaching even more fun, and lead to improved learning experiences for your students. 2014 ADE, Regan Drew and her teaching partner, John Marshall share their advice on “radically collaborating” in the classroom in their ADE video Roadmap on Collaborating with a Teaching Partner.

4) Flip your classroom instruction

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If you are interested in allowing more time for collaborative work in class while also differentiating instruction to meet individual student needs, then a flipped classroom could work well for you. To put it simply, in a flipped classroom model, students work on ‘homework’ in the classroom and watch ‘lectures’ at home. Although this learning framework is not new to education, it has received a lot of attention recently with the growth of online video platforms and expanding educational technologies. Ramsey Musallam, an AP Chemistry teacher from San Francisco, outlines pros and cons, and shares her perspective on flipped classrooms in a recent Edutopia article Should You Flip Your Classroom?

5) Connect your lessons with real-world applications through project-based learning

Immerse yourself and your students in meaningful learning experiences by relating your projects and lessons to real-world applications through project-based learning (PBL). PBL is not a new approach to instruction, but it’s still an excellent and innovative way to bring learning to life for today’s students. According to the NEA’s reviews of research based on best practices in education, “this model helps make learning relevant to students by establishing connections to life outside of the classroom and by addressing real world issues.” Here is a terrific article by Education Week with advice from an exceptional teacher outlining Five Tips for Real-World Teaching and Learning

6) Leverage industry professionals to enhance your curriculum

Invite guest speakers and industry professionals to your classroom to share insight and build upon your lessons. Industry professionals can make learning more relevant to your students by positioning your lessons into real-world contexts. They can also add a level of excitement to your classroom by mixing up the regular instructional routines. “The best way to get people in my room is just by talking about the projects that I’m working on with my friends and other colleagues,” advises Mike Wierusz, high school teacher at Inglemoor High and 2014 ADE in an ADE video roadmap on Leveraging Industry Professionals.

7) Let your passions guide you

"The biggest piece of advice I can give you if you're trying to create your own program is to base it off your own personal experiences," explains 2014 ADE Scott Swaaley in an ADE Roadmap on Letting Your Passions Guide You. “When I first stepped into the classroom, I had to create a curriculum more-or-less from scratch….If there’s something on a curriculum that I’m not passionate about, I don’t spend as much time on that particular thing – and when there is something that I am passionate about, I bring it into the classroom at full force.” Your authentic interest in the curriculum will be contagious for the students when you let your passions guide you.

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