Evidence-Based Instruction for Content Area Knowledge

Instructor: Emily Hamm

Emily has B.S. in elementary education and a M.S. in educational technology. She teaches full-time, works as an adjunct professor, and is a freelancer.

The objective of this lesson is to identify and describe evidence-based methods that teachers can use for content knowledge as well as literacy and learning strategies for diverse levels of readers.

Importance of Evidence

Crime scene tape yelling a 'Do Not Cross' warning, jarring red and blue lights, and the dramatic flashing of a badge is not something associated with a typical teacher on any given day. However, a law enforcement investigator and an educator have something in common. They both require the use of evidence. While the police officer uses evidence after the fact, the quality teacher will use evidence-based instructional strategies preemptively.

Content Knowledge

To begin instructing content knowledge to students, always make reading applicable to their lives. Whether it is reading for entertainment, information, or technical directions, choose authentic experiences that will connect with your students.

One of the best ways to do this is through high quality literature that is carefully selected. Consider your audience. The reading material that goes over well in an urban high school might fall completely flat in a rural setting. Think community and school culture as well as student interests when choosing literature. Understanding the themes of literature is critical when selecting. If a teacher assumes the book Animal Farm will go over well in a rural area, without having an in-depth knowledge of the context or content, it will negatively affect the classroom and student learning.

Additionally, English Language Arts (ELA) teachers need to include a component of word strategy or vocabulary in their content instruction. This is not only a list of bolded words from a textbook. Ideally, explicit instruction on word origins (Greek/Latin roots), uses, and denotations/connotations is best for student's vocabulary growth.

When instructing content, use multiple text types. For example, if teaching the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, use the poem We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks and a local news article on gang activity or crime. Adding variety such as song lyrics, artwork, and poetry in addition to applicable non-fiction texts will create diversity and connection for your students.

Lastly, balance is key when working with students in the area of reading comprehension. Include direct and explicit (teacher-led) instruction, student collaboration, guided practice, and independent work.

Literacy and Learning Strategies

A quality ELA teacher will have a deep and thorough understanding of literacy and learning strategies. These strategies are researched and proven to be beneficial for student learning.

One strategy is to ask quality questions to check for understanding.

  • These should not be basic answers; rather, they should involve synthesis, evaluation, and/or analysis (the upper levels of Blooms Taxonomy).
  • A lower level question might be: ''Do you agree with the character's choice to leave the house at the end?'' This allows students to answer: ''Yes'' or ''No'' without having to critically think.
  • A better question would be something like: 'What was the author's intent by having the symbols of good and evil both present at the conclusion?' This question requires the students to recognize and understand the symbolism and apply it.

Additionally, the use of graphic organizers can help students comprehend the important information. Depending upon the focus of the curriculum or literature study, different organizers are most beneficial.

  • Venn diagrams, sketch notes, and The Cornell Method for note taking are commonly known and utilized.
  • However, there are myriads more available depending upon a teacher's needs.
  • For broad units of study, concept mapping or mind-mapping is an excellent way to have students organize the key points and pull out the important information from a piece of reading.

Teachers should think beyond straight content and teach strategies for solving literacy problems.

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