Iowa Core: Characteristics of Effective Instruction

One of the six Iowa Core Outcomes (#6) is: Educators implement effective instructional practices to ensure high levels of learning for each and every student. The thinking behind this outcome is that…

If content is challenging and relevant, and teachers routinely deliver instruction that demonstrates the characteristics of effective instruction, then student learning and performance will increase.”

” So… what are these Characteristics of Effective Instruction? To remember them, use the acronym START.

Student‐Centered Classrooms

In student-centered classrooms, students are directly involved and invested in the discovery of their own knowledge. Through collaboration and cooperation with others, students engage in experiential learning that is authentic, holistic, and challenging.

Students are empowered to use prior knowledge to construct new learning. Through the development of the metacognitive process, students reflect on their thinking. Curriculum and assessment are centered on meaningful performances in real-world contexts.

As a partner in learning, teachers intentionally create organized and cohesive experiences to assist students to make connections to key concepts.


Teaching for Understanding

Teaching for understanding is leading students to engage in a variety of thought-provoking activities such as explaining, finding evidence and examples, generalizing, applying, making analogies, and representing the topic in new ways.

Teachers make learning a long-term, thought-centered process; engage students in assessment for learning processes; support learning with representations and conceptual models; teacher for learner differences; induct students into the discipline; teach for transfer.

Grant Wiggins (1998) states, "... Understanding is not just about coverage of knowledge… but about ‘uncoverage’—being introduced to new ideas and being asked to think more deeply and more carefully about facts, ideas, experiences, and theories previously encountered and learned. According to Wiske (1998), it shifts instruction from a paradigm of memorizing and practicing to one of understanding and applying. It is best accomplished through addressing classroom practices and supporting the teacher as the primary change agent.


Assessment FOR Learning (Formative Assessment)

Formative assessment is a process, not an assessment tool or instrument, which includes collecting information on student progress toward a learning goal. The information is used to adjust instruction and increase student learning. The assessment for learning process is not an add-on to instruction, but an integral part of instruction necessary to identify and close the learning gap for each student.

Assessment for learning is used by both teachers and students. Teachers use feedback to check for student understanding during the instructional process and to make adjustments to their instruction as necessary. Students use feedback from the process to monitor their own learning and to make adjustments to their learning tactics. Formative assessment practices provide students with clear learning targets, examples and models of strong and weak work, regular descriptive feedback, and the ability to self‐assess, track learning, and set goals.


Rigorous and Relevant Curriculum

A rigorous and relevant curriculum is one that is cognitively demanding and challenging to students as they apply the essential concepts and skills to real world, complex and open ended situations. The content is not just interesting to students, but involves particular intellectual challenges. When students successfully meet these challenges, their new learning will have meaning and value in contexts beyond the curriculum unit or classroom setting.

Rigor and relevance is characterized by content that is linked to a core disciplinary concept or skill and requires students to do authentic work, using methods that are specific to the discipline and applying what they know or what they are learning to solve complex problems and involves the use of prior knowledge, the development of in-depth understanding, and the ability to develop and express ideas and findings through elaborated communication.


Teaching for Learner Differences

Instruction is focused on “big ideas” – the essential concepts and skills within the content. Instruction is designed and delivered to match students’ needs based on assessment data of students’ prior knowledge, readiness, individual interests and learning preferences. The educator provides flexibility within content, instruction, and product to allow for variances in students’ acquisition and demonstration of learning. Instruction includes opportunities for students to practice and review their learning and receive feedback. The educator regularly monitors each student’s progress related to the acquisition of the essential concepts and skills and adjusts instruction to meet students’ learning needs.

Teaching for Learner Differences is about planning for and teaching to variances among learners in the classroom to create the best learning environment possible. It is designed to ensure all students acquire the essential concepts and skills of the Iowa Core. Using data to guide instructional decision-making students are provided core, supplemental and intensive levels of support.

Teaching for Learner Differences is a framework which provides processes so that all students have access to the general education curriculum. It is best accomplished through a proactive approach where student and environmental data are used to plan for, implement, and adjust for the needs of all students.