Best Practices: Bringing Standards to Life in America’s Classrooms

Written by Seven Zemelman, Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, and Arthur Hyde

Published by Heinemann, 2012

 

Review by Debbie Lacy Anderson, Heinemann Rep

 

I like that this book was first published in 1993 and is now in it’s fourth edition. I am proud of our profession that we recognize that just as blood letting was once considered best medical practice years ago, we recognize that best practices in education can—and should change– as we learn more about how the brain works and children learn.

 

We are all living and breathing Common Core State Standards right now—this is a huge change, in that for the first time in the history of American education, the local control of what we will teach is now being given over to a set of National Standards as prescribed by a federal government entity. What is interesting and challenging about the CCSS is that these standards, while laying out what we should teach, does not show us how to teach—the authors of Best Practices help guide us in practices that effective, skillful, and powerful teachers use—no matter what the curriculum, or what tests our students are taking.

 

The seven structures for best practices identified are: Gradual Release of Responsibility, Classroom Workshop, Strategic Thinking, Collaborative Activities, Integrative Units, Representing to Learn and Formative, Reflective Assessment. What makes this book an easy read is that the authors take us into the classroom, let us "view" a lesson that embeds these seven structures, and deconstructs the lesson and how the teacher implemented research-based best practices.

 

Of course, I immediately went to the chapter on reading. Can you forgive a Whole Language trained teacher for feeling a bit smug as I read "Phonics is not a subject in itself, but rather a tool, that that the goal of teaching phonics is comprehension." Having read that…you may now talk amongst yourselves.

 

The over-arching theme in best practices for the teaching of reading can be put into four main points: Kids need to read—a lot– and feel successful when doing it, kids need to see us model reading and thinking about rich, challenging, fun text, reading is collaborative and social, and reading is done for authentic purposes. Simple, yet so challenging!

 

In the last chapter of the book the authors address that challenge. If we know what best practices are, what keeps schools and teachers from implementing them, or implementing them effectively? There are many factors that make change difficult for schools—and there are many factors that can lead to high-impact instructional change: protected instructional time, intellectually ambitious instruction, the building of a professional learning community of teachers, academic press combined with social support, program coherence (Do we all have the same instructional focus?) and of course, teacher quality.

 

But, you say—I’m only one person, or maybe you are lucky and there are two or three of you who meet on Fridays over an adult beverage, talking about the change you’d like to see in your school. Our authors have some ideas for you. Start a professional study group with some fellow teachers—(Personally, I’d start with this book!) Apply the ideas you read about, share the results with others. Conduct a classroom research project with some of your colleagues—again—share what you are doing! And this simple idea, get to know your fellow teachers, talk build trust, talk, agree to disagree, find out what you have in common and how you can support each other in your journey toward becoming a Best Practice Educator.

 

As I said in the beginning, I am glad this is the fourth edition, I look forward to the fifth — because it will mean that as a profession we are still growing and learning. John Henry Newman said "Growth is the only evidence of life" Reading Best Practice is one way we can enhance and enlarge our professional life.

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