Modernize Your Instructional Practice in 11 Ways

Modernizing your instructional practices

In our new book, The Quest for Learning, we ask teachers to consider how they might make their instructional practices more contemporary. We’ve talked to literally hundreds of teachers as we explore some of the facets of “right now” interests and skills, and we’d like to share some of what we’ve discovered. Note that this is not an exhaustive list of questions, just a few that were generated from our work with teachers over the last few years and have influenced what we wrote in the new book. If you have some of the same questions about how you might make your practices more contemporary, we invite you to consider the following:


Struggling with this question? What you can do about it…
How often are students given choices about processes and products?
  • Offer students choices about the way they will learn, skills they will develop, and research strategies they may engage.
  • Offer menus that students can choose from as they build a toolbox of opportunities until they can self-select.
How often are students truly collaborating when they learn?
  • Encourage students to seek the support of their peers, particularly if there has been any sort of inventory about interests or levels of expertise about a topic.
  • Support students with multiple types of roles that they can explore as they learn how to both collaborate and manage different aspects of a project.
How often are students offering each other authentic feedback?
  • Model effective feedback, including how to offer constructive comments rather than opinion-laden praise.
  • Model different ways that students can discuss, reflect, and share their work with others.
  • Set aside work time during the learning process specifically for feedback.
  • Make feedback from every student a mandatory part of every project, and require that students reflect on how effective feedback impacted or improved their final products.
How connected is my classroom?
  • When thinking about connectedness, consider both physical and digital connections.
  • Connections to other classrooms, local resources or government agencies, other schools, etc. all matter.
  • Digital connections can be garnered by social media use, online video calls, etc., and teachers and students can look to websites like Skype in the Classroom or Around the World with 80 Schools for those connections.
How far beyond the four physical walls does my classroom reach?
  • Create opportunities for publishing/performing/displaying student work in multiple places, both physically or online.
  • If online, use social tools, if possible to solicit feedback from the world about student work, and use that feedback to direct the quality of current and future work.
  • Challenge students to safely interact with other students around the world, as well as museums, experts in their fields of interest, and libraries.
How often do I relinquish control and allow learning to be in a discovery mode?
  • Plan for discovery to happen. Often, this is a function of time constraints, but the payoff is deeper learning when students discover information themselves.
  • Ask focusing questions or “what if” type questions to encourage students to reframe their problems, questions, or research methods.
  • Try to refrain from telling them what to do. Be the coach and not the Pez dispenser.
How often do my students know when additional resources or experts are needed?
  • Ask questions that encourage students to explore other options or remind them of previous solutions.
  • Guide them to think differently about their approach by making generalized suggestions that might help them make more specific decisions.
How often do my students know where to find additional resources or experts?
  • Help students build tool boxes that include multiple strategies for approaching a problem, multiple sources for information: experts (interviews), databases, digital and traditional print, etc., and multiple physical and digital ways to connect with others who have valued expertise.
  • Model and support making good resource or expert decisions.
How often do my students teach each other?
  • Give students opportunities to share their expertise with their classmates by creating opportunities/carving out time for presentations, process check-ins, small-group learning, product sharing, etc.
  • When beginning a new project, allow students with any background knowledge to share what they already know before embarking on the project. Let this be a window into what actions will happen next.
How often is the furniture and/or classroom space reconfigured for different tasks?
  • Encourage students to create habitats for learning utilizing existing furniture or spaces.
  • Brainstorm additional spaces around the school that would be potential locations for continued learning.
  • Let the spaces you brainstormed be a menu of opportunities so that the task directs the type of space needed.
  • If possible within a school’s budget, consider purchasing furniture that is multifunctional and easy to move.
How often do students participate in an authentic task?
  • Let students have as much voice/input as possible. This creates vested interest in eventual products.
  • Create opportunities that matter to students, including products that let them address an issue of justice, something timely in the world, or anything that gives them real-world relevance for their work.
  • Find reward opportunities such as grants, contests, etc. where the work will result in something earned, recognition, or a prize.
  • Bonus: create reward opportunities in your classroom by initiating a badge system or indicators of quality, craftsmanship, innovation, or skill that may lead to something a student can earn.


This is not a bulleted list of to-dos; rather, it is a list of potential suggestions, perhaps individual instructional challenges for the new year. If you want to share your experiences around trying any of these out or wish to share other ideas, please use the hashtag #Quest4Learning on Twitter, so we can interact.


If you want even more ideas, including an additional Quest FAQ, be sure to check out The Quest for Learning: How to Maximize Student Engagement, now available.

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