Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My! Part 3: Instruction

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My!
Part 3: Instruction

By Dr. Jerry Burkett and Dr. Cathy Moak

DISCLAIMER: This blog is the third in a series designed to educate and inform readers on the differences between standards, curriculum, and instruction. These blogs are not an endorsement of Common Core State Standards. In our previous articles we defined educational standards and curriculum. In this article we show the relationship between standards, curriculum and instruction. This beginning article on instruction will provide a general overview. In future articles we will explore specific approaches to instruction.

Standards are the expectations, or goals, that are established to drive student learning and mastery of content and grade levels. Curriculum is a method of ordering standards in concise tools for teachers to use to plan lessons and help inform teachers as they create their instruction. Curriculum is WHAT content the teacher delivers to students. Instruction is HOW teachers deliver that content.

Instruction is the method or way of teaching students. The standards, or goals, will never be achieved without a guaranteed viable curriculum. But, that is not enough. Without effective instruction, even the best curriculum cannot lead a student to success. Effective instruction is the most critical factor in student success.

There are a variety of instructional strategies that have been used by teachers to deliver content to students, making every students probability for success very dependent on the instructional approach in the classroom. Some teachers have stood before their students and lectured for hours and hours to deliver content with little or no student interaction (i.e., Lecture). Other teachers have repeated information over and over again (i.e., “Drill and Kill”), forcing students to memorize endless facts without explanation or discovery of their origin. And some teachers have passed out worksheets for students to complete while the teachers retreat to their desk (i.e., Teacher-Centered Instruction).

While many of us have experienced teachers who have used these types of instructional techniques educational researchers have discovered through peer reviewed research and study that these instructional techniques are NOT EFFECTIVE.

For example, many of us had to memorize the 50 state capitals during our time in school.  While this information stayed with some of us, many people have forgotten over time. Unless you are a geography teacher or a contestant on a game show, have you ever had a need in your life to know the 50 state capitals?

Or, would it have been more useful for you to understand why these capitals were chosen?  Maybe study the various forms of state government throughout the United States? Or perhaps to think critically about how they were built and the concepts around how they became central hubs for government?

Although you may have forgotten the factual parts of those questions, the real skills you would have acquired are the ability to think and process information related to those capitals, which are attributes that employers seek in the workplace.

Research in the area of instruction tells us that effective instruction includes a small group environment, working on projects that are designed to push students to think critically.  In addition, teachers serve as facilitators of student learning, guiding students through cross-curricular lessons and infusing technology into the instruction where necessary and appropriate.

The table below outlines several strategies, their characteristics, examples, and classroom effectiveness.

Category Characteristics Examples Effectiveness
Direct Instruction Teacher-directed, practice and drill Teacher lecture, demonstrations Effectiveness is limited to providing information, step by step skills, and basic knowledge construction.
Indirect Instruction Inquiry, induction, student-centered Reflective, discussion, problem-solving, guided inquiry Very effective for problem-solving, life-long learning, student motivation, comparing/contrasting, influence, predicting, summarizing, and analyzing.
Interactive Instruction Peer-learning, discussion, multiple solutions Socratic discussions, collaborative learning, debates Very effective for debates, brainstorming, and problem-solving
Experiential Learning Hands-on learning, active participation, analysis, application Project-based learning, problem -based learning, simulations, lab experiments, building models, surveys Most effective. Greatly increases understanding and retention compared to other strategies. Increases student motivation
Independent Study Student-decision making, analysis, self-reliance Student centers, research projects, flipped learning, essays, computer assisted instruction, online instruction Very effective in developing student initiative, self-reliance, self-improvement, and lifelong learning.

Most educators agree that teachers should have enough autonomy to make the best instructional decisions for their classrooms. However, all teachers should be held accountable for implementing the curriculum and using classroom strategies that best meet the needs of their students. A skilled teacher will use a mix of each of these strategies when they are appropriate. For example, when given the TEKS standard:

1.6A The student is expected to: classify and sort regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes based on attributes using informal geometric language,

it would not make sense for a teacher to lecture on the differences between regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes. First grade students are not likely to retain information from a demonstration on an overhead projector describing the differences between regular and irregular two-dimensional shapes. It would be much more effective to provide the students with actual hands-on experience sorting the shapes and classifying the differences on their own, with teacher guidance.

Effective teachers analyze the standards and the curriculum to determine the best strategy for their students. Ineffective teachers stick to one approach and choose that approach based on the teacher’s needs rather than the needs of the students.

The reality in education is that the game has changed. The game changer is technology. Technology has created access to knowledge that our world has never seen. As such, students no longer have a need to regurgitate the capitals of the 50 states and they no longer need the teacher to drill and kill those capitals. Teachers are no longer the supreme keepers of the information; Google now has the stronghold on that. Facts are free and readily available.

However, what Google can’t do is help students facilitate, analyze, synthesize or process this knowledge. They need a teacher for that. They need a teacher who can take well-written standards, use a powerful curriculum tool, and plan research-based instruction to help facilitate a purposeful learning environment for students that will help them think critically about the information that is being delivered.

This is learning in the 21st century.  It’s not a conspiracy.

8 thoughts on “Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My! Part 3: Instruction”

  1. Once teachers analyze the standards and determine the best strategy for their students, they need to find the best way to deliver instruction. Teachers need the formula for quality instruction and here is when the Fundamental Five makes its role. Framing the Lesson, working in the Power Zone, FSPTL, Recognizing a Reinforcing, and Writing Critically will dramatically improve the effectiveness of classroom instruction.


  2. I have said it over and over again, educators must teach to meet the needs of their students first. And to do this, they must really get to know their students and more importantly develop good relationships with them. Once they can do that, they will be able to plan and prepare lessons that will be most effective for their particular group of students. In regards to which instructional strategies work best, I think that all depends on the teacher. The teacher should use whatever strategy works best for them and their students. Only when their strategies are not being effective, is when teachers net to have a growth-mindset an try different strategies until they find one that works for them and their students.


    1. Jorge, I agree with what you said about developing relationships with students to then prepare lessons to best meet the needs of those students. I also agree that the best instructional strategies depend on the teacher using them. Each teacher has a different strength that he/she brings to the classroom, and this often comes out in their instructional practices. By having teachers with different strengths work together, we can help teachers grow in their instruction by learning from one another.


  3. Michael, I like what you said about how the Fundamental 5 comes into play here. Technology is often referred to as such a great tool in education. Just as the blog states, however, technology is not all powerful. Technology can’t teach students the same critical thinking skills that a teacher can. Technology cannot take the place of an authentic environment where students are problem solving and utilizing hands on activities in order to solidify concepts.


  4. Building relationships with our students and establishing good communication is probably the best tool to success in the classroom. Thank you for sharing your point of view Jorge. I completely agree that this is the connecting piece that will ensure that your students are learning concepts that are interesting to them and in a manner that they understand. With this being said, every student is different, therefor their learning styles are also different and why we must be focused on student centered instruction.


  5. Relationships are key! When you know your students, you are able to teach to each one and can be sure that they are being reached. When a student is reached, they succeed. Teachers must teach to meet the needs of each student and this is done through proper instruction and planning.


  6. Now this is where the rubber meets the road. Watching a good teacher take the standards and curriculum and engage the class with a well planned lesson is like watching poetry in motion. “Instruction is HOW teachers deliver that content” it’s that simple, here is where we fail kids. The standards are set, curriculum has been purchased, lesson plans have been written but to be able to engage and convey that information so all students are learning and seeing success is where just a few days of mandatory PD before students show up just might not be working. The billboards that say want to teach call XXX-XXX-XXXX are a joke. You wouldn’t say want to operate and become a doctor call XXX-XXX-XXXX. Purposeful engaging data driven instruction. When it is done right I wish the whole world could see it.


  7. Relationships are the most effective way that you can make sure that students can connect with what is being taught. Think about it. Once you get to know students and can identify their likes and dislikes, you can know how to best engage them. This way you can push instruction in the path that is exciting for students. There are numerous parts of the Fundamental5 that come into play. In my opinion, they are simply effective best practices in education. Great read!


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