The past two school years have posed many new and unexpected challenges for students and teachers. One thing that has not changed much is that educators continue to need quick access to evidence on strategies that can best support students. The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, aims to meet these needs with ready-to-use practices supported by evidence. The WWC Practice Guides describe these practices and how to implement them, most recently in the new guide for assisting students struggling in mathematics. These Practice Guides contain the classroom strategies and tips that are most likely to help improve student outcomes.
More than two dozen free Practice Guides address challenges educators face in teaching math, reading, and writing; supporting positive student behavior; and preventing dropout. The recommendations in Practice Guides are based on evidence from well-designed and well-implemented studies, the experiences of practitioners, and the expert opinions of a panel of nationally recognized experts.
Ann Jolly, an instructional program manager at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Program for Exceptional Children, has used WWC Practice Guides for years. She describes her experiences using the WWC resources below. Her experiences may help teachers or instructional leaders understand how to better incorporate evidence-based practices into their own practice.
The COVID-19 pandemic has us all wondering where the time goes. We want to use the most promising evidence-based practices to support our students. However, as expressed by one teacher who understands how easy it is to forget about trying out something new in the face of day-to-day demands, “Yeah, you just get busy teaching…”
Whether you are a new teacher trying to figure out how to balance teaching, lesson planning, grading, and other duties, or a veteran who is “busy teaching,” you should check out the WWC. The WWC, created by the U.S. Department of Education, is an easy-to-navigate website with valuable resources. I know that, as teachers, we are constantly seeking out resources that will enable us to provide the best instruction to our students. The WWC can help by searching for research, reviewing studies for quality, and summarizing findings, so that busy teachers like us can focus on our students! Here’s a quick look at some of the WWC resources I have used to make a difference in my school and district as an instructional leader collaborating with teachers and families.
When I needed help boosting reading comprehension among my special education students, I used the WWC Practice Guide Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade. This guide provided me with recommendations of practices and other relevant information that the WWC gathered to support classroom instruction. For example, I was able to quickly see that teaching students how to use reading comprehension strategies had the strongest evidence, so I knew to focus on that. The guide gave me easy-to-understand resources about how to bring the strategies into my classroom, plus videos and reference tools with examples. These were easy to digest and I was able to immediately implement the recommendations in my classroom.
When I needed strategies to support literacy at home and in school, I used the WWC Practice Guide Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade and its supplemental resources. Not only does the guide include a wealth of information for teachers, but companion documents include a summary of recommendations, a Professional Learning Communities Facilitator’s Guide, and Tips for Supporting Reading Skills at Home. I used the last tool to develop a presentation for parents. Parents took notes and asked questions as they made connections between the guide and the practices they could use at home with their children. Finding opportunities like this one to build relationships between teachers and parents may be even more important now, during a pandemic, than it was when I held this workshop.
When my school was looking for strategies to improve student behavior, I facilitated a book club with school staff using the WWC Practice Guide Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom. I began the club after noticing that other teachers were coming to me for suggestions about a common pattern of behaviors interfering with student learning. This WWC guide offered several strategies to share. Although we started by discussing a specific behavioral issue and a recommended practice to address it, we eventually worked through the whole guide, chapter by chapter. The WWC Practice Guide gave us a free resource with powerful evidence-based strategies and practices for us to try. Teachers across grade levels and content areas actively collaborated through the book club and were able to build a common language and understanding about schoolwide practices. One of the great embedded features in WWC Practice Guides are the “Obstacles” or “Roadblocks.” This feature acknowledges perceived and actual barriers to implementing evidence-based practices and suggests solutions to overcome them!
The WWC has created a wide range of other Practice Guides, covering students from early childhood through high school graduation (and beyond). The most recent products include Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Intervention in the Elementary Grades, a Practice Guide for educators in grades K to 6 that provides ready-to-use strategies for assisting struggling students. Some of my colleagues have used the guides on Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively, Teaching Math to Young Children, and Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making. So many more Practice Guides are available!
I also encourage you to sign up now for the WWC News Flash and add the WWC to your social media network on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube to easily keep up with the most current information. Research evidence on “what works” in education is there just for you. When you have a question, rely on the WWC…and don’t be left wondering what works!
This blog was written by Ann C. Jolly, Instructional Program Manager, Programs for Exceptional Children at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools with Data Rotz, Mathematica.