Best Practices, Best Goals

rusty horseshoeI’ve been thinking a lot lately about best teaching practices.

As I’ve tried to sort research on teaching writing into logical categories, I keep getting the feeling that best practices are not so much a teacher’s actions but are primarily descriptions of the teacher’s attitudes toward learning, knowledge and students.

For example, we know from research as well as experience that repetition aids in learning a skill. Applying that best practice requires certain teacher attitudes. The teacher must:

  • Be patient as the inept struggle to become competent.
  • Observe closely to see what may be keeping a student from learning.
  • Be willing to try different approaches with different students.
  • Focus on the goal.
  • Put up with the boredom of teaching basics over and over and over.

It has also occurred to me that best teaching practices can be applied to poor goals — or even to bad ones. We can prepare students for careers as farriers, but if there are no horses to be shod, what have we accomplished?

Photo credit: “Rusty Horseshoe” uploaded by Maerik

2 thoughts on “Best Practices, Best Goals

  1. I totally agree with this. In my classroom, I used one of your methods and had students keep an OOPS journal of their errors. That is they must write and fix them three times over the course of a week. I saw measurable change in the students’ writing.


    1. Susan is referring to Individual Mastery Plans. At the start of a course, I flag every occurrence of one of the top 20 student errors from the Connors and Lunsford 1988 study “Ma and Pa Kettle Do Research.” I have students tally the number of times they made each error. Then we select a specific number of their most common errors, typically five, to eliminate from their final drafts by the end of the semester. I cap the grade a student can get if a final drafts she submits has more than certain number of the errors on her target list. This procedure (1) makes students responsible for correcting their work, (2) individualizes study targets, (3) associates correcting with the editing process rather than the drafting process, and (4) reduces the amount of marking I have to do. It is the only procedure I’ve found that actually gets students to correct their habitual writing mechanics errors.


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