Classroom Strategies, Research and Reflections, Standards-Alignment Information

Doing Better: Aligned Instructional Practice

An overview of the Instructional Practice Guide suite of tools

This blog post originally appeared on the Iowa CORE blog on September 10, 2018. It has been republished with the permission of the authors.

Activist and author Maya Angelou left behind many legacies, including her regard for self-reflection as a means to improve one’s self and situation, which is illuminated in one of her unforgettable quotes: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Following this same line of logic, as educators, we have known instructional coaching increases student achievement and based on recent research included below, we know that content-specific coaching has an even greater impact on student achievement. However, even with this knowledge there is a lack of commonly used teacher observation and evaluation rubrics that encourage content-specific feedback. Most rubrics focus on generic aspects of instruction, such as student engagement, with little focus on what is being taught (Aligning Content and Practice: The Design of the Instructional Practice Guide).

To support content-specific coaching and aligned instructional practice, the national nonprofit organization Student Achievement Partners ( created the recently revised Instructional Practice Guide: Coaching Tool, which is part of a Suite of Tools, and focuses on the specific actions teachers and students should take to address the Shifts required by college- and career-ready standards. When we talk about aligning to the standards, it is far more than just the alignment of the standards to courses, units, and lessons. For instructional practice to be aligned to college- and career-ready standards, the content must be featured at the center of the lesson. Aligned instructional practice can be observed when the content and teacher’s instructional choices allow students to fully access the standards’ complexity.

To fully understand aligned practice, you must first understand the Shifts in order to apply the “Actions” and “Indicators” of aligned instruction. The “Core Actions” and the “Indicators” of the behaviors they promote are based on the Shifts.

The three Core Actions in ELA/Literacy are:

  • Core Action 1 – Focus each lesson on a high-quality text (or multiple texts).
  • Core Action 2 – Employ questions and tasks, both oral and written, which are text-specific and accurately address the analytical thinking required by the grade-level standards.
  • Core Action 3 – Provide all students with opportunities to engage in the work of the lesson.

Note: In ELA/Literacy, each guide is specific to either K-2, where reading comprehension lessons are based in read aloud and listening, or 3-12, where students are reading.

The three Core Actions in Mathematics are:

  • Core Action 1 – Ensure the work of the lesson reflects the Shifts required by the Iowa Core Standards for Mathematics.
  • Core Action 2 – Employ instructional practices that allow all students to learn the content of the lesson.
  • Core Action 3 – Provide all students with opportunities to exhibit mathematical practices while engaging with the content of the lesson.

Student Achievement Partners offers an Instructional Practice Guide professional development module, which includes a review of the three instructional Shifts in ELA/Literacy and Mathematics, and activities and discussions based on the Core Actions that will prepare participants to use the Instructional Practice Guide as a resource for observation and reflection.

You can find a set of companion resources in the Instructional Practice Guide Suite of Tools that all use the same language to describe the specific, observable actions that demonstrate whether the Shifts are being implemented in instruction. Educators can use the resources in the Suite to plan, observe, and norm expectations around aligned instruction. Each of the tools can be used on its own, but they are designed to be used together to facilitate conversations about college-and career-ready-aligned instruction.

The four main tools in the Suite include:

  • Coaching Tool – Names the specific actions (“Core Actions”) and behavioral indicators (“Indicators”) to look for to determine whether students are getting to the intent of the standards through the content of the lesson. This set of observable actions and indicators helps teachers, coaches, and peers identify evidence of where and when standards-aligned instruction is taking place. The tool, revised in August 2018, can better support you in identifying instructional areas to focus on and in reflecting on your goals all year long.
  • Beyond the Lesson Discussion Guide – Supplements the Coaching Tool rubric. Since each Core Action and Shift cannot be observable in every lesson, this guide offers questions for teachers and coaches to consider to ensure effective college- and career-ready aligned implementation over the course of the year.
  • Lesson Planning Tool – Takes the Core Actions and Indicators of the Coaching Tool and reframes them as prompts to consider while planning. The Lesson Planning Tool encourages teachers to plan lessons in a way that will ensure the Shifts will be observable in instruction.
  • Instructional Practice Toolkit and Classroom Videos – Offers a professional learning module to support understanding of planning and instruction aligned to college- and career-ready standards for ELA/literacy and mathematics through the observation of a lesson and analysis of a lesson plan and student work samples.
    • Supplemental Lesson Videos – Additional full-length lesson videos, lesson plans, and student work samples to supplement the content found in the Instructional Practice Toolkit.

For more information on the research support for content-specific observation, read Aligning Content and Practice: The Design of the Instructional Practice Guide, which details the research underpinning the Core Actions and Indicators of the Instructional Practice Guide Coaching Tool and explains how the design of the tool supports content-specific observation and feedback.

Now that we know better, we can do better. Take time to explore the tools and resources that support aligned instruction to the Iowa Academic Standards in ELA/Literacy and Mathematics and share them with educators in your district to improve teaching practices and increase student achievement.

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