Home > General Overview of the Competency Model > Classes of Literacy Activities > Literature Note - Best Instructional Practices, Models of Cognition, and Assessment

Leahy and colleagues (Leahy, Lyon, Thompson, & Wiliam, 2005) presented the following summary of good practices in formative assessment, which can also be viewed as a fairly concise summary of good pedagogical practices. According to their account, an effective instructor will
  • clarify and share what students are supposed to learn and the standards by which they will be judged;
  • engineer classroom discussions, tasks, and activities that provide clear evidence of student learning;
  • provide feedback that focuses students on what they need to learn;
  • encourage students to take an active role as learners; and
  • promote a classroom culture in which students collaborate and actively support one another’s learning.

While these may be generic features of effective instruction, Langer (2001) presented a list of features shared by effective language arts programs that contains many similar elements. According to Langer, effective language arts programs have the following common features:
  • Skills and knowledge are taught in multiple types of lessons.
  • Teachers make connections across lessons, and between courses, with life outside the classroom.
  • Students learn strategies for doing the work.
  • Students are expected to be generative thinkers.
  • Classrooms foster collaborations that deepen student thinking.
  • Tests are deconstructed to inform curriculum and instruction.

Many of the same concepts emerge, in turn, in analyses of best practices at a more specific level, such as writing instruction. In particular, Graham and Perrin (2007) presented a list of best practices that consist, in general, of writing-specific implementations of Langer’s features. They listed 11 such practices, which correspond in fairly obvious ways to the elements that Leahy et al. and Langer identified as effective pedagogical practice:
  • Multiple types of lessons: Component skills (sentence combining); supporting technologies (word processing).
  • Integrated instruction: Prewriting; inquiry activities; writing across the curriculum.
  • Strategies for doing the work: Strategy instruction; summarization instruction.
  • Collaboration fostered: Collaborative writing; process writing approach.
  • Tests deconstructed: Explicit use of rubrics; models of good writing.

Not surprisingly, schools that adopt instructional practices such as those described above score high on measures of reading and writing achievement. For instance, Pressley, Mohan, Raphael, and Fingeret (2007) performed an analysis to determine why a particular elementary school scored at the top of the state reading and writing tests. The experimenters found that the administration and teachers were committed to reading and writing instruction, providing print-rich environments; teaching skills and strategies extensively (phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies); making connections between reading writing, and content; teaching oral communication skills; motivating students to read; developing a prosocial curriculum; encouraging self-regulation; and taking advantage of professional development.

In light of the research on best practices in reading and writing instruction, work on the best practices in teacher preparation display similar themes. In a synthesis of best teacher preparation practices, Langer (2000) found six important content features that are important for building effective reading teachers. These features include providing a foundation in reading theory and research; providing instruction in word-level strategies; providing instruction in comprehension strategies; connecting reading and writing practices; using a wide range of instructional approaches and materials; and using assessment as an instructional decision and reflection tool.

These considerations, viewed cognitively, naturally correspond to the rich array of skills presented in our model of literacy skills. Such a model, if elaborated to the level at which skills descriptions intersect with teaching tasks and instructional standards, can also serve to define the targets for assessment. Teaching and assessment should work together to build fluency and strategic control of the underlying cognitive skills.The goal of the model we are presenting is to just that: to define a kind of competency model that can be used as the bridge between cognitive theory, instructional best practices, and assessment.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Langer, J. A. (2001). Beating the odds: Teaching middle and high school students to read and write well. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 837-880.

Leahy, S., Lyon, C., Thompson, M., & Wiliam, D. (2005). Classroom assessment: Minute by minute, day by day. Educational Leadership, 68(3), 18-24.

Pressley, M.; Mohan, L., Raphael, L. M., & Fingeret, L. (2007). How does Bennett Woods Elementary School produce such high reading and writing achievement? Journal of Educational Psychology 99(2), 221-240.

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