High-leverage practices

The heart of the TeachingWorks strategy is to ensure that all teachers have the preparation and support necessary for responsible teaching. We focus on a core set of fundamental capabilities that we call “high-leverage practices.”

The fundamentals of teaching

What elements of the work of teaching should novice teachers learn to enact?

High-leverage practices are the fundamentals of teaching. These practices are used constantly and are critical to helping students learn important content. The high-leverage practices are also central to supporting educators to identify, understand, and begin to disrupt patterns

of injustice in the classroom while reinforcing students’ social and emotional development through equity and inclusion.

These high-leverage practices are used with care and sensitive judgment across subject areas, grade levels, and contexts.

They are “high-leverage” not only because they matter to student learning but also because they are basic for developing capability in teaching.

Click below to learn more and explore each practice on the TeachingWorks Resource Library.


Leading a group discussion

In a group discussion, the teacher and all of the students work on specific content together, using one another’s ideas as resources. The purposes of a discussion are to build collective knowledge and capability in relation to specific instructional goals and to allow students to practice listening, speaking, and interpreting. The teacher and a wide range of students contribute orally, listen actively, and respond to and learn from others’ contributions.


Explaining and modeling content

Explaining and modeling are practices for making a wide variety of content, academic practices, and strategies explicit to students. Depending on the topic and the instructional purpose, teachers might rely on simple verbal explanations, sometimes with accompanying examples or representations. In teaching more complex academic practices and strategies, such as an algorithm for carrying out a mathematical operation or the use of metacognition to improve reading comprehension, teachers might choose a more elaborate kind of explanation that we are calling “modeling.” Modeling includes verbal explanation, but also thinking aloud and demonstrating.


Eliciting and interpreting individual students’ thinking

Teachers pose questions or tasks that provoke or allow students to share their thinking about specific academic content in order to evaluate student understanding, guide instructional decisions, and surface ideas that will benefit other students. To do this effectively, a teacher draws out a student’s thinking through carefully chosen questions and tasks and considers and checks alternative interpretations of the student’s ideas and methods.


Diagnosing patterns of student thinking

Although there are important individual and cultural differences among students, there can also be common patterns in the ways in which children think about and develop understanding and skill in relation to particular topics and problems. Teachers who are familiar with common patterns of student thinking and development and who are fluent in anticipating or identifying them are able to work more effectively and efficiently as they plan and implement instruction and assess student learning.

Coming Soon

Implementing norms and routines for discourse

Each subject area has norms and routines that reflect the ways in which people in that field construct and share knowledge. These norms and routines vary across subjects but often include forming hypotheses, providing evidence for claims, and showing one’s thinking in detail. Teaching students what they are, why they are important, and how to use them is crucial to building understanding and capability in a given subject. Teachers may use explicit explanation, modeling, and repeated practice to do this.


Coordinating and adjusting instruction

Teachers must take care to coordinate and adjust instruction during a lesson in order to maintain coherence, ensure that the lesson is responsive to students’ needs, and use time efficiently. This includes explicitly connecting parts of the lesson, managing transitions carefully, and making changes to the plan in response to student progress.

Coming soon

Establishing and maintaining community expectations

Clear expectations for student behavior and careful work on the teacher’s part to teach productive behavior to students, reward it, and strategically redirect off-task behavior help create classrooms that are productive learning environments for all. This practice includes not only skills for laying out classroom rules and managing truly disruptive behavior, but for recognizing the many ways that children might act when they actually are engaged and for teaching students how to interact with each other and the teacher while in class.


Implementing organizational routines

Teachers implement routine ways of carrying out classroom tasks in order to maximize the time available for learning and minimize disruptions and distractions. They organize time, space, materials, and students strategically and deliberately teach students how to complete tasks such as lining up at the door, passing out papers, and asking to participate in class discussion. This can include demonstrating and rehearsing routines and maintaining them consistently.


Setting up and managing small group work

Teachers use small group work when instructional goals call for in-depth interaction among students and in order to teach students to work collaboratively. To use groups effectively, teachers choose tasks that require and foster collaborative work, issue clear directions that permit groups to work semi-independently, and implement mechanisms for holding students accountable for both collective and individual learning. They use their own time strategically, deliberately choosing which groups to work with, when, and on what.


Building respectful relationships

Teachers increase the likelihood that students will engage and persist in school when they establish positive, individual relationships with them. Techniques for doing this include greeting students positively every day, having frequent, brief, “check in” conversations with students to demonstrate care and interest, and following up with students who are experiencing difficult or special personal situations.


Communicating with families

Regular communication between teachers and parents/guardians supports student learning. Teachers communicate with parents to provide information about students’ academic progress, behavior, or development; to seek information and help; and to request parental involvement in school. These communications may take place in person, in writing, or over the phone. Productive communications are attentive to considerations of language and culture and designed to support parents and guardians in fostering their child’s success in and out of school.


Learning about students

Teachers must actively learn about their particular students in order to design instruction that will meet their needs. This includes being deliberate about trying to understand the cultural norms for communicating and collaborating that prevail in particular communities, how certain cultural and religious views affect what is considered appropriate in school, and the topics and issues that interest individual students and groups of students. It also means keeping track of what is happening in students’ personal lives so as to be able to respond appropriately when an out-of-school experience affects what is happening in school.


Setting learning goals

Clear goals referenced to external standards help teachers ensure that all students learn expected content. Explicit goals help teachers to maintain coherent, purposeful, and equitable instruction over time. Setting effective goals involves analysis of student knowledge and skills in relation to established standards and careful efforts to establish and sequence interim benchmarks that will help ensure steady progress toward larger goals.

Coming Soon

Designing single lessons and sequences of lessons

Carefully-sequenced lessons help students develop deep understanding of content and sophisticated skills and practices. Teachers design and sequence lessons with an eye toward providing opportunities for student inquiry and discovery and include opportunities for students to practice and master foundational concepts and skills before moving on to more advanced ones. Effectively-sequenced lessons maintain a coherent focus while keeping students engaged; they also help students achieve appreciation of what they have learned.


Checking student understanding

Teachers use a variety of informal but deliberate methods to assess what students are learning during and between lessons. These frequent checks provide information about students’ current level of competence and help the teacher adjust instruction during a single lesson or from one lesson to the next. They may include, for example, simple questioning, short performance tasks, or journal or notebook entries.

Coming Soon

Selecting and designing assessments

Effective summative assessments provide teachers with rich information about what students have learned and where they are struggling in relation to specific learning goals. In composing and selecting assessments, teachers consider validity, fairness, and efficiency. Effective summative assessments provide both students and teachers with useful information and help teachers evaluate and design further instruction.

Coming Soon

Interpreting student work

Student work is the most important source of information about the effectiveness of instruction. Teachers must analyze student productions, including assessments of all kinds, looking for patterns that will guide their efforts to assist specific students and the class as a whole and inform future instruction.

Coming Soon

Providing feedback to students

Effective feedback helps focus students’ attention on specific qualities of their work; it highlights areas needing improvement and delineates ways to improve. Good feedback is specific, not overwhelming in scope, and focused on the academic task, and supports students’ perceptions of their own capability. Giving skillful feedback requires the teacher to make strategic choices about the frequency, method, and content of feedback and to communicate in ways that are understandable by students.


Analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it

Learning to teach is an ongoing process that requires regular analysis of instruction and its effectiveness. Teachers study their own teaching and that of their colleagues in order to improve their understanding of the complex interactions between teachers, students, and content and of the impact of particular instructional approaches. Analyzing instruction may take place individually or collectively and involves identifying salient features of the instruction and making reasoned hypotheses for how to improve.


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