Component Overview: Instructional Practices

A standards-based education system supports instructional practices that ensure all students achieve the standards in all content areas. Guidance and resources are provided to help educator teams develop a shared understanding of effective instructional practices. This component culminates with the selection of instructional practices that the organization will focus on to strengthen student learning. The Instruction and Curriculum section of the Portal provides guidance and resources for instruction and curriculum supports needed for continuous improvement of instructional practices.

Why does the Standards Portal focus on effective instructional practices?

Continuous improvement in education can focus on a multitude of areas: curriculum revision; reorganizing the school day; engaging external providers; selecting and implementing new curricula; facilitating stakeholder and family engagement; and attending to school climate issues. However, “This focus on so many operational issues may fall short in addressing the critical role of instruction. While structural and procedural changes are important, without instructional changes, they are likely to be insufficient for accelerating student achievement at the pace needed…” (USDOE, OST, 2013).

Standards, instruction, and curriculum need to be intentionally connected. To better provide the supports students need to master the learning described in the standards, ongoing improvement in shared understanding of the standards must be accompanied by changes in instruction, which requires curriculum materials that support the changes in instruction. In other words, changes in instructional practice are critical to facilitating student learning of all standards.

Additionally, as academic standards are revised to reflect the most up-to-date understandings about learning in a content area, shifts in standards can necessitate changes in instructional practices to support the learning described in the standards (see Activity Directions: Shared Understanding of Changes in each Content Area for more information on shifts in standards in each content area.) If instructional practices are not based on research and best-practice, and aligned to academic standards, it is possible that instructional practices being used are less effective than others, and in some cases, even counterproductive to learning.

What are effective instructional practices?

Instructional practices are the actions used by teachers to guide student learning. An effective instructional practice has evidence that academic achievement for students improves as a result of using the practice as intended.

Attention to the term “evidence-based instructional practices” has increased recently because of its inclusion in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). However, effective instructional practices are not limited to “tested” subject areas or tiers of evidence described in ESSA. Research on effective instruction is ongoing, and new understandings about what works best continue to emerge.

As educators and leadership teams develop a shared understanding of effective instructional practices, they can consider both content area- specific practices, as well as instructional practices that have been shown to be effective across content areas.

How do we build a focus on effective instructional practices?

Guidance and resources in the Portal are designed to support educator teams as they build a focus on effective instructional practices. The following actions culminate in selecting effective instructional practices to implement and support.

1. Examine educator beliefs. Educators examine their beliefs and dispositions relative to the learning needs of all students and identify those that may promote or constrain effective instruction and student achievement.
2. Collect and analyze data regarding current instructional practices. When engaging in continuous improvement of instruction, it is important to have an understanding of current instructional practices. To do so, teams must identify and collect data, then analyze it to determine what the baseline instructional situation is for the organization.
3. Explore how students learn. Research helps us understand how people learn.
4. Explore research identifying evidence-based instructional practices. Educators develop an understanding of evidence-based instructional practices that are content area-specific as well as those that span content areas.
5. Select effective instructional practice(s) to implement. The leadership team analyzes data and learning about instruction, including educator beliefs, how students learn, current instructional practices, and effective instructional practices. They will then come to a consensus on the priorities and non-negotiable concepts regarding instruction and learning, and select effective instructional practice(s) to implement.


United States Department of Education (USDOE), Office of School Turnaround. (2013). Championing Effective Instruction: A Discussion Paper on State Innovations for Prioritizing and Improving Instruction in Turnaround Schools (