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The real back to the basics!

Every few years, some educators and parents cry out, We got to get back to the basics! It conjures up a popular School Daze jingle I heard in elementary school,


                   “readin’,                                          writin’,                  and                ‘rithmetic

             read aloud,                                 diagramming                           reciting the
             pronouncing words                  (deconstructing)                      multiplication table
             correctly and fluently                sentences

taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”


Interestingly, rallying calls like Get back to the basics! mean different things to different people. Generally, this is a response to the flatlined or down-trending national test scores. 

By the end of the 20th-century, the basics had morphed into best practices, and many educators with a following contributed a set of practices. Some that have survived include active learning, concept mapping, learning styles, mastery learning, and peer instruction. Marzano and Associates lists 13 practices that focus on classroom culture.

The move to best practice was over-powered by the release of massive federal monies to fund the Reading First initiative in 2002, 400+ pages of research and resources for teaching features of the reading process. Schools received generous grants to pick and choose from the approved publishing houses that went on a hiring binge of speedily vetted authors and ambitious sales teams.

Oddly, Reading First included little writing. Only later did Steve Graham receive private funds to publish helpful research-based practices in the teaching of writing (Writing Next! 2007), a thin PDF volume of only 153 unrelated research projects. There were no federal funds and no clearinghouse of support.

I knew separating reading and writing was unproductive. Years earlier, my graduate studies at the Child Development Institute, University of Minnesota, cried out

       Stop over-analyzing student learning! 

      Ideal practices for learning are simple!

     Keep reading and writing together in every instructional lesson! 

The first course I designed at the University of Georgia centered around five basics that bring reading and writing together naturally. Teachers who blend these five practices in every instructional lesson produce proficient and distinguished learners – in ELA and writing, but also in math, reading, science, and social studies – in any courses in the curriculum. 

I was not surprised to read the list of top influences in John Hattie’s meta-analysis of thousands of research studies in teaching and learning. His research is the latest affirmation of what I’ve promoted my entire career. I note the ranking of each basic instructional practice and its Effect Size. An Effect Size of .40 yields a year’s growth in student achievement, .80 yields two years, and so on.

Quantify expectations (#1 teacher collaboration, Effect Size 1.56) – teachers collaborate and set the pace of systematic writing prompts for students such as, Use 4-5 of the 7 key terms of the lesson to explain what you learned today. Quantify expectations for students before they certainly ask, How much? or How long?

Model teacher writing that includes graphs, tables, formulas, diagrams, video clips, or demonstrations (#24 teacher clarity, Effect Size .75) – Teachers write at their own level of understanding, not down to students. Students will stretch to emulate the model in their own words.

Guide student choices (#16 Scaffolding, Effect Size .82) – very different from the guiding of direct instruction. For example, Of these four related terms from today’s lesson, use 2-3 sentences to explain how one word is different from the others.

Student self-assessment (#2, Effect Size 1.56) – build rubrics that focus on quantity and students use them with ease. For the trait of key terms used, students mark that they exceeded (🞧), met (⦿), or missed (🖴) using the number of key terms their teacher expected.

PAL’s check (#37, Effect Size .70) – Start simple. Students read their writing aloud to a PAL who uses a () to agree or (?) to question the self-assessment. 



  • נערת ליווי תל אביב on August 29, 2022

    Itís hard to come by knowledgeable people on this subject, however, you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

  • Sernie Elliott on December 4, 2022

    This more than amazing! Where has this guy and his approach been all of my professional teaching career? Every school in our district needs this broad spectrum treatment of literacy!

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