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Alignment to Learning Sciences and Evidence

STRATEGY: Implement instructional strategies that align with and build on learning and human development research.

Effective school and district leaders implement instructional strategies that align with and build on learning and human development research to ensure that teaching practices, tools, and resources address the human brain, cognition, memory, information processing, and learning. While research on effective instructional strategies is extensive (see, for example, Visible Learning, The New Art and Science of Teaching, High-Impact Instruction, and Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching), findings are continually evolving and should be accessed routinely to inform educational decisions, programs, and practice. School leaders must assign priority to understanding the new findings to advance instructional practices that optimize how the brain learns and develops. Recognizing that learning and human development research has significant implications for pre-K–12 education, effective education leaders emphasize the importance of designing brain-compatible and developmentally appropriate learning experiences, so that students’ opportunities to master future-ready skills are optimized. School and district leaders who become proficient in the implications of learning and human development research position themselves to effectively lead the implementation of evidence-based practices to consistently yield high-level results.


This strategy requires that instruction align with how the brain learns, suggesting that effective school and district leaders know how to support teachers in designing instruction that optimizes cognitive development based on a keen understanding of information processing, memory systems, knowledge transfer, thinking skills, and brain specialization. For effective teaching and learning to occur, school leaders and educators must establish systems, programs, and instruction to create student-centered, active learning experiences meeting a wide range of individual differences. Practical implications of findings from learning and human development research should consistently inform how educators leverage evidence-based practices to address language learning, literacy, and mathematics. Educators must also be cognizant of how emotions can impede or assist learning.

Examples of instructional strategies framed as guidelines that are frequently described in the literature as aligning with and building on learning and human development research include the following:

  • Inspiring students to make individual connections to each learning experience.
  • Encouraging students to commit academically and behaviorally by setting individual goals.
  • Engaging students in diverse learning experiences to acquire future-ready skills.
  • Offering students multiple opportunities to apply newly acquired knowledge and skills.
  • Expecting students to demonstrate their learning for authentic audiences through performance-based projects and exhibitions of learning that reflect the integration of their unique skill sets and interests.

First Steps to Consider

Because learning environments and learning experiences play a significant role in shaping the brain’s abilities and determining students’ academic achievement, school and district leaders must transfer key findings and implications of learning and development research into the design of schools, including operational systems and instructional practices.

Quick wins

  • Communicate the school vision, mission, and goals related to the alignment of instructional strategies to learning and human development research with an emphasis on the why and how.
  • Develop and articulate a mental model and instructional framework to support the implementation of instructional strategies aligned to learning and human development research.
  • Assess school policies to determine the compatibility of existing rules and regulations with the mental model and instructional framework being advocated.
  • Engage teachers in reviewing learning and human development research as a springboard for reflecting on their own personal practice and beliefs and for activating ownership for changes being introduced.
  • Provide professional learning opportunities that allow teachers to develop and maintain expertise in instructional strategies aligned to learning and human development research.
  • Support teachers in applying the design principles from the learning and human development sciences to their lesson plans so that students have more opportunities to experience challenge, feedback, novelty, coherence of concepts, relevance, and meaning.

First steps

  • Ensure that teachers configure their classrooms to provide students with stimulating learning environments that invite active, self-directed learning.
  • Conduct periodic workshops that focus on new research findings in learning and human development to support teachers with the implementation of aligned instructional strategies.
  • Design and implement a variety of assessment techniques through a well-articulated assessment strategy so that assessments measure achievement and serve as a source of motivation for learning.
  • Develop school and classroom schedules that consider learning and human development research.
  • Establish professional learning communities, study groups, and/or peer coaching structures to afford teachers opportunities to apply and reflect on the incorporation of learning and human development research into their instruction.

Complexities & Pitfalls

In order to develop a community of practitioners who consistently apply and refine instructional strategies aligned with learning and human development research, school leaders will want to avoid some common pitfalls.

Common pitfalls

  • Failing to adjust previous assumptions about effective instruction to reflect teaching practices aligned with recent findings.
  • Failing to confront and address the root causes of a school climate and culture that is not receptive to new instructional strategies.
  • Limiting learning and human development research to the implementation of one approach or strategy.
  • Implementing a rigid curriculum that subscribes to a fixed sequence of age-related development stages, which conflicts with research findings that indicate cognitive development does not progress through a fixed sequence.
  • Restricting knowledge sources to the teacher and textbook instead of leveraging diverse knowledge sources.
  • Failing to be critical consumers of resources marketed as solutions for addressing instructional implications from the learning and human development research.
  • Continuing to design and implement disconnected learning experiences instead of learning experiences that are integrated, coherent, and contextualized.

Guiding Questions

  • What is the overall vision for transforming instructional strategies to align with learning and human development research? What is the rationale (why?) for introducing the proposed changes? What are the guiding principles that will inform the implementation priorities and timeline? Who will be enjoined to implement the plan and what role will each person play in the implementation? How will you measure the effectiveness of the plan and monitor and adjust it over the course of the implementation to ensure that learner outcomes are achieved?
  • What strategies will support school leaders and educators to remain current about learning and human development research to translate the research into effective teaching practices, tools, and resources?
  • What would the successful implementation of instructional strategies aligned with learning and human development research look like when described in academic and behavioral outcomes for teachers and students? Are there teachers in the school who already exhibit the desired behaviors or outcomes?
  • How will the curriculum be designed to reflect learning and human development research? How will the curriculum support students to understand new ideas? How will it support students to learn and retain new information? How will it support students to solve problems? How will it support learning transfer to new situations in or outside of the classroom? How will it support self-directed learning?
  • What are some common misconceptions about how students think and learn, and how can school leaders support teachers in recognizing them to inform teaching and learning?
  • What systems will be implemented to provide teachers and students with opportunities for practice, feedback, and refinement? How will these same systems be implemented within the classroom with students?
  • What systems of support will be needed to advance instructional strategies aligned to learning and human development research so that learning is connected and coherent and not compartmentalized into distinct subjects and courses?
  • What systems will ensure that learning reflects authentic knowledge in its context of use and not decontextualized classroom exercises?
  • What systems will be needed so that learning occurs in collaboration not in isolation?