General Teaching Model and planning

The purpose of this article is to describe a general teaching model.

  • Definition
  • Introduction
  • What is to be learned or taught
  • A level of understanding at which to begin
  • A procedure, syntax, or steps to take to facilitate understanding of the desired learnings (instruction)
  • How, when, and what to evaluate
  • Bringing it all together
  • Planning map categories related to a general model
  • Syntax related to a general model
  • Beyond syntax to real meanings of education


Miles and Robinson defined a general teaching model as a procedure to guide the design, implementation, evaluation, and improvement of instruction, which is applicable to all levels of education, all subject matter, and for any length of instructional time (Miles, David T. And Roger E. Robinson, 1969).


A general teaching model is a general procedure to suggest helpful information to guide the decisions professional educators make when deciding specific steps or strategies when planning and teaching a specific topic, skill, or practice. Decisions for what students might learn (topics, concepts, objectives, goals, outcomes...); instructional methodologies (procedures and strategies) to use; how to evaluate student learning and evaluate instructional progress and success. When teachers plan and implement instruction, or facilitate learning, they are making decisions in four broad areas: the what, how, and how well both the students and teachers have done.

As they inquire and reflect about what to include they rely on their personal philosophies and experiences. Using them to make decisions based on what they believe is important to know, limited by their knowledge of the relevant content areas, their pedagogical knowledge for facilitating learning, their understanding of child and adolescent learning and development, what they know about their current students, what they know about the community and the world, and the availability of resources. These considerations directly relate to the selected topic. We will consider additional considerations toward the conclusion of the article.

This article will review how to operationalize a general teaching model to help teachers make decisions to inform their planning and implementation of instruction to facilitate learning. Areas to consider:

  1. What is to be learned or taught,
  2. A level of understanding at which to begin,
  3. A procedure, syntax, or steps to take to facilitate understanding of the desired learnings (instruction),
  4. How, when, and what to evaluate.
  5. How to define a quality classroom atmosphere. Classroom atmosphere is the result of content and non content interactions. Creations of social systems, principles of reactions of participants communication, the support systems available, and the effects they have on nurturing student actions in and beyond the intended topics and the effects they have on instruction with the implementation of a teaching model.

While they are numbered in a kind of chronological order for presenting information to students the planning does not have to proceed in any specific order. It is possible to start with ideas for any of the areas to generate ideas for the other areas in any order. In this article I will discuss each in the order listed

What is to be learned or taught

When deciding what is to be learned there are two critical decisions: Who decides the topic or subjects and what information about the selected topic should be learned? While the answer to both of these is critical a general teaching model must consider topics and determine what information is important for students to learn (often thought of as unpacking the topic). At this point of the planning how the topic was selected would have been made and is not relevant at this time. Therefore, a general model doesn’t have to provide for determining who does the selection.

However, it is possible a selection process could be included within the syntax of the instructional procedures, a step for teachers or students to select topics and determine the related intended learnings if the teacher and students are empowered to make those decisions. In those models the topic, the syntax, and the procedural details related to the topic can be determined by the students with teacher guidance with the implementation of the model. However, it is also possible to use a general model, when the topics and intended learnings are not within the jurisdiction of the teacher and students, for a topic that has been selected and its intended learnings outlined there is no need for steps in the model's syntax and instructional procedures for making those decisions.

After the selection of a topic, with or without students involved in the process, a general teaching model must include the kinds of ideas that result from unpacking the topic. The information that needs to be available for making good decisions in all four areas. This includes intended learnings for the topic in the form of facts, concepts, generalizations, big ideas and relationships, objectives, indicators, outcomes. In other word, ways to describe what is to be learned, taught, or facilitated.

Therefore, the first areas focus on the kinds of content information helpful for teachers to know and consider to facilitate student's construction of understanding. Information stated as fact, concepts, generalizations, big ideas, values, habits of mind, and attitudes used to describe internal representations students will construct, remember, and access later to demonstrate learning. It is the demonstrations of learning that teachers use to infer what students understand or have remembered. These external behaviors which are stated as indicators, outcomes, skills, and objectives, used for assessment and evaluation.

Objectives and outcomes are often described with the inclusion of four elements: a prompt or stimulus activity, materials to use to achieve a result, observable actions, and acceptable levels of achievement. See also facts, concepts, generalization. See also objectives and outcomes. They are also classified to improve understanding the depth of student conceptualization and skill in using the information. See also taxonomies

A level of understanding at which to begin

When a topic is unpacked and information for students to learn is described and defined with the necessary and sufficient information to facilitate the learning of the topic in a challenging, meaningful, and powerful manner, then the unpacked topic information can be used along with information about students to decide a level for all students to begin their learning process. The first or second step in the syntax, or instructional procedure, can ask diagnostic questions, give a pretest, or other activities to start collecting assessment information and use to make a decision on a level for beginning instruction.

A procedure, syntax, or steps to take to facilitate understanding of the desired learnings (instruction)

This area is what some people believe comprises the totality of a teaching model. However, if a teaching model only includes procedural information for a sequence of activities or steps to facilitating learning (syntax) for students to achieve an objective, then the information described in the other areas of this model may not contribute to the decision making.

Missing explanations for the kinds of information students are expected to learn, how it fits with the students’ present level of development and understanding, knowing how student achievement will be observed and evaluated through the teaching sequence as they attain higher levels of understanding, and how the information is of value or relevant to the world. Additionally missing would be how to evaluate the effect of instruction on the fly how to make adjustments based on student progress and how the atmosphere contributes to the over goals of education, the teacher's educational philosophies as well as the students' well being.

This area of a general teaching model should describe essential conditions to facilitating student learning applicable for the necessary steps or syntax. Information that could be included in any model of teaching such as: Nondirective, inductive, inquiry, partners in learning, mastery, direct, cooperative, learning cycle, picture word inductive model, PWIM, reciprocal teaching and other procedures or strategies used to organize and teach a lesson or a sequence of lessons.

How, when, and what to evaluate

After the topic is selected, information for the topic is analyzed, organized, and described so teachers know different ways information can be described to meet specific student needs to learn. Knowing this information they select a syntax and describe procedures, steps, and strategies to facilitate learning. Embedded in the syntax steps, procedures, and strategies should be assessment from which an evaluation can be made to inform student's and the teacher's decision making. Here are four ways to think about assessment to guide instructional decisions: diagnostic, formative, summative, and generative.

While it's possible any assessment task, activity, or questions might fit in all four categories, there are good reasons to consider each differently.

1 - Diagnosis.

The major characteristic to associate with diagnostic assessment is that it is preliminary.

It is to probe into what is known before facilitating instruction. It usually precedes learning activities, but doesn't have to. It can come at anytime during a lesson. For example, if during a lesson a question arises, that depends on background information, the teacher can ask a diagnostic question to check the students' level of understanding for that background information. At the end of that diagnostic question, she can decide if the students are ready to go on or if the background information needs to be developed before continuing on the day's planned activity. For example: students might not be cooperating in groups. Teacher diagnose the problem and decides to discuss and and have the students list what cooperation looks like, sounds like, and feels like on a chart. Discuss the results, return the students to group work with instructions for them to practice cooperation. At the end of the group work discuss how cooperation went before returning to the next step in the syntax for the content topic.

2 - Formative.

Formative assessment is used to check students' learning as it is progressing and make adjustments as conditions require. It happens continuously during a lesson. Focus questions, indicators, objectives, concepts and other information being used to make decisions for formative assessment.

3 - Summative.

Summative assessment occurs when the facilitation of learning is believed to be at a conclusion. However, the time frame is iffy. It might be at the end of a five minute mini-teach with summative assessment to check if students understood what was presented in the five minutes? Or it could be shorter like to check to see if students can summarize directions before the start an activity. Or it could come at the end of an hour class, or at the end of the day to see what students learned to take with them. Similarly at the end of a week, month, or year.

One could argue assessment is summative when a teacher is inclined to think students have conceptualize a concept, can perform the outcomes, or are ready to break from the instruction and move to another topic or level of understanding. Other wise it could be argued the assessment is formative. Therefore, summative is usually considered as the assessment before the teacher moves to another topic. It could be the first summary check, or a question to double or triple check, when student responses are within a range of acceptable or above. Its importance is to see if students are as ready to progress as we think or hope.

4 - Generative.

Generative assessment is to see if students' are able to apply, synthesize, adapt, alter, or join ideas that have been taught. Seeing if students are able to use what they have been learning in a way that wasn’t specifically presented or studied by demonstrating a variety of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation with the information.

Any one of these kinds of assessment can come at any time of the lesson and labeling assessment as one type only makes sense with respect to the purpose the teacher desires within a sequence of facilitating learning. When planning a teacher will anticipate all four types of assessment and try to predict when each will be used during a sequence for each concept, skill, outcome, or other desired learning. This planning will prepare the teacher to interact with students and be ready to facilitate their learning in real time individualized for all students. See also assessments article.

Bringing it all together

We have been reviewing each of the areas separately to better understand each. Now we will begin to see how they are connected to plan for more efficient instruction. Which can be achieved by creating in three parts:

First, a map or outline that unpacks a topic for its essential information to identify what is to be learned, levels of understanding to assess, evaluate, linked to activities and values for learning about a topic. See explanation of a planning map See more specific examples under planning maps for teaching concepts

Second a procedure, syntax, or steps to use to facilitate understanding of the desired learnings (instruction) as described in the text.

Third, an explanation for the quality of atmosphere created by the selection of social systems, the principles of reaction participants use to communicate, and the support systems available.

The result is a three part document. One part like a planning maps created for topics, the second a syntax or procedure for steps to implement a learning plan, and the third consideration of the quality of atmosphere.

Planning map categories related to a general model

Let's relate the four areas to the planning categories. While an argument can be made that information from all categories can be used for all areas the following identifies the top contenders.

  1. What is to be learned or taught
    1. Facts and properties
    2. Concepts and generalizations
  2. A level of understanding at which to begin,
    1. Perceptual information
    2. Assessment levels
    3. Based on how information is represented and organized (observations, facts and properties, concepts and generalizations)
  3. A procedure, syntax, or steps to take to facilitate understanding of the desired learnings (instruction)
    1. Perceptual information
    2. Observations
    3. Facts and properties
    4. Concepts and generalizations
    5. Transformation
    6. Activities
    7. Values
    8. Assessment
  4. How, when, and what to evaluate
    1. Perceptual information
    2. Assessment
    3. Used to evaluate students for understanding of information is represented and organized (observations, facts and properties, concepts and generalizations)
    4. Used to evaluate instruction and application of all information in the planning map or guide.

Syntax related to a general model

Lets relate the four areas to a syntax, but what syntax? Let me take a simple syntax of beginning, middle, and end.

  1. Beginning
    1. Provide a focus on the topic by using information from planning what is to be learned or taught,
    2. Identify questions or activities to probe students understanding of the topic by using information from planning How, when, and what to evaluate
    3. Use information from what is to be learned or taught, How, when, and what to evaluate, and A level of understanding at which to begin to assess what students understand and verify the accuracy of a planned level of understanding at which to begin for each student
  2. Middle
    1. Focus students attention on what they know and set goals to decide for greater understanding about the topic while the study it by using information from planning How, when, and what to evaluate
    2. Use information from a variety of models or strategies to decide what might be successful to provide a sequence of opportunities for students to construct their learning for the topic and how to include appropriate support (scaffolding, optimal mismatch, formative assessment, ) from a procedure, syntax, or steps to take to facilitate understanding of the desired learnings (instruction), to facilitate all aspects desired for the topic.
  3. End
    1. Continually decide How, when, and what to evaluate with the purpose of students having the ability to take their learning and apply it in the world outside the classroom and the self-efficacy to do so successfully.
    2. Implement the ending of a procedure, syntax, or steps to take to facilitate understanding of the desired learnings (instruction), with the purpose of not only assuring students have the ability to take their learning and apply it in the world outside the classroom and the self-efficacy to do so successfully, but are aware of what the practices and processes of the discipline they used for their learning is and they can be used for topics with similar perspectives. They should also review the attitudes, values, and habits of mind are associated with the success they had and how they will benefit them in future situations.

Beyond syntax to real meanings of education

The general teaching model explanation has focused on content, how to organize it, selecting activities for opportunities to learn a topic, and organizing instructional sequences to assess and facilitate students learning and teachers teaching it. There has been little consideration on the kinds of interactions outside of content.

While content is important it is more important students learn content in a manner that develops their love of learning and self-efficacy to learn. They must see its power for understanding the world and achieving their life goals in a manner that cares for other people and the well being of the Earth. It is from our philosophy of education we create and implement a general model to achieve general educational goals related to citizenship, caring about people, and the Earth in addition to content goals. In addition to the content related decisions there are other important considerations. The social systems, the principles of reaction participants use to communicate, the support systems available, and the effects they have on nurturing student actions in and beyond the intended topics and the effects they have on instruction with the teaching model. The quality of the classroom atmosphere is created by the kinds of interactions resulting from decisions in these areas. Decisions being based on our educational philosophies proceduralize through the implementation of a model of teaching.

Success not only for learning the content, but learning how to participate in the practices of creating knowledge by using processes to create knowledge and the dispositions and habits of mind used to be successful in understanding different subjects and their perspective for providing explanations about the world. As well as being able to use critical thinking to make decisions and creatively solve problems to create a better world where we care for each other and the well being of the Earth.

We can do this by using a comprehensively described teaching model to improve our depth of thinking about the decisions we make to plan, and facilitating learning. Thinking about the organization of content and how to sequence it for better understanding is important, but more important may be how to make classroom social systems more democratic, principles of reaction more encouraging, cooperative, collaborative, and the positive effects these can have on productive instruction and nurturing students in humanistic ways. Resulting in more learning with long term student success for content and beyond as describe in our philosophies and goals for education.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes