YARMOUTH – Let’s face it: To prepare students for the complexities of today’s world, educators have to cover more ground than ever. Both school administrators and government agencies share this goal.

So as not to fall behind students in other countries, most U.S. public schools are required to put more emphasis on material that is most easily assessed through standardized testing, controlling both what is possible to teach as well as circumscribing teaching methods.

Here’s the rub: Research tells us that teaching to a test, piling on the homework and lengthening the class day to cover more material simply doesn’t work. Those strategies exhaust kids and teachers, leading to burnout in the very groups that our country relies on to boost our achievement and create a competitive edge. The popularity of movies such as “A Race to Nowhere” only affirms suspicions that simply adding more and testing more aren’t strategies that will work long term.

So how do educators improve student outcomes and help our children become successful global citizens without magically unpacking more hours in a day or vastly improving students’ attention spans? We need to go from educational frenzy to creative and thoughtful efficiency. To do so, teachers need to make our classrooms more productive than ever.

To start, teachers need to redefine what makes a classroom experience successful, beginning with lessons that foster actively engaged learning.

Fortunately, there’s a great deal of research on how to arrive at this outcome, and much of it boils down to this simple finding: It is not what the teacher does, but what the student does, that is learned.

Great teachers allow students to take a degree of responsibility for their learning and to master new material by talking, writing and doing. The more a student does in a class, the more he or she is likely to learn.

It also helps to model teaching as a conversation with peer-to-peer interactions rather than as a top-down delivery of information.

Research by Harvard professor Eric Mazur and the new Initiative on Learning and Teaching has shown that dialogue within a class and new technologies for course websites and blogs outside of class encourage students to assimilate new material.

For example, in a subject such as history, students are more likely to be actively engaged when they grapple with the human dimension than when they are asked only to memorize dates, names and places delivered in a lecture format. Students retain more when they apply new information to real situations, tell stories about how it connects to their lives, and begin to take ownership of the information.

Finally, trying to cover too much too quickly only makes the problem worse.

At a moment when information is expanding and arriving in front of us ever more swiftly, paradoxically, it is time for educators slow down. When teachers take even a few minutes at the end of a class discussion to summarize the major topics, this strategy dramatically increases retention.

When there are opportunities for connecting topics across disciplines, the material becomes more relevant and more meaningful. For a math student, this may take the form of verbal explanations for solving a problem or applying a theory to what was covered in another class.

As a colleague at my school recently said, “For a math student, retention of the material is heightened even more when the material from the math class is drawn upon in other classes as well, and vice versa.

“When those topics that naturally occur across disciplines are emphasized by multiple educators, the beneficiary is student learning. Amidst the increased flow of information all around us, of incredible value is the need for today’s educators to be intentional in making a good class a great class. A good class informs and interests. A great class transforms and excites.”

If you listen to the prevailing educational buzz, you may believe that for teachers to be successful, they must have every student meet each benchmark across all disciplines. Only then, conventional wisdom says, will they have prepared students for whatever challenges come next.

Now it’s time for administrators and teachers to look beyond the mandate for government-set standards and prioritize an even greater responsibility: actively engaging learners.

Ultimately, teachers need to have the freedom to foster environments where even higher standards are set, ones that meet students’ needs, incorporate the most current research and methods, and allow for the richest kind of dialogue and learning to take place.

Brad Choyt is head of school at North Yarmouth Academy.