In his article, 6 Common Mistakes in Writing Lesson Plans, Dr. Bob Kizlik remarks that, “Being able to develop an effective lesson plan format is a core skill for all who teach.” I agree with this statement, but would go on to say that skilled instructional design is something that separates great teachers from those who are, well, not so great. In my work with teachers and instructional design, I find that we too often miss the forest for the paperwork – turning the valuable process of actually thinking through a lesson into merely filling in the blanks of a template. While templates can be useful, if we really want to hone in on the essential elements of good planning, we – teachers, professors, administrators – need to focus less on the formatting and more on the short list of “non-negotiables” within lesson design.
Non-negotiable #1 Clear Learning Targets
How do you get where you are going if you are unsure about the destination? How can you move students to meet the instructional goal if you do not really understand what it means? Often, when we look at standards (Common Core or otherwise), we tend to zoom in on the content – the “what” or the “noun” to be taught. Ok, so the standard says “draw angles of a specified measure using a protractor.” Angles, protractor, got it. Well, what about the level of thinking and doing around that content? What should students be able to do with angles and protractors? This would be the “how” or the VERBS in the standard. At the end of instruction – if students have met the standard – they should be able to “use” and “draw”. It sounds simple, but just thinking about the level of thinking/doing (verbs) in relation to the content (nouns) can make a huge difference in the way we think about learning targets – particularly if we throw in helpful cognitive frameworks like Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (RBT) and/or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK).
Non-negotiable #2 Task Analysis
Ok, so we have clear learning targets. We know the instructional destination – but that is only the end point. How do we know where to start? What are the milestones along the way? How do we know that students are progressing toward the goal(s)? In order to answer these questions, we have to do some level of task analysis. Now, I know that my first exposure to task analysis was a lengthy process that, though valuable to me as an aspiring teacher, was not very practical in the day-to-day grind of actually teaching. I am not suggesting that we all need to do that level of task analysis for every learning target. But, when I talk to teachers about their lesson planning, I want to see or hear some evidence that they have mapped the learning process backwards from that end target or goal, and thought through how they would determine the milestones and path for students to get there.
Non-negotiable #3 Aligned Assessments
So, clear learning targets: check. Task analysis – done. I have the destination defined and learning path mapped. Now, how do I know where students are on that map at any given point in the process? I need to plan and align assessments. Assessments – not tests. Well, not necessarily tests. My pre-assessment (to figure out where students are starting) might be very informal – a KWL for instance. My formative assessment might be drawing angles on individual dry erase boards and holding them up when prompted. My summative assessment might actually be a paper and pencil – yes – test. The point is, I have mapped several different types of assessments or progress checks that guide the learning AND my teaching throughout the process.
Non-negotiable #4 Congruent Activities & Resources
This non-negotiable is last because, not only should the other three be done before selecting lesson activities and resources, but also because – if the other three are already in place – this one should be really easy. By “congruent” I mean that the activities and resources are an exact match to the learning targets and task analysis, and are completely in line with the assessments. Many textbooks and publishing companies trumpet that their materials are “highly correlated” to standards. Correlated is not congruent. Correlated often means they include the content (nouns). Many are not congruent to the thinking and doing (verbs) required of students. When I look at instructional plans or talk to teachers about their lessons, I want to see stuff – tasks, activities, tools, resources – that is thoughtfully matched to the other three non-negotiables. And this congruent ‘stuff’ doesn’t have to be designed by the teacher – by all means, please allow Google to be your teaching assistant. Just beware that what is found online is likely only correlated to what you plan to teach. Using ‘stuff’ that is not congruent can waste precious learning time. So, those cool activities and useful handouts will probably need to be tweaked to make them congruent. The sage advice, “adapt don’t adopt,” certainly applies here.
So that’s it – 4 non-negotiables of instructional design. They are not new. They do not require a template or any technology. They do not require loads of extra time. What they do require is a commitment to thoughtful design – which in my mind is what makes teachers true artisans.
***A shout out to Mike Rutherford’s Artisan Teacher program, which includes lots more advice on these topics, among other essential teaching practices.
If you’re looking for a collaborative project with a visual end product, here’s another new Web 2.0 resource to try. NOTA lets users create an interactive digital poster that includes a variety of resources, including text, photos, clipart, maps, links, and more. There’s even a message board function, though it seems to be in beta mode.
Washington, DC instructional technology specialist Mark Brumley posted a very nice three-minute tutorial on the HP Teacher Exchange, and the user interface is really pretty self-explanatory once you understand the basics that he covers. You have to create a user account, but are up and running after you complete that quick process. I was able to create the following QTL Poster as a test in just about 15 minutes.
If you have an appropriate project, I highly recommend giving NOTA a try.
A participant in one of our recent ExplorNet workshops on Multimedia and Webpage Design gave us a pleasant surprise when she told us she had a prior history with our programs. Gail Thompson teaches Business Education now at Raleigh’s Athens Drive High School. But back in 2006 and 2007, she was a teacher at Dillard Middle School in Wayne County when the school implemented the QTL Foundations program. She told us she still uses the concepts she learned in QTL almost every day. Continue reading
(RALEIGH) – What good is technology if it sits on a shelf? That’s been a persistent question for administrators juggling budgets and deciding whether interactive tools are worth the price. Amid budget cuts and belt tightening, no one wants to spend precious dollars on tools that aren’t effective. But instructional leaders are desperately looking for solutions that help teachers manage and effectively teacher larger and ever more diverse groups of students. Student response systems, or clickers, are one such tool, when they’re used purposefully to increase engagement and assess student understanding. Continue reading
One-on-one teacher coaching plays an ever larger role in our efforts at The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning. The reflective approach our expert coaches use has a two-fold benefit: it trains teachers to examine and improve their own classroom practices, and does so without putting them on the defensive. Continue reading
Looking for ways to engage your students and motivate them to be self-directed learners? Here is the second of five installments of surefire tips! This time we focus on Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences and find out “WHAT KIND OF ‘SMART’ ARE YOU (AND YOUR STUDENTS)?
WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT HOW KIDS PREFER TO LEARN?
Dr. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has strong implications for how our students will develop into adults, get jobs and support families. Many adults find themselves in jobs that do not make optimal use of their most highly developed intelligences – for example, the highly bodily-kinesthetic individual who is stuck in a linguistic or logical desk job when he or she would be much happier in a job where they could move around, such as a recreational leader, a forest ranger, or physical therapist.
The theory of multiple intelligences gives adults a whole new way to look at their lives, examining potentials that they left behind in their childhood (such as a love for art or drama) but now have the opportunity to develop through courses, hobbies, or other programs of self-development. Continue reading
QTL Senior Instructional Specialist
Recently a colleague gave me a piece of paper with what looks like a paper doll with a backpack on it. This paper doll student is covered with little text boxes containing attributes like ‘literate consumer of media’, ‘multi-lingual’, ‘capable technology user’, ‘critical thinker’, ‘strong team contributor’, and on and on…17 in all. She explained that the image represented the characteristics a present-day kindergartner should possess by the time they graduate from high school. Hmmm…interesting.
I immediately asked myself, “Do I possess these 17 characteristics?” Continue reading