This week I had a great chance to observe engaging, fun lessons filled with high expectations of students to learn and be successful. This kind of teaching seems “magical” when you see it happening. Many educators are so great at it that it just seems effortless; like they are born with awesome teaching skills. However, the fact is this…it doesn’t just happen. There is not really a “magical” formula for great classroom practice that just happens. Great instruction takes will and skill to develop.
What truly impacts effective lessons requires both intentional planning and delivery and as my great friend, Lissa Pijanowski, (www.lissapijanowski.com) describes in her new book, “Architects of Deeper Learning” (Published by the International Center for Leadership in Education, 2018), we have to work like architects and builders, working from a well-designed plan, laying a foundation, working through the framing, construction and inspection steps to knowing when to renovate for improvement.
I really appreciate the analogy that Lissa uses as she compares instructional design to the construction process. It really made me think about this common thread that I see woven into many of my school visits, lesson planning seems to be a lost art. Too many times, it feels like there is an assumption made that great instruction just happens without planning. When asked, teachers often talk to me about how little time they feel that they have and that lesson planning can be that “extra task” that they have to do. It might be perceived as a “thing”- a lesson plan versus an “action”- planning for instruction. While I appreciate that time is truly a precious commodity with so many expectations on educators, I am a strong believer in the need to be very well planned in order to deliver an engaging lesson with high expectations for students.
No one reading this blog, would begin to build a house without a plan. You would not hire a builder who did not have the skills needed (or seek out others with the skills to help them) to create what you want. You would want and expect that your builder would work to improve and master his or her skills. Your expectations from design to finished product would be high and, in my opinion, every student deserves this same intentional focus of classroom practice.
Have you ever had the opportunity to assist someone who really knows what they are doing as a carpenter, electrician, plumber or other trade? What happened when you were empowered to assist and learn with the expert? Something really hard, to you, hopefully seemed possible. You might even have worked your way to mastery. You learned by doing and as Lissa states in her book, “students learn by doing, it’s that simple.”
Part of great lesson design includes student ownership of their learning. Gone are the days of “sit and get”. As educators, we know that we are competing with technology that engages students whether we like it or not. They are overstimulated by much of what happens in their daily lives and so they easily become bored and disinterested when they enter a classroom where little has been done to prepare a well-planned, engaging lesson. When I interview students at my schools, they are quick to talk about the classrooms that they love to be in and it isn’t because they can just hang-out and get away with little work, it is the opposite; they ALWAYS talk about the teachers who are well-organized with interesting projects and tasks for them that make them think. In other words, they know when they meet great “architects” and “builders”.
In her book, Lissa reminds us that after we take the time to construct for knowledge we have to take the time to “inspect” our results. This really brings us to the data-driven culture that is such a part of continuous school improvement. It doesn’t mean that we just collect data about student learning; we actually use the data to know where students are on their learning journey. The “inspection” means that we only move on if the learning results indicate that students are meeting or exceeding our grade level goals. In Chapter 5 (p.121), she asks very reflective questions that I believe would be helpful to every educator as this school year begins, 1) What are the differences between assessment for learning, assessment of learning and assessment as learning? 2) How do we best evaluate student work and provide descriptive feedback? 3) What role do learning goals and success criteria play in assessment design? 4) How can we engage students in assessment so they can become self-regulated learners? 5) How can we use assessment results in collaborative teams to determine our next steps?
As I continue to support school improvement, I have the opportunity to meet many principals who know that improved instructional practices are necessary but they are not always well equipped to help their teachers get there. I want to say to you, it is the right thing to focus on. Ensuring that you build the professional capacity of your teachers so they have a chance to understand and learn more about the “why” and “how” of great design for deeper learning is important work. And, if you need help understanding the process, I would highly recommend Lissa’s book http://store.leadered.com/AODL.aspx .
Lastly, I want to share the comparison found in the book on what it looks like to move from a “Teacher-Centered to a Learner-Centered” classroom. Go ahead and use this tool to self-reflect on where you are in creating a learner-centered classroom. I have found this rubric to be quite helpful in supporting deeper understanding of what the work should look like. Have a great week. Thanks for reading and I look forward to being with you next Saturday.
|Focused on teaching.
||Focused on learning.
|Teacher delivers content and imparts knowledge
||Teacher facilitates construction of knowledge through experiences.
|Teacher talks; students listen.
||Instructor models; students interact with instructor and one another.
|Students primarily work independently.
||Students work in pairs, in groups, or alone depending on the purpose of the activity.
|Success is measured by test scores.
||Success is measured by growth and engagement.
|Instructor chooses topics and tasks are structured.
||Students have choice of topics and how to accomplish tasks.
|Instructor evaluates student learning.
||Students evaluate their own learning: instructor also evaluates.
|Rigid structures that support adult needs.
||Flexible structures that support student needs.
|Learning environment is quiet or orderly.
||Learning environment is often noisy and active.
Architects of Deeper Learning, Appendix D, Page 201