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Three Key Goals for Instructional Design

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this professional development resource from Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, by Nancy Sulla. In this article, Sulla gives practical examples of a tech-integrated environment in which students want to learn. She also provides three critical goals for teachers to keep in mind when planning instruction.

Teachers should have at their core three critical goals for instructional design: engage students in learning; build greater responsibility for student learning; and increase academic rigor.

1. Engaged Learners
Busy students are not necessarily engaged students; neither are seemingly happy students who are working in groups. Although “hands-on” activities are wonderful, what you truly want are “minds-on” activities. Consider the following scenarios as we peek into three classrooms:

  • Students are locating information on the food chain from books and the Internet and creating charts to demonstrate their understanding of the food chain.
  • Students are designing a computer presentation on the food chain and are working on adding sounds and transitions to make it more exciting.
  • Students are developing a presentation that considers “what if” a member of the food chain were to become extinct, under what conditions that might happen, and how that would affect the rest of the food chain.

In the first scenario, the work is primarily “regurgitation” of content. In the second scenario, students are engaged in the use of software, not in understanding the food chain. The third scenario has students “grappling” with the content itself—understanding the cause-and-effect relationships that exist and using higher-order thinking to consider future situations. Engaged learners need to be grappling with curricular content in significant ways much of the time, no matter what their ages.

2. Student Responsibility for Learning
If you take a closer look at most classrooms, students enter the room and wait for the teacher to tell them what to do; or they follow a “do now” written on the board, that the teacher created. In this type of environment, the teacher takes much greater responsibility for learning than do the students.

Imagine a classroom in which students walk through the door; pick up a folder, or log onto a Web site that includes their current work and a schedule that they developed the prior day; read through comments from the teacher; and start working on activities they decided upon. Students determine what resources they’ll need to accomplish their tasks, and they sign up for them, including small-group mini-lessons offered by the teacher. They use rubrics to guide their work and assess their own progress; and they tell the teacher how they’re doing and what they need to be more successful.

The teacher facilitates learning through a carefully structured environment that allows students to take responsibility for the classroom. Student responsibility for learning requires clearly articulated expectations and consequences, structures that students use to meet with success, and guidance and feedback from the teacher.

3. Academic Rigor
If students are engaged in learning and taking greater responsibility for their own learning, then increasing academic rigor is easy. Lecturing, drilling and forcing memorization will not increase learning. It may bring about a small, temporary bump in test scores, but weeks later, the students will have little to show for their work, and little foundation to build upon the following year.

If you engage students’ minds in grappling with content through meaningful, authentic problems, they will build knowledge and understanding for the long-term. If you increase their responsibility for learning, offering them freedom and power, they will be able to accomplish more, not remaining dependent on others to continue moving forward. You can then increase academic rigor through well-crafted assignments, questions, differentiation, collaboration and more.


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