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Monday, September 9, 2013

Designing Learning


What impacts learning? Most learners need sustained engagement to thoroughly understand something new. This can be in the form of failure, making learning visible, making mistakes, multiple attempts and learning from those mistakes. Learning can be in the form of practice, repeated opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills, usually accompanied by encouragement and support by those with wisdom or experience. I am a huge proponent of teaching students to set learning goals, both big picture goals and short-term learner-specific goals. How do teachers juggle all this? How do teachers design learning that meets differentiated needs of diverse learners?

If learners need varying amounts of practice in order to sustain engagement, build time into lesson plans when designing learning goals, unit goals and coaching students to set individual, short-term goals. Grant Wiggins calls this "white space" and suggests teachers plan time weekly for this white space. White space gives learners intentionally scheduled and "needed" opportunities to learn important and relevant information, to wonder and explore, to discover, to practice, to reteach, to fail and try again, and to clarify misconceptions. Any piece of technology that will allow students to interact with, view and read resources online in real-time provides the access to the learner. Integrating tools that require students to react, reflect, summarize learning, share sources, communicate with peers and allows for both teacher and peer feedback will deepen the learning. This is where asynchronous and synchronous discussion tools are helpful, such as VoiceThread, Google Drive, Wikis and Blogs.

Use formative assessments to drive what happens during white space. Teachers create the unit goals, the big picture for learning. Allow students to create their own learning goals based on what they deem important, areas where improvement is needed, or areas of interest. Great lesson designers identify and communicate priorities so time is not wasted teaching content and skills in isolation. Often skills are strengthened when students are given opportunities to apply what they know to new situations, new learning. Digital portfolios -- no matter the tool used to create them (websites, blogs, wikis) -- used as a storing-house for an individual student's learning supports student reflection, collaboration, and can be used as a forum for evaluation and feedback from teachers and from peers.

Utilizing white space time to differentiate learning so that students can accomplish goals they have set for themselves helps ensure sustained engagement. Visible learning, goal setting, using formative assessments to drive instructional practices, identifying priorities and communicating long-range goals will impact metacognition and learning!




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