Reflection on integration of instructional design and information
by Katherine Halas Moulton
EDUC 5103 Cape Breton University
March 28, 2013
This last semester has been one of real growth for me as an educator. Fortunately, I am off on educational leave and I have time to really reflect and plan for how I am going to implement all the new ideas that I have learned about this year. I also had more time to truly explore and internalize new ideas rather than just fly through pedagogical training quickly as I did when I was working. I recorded these explorations in a blog throughout the semester which are a foundation for this reflection. My most significant changes for next year are going to be in four areas: planning, differentiation, constructivist learning, and formative assessment of my students and my teaching.
To be honest I have never been much of a planner; I think and organize, but mostly in my head and barely even on paper. My long term planning was more of some notes on a calendar than a well written plan. However, working through the instructional design group project with a great team, and especially with Ioana who brings a new perspective of a professional instructional designer, has helped me to see the value of moving through the steps of instructional design. Our Adaptive Instructional Design (AID) model is a synthesis of all the pieces of the design puzzle (see Appendix A). It is important to be systematic about looking at the concepts that we highlighted like integration of technology at every phase, continuous formative assessment, and scaffolding.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – by Albert Einstein
This Einstein quote expresses the implied failure of the school system, and in fact of our society, to allow each student to build from their strengths to reach their individual potential. Many students are not successful and are disengaged from schools because we are judging against each other their performance in mostly just literacy and numeracy. Differentiation is giving me a path to change that terrible reality for my students. I have only just begun to explore differenctiation through this course and my leadership training; however what I have learned so far has motivated me to do my exit paper on using technology to differentiate in the Spring. This will give me the foundation and the tools diversify my teaching.
Seeing the comic above for the first time inspired me to change my thinking about teaching for disabilities. For example, this paragraph has been formatted in OpenDyslexic font which was created by Abelardo Gonzalez (2013) to be bottom heavy with bolded punctuation which helps keep dyslexics from confusing certain letters and numbers. If I had a student with such a need by formatting like this I can help one student while others may silently benefit as well. The extra white space around words is useful to dyslexics and also to people like my mother whose eyes have trouble focusing on words that are close together or printed on a patterned background.
Jennifer Katz’ (2012) book Teaching to Diversity explains how many strategies used to help certain students are actually useful to all. She even explores how by being inclusive about First Nations cultures we can connect to powerful Aboriginal pedagogies (p.189). Traditional values mirror our modern inclusion and differentiation methods as Aboriginal communities look for each child’s strengths and set high expectations for their role in the community. Moreover, teaching to diversity teaches children’s hearts as well as minds and they learn to respect others. Katz found that even gifted learners benefit from a differentiated classroom because even though achievement remained the same they gain skills in leadership, cooperation, and problem-solving.
In creating a differentiated classroom the emphasis needs is still focused on curriculum objectives. Carol Ann Tomlinson names five key components for lesson planning: respectful tasks, high quality curriculum, flexible groupings, supportive learning environment, and continuous assessment which will be discussed in the next section (as cited in Howe, 2013). Designing respectful tasks includes three components readiness, interest and learning profile. Assignments need to be designed in a way that matches students’ learning profile and interests. No matter how ready the students are at the beginning of new learning all versions of assignments need to meet the learning objectives through scaffolding and focusing core competencies (Howe, 2013). Likewise, flexible groupings are important for ensuring that all students perceive that they are doing the same work and not labelled into an ability group. This also allows students to work with a variety of peers. Supportive learning environments include fostering student responsibility, good pacing, plans for early finishers, and promotion of on-task behaviour. These are key concepts that I will apply to my program planning and implementation.
I have learned that simplifying for some students does not mean watering down the content. Culatta (2013)said:
Many instructional designers, in an attempt to make content simple, take out information. Unfortunately, this leaves learners wondering, ‘Why the heck am I learning this?’ The solution isn’t to take away content, but to present it a simpler way. This is the art of good instructional design. When deciding what to leave out, it is essential to consider what content, when removed, will not harm the backbone of the learning.”
I need to work out how to design my classes for authentic learning. Moreover, I do not want to have low achieving students off in a corner doing work that is not respectful; however, I need to be careful to plan for their level of readiness during planning. Good lesson planning is truly an art that requires creativity, innovation, and skill.
Constructivist Learning and Computers as Mindtools
Reading Jonassen, Carr and Yueh’s (1998) article “Computers as mindtools for engaging learners in critical thinking” planted a seed that has changed my way of thinking about computers in the classroom. Then later that seed was watered when I read about the principle of “equifinality” discussed by Hoy and Miskel (2012) which kept me thinking. Equifinality is the notion that we can “reach the same end from different initial positions and through different paths. Thus, no one best way exists to organize and, likewise, there is no one best way to reach the same end” (p.23). The combined ideas of differentiation, mindtools for critical thinking, and accepting that not all students need to arrive at the same outcomes in the same way really challenges the way that I used to teach. I used to think that there was too much curriculum to cover using constructivist methods, but some of the work that I did for my 5106 class breaking down essential outcomes showed me that it is possible to cover the important curriculum in a way that is meaningful and will help ensure real learning not just recall of facts (Halas Moulton, 2013; Markham, Larmer, & Ravitz, 2003).
Our class discussion forum got into the use of mindtools as being a collaborative type partnership with computers letting them do what they do best, compute and store facts while allowing the human to do problem solving.This notion helps to clarify that – we, the humans, are still important, essential, and the heart of learning, and computers can help us; not replace us.
Although I have been making an effort to integrate technology, make my classes meaningful, and engage learners throughout my career, I believe that I have fallen short of allowing students construct their own meaning. Especially in Social Studies and History classes I have presented history as a package. Even though I encourage them to do their own thinking and reflecting really I am just teaching the content directly instead of having them construct knowledge. I need to learn how to teach these curriculum and do it in a meaningful, constructivist way. I will explore that idea a lot more in the Spring when I work on the Exit paper.
I have been more successful at doing constructivist style learning in my Graphic Arts and Digital Tech classes than my academic classes. I am concerned that some of my teaching falls into this category: “Instead of being employed as cognitive tools to solve challenging problems, pursue personal learning goals, or accomplish authentic tasks, computer tools have often been regarded as objects for study themselves and subjected to the same deadly instructivist pedagogy that has stymied intellectual growth by most students in more traditional areas such as science, mathematics, and social studies” (Reeves & Joannsen, 1996). When I teach the section on Canadian History some of my grade nines are overwhelmed with the notes. However, I am still unclear as to how to remove more of the direct teaching because if they have such a limited background in Canadian history. Some don’t even know when the wars were and how long we have had planes and electricity. There is still a place for direct teaching in order to give them some context.
I really appreciate Cuban’s (1986) caution that this innovation to my teaching will not necessarily be easy even if it is effective: “One of the false promises of many previous instructional innovations has been to make learning fun and easy.” Cognitive tools make no such promise, either for learners or teachers: “Instead, cognitive tools and interactive learning environments activate complex cognitive learning strategies and critical thinking” (Reeves & Joannsen, 1996). In the past some educators looked to simple software to drill the learning that they were unsuccessfully trying to teach and test into them. Instead we need to be looking at things completely differently in terms of having students building knowledge:
Whereas instructivists emphasize the transmission of standardized interpretations of the world by teachers and the educational communications they employ, as well as standardized assessments to test the degree to which students’ understandings match the accepted interpretations, constructivists are more interested in creating learning environments wherein learners use cognitive tools to help themselves construct their own knowledge representations. (Reeves & Joannsen, 1996)
Unfortunately, while I embrace the theory about constructivism I find there are few concrete steps to implementing it. Maybe that is the constructivist way – to have me explore my own planning based on what I have learned, but in this case I personally wish for some good old fashioned direct teaching.
Another important new idea that I will work into my planning is the notion of cognitive flexibility which is the ability to use knowledge in many different ways to solve the problem at hand. In order to develop the processing skills and knowledge to have this cognitive flexibility one must be taught content in a variety of different ways and for different purposes. Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, and Coulson (1995) explain:
Cognitive Flexibility Theory is that revisiting the same material, at different times, in rearranged contexts, for different purposes, and from different conceptual perspectives is essential for attaining the goals of advanced knowledge acquisition (mastery of complexity in understanding and preparation for transfer). (p. 9).
Spiro et al. (1995) also suggest that the computer is better suited for flexible teaching. They cite a body of studies that show that there is a common failure of schools to reach goals of advanced knowledge acquisition. There is a tendency for oversimplification, reductive bias, additively bias, discreteness bias, and compartmentalization. In fact, they have found “that the very things that produce initial success for the more modest goals of introductory learning may later impede the attainment of more ambitious learning objectives” (Spiro et al., 1995, p. 6).
During the course discussion forums we did explore some good examples of cognitive flexibility and constructivist learning. For instance, clearly Mitra’s (2013) Hole in the Wall experiments are constructivist learning because the students have essentially become their own teachers. They are not only learning pronunciation skills, and some math facts, but they are applying critical thinking and collaboration skills as well. Moreover, I believe if the learning objectives were set up more carefully his students could be learning even more. Implicitly, it is within their capabilities to move into more creative uses of the computer like creating their own multimedia like the boys who recorded their own music in the video.
Mitra is using the computer as a teacher for the students and giving them access to the world’s information via the Internet. Students are clearly motivated to learn, and enthusiastic about their learning. There is some evidence from the TED Talks clip that cognitive flexibility is happening. In order to see whether the knowledge is truly flexible he would need to experiment with the same students in a different situation. There is one example of cognitive flexibility when the students not only increase in complexity in their searches from the extinction of dinosaurs to the theory of relativity with increased speed in their search responses. Again, the learning tasks need to be reframed a little to be really constructivist. The students need to take the knowledge, and apply it somehow. For example, now that they know how to find Calcutta can they research places they would like to visit, and some similarities and differences between their cultures. Mitra’s ideas have shown me just how powerful a computer can be for student-directed learning; however, I feel his students would benefit from an active facilitator who responds to their needs through continuous formative assessment.
In the past, I was not good about systematically doing formative assessment. Even though, I am constantly circulating giving feedback on work in progress there is no system to what I do so students, especially quiet students, can easily be ignored. By building formative assessment into my plan I can better serve all students. Horwitt modeled a teaching strategy where he kept a clipboard with him as he circulated around the class to take notes on the students he had seen that day. He uses that information to plan strategies or ensure that he gets to any students missed the next day (as cited in Reeves & Nielsen, 2013). I plan to use this strategy next year to make sure I am not missing any students.
I am going to change my teaching to implement Goode, Kingston, Grant and Munson’s (2010) definition of assessment:
Assessment is an integral part of learning. Good assessment takes into account learning styles, strengths and needs. It is flexible and reflects the student’s achievement against a set of criteria, not against another student. Effective assessment takes place over time and is varied in its approach… It is an ongoing part of every day. (p. 21)
While doing some research for the evaluation concepts in our Adaptive Instruction Design Model I synthesized some big ideas about formative evaluation for myself. Reeves’s (2010) book talks about the need to be timely, fair, specific and accurate in marking. He also talks at length about the power of formative feedback to improve learning. This semester I also lived through the frustration of doing a course from another university where I received no formative feedback for eleven weeks until I finally got feedback during the last week of classes when it was almost too late to improve myself. Since they did not provide a rubric or other criteria for the assignment I only scored Basic on the mid-term. However, when I re-wrote the midterm with the rubric and feedback in hand my mark went up 20% to Distinguished. This was an important lesson for me. As a teacher I need to ensure that my students are getting timely feedback that they have a chance to apply to their work. Another idea that I am considering is allowing student to come in at lunch fix mistakes on tests. Rather than just writing a unit test to show what they don’t know this extra time would give them the opportunity to learn what they didn’t know.
Davis (2003) wrote an interesting article on outcome based assessments. Though her comments are related to post-secondary medical training the main ideas are sound and I will use them as a new way to do my summative assessments. She suggests that outcome based assessment is has the power to show relevance, accountability, flexibility, and clarity as well as guiding self-directed learning and facilitating curriculum evaluation. A pair of teachers in my school has been working collaboratively in this outcome-based method by creating assessments with the curriculum standard written under the prompt. Taking on these methods of explicit outcome focus could remove the mystery about my objectives for the lesson and will really help students build their cognitive skills. This will also force me to focus on the important “power standards” rather than trying to do too much at one time (Markham, Larmer & Ravitz, 2003).
Formative Feedback on my Teaching
I have always been interested in using feedback to improve my teaching, but again I need to formalize this process. At the end of a course I always interview my students about what they liked and didn’t like, what helped them to learn, and what I could have done better. These suggestions have provided for a lot of growth in my teaching. However, like the summative assessment discussed above these suggestions are not timely and come too late to help these students. A much better strategy that I will implement next year is the use of exit slips. Reeves (2010) even suggests using exit slips with a rubric on them for students to mark my teaching. This strategy will not only help me improve my teaching it will model accepting critical feedback for improvement to my students.
Throughout this course, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a teacher and what I should be doing better for instructional planning and technology integration. I have certainly figured out what my job is not. Rihard Vedder argues that universities, and implicitly schools as well, serve “primarily a gate-keeping function” to ensure that future employees have a “certain minimum level of reading skills, an ability to defer gratification and the capacity to keep to schedules” rather than learning for its own sake (as cited by Overall, 2011) or to meet the needs and interests of the learners. Others have been arguing that distance education will soon replace schools and students will soon be learning from home without the help of a personal teacher. And I agree with Mitra (2013) said that any teacher who can be replaced by a teacher should be.
My job now is to make myself irreplaceable by a computer. My new job is to provide the human element of responsive facilitator and a coach who creates a collaborative environment for constructivist learning. A few months ago I was devastated by the loss of my computer files from the last 14 years of teaching. After I recovered from my shock I began to realize that this is actually a good thing. Rather than working within my old framework of teaching I am going to build something very new next year. I plan to plan my classes to integrate technology into my newly well planned constructivist, differentiated classroom with formative assessment based on essential outcomes.
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