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A Deeper Approach to Planning Learning Experiences

Engineering effective learning experiences: Motivated by a recent chat with the ever stimulating Carl Gombrich (@carlgomb) I wanted to take an earlier article where I discussed a form of Curriculum which synthesises Challenge Based and Collaborative Group Learning a little further.

In this article I wish to outline and extend an approach I and a number of colleagues apply when designing long term (curriculum) and short term sequences of learning experiences. The approach, presented here as steps and in diagrammatic form, acts as a learning driven planning framework which provides a foundation for a range of pedagogies, especially those aligned with a Group, Cooperative or Collaborative Group Learning Process, to be applied.

Step 1, the opening move: Before any other step the concept/theme/topic to be explored should be chosen, an aligned Driving Question designed and the time available (in and out of ‘class’) for the learning experience established.

The concept being explored is Justice. This concept will be explored through the Driving Question: How could you make your world more Just? 6 weeks are available for this concept to be explored.

Step 2, establish the Core: Decide what subject/domain specific Knowledge, Understanding and Skills you wish learners to develop. Due to longer term planning such decisions about KUS should be shaped by where the learning is coming from and where it is going to; what has been learnt, what needs to be developed. The chosen K & U act as a Case Study to be investigated and to be used to model later Collaborative and/or Individual activity. It should be these three aspects which will be assessed and progress within them recorded and measured thus providing the learning experience with an academic core.

In this sequence of learning experiences (a unit of work) learners will have an opportunity to develop knowledge about The Holocaust. They will have an opportunity to develop an understanding of The Holocaust in particular the Political Social Economic factors that contributed to The Holocaust and the role People Ideas and Events played within its development. Through this Case Study Learners will be provided with opportunities to develop the skill of Historical Interpretation through Collaborative Enquiry and teacher led Master Classes and enhance the skill of Research & Record through application supported by targeted Master Classes. The development of knowledge will be assessed through a factual test (at the start and end of the sequence to measure K development), understanding assessed through a piece of extended writing about the causes of The Holocaust using agreed criteria (I can statements) and the skill of Research & Record will be assessed through the accurate application of the R&R criteria during preparation for the final artefact; a collaboratively written 5 minute speech.

Step 3, once the subject Core of KUS has been chosen: Decide what Personalised Learning Choices students can make to shape their own learning experiences. The nature of these choices should be informed, but not limited, by the Core. The semi permeable PLC’s can also offer opportunities to connect subject areas. Learners may be given opportunities to find, establish, explore connections between subject areas in terms of KUS relevant to the guiding topic/concept/theme or the Core. Master Classes may be planned to provide personalised support for KUS development.

Learners will have the opportunity to choose an injustice present in their world which they find interesting, they have a passion for, applying R&R to explore the causes of, the nature of and possible solutions to this injustice. Opportunities to explore the injustice along the lines of differing perspectives, for example connecting to Theology, Law, Philosophy, Sociology, Media, Politics, Biology to explore more deeply their chosen injustice. Master Classes will be provided in class and online to support learners to enhance their R&R skills and to attend to emerging deficits in knowledge related to their chosen injustice.

Step 4, rest it all on 6 pillars: These pillars have been chosen as they represent what I believe to be fundamental facets of an affective-effective learning process. Others may feel this selection does not align with their own philosophical, theoretical or ideological beliefs. Many hardcore Constructivists would switch out most of these pillars while Behaviourists would choose a wholly different complement of pillars (perhaps bells and electric shocks).

  • Pillar 1: Metacognition. What opportunities will be provided for learners to reflect upon and act upon their own and others approaches to learning?
  • Pillar 2: Feedback. What opportunities will be provided for self, peer and expert feedback and feedforward? How will feedback be acted upon?
  • Pillar 3: Collaboration. What opportunities will learners have to apply and develop the skills of and processes of collaborative group learning?
  • Pillar 4: Enquiry: What opportunities will be provided to investigate and explore challenges and problems? What opportunities will be provided for learners to construct their own questions and investigations?
  • Pillar 5: Authentic Challenge: What opportunities will be provided for personalisation, in terms of choice and support? How will the learning experience be made authentic? Can the assessment of learning be made authentic?
  • Pillar 6: Pragmatic Rehearsal: What opportunities will be provided for learners to practice exam specific skills?

Pillar 1: Regular opportunities will be provided within learning sessions for students to reflect upon there own learning (WWW & EBI approach). At least two opportunities will be given for the Learning Set to reflect upon their group learning processes. This will in part be stimulated by peer and teacher feedback.

Pillar 2: Peer and teacher feedback will be provided with Warm and Cold forms. Follow Up Time will be built into Learning Sessions enabling learners to act upon the feedback, planning the next steps in their own or the Learning Sets learning. Feedback will be verbal and written, provided for in and out of class learning and following on from each assessment. The assessment of understanding will be followed by feedback and a planned opportunity for learners to respond to feedback. Feedback will also guide which Master Classes should be attended during the injustice investigation.

Pillar 3: The Learning Set will provide for ongoing collaboration, in particular through discussion. Collaborative processes will be activated during The Holocaust interpretations activity following on from The Holocaust Master Class. In particular collaboration will be undertaken through the planning of and undertaking of the injustice investigation (planning for and sharing research) and through the co-authoring of the final 5 minute script for the presentation script.

Pillar 4: The collaborative investigation will require question construction, both driving and research in nature. R&R will facilitate collaborative and individual enquiry into the chosen injustice.

Pillar 5: Authenticity through Learning Set choice of investigation. They will own this investigation, its topic and the questions designed to enact the enquiry. Learners will be encouraged to choose a topic they are passionate about or directly effects them. The final assessed speech will be delivered to a real audience made up of experts, staff, peers and parents.

Pillar 6: GCSE criteria will be applied to the extended paragraph on the causes of The Holocaust giving students a flavour of GCSE expectations.

An additional step could be implemented at this stage to add further sophistication to this planning process. A promotion of Learner Attributes or, as seems very popular with the establishment right now, Character through learning experiences may lead to planning for how each attribute is covertly-overtly developed. Similar to the pillar approach above one may consider how each and every or selected attributes are developed. For example how will I provide opportunities for learners to develop the attribute internationalism through this sequence of learning experiences? How will I recognise it when that attribute is developed? How can I measure the development of that attribute? (My next article ‘Facilitating and Measuring the development of Learner Attributes’ will address each of these questions).

In summary, within much ‘lesson planning’ the process seems to stop at Step 2. Such shallow planning for teaching rather than learning, if I may be so bold, is a hallmark of many classroom. The approach outlined here takes planning, informed by learning, deeper, creating a truer framework for learning and a guide for curriculum as well as ‘lesson’ planning.

I have provided the table below as a structure to guide the planning of sequences, a table which perhaps could replace the somewhat pointless lesson planning proforma many teachers endure while knowing it serves little purpose.

learning experience planning framework


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