Illustration by Edpuzzle Staff
We asked bestselling author, Catlin Tucker, who’s published books such as Balance With Blended Learning: Partner With Your Students to Reimagine Learning and Reclaim Your Life among others, to talk about how she uses Edpuzzle for blended learning instruction. Read on to discover her expert tips!
There’s a difference between lesson planning and lesson design. The distinction between these two activities may seem subtle, but the word “design” implies a higher level of intention and a focus on the student experience in a lesson.
I worry that a lot of K-12 teachers settle for planning because they have a curriculum they’re using or a textbook they’re working from. As a result, their focus is covering the curriculum rather than creating dynamic learning experiences for kids. They decide what to do and when, but they may not question why they’re doing it or if the strategies suggested in the teacher edition will yield the most powerful learning experience for students.
By contrast, a designer considers the specific goals and learning outcomes they want to achieve with a learning experience. A teacher who designs a lesson carefully constructs the pieces of that lesson so they fit together seamlessly to achieve a particular effect. Designing a lesson takes more time, energy, and creativity than planning, but the product of a carefully constructed lesson is an engaged class.
Intentional lesson design can create opportunities for educators to collect formative assessment data, differentiate instruction, and shift some of the tasks and responsibilities that they would normally take home, like providing feedback and assessing student work, into the classroom.
That way, they invest more time outside of class in “design-mode” creating lessons but less time grading stacks of literal or digital work in their evenings and over weekends.
Articulate Goals and Allow Them to Guide Your Design
When I coach teachers, I spend time co-creating lessons with them. This gives me an opportunity to shift the focus from planning to design. We start by identifying the teacher’s short-term and long-term goals for students.
When teachers talk about short-term goals, they tend to focus on specific skills or standards they’re helping students develop. When they talk about the long-term goals they have for their students, they make statements like, “I want them to be more independent learners”, or “I wish they would be problem solvers instead of giving up or immediately asking for help.”
Before designing a lesson, I recommend that teachers and the coaches supporting them take a moment to write down both their short-term goals for the week or unit and long-term goals for the year.
Each lesson should work to move students toward achieving these goals. For example, if a teacher identifies the skill of conducting online research as a short-term goal and learning how to collaborate with peers on shared tasks as a long-term goal, those goals should drive the design of their lessons.
To make progress toward these goals simultaneously, it would make sense to give students tasks where they work in small groups to research a topic and apply what they’re learning to create a shared artifact.
Perhaps they research a historical time period, like the Great Depression, and collaborate on an artistic timeline or research a topic, like crime and punishment in Elizabethan England, and create a multimedia Google slide presentation to share their findings.
Beyond the Whole Group Lesson
When teachers begin to appreciate the importance of their role as a designer instead of a planner, then it makes sense to explore and embrace other instructional models beyond the teacher-led whole group model, which relegates teachers to the front of the room where they orchestrate the lesson providing instruction, cueing transitions, passing out materials, and monitoring student work.
This model does not provide teachers with much flexibility within the lesson, yet it is the model that most secondary teachers use exclusively. They’re hesitant to try anything new because the whole group lesson is familiar, easier to plan, and gives them a stronger sense of control.
As a blended learning advocate, I want teachers to have a tool belt full of instructional models they can pull from when designing lessons. If they have multiple instructional models – whole group rotation model, station rotation model, flipped learning model, and playlist or individual rotation model – then they can identify the objectives of a lesson and select the best model to accomplish those objectives.
Think about this in the context of fashion design. A designer creating a custom look for a client has to know where the client will wear their garment before they can create the perfect look. What statement does the client want to make with this piece? They also have to customize the piece for that individual client’s body, which means every piece will be different.
Designing a lesson is similar. Each lesson must be designed to address specific objectives and meet the specific needs of learners.
Designing Balanced Blended Lessons
Blended learning is the combination of active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline.
The goal of the various blended learning models is to give students more control over the time, place, pace, and/or path of their learning. The different blended learning models give students different degrees of control over these four aspects of their learning.
The key to designing dynamic blended lessons is to think about balancing the elements in the lesson. I encourage teachers to balance the online with the offline, the individual with the collaborative, and the teacher talk with the students’ voices.
Designing with balance in mind ensures that students aren’t spending prolonged periods of time staring at a screen or working in isolation.
When teachers design a station rotation lesson where students rotate between online and offline learning stations, I encourage them to consider how the various activities they design balance these elements to maximize student engagement, as pictured below.
Even if teachers work in a school where every student has access to a device, I caution them not to design every station to include technology. Kids need a break from the screen. They also need opportunities to develop the soft skills required to engage in small group discussions and collaborate on shared offline tasks.
Similarly, teachers who are using video to transfer information online so that students can control the pace at which they consume new information should also consider how they’re weaving that video content into their lessons.
I encourage teachers to design a three-part flipped lesson, as shown below. This three-part progression intentionally weaves together online and offline work.
Before teachers ask students to engage with a video, I suggest designing an activity to pique their interest or get them asking questions about the topic. Teachers can also use this time to assess prior knowledge to see what students already know about a topic.
For example, prior to showing an instructional video on how to write a thesis statement, I give students an essay prompt and ask them to do their best to write a thesis statement. This helps me understand where each student is starting in terms of their knowledge of what a thesis statement is and what needs to be included.
Then students watch a short instructional video wrapped in an Edpuzzle lesson. I use Edpuzzle to keep students engaged as they watch the video. I don’t want students to be passive receivers of information; I want them to actively engage with the video content.
As they watch, the video will pause periodically and a short-answer or multiple-choice question will pop up on the students’ screens. This encourages them to pay attention to and think critically about the information. It also provides me with formative assessment data so I can gauge how much students are understanding.
At the end of the video, I present another essay prompt and ask students to use what they just learned in the video to write another thesis statement. Based on their responses to this final question, I may pull students who struggled to write a thesis statement after watching the video and work with them in a small group.
It’s critical that teachers using technology tools leverage them to collect formative assessment data that can be used to differentiate and personalize instruction.
When students are finished watching the video, they transition offline to engage in a collaborative small-group task that gets them applying what they’ve learned. I recommend that teachers design student-centered activities that allow them to lean on and support one another as they attempt to practice new skills and apply new information.
Then the teacher is free to pull individual or small groups of students who may be struggling into coaching sessions. Alternatively, teachers can use the time when students are applying what they learned to provide real-time feedback as students work.
Evaluating students in real-time gives them actionable feedback they can use to make improvements as they work while eliminating the need for the teacher to take all of that work home to provide comments after class.
As technology permeates classrooms and teachers explore blended learning models, it’s critical that we view ourselves as designers constructing lessons to meet our students’ needs.
Simply adding technology to a lesson does not automatically make it a more engaging or effective learning experience. It’s only when the online work complements the offline work, creates more opportunities for students to control their learning, and helps teachers to meet the needs of individual learners that technology and blended learning models can be transformative.