In the readings of both backward design by Wiggins and McTighe and concept-based instruction by Erickson, I made several connections amongst the articles and my own teaching.
First, both articles shared about the importance of teaching material that focuses heavily on helping students reach deep understanding of content versus memorizing or restating factual information. Both look deeply at ‘how’ we teach in order to create critical, reflective students that apply the knowledge they are learning by relating it to personal experience or prior knowledge and then expand that learning through application, synthesis and analysis. As I look at my own teaching, it makes me wonder how much attention I spend on facts versus critical thinking.
Another connection I made involves focusing on nurturing and developing all aspects of a child’s development. Government initiatives often look too quickly at outcomes and test scores and the opposite holds to be true as Erickson agrees that “the focus is on the content rather than on the development of the whole child-social, emotional, intellectual and physical –a terrible mistake.” As we continue to learn about what is best for children and how we can best teach them in this ever fast changing world with increasing technology, we continue to see a reoccurring theme in research that play, creativity and cooperation are immensely important in reaching and creating life-long learners. Both backwards design and concept-based instruction share the importance of having students work together to collaborate, share ideas and support one another. Erickson goes on to say that cooperative efforts support the idea of scaffolding as the students mentor and encourage learning amongst each other. I have always felt strongly about the power of peer groups and try very hard to include cooperative group efforts daily into my classroom. This is a strong supporting reason as to why I keep teaching learning centers versus switching over to Daily 5 completely. I’ve also noticed that I still do require a lot of independent work and I’ve been trying to offer more choice and time to complete assignments with a partner or in a small group. Not only does it allow students to practice cooperation but it also typically means they get the assignments done in a reasonable amount of time.
Also, the importance of building on prior knowledge for students to base new knowledge and skills upon is also reflected in both articles. We are constantly making connections and building upon prior ideas and lessons. This is a powerful tool that I use often in my classroom especially in my anticipatory sets.
Both articles again go beyond just focusing and posting objectives to restating ideas and concepts through questions in which the students can then apply their knowledge and understanding. They go on to share the importance of students “transferring their learning” not through mere factual knowledge but through meaning and understanding.
Finally, I felt that the backwards design concept encourages us to dig deeper as to what we want our students to learn by engaging them in thoughtful questions and activities that pose deeper levels of learning. This idea was also then reflected in the Erickson model on two-dimensional versus three dimensional teaching. As I consider my own teaching, I need to move further on the continuum towards three dimensional teaching. This year we’ve implemented a new language arts curriculum based on the new ELA standards. We are more purposefully driven on the ideas of comprehension and teaching students the why and how of reading. It’s amazing how many “connections” students make through read alouds as well as share their thought process through other ways including visualizing, questioning, and making inferences. Teaching and modeling these strategies has encouraged great discussion and has made our learning so much richer than in years past when I did not teach comprehension strategies so specifically.
It is clear that we need to be intentional in our teaching and to do that we need to focus on the content and application of our teaching. We need to look closely at how we teach so we are engaging our learners in thoughtful application of skills. We want them to acquire the necessary skills that will build a repertoire for learning and not merely be forgotten about the next day, or year, or so forth.