Capturing Madeline Hunter’s ghost

At my school, there is a growing effort to codify exactly how teachers are expected to teach. [Think: New and Improved Madeline Hunter Lesson Design (now with Lemon!), repackaged, and etched in stone.] Without going too much into that plan, as it is (thankfully) still in draft phase, I will share with you the response that me and my colleagues came up with.  A major goal of ours was to include flexibility, while still maintaining the intentions of the original draft.

I am very proud of our re-visualization of the lesson cycle.  I’m sharing it because I think that, even if it does not become dogma on our campus, it could still be useful to other teachers.

Deepest apologies to M. Hunter, but I could not resist using this picture.

The “Lesson Spiral Thingy” helps me clarify my own thinking about what a lesson needs, and it will help me identify and articulate weak spots in lessons that I already have.  Additionally, it is simpler than the lesson flow charts I have seen; simple enough, I think, that I can use it “on the fly”. At the same time, it still captures the spirit of traditional lesson designs.

(I hope this stands on its own; I am a little bit fearful that it will be difficult to understand, when taken out of its context as a response to an unsharable first draft. )

Summary of the Graphic

The overall visual representation is a spiral, starting at the outside, and cycling inward.

    • This spiral can be thought to cycle through:

Opening ⇒ (Prerequisite knowledge ⇒ Instructional Activities ⇒ Activity/ Practice) ⇒ Assessment/ Feedback ⇒ Closing

It should be recognized that these may blend together; e.g., the “Instructional Activities” may not be entirely separate from the “Activity/ Practice”

  • At the outside of the spiral, students go through the cycle in larger groups (e.g., possibly as a class).  As students go through more cycles, they are in smaller groups.  Another way to think about this is that, as students cycle toward the center of the spiral, the scaffolding is removed; students go from more support to less support.
  • At the very inside of the spiral, the student is able to go through the cycle by herself, to demonstrate mastery.
  • After Assessment/ Feedback, the teacher makes adjustments about how to proceed, i.e., what learning activities, assessment tools, and levels of support or collaboration are appropriate for the next go-round.

Basic tenets and intentions

  • Flexibility and generality: We strive for a framework that will accommodate countless differences between and within classes.  These differences include, but are not limited to:
    • differing student backgrounds;
    • differing levels of (physical, emotional, intellectual) student development ;
    • differing subjects and content areas;
    • different types of knowledge (e.g., concepts, skills, procedures, facts, ideas);
    • different instructional approaches and strategies (e.g., Hunter’s Lesson Cycle, 5E’s/ Learning Cycle, IB Inquiry Cycle, Clarke’s Guided Experiential Learning, Problem-Based Learning; as well as Brain-based Learning, IB MYP, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Rigor and Relevance, etc.).

Additionally, flexibility is vital to allow for the evolution and development of any system.  We strive for an adaptable framework that will accommodate improvements.

  • Frequent, purposeful monitoring and assessment
    • The Assessment/ Feedback piece will sometimes consist of summative assessments, but also frequent, quick “Checks for Understanding” that should happen multiple times during the course of a single class period.
    • Assessment/ Feedback provides the teacher and students important information that is necessary for them to adjust their course of action.
  • Student grouping:
    • The ultimate goal is individual student mastery;
    • Collaborative learning is a critical tool in achieving this goal;
    • The limited use of large-group, direct instruction may be appropriate for a large class, e.g., to provide an introduction or overview, or to communicate expectations and standards.
    • Reducing students’ reliance on the teacher, and eventually their reliance on each other, is a natural way to fade the level of guidance.
  • Macro- and micro- instructional cycles:

    There is an underlying similarity between the macrostructures of an instructional unit and the microstructures of the instructional lessons which make up the unit.  This structure generally consists of:

    • Opening
    • Monitored Learning Activities
    • Closing

To paraphrase: “Tell them what you’re going to teach them.  Teach them.  Tell them what you taught them.”  Additionally:

    • This same general underlying approach (Opening ⇒ Monitored Learning Activities ⇒ Closing) can be seen in the structure of an entire instructional year.
    • This same general underlying approach might be seen several times within a lesson: for example, the “Direct Instruction”, “Guided Practice”, and “Independent Practice” of a traditional lesson cycle, could each be one trip around the cycle.

The macro-structure of a unit mimics the structure of a lesson, which mimics the micro-structure of an activity.  To wit: a good teaching plan is a fractal.

  • Simplicity:

    • Good teaching requires the teacher to be “in the moment”, and adjust to what is happening with the living, breathing students in front of her.  A complicated, difficult-to-remember plan is likely to get jettisoned when adjustments need to be made in the middle of a class.

Clarifications and some notes specific to our campus

  • A single 90-minute class period could go through this cycle three (or more) times.
  • There is no prescription that a single class period must start on the outside of the spiral, or end at the inside of the spiral.
  • An instructional lesson might not always be exactly one class period in length, especially as class periods are not uniform in length.
  • A single class period should, however, start with an opening, and end with a closing.
    • The opening of a class period would be an appropriate time to include :
      • A hook to engage student interest.
      • Clarity for students, about the objectives of the lesson, and how they will eventually demonstrate mastery.
    • Part of the teacher’s (admittedly difficult) process of monitoring requires adept timing of activities, so that students are finishing a Closing piece when the bell rings.  Good luck with that!
  • While adjustments should explicitly be made after Assessment/ Feedback, by no means are they restricted to that place in the spiral.
    • If it becomes clear that an activity is not appropriate for a student, then the activity should be modified appropriately.
  • With regards to adjustments made by the teacher, especially after Assessment/ Feedback:
    • These decisions are potentially differentiated on a per-student or group-of-students basis, so that students in the same class may be on different layers of the spiral from their classmates.  For example, some students may jump several layers of the spiral, so that they can go through a cycle by themselves, without support.  Other students may need to repeat a cycle/ layer with the same level of support and collaboration, but with a different set of activities.
    • Sometimes these adjustment decisions will need to be made on the fly, in the middle of a class period.  (There is nothing inherently easy about those judgements.  A teacher’s professional knowledge and experience will help her make those decisions.)
    • Sometimes these adjustment decisions will be made after more careful analysis of, for example, common assessments.
    • At times, the “Adjust” piece may be more appropriate after “Closing”.  The key is that Adjustment is in response to the results of the assessed practice activity.
  • In a differentiated classroom, students (or groups of students) will be on different parts of the spiral at any given time.
    • Students should be encouraged to have an awareness of where they are on the spiral, i.e., whether they are on the outside of the spiral, or closer to the inside of the spiral (where mastery has been achieved)..
    • Teachers should use frequent, purposeful monitoring and assessment to make decisions about which students are where, relative to the spiral.
  • Options for students that have achieved mastery (and made it to the center of the spiral) include:
    • helping other students that are still on the outside of the spiral;
    • working on other extension activities related to the lesson;
    • starting a new lesson or unit.
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