Who actually needs a teacher to deliver instruction when you’ve got the internet? All of this technology could surely replace teachers. We’re really just babysitters anyway, right?
(Seriously, Betsy DeVos, if you’re reading this. No. Teachers are the backbone of education. Get it together.)
One textbook or article or video from this semester mentioned a phrase that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Should teachers be the “Sage at the Stage” or the “Guide by the Side”?
Sage at the Stage
The generally accepted method of delivering instruction is that the teacher has all of the knowledge and it is their job to dump all of the information into the children’s heads. I’ve seen plenty of cartoons, both political and otherwise, depicting this idea through numerous metaphors. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many instances where this is the case. However, I think it’s safe to say that the overall feeling of education is shifting toward…
Guide at the Side
When my grandma was trying to text on her new phone, she kept saying “Don’t do it for me! Show me how so I’ll know!” Now she also asked “So when I want to put a space, I push the spacebar?” but that’s beside the point. My grandma is a smart woman. Students, from preschool to social security, generally need to DO in order to LEARN. This is why patience is such an important quality in a teacher. How often have you heard “Oh, never mind, I’ll just do it myself!” or “If you want it done right, do it yourself!”? Teachers need the patience to watch students make mistakes and figure them out for themselves.
This is the idea of Guide at the Side.
Instead of lecturing on information and hoping that the students are getting it, teachers design lessons where the students are learning hands-on. Technology is great for this. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had my students complete a WebQuest on Schoology in order to discover and learn for themselves who Shakespeare was and the information I wanted them to have before we began our final unit of the year, reading Much Ado About Nothing. In the past, and when I was in school, beginning a unit on Shakespeare generally began with a series of notetaking on his date and place of birth, maybe his wife and kids, the more well-known plays, and probably some generic drama terms, followed by a Shakespeare documentary that was usually drier than James Bond’s martini, and wrapped up with a quiz of some sort. Just explaining that nearly put me to sleep.
Instead of all that, I created a series of tasks that students needed to complete within Schoology, my school’s LMS of choice, with the intention that students would scour the internet (ok, scour Wikipedia, they’re freshmen and we haven’t gone over extensive research yet) in order to find the information for themselves.
It looked like this:
Students had to complete quizzes, discussion posts, and even add images to a class media album. I wish I could say that my students absolutely loved it and were 100% engaged in the activity, but it’s the end of the year and I don’t think I could say that about any activity in April or May. They were certainly more engaged than if the activity were the old school notes and documentary I described before.
As much as I’d love to go on more about Shakespeare, and I promise there is a blog coming about my Much Ado unit, this particular post is more about the flipped classroom idea. This WebQuest was not quite flipped. In fact, it was a substitute assignment. They got started on a day I was there, and finished it up while I was out for professional development.
As you may know if you’ve been reading my posts, I am currently taking (and finishing soon!) two online graduate classes towards an M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction: Learning, Design, and Technology at the University of Houston. In my Instructional Design class, I’ve spent the past 14 weeks designing a one-hour unit of instruction on sentence structures (two types of clauses and four types of sentences). As a final project for my Integrating Technology into the Curriculum class, I needed to create a flipped classroom in an LMS that utilizes the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines. I’ve always been a proponent of “work smarter, not harder,” so I obtained permission from my professor and used the instruction I designed for the first class to complete the project for the second.
Before I go into that project and how it looked, I just want to make a note that while it may seem like I was being lazy in choosing to use something I’d already been working on for the second project, I am immensely glad that I did. This portion of the Instructional Design process is a formative evaluation of the materials followed by extensive revision; utilizing the same materials for both projects allowed me to look at the same lesson from two different points of view and to revise it with a wide range of instructional principles in mind. I believe it has allowed me to create an even better piece of instruction than if I had completed two entirely separate projects. And to be honest, doing two separate projects would’ve been the easier option.
But I digress.
Here’s a look at the homepage of this course:
After much revision, my final draft of this lesson utilizes many of the features Schoology boasts. First, my favorite option: Student Completion. When this option is enabled, students are forced to complete all of the work in the folder in order. Completing each activity unlocks the next.
Some activities have multiple requirement options. For instance, the quiz could be set so that students cannot move on until they receive a minimum score. In my Shakespeare WebQuest example, students had to score a perfect 100 on the drama terms quiz. I also gave them an unlimited number of chances to retake the quiz. When discussion posts are used, Schoology gives you the option of having students simply view the discussion or post a comment or reply.
The second reason I love using this feature is that it gives me a clear view of who is working and how much they’re getting done. I can check students’ progress and see the exactly percentage of the lesson that they’ve completed. This gives me the ability to message students who are working more slowly to offer help and guidance (Guide at the Side!). It also helps me gauge when the majority of students will be finished. If the lesson is happening in the classroom, this can tell me if I need to get another activity ready for students who are going to finish early, or if I need to be prepared to give students more time the next day to complete the lesson.
Here’s what that looks like:
I tried to reduce as many barriers to learning as possible through this lesson. For instance, students who are not comfortable typing or who are using their cell phones without a word processor, had the option of printing (or asking me for a printed copy) the Guided Notes to complete on paper. Students who tend to lose paper and would rather use their tablets to type the notes directly onto the document could simply download the template, type the notes, save it, and submit it to the assignment submission at the bottom of the course. Students could also write out their notes, take a picture of them with their cell phone, and submit the picture to the assignment submission as well. I tried to provide as many means of completing and submitting the assignment as possible.
I am aware that the topic of sentence structures is simply not that entertaining or engaging. However, it is an essential skill to learn. In order to try to make the instruction more engaging, and at the same time add a second modality of instruction, I included a short video to accompany each concept. There are 6 videos in total, one each for independent and dependent clauses, and one for each of the four types of sentences. I chose to use many short videos instead of one long video for a couple of reasons. From my own experience and from the book UDL in the Cloud!, I know that students aren’t likely to watch a video that is longer than 6 minutes. Aside from that, it may seem simple to us, but for freshmen, these concepts are difficult. Breaking it down piece by piece helps students process the information.
The students who participated in my run-throughs all loved the videos. They really enjoyed having the option of watching the videos only if they need additional explanation.
To add another element of engagement, I created a couple of practice opportunities. For each type of clause students were able to complete a Quizizz – one of my favorite online game quiz apps. Schoology even allowed me to embed it, so students don’t even need to click outside of the Schoology page. I also created two practice Schoology quizzes. Both of these practice activities give students immediate feedback so they know immediately if they understood the concept before moving on to the next.
I made a couple of other revisions to this instruction before reaching this final draft. I recently attended the Innovative Teaching and Learning Symposium at the University of Houston. The keynote speaker and then many of the breakout sessions discussed making course content more accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. I learned quite a lot, not the least of which was about screen readers. Students with visual impairments often use them to read content. Screen readers cannot read words that are in images. For instance, a screen reader would not be able to read any of the words in my screenshots of the Schoology course that I have provided here. Therefore, I added tags to describe each image.
In the first draft of the course, the content presented on each page was in the form of an image of the PowerPoint slide. A student using a screen reader would not be able to read that content, so I changed it. All content is now presented in text without images. I do not currently have any students who use a screen reader, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t in the future or that someone else who chooses to use my instruction won’t. Making content accessible to students with disabilities helps all students.
I also reviewed the videos I chose and ensured that all important information is visible to students who have hearing impairments (or even students who simply cannot listen to a video where they are). All content and examples are written out in each video. They are not ideal, as captions showing all of the information would be better, but they’re not the worst. This is still something I will keep in mind when choosing instructional videos in the future, and if I find better videos, I will swap them out.
I intend to use this instruction at the beginning of next school year. It will lay the groundwork for sentence construction and allow me to then reinforce the information throughout the remainder of they year, hopefully creating sentence experts of them by the end of the year. I’m also hoping to see a vast improvement in their writing skills by the end of the year, if I am able to start them off with a solid foundation. Additionally, this lesson is a great way to set the technological tone and allow me to set my expectations for using technology, both in and out of class.
I also made not one, but TWO videos of this lesson. The first is a student instruction video, so if you happen to use this lesson, you can have students watch this video so they understand exactly what to do. The second video is an overview for teachers. (I’ve never made a screencast like this before, so please feel free to leave me feedback in the comments!)
If you would like to explore the lesson as a student, all you need is a free Schoology account and the access code: SKCTG-W3VST . Feel free to join and complete the course, and as always, post your comments here!
If you would like to use the lesson, I created a Schoology Group called Mrs. Hebert’s Classroom. You can use the access code HJ4P8-VZ626 to request to join the group. I have already copied this lesson into the group and plan to copy more resources in the future. From this group, you can feel free to copy any resources into your own courses for your students to use (And if you do, please feel free to shoot me an email or message or comment and let me know how it goes or if there is anything I should I change!).