First, considering myself as an instructional designer rather than a teacher is an important paradigm shift. A teacher is one who instructs and passes on knowledge. An instructional designer, however, suggestions someone who has a responsibility for creating learning opportunities. The educator is no longer one who just regurgitates information to the students who then spit it back out on tests.
This affords the students and the teachers, the opportunity to each take a more active role in the experience. Much has been said about being active listeners and active learners, but the trend now appears to being more active teachers. Teaching is not a passive experience. The old saying, "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime" applies to this new way to look at instructional design versus traditional teaching. Traditional teaching lessons gives students information. Designing instruction based around student directed and student led experiences, puts the proverbial fishing pole in to their hands, allowing them to really learn.
As a child, I had the opportunity to attend Montessori schools. The ideas behind this method of education are much more in line with the Project Based Learning trends happening in public schools. Students will make gains when they feel connected to a topic and are more likely to strive towards mastery of the skills.
“Superficial coverage of all topics in a subject area must be replaced with in-depth coverage of fewer topics that allows key concepts in that discipline to be understood.…There must be a sufficient number of cases of in-depth study to allow students to grasp the defining concepts in specific domains within a discipline” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 20).
These changes also make me see my role as an instructional designer more inline with why I find homeschooling so appealing. One of the criticisms of public schools I often hear from my homeschooling friends is that students are expected to sit at desks for unreasonable amounts of time, listen to a teacher drone on, and are not typically allowed to get involved in the process. Homeschoolers frequently allow their children to participate in projects to meet educational goals, rather than use of textbooks. In-depth exploration of topics and long term project learning is encouraged.
An instructional designer thinks outside the box and inside the box in trying to meet the needs of students. Traditional teaching methods have a place. They are used to build the foundations.
For example, as a substitute teacher, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in an elementary school Spanish class, teaching grades K-5. The lesson plans I were given were very vague, clearly intended for the person who created them and not a long term substitute. When it came time to teach "El Cuerpo" or "The Body", I began with worksheets for students to keep for reference. Next, I taught several songs and games. Throughout the process, I also reinforced previous skills such as numbers and colors. The final step was for the students to pull all of these skills together in small groups to create their own monster or "Mi Monstruo."
There were specific guidelines of what the students needed to include:
- number of body parts
The feedback was extremely positive from the students and the parents.
This was my first experience in creating anything for a classroom. I had a small understanding that "[u]nit planning is not linear; it always involves circling back to previous steps to ensure alignment among components of your unit."
This first module didn't leave me completely with positive feelings on my role in designing instruction. It also left me with many questions and concerns. For example, how does this all work together with Common Core? District imposed Pacing Guides? Teaching AP classes where certain topics have to be taught to a test?
My role as an "instructional designer" appears to be at odds with the traditional classroom setting and possibly the new educational standards. The challenge isn't so much about implementing these fantastic lessons and creative projects in the classroom, but how do you integrate it with the new standards and still meet pacing guides.
I am also left with myriad questions. How can you maintain order with students whose coping method is to act out when they don't understand the changes that are happening? How can you manage groups when the majority of your students are at risk or you do not have a range of abilities in the classroom? I can design fantastic lessons, but without students who are engaged in the process how will the lesson succeed? How can children who can't manage themselves in a traditional classroom be expected to manage themselves when working with others? How do you teach children to work with others once they've reached the high school level?