About LaToya Morrison

LaToya Morrison is an Assistant Principal of Instruction in Austin, Texas. Previous to this position, she was an ELA Secondary Instructional coach in Round Rock ISD, taught ELA (grades 6-9 for 10 years) during her time as a classroom teacher in Fort Worth and Round Rock ISD. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2008 at William James Middle School and received a second title in 2013 at the Young Women's Leadership Academy of Fort Worth. She holds a bachelor of science degree in middle school education from Texas Wesleyan University, and a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. LaToya loves to blog about student engagement, culturally responsive practices, and high-yielding instructional strategies.

Surprise!

Lesson design is not a new phrase or concept. However, in the midst of ever-changing educational demands, lesson design has taken a back seat to “lesson plans.” From 5 E to Madeline Hunter, there is a myriad of ways to plan for students. One commonality between these various lesson templates is the idea that instruction is a PROCESS. In thinking of lesson planning and structure, what processes are we truly using to create learning experiences for students?

Design with students in mind

Think about your worst experience as a student yourself (or even during a professional development session). You know the one where you watched the clock, feeling as if you hadn’t learned anything new, and wished you were doing something more productive. If we hold our own experiences to memory, hopefully, we’ll understand the vital importance of creating better experiences for our students. Believe it or not, there are students sitting in classrooms uninspired; void of authentic learning. Why? Let’s entertain the fact that maybe just maybe, students are responding to lesson plans instead of lesson designs.

What’s a plan anyway? What’s design?

A plan is defined as:

A detailed proposal for doing or achieving something. (noun)

: to think about and arrange the parts or details of (something) before it happens or is made (verb)

 

Design is defined as:

: to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan : (verb)

: the process of planning how something will look, happen, be made, etc. : the process of designing something (noun)

 

Design commands a more actionable approach. Not just details of WHAT will happen, but processes that will show HOW the details are executed or implemented. Looking at these sets of definitions, I wonder how well authentic learning is fostered when students are functioning in the realm of plans versus design.

In order to tackle this thought, we must first decide what we want for our students. Do we want our classrooms to function “as planned” or “as designed”? Let’s face it, plans are necessary. As educators, we even know they are expected and sometimes mandated and evaluated. Nonetheless, it is possible to incorporate design into our best-laid plans. Thinking about what we want for students leads me to a dollop of knowledge from one of my educational heroes, George Couros.

George Couros, the author of Innovator’s Mindset, has spoken a great deal on innovation in learning. In his book, he also addresses differences between school (planned) and learning (designed):

  • School promotes starting by looking for answers. Learning promotes starting with questions.
  • School is about consuming. Learning is about creating.
  • School often isolates. Learning is often social.
  • School is standardized. Learning is personal.
  • School is about giving you information. Learning is about making your own connections.
  • School promotes surface-level thinking. Learning is about deep exploration.

Although we function in a standardized system (assessments and standards), many know the way to true learning is through creating, socializing, personalized lessons, making connections, deep exploration, and questioning.

This means learning can be LOUD and learning also makes TIME for processing and exploration.

In regards to our teaching practices, are we instructing in ways where students are learning or are students simply being schooled?

Process and Design

While a plan can explore some of these areas, I think keeping the terms process and design at the forefront of our thinking will, in turn, produce a deeper level and more creative learning experiences for students. Currently, educators may find themselves creating plans for compliance rather than students. It’s easy to get into an auto-pilot mode and present your usual plans, or those you’ve depended on each year (trust me, in the past, I have fallen victim to this as well). However, we must remember that as with life, plans change (and they should). If we want to ensure students have rich learning experiences, then we need to deepen our planning, by design, with students in mind.

We must design with depth to create rich learning experiences for students.

We get a fresh batch of students each year with beautiful differences and varying levels. Yet, we utilize the same plans, assessments, and activities year after year.

Where is the value in this? How are we differentiating for the students we currently have when we are recycling the same “plans”? Now don’t get me wrong, I had particular lessons that were staples of my standards, meaning I was able to utilize these lessons each year. However, I still had to design how I would approach or begin based on my changing student body.

So, how do we infuse design into our plans? I like to think of lesson design in terms of the 6 Ds. The 6 Ds of Solution Fluency is a process that allows learners to…..you guessed it, solve a problem! In trying to reach our students by providing rich lessons, we indeed have a problem to solve as educators.

6 Ds of Solution Fluency:

While many businesses and organizations utilize the process of the 6Ds, educators can also benefit from such a model in regards to lesson design.

After pondering over these 6 areas, I wanted to look specifically at how these pieces can be incorporated into the lesson design process. So, I put my own twist to each section that corresponds with the 6 Ds of Solution Fluency.

Define

In order to solve a problem, we must clearly define what the problem is first. We must decide exactly what needs to be solved and give proper context to the problem.

  • What are the standards students need to learn?
  • What concepts/skills correlate or are embedded in the standards?
  • What are the markers of success in the concepts/skills?
  • What is the end goal for students?
  • How will you know when students master the content?

Discover

This is the stage of researching, gathering, and analyzing clear knowledge about the problem. This helps us to give the problem context so we can identify with it easier.

  • Are there any knowledge gaps for students with this concept/skill?
  • What knowledge and skills do students need to know in order to be successful?
  • What exposure have students already had to this concept?
  • What misconceptions might students have about the content/concept?
  • Pacing: What is the length of the lesson? How much time do students need to DIGEST the concept/skills?

Dream

We open up the heart and mind to the possibilities and visions of a solution the way we wish to see it. This phase is all about imagination, extrapolation, and visualization.

  • What types of learning experiences can we create in class to help students understand the concept/skill?
  • How can you creatively teach the concept?
  • What ways can you tap into students’ prior knowledge?
  • How can you ACTIVELY and AUTHENTICALLY engage students?

Design

The workshop phase. The actual mechanics of your solution begin to take shape. It involves techniques that allow us to get the solution on paper.

  • What materials are needed for the learning experience?
  • What is the hook?
  • How will you communicate the importance of this concept to students?
  • Direct teach or mini lesson?
  • How will the concept be modeled?
  • How will formatives or checks for understanding be conducted?
  • How will guided practice be conducted?
  • How will students independently practice?
  • How will the lesson components be reviewed in the closure?

Deliver

Produce and publish. Involves the action for completing the product (produce) and presenting the proposed solution (publish).

  • What elements do you need to setup prior to the execution and implementation of the lesson?
  • TEACH according to your DESIGN!

Debrief

Own your learning. Look at the ways you succeeded and ways you could improve your approach in similar, future situations.

  • What parts of the lesson were successful?
  • Did you meet your learning goals? How do you know?
  • What could you improve upon next time?

Many of these questions and components are actions teachers already consider and act upon. Some would also call this the backwards design process, noting similarities between the two.  However, the depth to which these areas are addressed makes all the difference in the effectiveness of your lesson. The “6 Ds” can be a powerful tool to create deeper-level/engaged lesson experiences for students.

I challenge us all to think about our processes. What is best for students? How can we create environments that stimulate rich thinking and discovery? How will we know when students are successful beyond our standardized testing measures? Does design require more of our time? Yes. Some of the greatest projects, creations, and inventions of our time, took a great deal of work before they came to fruition. However, if we focus on our time being a barrier, students will miss these rich opportunities for learning.

Recently, there was an article gaining traction titled, “It’s Time to Stop Requiring Lesson Plan Submission.” Many teachers shared and commented with high praise at the idea of eliminating the required lesson plan submission. Other teachers also chimed in and were appalled that some states and districts even required lesson plan submission, as they had never been required to submit plans. During my time in the classroom, I probably would have agreed with eradicating submissions as I hated turning in a weekly document I knew wasn’t going to be read by the administration. I knew it was a compliance checkmark, and I detest completing tasks simply for compliance in education. After a few years of instructional coaching, my tune changed and my mindset focused on the effects of not having “plans” as I have seen far too many classrooms operating from activity plans void of instructional benefit and depth. Many teachers do their due diligence regardless of whether or not someone is checking. Nonetheless, we all know that without expectations, intended goals will suffer. There are a rare breed of teachers who can “sticky note” plan or mentally go through the 6 Ds or backwards design process and execute beautiful lessons without filling in a required template. However, this breed of educators is rare. Those who can successfully “wing it” are who we deem seasoned or “born to teach.” Those who have the perfect balance of the art and science of teaching. Although it may seem that some “don’t need to submit required plans,” the hidden gem is this: effective teachers use the design process. Whether it’s mental or visual, the process is fully completed. So, while I can agree on trashing plans, I do not agree on eliminating the process. We would also be naive to assume that teachers, novice or veteran, don’t need to go through the planning design process.

One mindset that I hold dear, and one that helps keep my practice student-centered is my self created quote:

What’s best for kids is usually inconvenient for you. So, inconvenience yourself!

This helps me remember that my # PreWorkMatters! The more time, intention, and thought we place in the lesson design process, the better learning experiences will be for our students. In the end, it matters not that we “covered” or simply taught a lesson, but how the content was experienced by students. This is important when we reflect on our own practices. Many times we will express “what was covered;” however, what we should ask is, “Did students learn?”

Ending Thoughts to Ponder:

  • Are students compliantly engaged (just working because you said so) or authentically engaged (they know the why and how of their work and are tuned in to the lesson)?
  • What does learning currently look like in your classroom?
  • How open are you to learning and growing as an educator?

 

Fixed Mindset teacher = stagnant student

 

  • Are students discussing, thinking deeply, exploring, discovering, creating, and engaged in information on a consistent basis?
  • Does variety exist within your classroom walls?
  • Are students involved in learning experiences or teacher plans?
  • Is learning based on student needs/interests or teacher wants/preferences?
  • Is your lesson design student-centered?

I challenge us all to be bold and break the mold in our instruction.

Keep in mind student growth depends on design.

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