Location: Tobaccoville, North Carolina

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Audience + Content + Structure = Instruction

This “equation” sums it up quite well for me. I’m going to take it piece by piece to give my opinion of the relationship to how I design infrastructure for my classes.

Audience: We have no control over who our audience is, but we need to spend time getting to know our audience. This information provides valuable insight into how course material needs to be designed. The design should meet the needs of the user not the designer!

Content: In the case of content, educators may have some control over what is presented. Educators need to know what the content is and reflect on the contents relation to the audience. As was evident in the Thich Nhat Hahn article, everything is related to everything else. The content may seem removed from the audience but a connection does exists. The idea is to make the content part of active knowledge rather than inert knowledge (Perkins).

Structure: This is the part that puts everything together. This is where the educator decides how to demonstrate the relationship between content & audience and how to make the content active not inert. Lot’s of decisions need to made in this area. This is the fun part.

For me one of the starting places of structure is determining wants and need, i.e. instructional goals. Content & audience determine my goals. Bransford states, “different kinds of learning goals require different approaches to instruction.” The different approaches are my design choices. Do I pick a design that is more learner centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered or community centered? Every lesson does not have the same design, because each lesson has a unique set of goals. Yet each design needs a little bit of learner, knowledge, assessment & community centering.

So what do I do now? Negotiation comes into play. I think about what my students may want, versus what I feel they need. The balance, what I pick, is somewhere in the middle. I like lessons that allow students to build knowledge by connecting topics and applying the connections to the “real world.” This is not always the correct design for every lesson. I tend to incorporate more knowledge and assessment centered than learner, or community centered. I like to play around with different presentations (graphical, numerical, analytical, verbal) that lead to better understanding. I make the presentation decision based more on the audience than material. This mean I do not necessarily present the same material in the same manner for two years in a row. Keeps things interesting for me.

Right now tools are a big aspect of my infrastructure. I am fascinated by the way technology affects my students. (I teach higher-level all female mathematics classes) Many of my students come in hesitant sometimes fearful of their calculators. I try to let them play and build confidence in using this tool and other tech tools such as Mimio (portable smart board device), PowerPoint, Excel, TI-connect, basically any tech tool I find and feel can be incorporated effectively and appropriately. With the way our society is changing and the typical hesitation many females feel in higher-level mathematics, I think technology use is a needed part of my classroom structure. I want my students to be confident in their technology use.

I like to use assessments to judge the effectiveness of certain lessons. I want to get at their understanding and not just their knowledge through summative assessments. The journals and review pages that my students keep give me insight into how they think and how they feel about a lesson. This helps me know what needs to be tweaked and what is pretty good. Allow of this plays into whether I keep, modify, or completely redesign the lesson for the next year. Feedback lets me know if my infrastructure works.

Instruction: If I am lucky it all comes together and my students (and myself) get it. I’ve taught the same courses for seven years now and haven’t gotten board because I’m constantly tweaking to make things close to perfect. Changes in my course are made when I learn more, find more tools, and get more feedback


Blogger Bob King said...

This is a terrific bit of synthesis Kris. Your narrative makes me think of Bransford's discussions of expert vs. novice learners. You seem to have gathered and honed several "rocks" that you arrange and rearrange, and this in effect is your design process when you are designing math instruction. Here are a couple quotes from Bransford:

"People who have developed expertise in particular areas are, by definition, able to think effectively about problems in those areas."

"Experts notice features and meaningful patterns [these are what I'm calling "rocks"] of information that are not noticed by novices."

Notice that it is pattern recognition that is the meta-skill. One question I have is whether or not pattern recognition itself should be a subject in school! In other words there are implications in the current findings of brain science for how school itself should perhaps be structured (current 'disciplines' might be in need of updating)?

January 25, 2005 at 8:08 AM  

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