September 28, 2008
What College Professors Can Learn from K-12 Educators about Instructional Design
By: Online Classroom in Instructional Design
Unlike their college-level counterparts, those who teach students from kindergarten through high school (K-12) spend a significant portion of their education studying the “how” of teaching. What they learn can be invaluable to college professors who enter classrooms with vast content knowledge but little (or no) background in teaching and learning. Regrettably, college teachers often disdain what their K-12 colleagues do and know. As those who teach these teachers, we’d like to showcase some of what college professors can learn from those who teach younger students.
- Multiple Intelligences. Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking book on multiple intelligences (MI) changed education by documenting that people learn in different ways. By introducing concepts like visual spatial and bodily kinesthetic learning, MI made clear that only with a variety of teaching methods can instructors reach all learners. Whether Gardner’s model leads college faculty to explore new ways of teaching or whether it simply informs conversations with students struggling to grasp certain concepts, the book is a must-read for all educators. See Gardner, H. Multiple Intelligences (1993) and Intelligences Reframed (1999), as well as www.howardgardner.com.
- Assessment. College professors know that they must assess learning, a process they tend to loosely associate with exams or papers that test knowledge. Yet assessment and testing are not synonyms. Testing is but one strategy in a teacher’s assessment portfolio. K-12 teachers are taught to use three different kinds of assessment: 1) Early assessment—the informal information about students gathered through observation early in the semester, which provides practical knowledge about students and helps with course planning; 2) Instructional assessment—the circular process whereby teachers plan instruction, assesses their teaching (based in part on student work, responses, attitudes, etc.), and use that feedback to revise instruction; and 3) Official assessment—the traditional process of giving exams; assigning papers; and, ultimately, grading student work.
- Lesson Plans. K-12 teachers prepare formal lesson plans as a developmental tool. Whether a formal document or notes scratched on a napkin, successful lesson plans have five components: goals, which answer “Why am I teaching this lesson?”; objectives, which answer “What should students know or be able to do after this lesson?”; materials, which answer “What supplies, media, and other equipment do I need to teach the lesson?”; teaching activities, which answer in detail “What will take place during today’s instruction?”; and assessment, which answers “How will I know that students have met these goals and learned the material?” An effective lesson plan provides a framework for student learning and a road map for getting there. See Airasian, P. Classroom Assessment, 2005.
- Special Needs. Each year, beginning students arrive on campus with a history of diagnosed (and undiagnosed) learning challenges. Most college professors have little, if any, experience working with special needs students and can be quick to judge a weak student as failing rather than struggling to learn. K-12 teachers are trained to recognize, diagnose, and support a wide range of learning disabilities. They are also versed in the theories of cognition, memory, and differentiated instruction, which emphasize that, for students with ADD/ADHD, auditory processing disability, and/or language-based learning disabilities, key concepts become fragmented and disconnected when presented in content-intense formats. They are not easily committed to memory or retrieved for application. Faculty can take steps to support these students without sacrificing standards. See Levine, M. A Mind at a Time (2002).
- Essential Questions. College professors often approach course design by asking what content the course needs to cover and how many weeks they have to cover it. K-12 teachers distinguish between courses that are activity focused, coverage focused, or understanding focused. The most challenging college-level courses are designed for understanding and require that faculty ask themselves: “What do I want my students to remember from this course in five years?” Considering essential questions helps a professor look at his or her course with the end—the understandings—in mind and work backward, attending to the skills and content that students will need to gain during the semester if they are to answer the course’s essential questions. See Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. Understanding by Design, (2005).
- Brain-Based Research.Well-versed in their respective fields, college professors develop rigorous syllabi that expose students to important topics. Concerned about coverage, instructors often deliver content-packed lectures every class period. However, brain-research suggests that student retention of new information will be greater if lectures are interspersed with short breaks that give students time to process new information. During such breaks, instructors can ask students to think about personal experiences related to the topic or challenge them to apply the material to their everyday lives. See www.jensenlearning.com.
- Student Ownership. Students often ask college professors, “What do you want me to do in this assignment?” Although it is easiest to just answer, thereby maintaining complete control over course content and assignments, educational research has found that when students participate in the design of course assignments, they are more accountable in their work and more committed to learning course content. The choice can be small, but having the opportunity to choose can make a big difference in how engaged students become in their work. See Allen, R. H. Impact Teaching (2002).
- Instructional Technology. With the prevalence of mediated classrooms, electronic presentations, and Internet access, college professors have many options for presenting course information. Doing so effectively can be a challenge, however. K-12 teachers focus on how to incorporate technology into pedagogy so that technology assists student learning rather than replacing effective teaching. Instructional technology in the classroom does not guarantee student comprehension. What technology can do is help teachers reach students in a medium that is familiar and comfortable to students. See Bates, A.W., & Poole, G. Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education: Foundations for Success (2003).
- Student Aspirations. K-12 educators have researched and documented that teaching and learning thrive when the conditions are in place that support student aspirations. When student-faculty relationships are strong, and curriculum is rigorous and relevant, students are more engaged, retain more information, and transfer what they learn to other areas of life. Education takes on a purpose that increases student confidence and achievement. See www.qisa.org and www.daggett.com.
Tags: assessment portfolio, instructional assessment, Instructional Design, Instructional Technology, teaching methods