We Had It All Backwards: The Two Types of Instruction

When I told my Curriculum Director, Shelly, about my thinking about there being two types of instruction (Instruction for Lower Level Thinking and Instruction for Higher Order Thinking), she seemed to think the idea made a lot of sense to her, especially in the context of our work around Customized Learning.

She agreed that given how curriculum is organized within Customized Learning, we couldn’t continue to emphasize lower level thinking.

And we got talking about how, since all our middle and high school students had laptops, probably the low level learning, the recall and simple application, was something that students could largely do on their own (with guidance, and coaching).

And then Shelly said, you know, we’ve had it all backwards…

She told me about when she was a high school science teacher, she did a cell unit with students. She used to spend about two weeks of direct instruction to insure that students knew all the parts of a cell. Then she would turn students loose to do an analogy project, where they would write about how a cell and it’s parts were like something else (maybe a football team, or a corporation) and its parts. Students largely worked on this project on their own.

And we reflected on the irony that we (teachers) would spend so much time on something students could probably do on their own (looking up background information). And we did so little direct teaching on something that students probably needed more modeling and assistance with, the higher order thinking.

And we reflected on how teachers should really do a unit, like the cell unit, the other way around. Turn kids loose to learn about the parts of a cell, then do a bunch of instruction and scaffolding on how to make a good analogy (or what ever kind of complex reasoning we’re asking students to apply).

Other places do it that way. Carpe Diem is a 6-12 public school in Arizona that allocates its teaching resources directed at the higher order thinking more than the lower level thinking. Students use online curriculum, supervised by educational technicians, to learn the basics within a unit. Then students spend a large block of time each day, working directly with certified teachers, doing projects and other activities that require higher order thinking (nontrivial application, complex reasoning, and creating) with the content and skills from the unit. Watch this video about Carpe Diem’s approach.

 

What impact would it have on your students, if we turned them loose to use technology to learn the basic information in a unit, and then we spent quality time with them, both instructing students in how to do complex reasoning, and in applying complex reasoning to the content?

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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