Planning Activities Connected to Student Outcomes–Keep the Horse Before the Cart

Who’s working the hardest in your classroom?

Great teachers strive to deliver instruction that’s both interesting and purposeful. They want activities to be engaging, but they also have to be able to monitor for the desired effect of each instructional strategy.

Above all, of course, teachers want activities to result in meaningful learning.

As you plan lessons, identify the critical content students must learn during each portion of the unit. Once they’ve had some exposure, you can move them to more complex application so they can apply the new knowledge to authentic tasks that require them to generate and test hypotheses.

At first, when the content is still new to the students, instruction has to be teacher-directed. As students begin to process the information, however, you’ll gradually be able to release responsibility for their learning and move toward deepening their understanding. One great way to do that is to find activities that require them to have more ownership, or—to be more precise—to do the “work” in the lesson.

Then and Now

Years ago, activities were considered the end. A teacher would find an educational-but-fun activity and incorporate it into a lesson without focusing much on the learning. Much of the observation process resulted in feedback based on the creative use of things like activity cards and graphic organizers, rather than on the actual purpose the activities served. In short, schools put the proverbial cart before the horse.

Today, we know better than to allow activities to lead student learning. Teaching must be centered on learning goals and planning must be done with intention. When you find an interesting activity, consider its potential usefulness in meeting the learning goal before moving forward with it.

Are You Owning All of the Learning and Doing Most of the Work?

You provide the foundation, but students should gradually accept ownership and take control of their learning. Ultimately, it’s up to them to interact with the knowledge. This may sound easy, but many teachers wonder how to release purposeful, rigorous work to students.

Ask yourself a few questions: 

  1. How does this activity relate to the learning goal?
  2. Have students had any prior exposure to the content?
  3. Is the level of complexity consistent with students’ level of exposure to the content?
  4. Is the level of responsibility appropriate for each student’s level of exposure?
  5. Does this activity incorporate rigor?
  6. How can I monitor for the desired effect?

Once you’ve answered all of these questions, the activity becomes that much more valuable as a learning tool, getting you closer to the ultimate goal: a classroom of successful learners.

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