Collaboratively Designing and Delivering Lessons: The Instructional Diamond
Since the work of Madeline Hunter, a lot has changed in education. We now have ample resources and robust technologies that can provide engaging, vivid experiences for students. More important, we have much more research about teaching and learning than we ever have previously. We know more about how students learn.
Even with all these changes, the framework for building lesson plans and delivering instruction has not evolved. The commonly held belief that learning happens sequentially is best broken into parts and only occurs when guided in a manner that strategically eliminates knowledge deficits is still widely accepted.
This conventional view of learning seen in figure 1.1 below:
However, with the national focus of education shifting from content knowledge retention to more skill-based curricula, competency-based grading, and technology-based learning (iNACOL, 2019), educators are beginning to see a need for a new instructional framework to support these new goals of education.
Perhaps the director of mathematics at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, Darshan Jain summarized this best when he stated, “For years [educators] just had assumed that the nature of instruction aligned perfectly with that of modern learning, but upon closer examination, it didn't” (Jain & Reibel, 2018, p. 14).
Many researchers (Brown, 2014; Carey, et al., 2015) now articulate that learning is more a process of development and refinement. Unsteady and fluctuating at first but then eventually settling into a functional and rooted state (Jain & Reibel 2018).
Let’s look at figure 1.2, which shows a graph which better represents how students learn:
Since learning is multidimensional, meaning it happens in many different contexts and at different rates, it is vital for educators to design instruction that supports this reality. Teachers should aim to create lessons that are dynamic, malleable, and reactive to students’ learning needs.
If we plan lessons aligned with the true nature of learning, we would see lessons generate learning, not deliver learning. These lessons would see the teacher reacting to student evidence and using student thinking as lesson material. These lessons designs would include individual reflection, consensus, and sense-making, along with perspective creating and proficiency development. To design lessons that achieve this, teachers should consider the following lesson structure:
Pairs or Small Groups
Large Group or Whole Class
Pairs or Small Groups
We can see this laid out in the figure below:
Figure 1.3: Instructional diamond: Lesson Design (Twadell, E., Onuschek, M., Reibel, A., & Gobble, T., 2019).
With this design, students have time to obtain a better sense of their learning, gain a more realistic perspective of self, enhance their self-appraisal skills, and self-sustain their growth.
No teacher knows how long it takes a student to learn a concept or skill. To this end lessons are more effective if they allow for real-time reaction and adjustment to the student learning instead of cycling through pre-planned activities (Brown, Roediger, McDaniel 2014). If a student's learning is taking more time to mature, then students should get more time, if students need to revisit learning, then they should be allowed another chance to perform.
The following are the four steps in delivering lessons in this manner:
- Personalize the learning: This is when learnersproduce and reflect on their state of proficiency and develop an awareness of their current state of learning or competence.
- Scrutinize the learning: This is when learners engage in thoughtful dialogue with a variety of peers within multiple contexts (pairs and small groups) to examine their level of proficiency against others.
- Concretize the learning: This is where learners garner an accurate perspective of their growth and their abilities. Learners confront the realities of their learning and skill level.
- Elaborate the learning: This is when learners (pairs or small groups or individuals) engage in individual adjustments or elaborations to their newly consolidated knowledge or skill. This step is essential for helping learners apply feedback, envision growth, and refine their proficiency.
Adapted from Twadell, E., Onuschek, M., Reibel, A., & Gobble, T., 2019.
These steps are visually represented in Figure 1.4 below:
Figure 1.4: Instructional diamond: Lesson Delivery (Twadell, E., Onuschek, M., Reibel, A., & Gobble, T., 2019).
To help visualize this in classroom, let’s use an eye exam analogy. When an eye doctor examines a patient’s eyes they do not predetermine which lenses to give you; they listen to your responses as you read each line of letters. They change the lenses and then ask, “What do you see now?" Then the patient goes back and rereads the line.
This process is similar to the lesson design and delivery outlined earlier. A student will produce evidence of learning, then the teacher adds context and nuance along with new information, and the student will return to their evidence in an attempt to refine or reshape their learning.
By creating and delivering lessons with this framework teachers can help students become active agents of their learning, which leads to more competent application of material as well as a lasting proficiency (Bandura, 1997).
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.
Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., III, & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Carey, B. (2015). How we learn: Throw out the rule book and unlock your brains potential. London: Pan Books.
Twadell, E., Onuschek, M., Reibel, A., & Gobble, T. (2019). Proficiency-based instruction: Rethinking lesson design and delivery. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
iNACOL https://www.inacol.org/. (2019) Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://www.inacol.org/
Jain, D., & Reibel, A (2018, May) Creating Competence in the Classroom. The Assessor Magazine.