Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Illusory Average Student

Why change?  This is one of the first questions that needs to be dealt with when introducing a different approach to instructional design.  Simply talking about the diversity of students, developing technologies, social media, etc. is not good enough.  What assessment/data are we looking at?

In my view, there are three key data points that are compelling us to move forward on innovative instructional design strategies such as Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Universal Design for Learning.  The first data set is the graduation rate of our students - particularly among our First Nations and Learning Disabled students.  The second (and related) set is the transition rates between grades 9-12 where we lose a significant number of our students.  The third piece of information - the one that is the subject of this blog - is the proliferation of "alternate" programs in middle and secondary school.  

This is not to say that there is not a role for "specialized" approaches for groups of students who are not being successful.  However, they are not addressing the main issue of our students becoming disengaged from their "regular" classroom.  

I believe the root cause of this growing trend lies in designing our instruction based on what Dr. Rose refers to as the "illusory average student".  This short video encapsulates his view:

Since neuroscience has proven that how we learn is as unique as our fingerprint, should we not plan instruction and learning that takes into account our "multiple intelligences"(Gardner)?  The first network in the Universal Design for Learning model is "Multiple Means of Representation".  The checkpoints in this network guide us to establish access to learning that relays the information or concept in multiple ways: 

This should not be interpreted as 30 different lesson plans for a class but rather proactively planned lessons that, over the course of a unit, utilize several approaches to the representation of information and concepts.

One idea that we looked at last week when we talked about how to engage students in a unit on the political spectrum was to have students physically form a line based on various opinions so that there was a kinesthetic connection to their learning.  While this may seem like a minor modification, it may hook 2 or 3 students that would have otherwise disconnected from the lesson as soon as the overhead projector was turned on.

Have a great week,