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The Method Behind The Madness

Written by Rebecca Itow
September 05, 2011

In each implementation of a module, we have worked to identify what works and what does not, and have refined the modules and the principles that guide our work. The outcome has been the development of five guiding principles that frame the development of our modules:

1. Reframe Knowledge. This means transform domain knowledge into tools used in contexts in order to create a context in which the other principles can be implemented. We assembled modules from complementary open education resources (OER) to help designers and educators determine which OERs provide best contexts for fostering participation in CCSs. In addition to being widely available and “user-friendly” so designers could focus on the work rather than learning a new technology, these OERs engaged students with the targeted learning goal in different ways and to varying degrees of complexity. This served to keep the content challenging and interesting for students, as well as provide teachers with multiple demonstrations of students’ knowledge and understanding of the concepts. Further, designers and teachers could use the type and order in which the OERs are presented in the module to design their next unit.

2. Scaffold Participation. This means embed features to motivate and foster discourse about using tools, in order to prompt learners to pick up tools initially and then practice using them appropriately. In our OER module, we embed informal reflections within modules to foster reflection on CCS practices in OER contexts. Within each module, we added prompts which were intended to get students to initially enlist the disciplinary tools that represented the common core standard. These prompts were used to foster discourse in which the disciplinary tools were at least used forthe first time, with little attention to whether or not students were using them appropriately. In addition to supporting student learning, the discourse that emerged around these prompts was expected to help the teachers learn about students’ experiences with both the targeted tools and the curricular context.

3. Assess Reflections. This means assess student reflections on artifacts and comments (but not comments or artifacts) in order to keep learner agency and minimize unsustainable teacher intervention for individual guidance. In our OER module, we had students reflect on their artifacts as evidence of consequential, critical, and collaborative engagement. These reflections demonstrated engaged participation in disciplinary knowledge practices on the part of the student, allowing the teacher opportunities to assess students’ conceptual understanding of domain knowledge practice, and the degree to which students engaged successfully in disciplinary knowledge practices. In reflecting upon consequential engagement, students discussed the ways in which the context itself affected the learning of the concept.
Reflection upon critical engagement discussed the tools, and asked students to ponder how a context could be structured differently in order to make learning to use the tool more effective. In asking this, students must articulate their knowledge of the tool, as well as their understanding of how that tool works in different contexts. They demonstrate here that they not only understand what the tool is, but how to apply it in different contexts. Finally, reflection upon collaborative engagement examines how discourse with and the act of participating in that discourse affected their understanding of and ability to use and apply the tool.

4. Re-mediate Accountability. This means treat conventional assessments and tests as specific knowledge practice in order to obtain useful formative and summative evidence without undermining participation. Each module features low stakes curriculum-oriented assessments of targeted ELA concepts that teachers could use to assess students’ understanding of targeted course concepts. In this way, teachers could measure the specific knowledge needed to engage in the material (did the students read the chapter?) and assess their level of engagement and understanding of the material and concepts (“What are some reasons that using the trial might not be the best context for learning character analysis? Is there a better context? Why would that context be better in general or better for these characters?”)

Each module also includes no-staks standards-oriented testlets using released multiple choice items aligned to targeted standards. This very specifically tests the module’s impact on CCS achievement, and allows for measurement of success for the teacher, designer, and policy makers. These testlets target the standard, but are not related to the context (Romeo and Juliet) in any way. This measures the skills themselves, testing whether the student is able to transfer their knowledge of a particular tool or concept to another context, or if their knowledge is limited to the context in which the concepts were presented.

5. Iteratively Refine. This means iteratively align course features to foster more engaged participation in order to continually increase participation, understanding, and achievement. In each module, we align activities to artifacts, then align artifacts to reflections, then align reflections to assessments. This leads to increased impact on discourse, understanding, and achievement as the module is refined. It is our goal that educators who engage with already created modules will discuss their experiences and offer insights to assist in the refinement process. We want to create a community …

Further, the continued reflection upon practice and refinement of the module increases and ensures the usefulness of specific DFP ELA features to other designers and educators. Without constant feedback and refinement, curriculum can become irrelevant and ineffective due to advances in technology, changes in culture, and the resources and abilities of the teacher and students. Another goal as the community of discussion around the DFP modules grows, is that educators and designers will consider this feedback when designing new curriculum.

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