Defining Quality Instruction and Connecting to Classroom Design

By Jamie Lewsadder, CTO

Over the past month, I have been on roadshow discussing instructional values with every audience I can find including parents, students, teachers, and staff. I have asked three questions: What is the purpose of our learning spaces? What actions do we want to see in our teaching and learning experiences? What behaviors do we want to promote? I invite you to send me your responses to these questions. Spend two to three minutes making a list for each answer.

Behind these questions is a quest to determine the goals of our instruction based on the needs of today’s student. I created them to guide us in defining a purpose for the classroom experiences and drafting the La Cañada definition of 21st-century learning. Another objective of this exercise is to help us establish our learning standards as we begin exploring modernization and new construction with the bond dollars.

My part in this process is to design the technology infrastructure to support the instructional vision and for the instructional vision to be grounded with influence from teachers and students. The research I have conducted on the process to redesign learning spaces suggests that three elements to consider are student and teacher voice in design, professional development to support new designs and the instructional impacts, and that technology innovation must be driven by instructional need.

Including students in this process has produced some fascinating results. A fourth question has been asked directly to them: How do you best learn? Not surprisingly, most could not answer the question without some help. Many said they had never been asked that before.

An LCHS student shared this:

“I believe I best learn when working with my peers. When we are all faced with a certain challenge that we will be able to tackle together is where I feel I can learn the subject. Working in groups also allows us to practice teamwork while simultaneously learning the subject due to having to explain it to others. Explaining hard concepts to others forces one to learn the subject better themselves, and I feel that it is super important that teachers recognize this.”

Based on the student response above and many of the responses from teachers on the three questions, peer collaboration rises as a core value, and we can now examine our learning spaces to improve and enhance that experience for both teachers and students.

The next round of questions will include questions like these, based on the response I am gathering: How might we design our learning spaces to support collaboration? How might we create learning experiences that offer project management skills?

One final example of how we can use the feedback in gathering data to drive our instructional design comes from a student response to a question about using the environment to support students:

“I think the hardest thing for me in a classroom is my desire to participate, yet the feeling that I will sound “dumb” if I say anything. This is due to a clear divide between the students who learn at a faster pace and the ones who work at a slower pace.”

This response reminds me of my high school fears and also presents two problems to unpack. First, how might we build a classroom culture of care where students feel comfortable sharing ideas? Second, how might we design an instructional experience where students can learn at their own pace?

Throughout February and March, the three questions on purpose, actions, and behaviors relating to instructional spaces will be asked over and over as the basis for defining how we envision the classroom of the future. Then we plan to follow the design thinking model to brainstorm and iterate answers to these questions in our work to support quality instruction.