Monday, August 17, 2015


We begin building the learning experience by looking at the first aspect, the Key Learning.

As mentioned in the section on promoting effective learning, the main condition for an effective learning experience is that every aspect of that experience must bring the student to the intended Key Learning. How the lesson is delivered, how the learning is reinforced, even how the learning is assessed, must all; deliberately, consciously and purposefully; point students to the truth to be acquired.

But before we craft the Key Learning, we must first understand the context in which the learning is going to take place. This can be uncovered by examining Subject, Level and Duration.

Subject, Level, Duration
These are often glossed over by educators. But if insufficient care is put into these components, we will never be able to promote long term retention of learning. Let me explain.

This item is often copied out from a textbook or a scheme of work as being the next item in line to go into the teaching framework. But if we do not purposefully distill the important and meaningful knowledge from the subject that we want to convey, it will get lost in transmission. Let me give you an illustration.
Subject: Plate Tectonics (Volcanoes)
Geographers will no doubt be aware that the subject of Plate Tectonics is vast, covering plate movement, to crustal composition, to earthquakes. Merely narrowing it down to ‘volcanoes’ still does not bring to the fore the important knowledge which we feel the students must acquire. What about volcanoes do we think is so vitally important that the students must know; their process of formation, their impact on humans?
Subject: Plate Tectonics
(Impact of volcanoes on man)
In this second example, we are not looking to limit the coverage of the lesson. Instead, we are selecting the truly important knowledge from the subject for the students, so that we will be able to distill the relevant and meaningful Key Learning later on.
Subject: Plate Tectonics
(Volcanoes: Why they happen, how they happen & what they mean to us)
This third example shows us that the scope of knowledge to be covered can be widened without compromising the clarity. This is especially important if we are trying to plan learning experiences that cover a wider area of knowledge.

So from here we see that it is of utmost importance to clearly define the intended subject area. This is the first step to crafting meaningful and relevant Key Learning for our student.

Being conscious of the level that our students are at not only helps us determine the appropriateness of the language, the depth of content, possible schema that may already exist, but more importantly, the things that students finds meaningful and relevant.

Extend this one step further to include the geographical location and socio-economic background of the students, and now you have an excellent picture of who you are trying to enthuse and more importantly, educate. Let me give you an illustration.

15 year old children, with lower socio-economic status, living in urban centers far away from tectonic plate boundaries, won’t give two hoots about earthquakes. What they would like to have are vocational skills, numeracy skills, basic language skills, so that they can go out and get a job and help, and in some cases, entirely support their family’s financial needs. If we do not pay attention to this, we will never understand why our gripping videos of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are not attracting them to the lesson.

Time management is one of the first things that a teacher learns. But often, the true meaning of duration is lost and it becomes a tool that merely helps us educators, pace our lessons so that we can complete the syllabus in time.

The true meaning of duration requires us to look at not just how long we have in the classroom, but what time the lesson is, which day of the week, perhaps even what came before and what will come after the lesson. Essentially, it means looking at time from the students’ perspective, not ours.

We all have a limited attention span, what that is, varies from person to person. Teachers are often taught that lessons should ‘change frames’ once every 10-20 minutes. But what is not made explicit is that each change of frame must still point the students back to the Key Learning that is to be acquired. Here is an example.

A teacher walks into class and spends 5 minutes introducing the suffix ~able. He takes 5 words and puts them in front of ~able and makes 5 new words. This takes another 10 minutes. He still has 20 minutes of the lesson to go. So he instructs the class to turn to page 25 of their workbooks and fill out the exercise by following the example given. The example reads thus;
Mary has bought a new dress that is washable.
Washable: You can wash it.
He now gives the class 10 minutes to complete this task and leaves the last 10 minutes for the checking of answers. The time passes, and during the checking of answers, he comes across this question.
We all agree that the play was forgettable.
Forgettable: ________________________.
He asks for a response from the students. A boy raises his hand,

“Sir, you can forget it.”

What went wrong?

Before you put this down to inexperience, let me first caveat by saying that the teacher was a good teacher, a very experienced teacher. He genuinely cared for the students and took pains to ensure that the lesson was made up of different activities which would help the students change frames and sustain their interest. I know. I was that boy.

However, the error was this. The frames in the lesson were not teaching the use of the suffix ~able. In the first instance, it taught the students that if they put a word in front of the suffix, it creates the new word which the teacher wants. In the second instance, it taught the students that in order to complete the task given for the day, all they needed to do was to remove ~able from the highlighted word and insert the remaining word into a sentence which reads, ‘You can (insert root word here) it.’

He also neglected the fact that the lesson was carried out in the middle of the afternoon, a time when students are bored and looking to get up to mischief. He also neglected to check the prior knowledge of the students, assuming that the topic was new to the class, not realizing that he had a smart-alecky student with a rather good grasp of the language.

From here I hope you see how important understanding Subject, Level and Duration is to planning effective lessons. We need to understand the context in which we are trying to achieve the learning so that we can make the other aspects of the lesson more meaningful and therefore more effective.

Understanding Education 
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