In my workshops and my most recent ASCD book, Ditch the Daily Lesson Plan, I advocate for teachers to work smarter, not harder, and to learn how to plan curriculum for contemporary classrooms and contemporary students.
My overriding message is still focused on high levels of student engagement. We also want to be sure we include discovery level learning opportunities that are authentic and timely.
One idea I like to propose for discovery learning is what I call “The Triptik.” I use it as a metaphor for co-creating a learning experience with students where the students are largely responsible for getting to a destination once the destination (or learning objective or project deliverable) has been established.
Those reading this who remember the American Automobile Association’s Triptik® will probably recall that a member would set a destination and then AAA would design a packet of information to help get you there in myriad ways, allowing you to know about construction, alternative routes, direct and indirect paths, places of interest to enhance the journey, etc. The traveler would then have everything they needed to shape a unique travel experience.
I think this method can well apply to contemporary curriculum design, particularly when we shift much of the responsibility for the (learning) journey to the student. While student choice and voice are important in all contemporary classrooms, they are vital in the Middle Grades classroom, where students have a built-in longing to explore, discover, and create.
Tips for creating classroom Triptiks
In order to design a Triptik® in your classroom, ask yourself the following questions:
What is a learning journey worth embarking on? This can be a negotiation between teachers and students. Teachers have an understanding of the objectives, standards, etc., but student voice here could reveal iterations of the objective that create opportunities for buy-in and high levels of engagement.
How do I align the journey to standards, and how will I assess it? Whatever the learning experience will ultimately be, the teacher still needs to coach students through learning expectations and coach towards success on whatever the assessment will be. (Hopefully it’s one that is co-designed by students and teachers!)
What are the essential skills that students will need to master as they embark on this learning journey? These essential skills will be determined by the assessments that are designed as well as any standards that a teacher aligns this learning experience to. Additionally, other skills related to the designed task may need to be documented, particularly if they are part of a negotiation with the students on how they will work, learn, and perform. (Such as Habits of Mindor even peripheral skills related to contemporary research strategies.)
What questions need to be asked? Focus the work for the team by helping students develop questions, both essential and supporting, that facilitate students’ finding the right resources to advance their learning and lead them to their learning destination.
How will students and teachers (and anyone else involved in the learning process) communicate and collaborate? Co-creating tentative instructional tasks based on skills and group-brainstormed ways of getting to the assessment / product (where students’ voices impact the planning and delivery of instruction) will allow students a window into what teachers must consider when designing instruction. This conversation could help students self-advocate for scaffolds or opportunities for differentiation.
How will students be accountable for their work? Be mindful of the destination while you work to get there, setting instructional milestones and providing ongoing feedback. In the Middle Grades classroom, feedback is essential to quality work and improvement. Think of creative ways to distance yourself from traditional grading in favor of helping all students generate a quality product.