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Backwards Planning and App-Based Lessons

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With the move to backwards planning as the lesson-planning model, it includes app-based lessons as well. In my classes, I explain backwards planning as planning with the assessment in mind. I explain that we need to think about what we want our students to be able to do at the end of the lesson using the content we taught. I remind my students that the formative assessment provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning and that this “demonstration” component is, in fact, the formative assessment. This conversation then deepens with a discussion of skill-based versus content-based assessment.

In my own scholarship and teaching, I stress that the content we teach our students is less important than how we want our students to use the content. For example, in English language arts, the importance is not that my students understand the plot of a Shakespearean play; rather, it is that they can analyze a text for meaning. Whether that text is a Shakespearean play, a short story, or an essay, the skill I want them to practice is using text analysis to derive meaning from a text. In science, I would not want students to only conduct an experiment to arrive a specific finding. Instead, I want students to understand why and how experiments are used to uncover findings and how, based on the experiences they had in the classroom, they can apply a scientific experiment to the different phenomena they encounter. The examples of why skill-based teaching and assessment represents a new more effective “college- and career-ready” type of education are plentiful, and we see this shift represented in the new performance-based standards being implemented across the nation. Returning to app-based lessons, emphasizing skills in the assessment component of the lesson is essential.

When planning an app-based lesson, my lessons always require students to make, design, or write something. This “something” could be a plan, an essay, a procedure, a diagram, or really anything so long as it provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. So, when I write my instructional objective, it always ends with this opportunity. For example, at a recent talk I gave to middle school teachers about app-based lessons, I provided the following instructional objectives as examples:

English Language Arts: Students will select and analyze a short story BY completing a storyboard graphic organizer and by justifying if they did or did not enjoy the story.

Science: Students will choose a periodic element and study it BY constructing it at the atomic level, researching uses for the element and listing three facts about it, and then creating a detailed model of it.

Math: Students will independently study the slope formula and then demonstrate their knowledge of the slope formula BY choosing an object from the world that features a slope (e.g., a mountain, an ancient pyramid, etc.), writing a word problem that requires the slope formula to be used in order to solve it, and then posting their word problem and its solution to a class website.

Social Studies: Students will select a current topic of debate and then express their opinion of the topic BY researching and composing an editorial that expresses their opinion regarding the topic and then creating a website that propagandizes each side of the topic.

In each of these objectives, the word “BY” appears and it is followed with action verbs that specify exactly my expectations for student performance. In my own lesson planning, the “BY” statement is my transition from the content students will engage in the lesson to the skill they will use to demonstrate their learning of that content. Returning to backwards planning, the actions students will take as outlined in the “By” statement are the actual formative assessments students will complete. Once I outline those actions, I align it to the content students must engage to be able to complete those actions. After I have this lesson framework in place, the rest is easy 🙂

One of my favorite parts of working with educational apps is the abundance of them. For most reasonable expectations, there truly is an app for it. So, once the lesson’s instructional objective has been developed, it just requires the matching of apps to the objective’s purpose. Once an app has been identified, test it out to make sure its functionality will meet the lessons needs and that you understand how to use it. That way, you will be able to explain and model how to use the app to your students.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog or any ideas in it, we would love to hear from you via an email to info@appedreview.com.

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