Sunday / May 16

A Systematic Approach to Impact Student Learning

Teacher surrounded by students read books

Welcome back! In the previous blog post, we unpacked the first two phases of the Discovery (DIIE) model: discovery and interventions. The first post highlighted the importance of understanding both our learners and the standards in our classroom prior to selecting appropriate interventions. Ultimately undertaking both of these steps are necessary as we move through this model in our classrooms. Having a compiled list of interventions and strategies is great, but it is only half the battle. The key to having a greater impact on student learning lies in our implementation and the evaluation of our impact. This post will guide you through the remaining two (and arguably most important) aspects of the model: implementation and evaluation. As a reminder, the Discovery (DIIE) model is as follows. If you missed the article highlighting the first two steps, I highly encourage reading that first so this article makes more sense!

Diagnosis and Discovery, Intervention, Implementation, and Evaluation Model graphic

Step Three: Implementation

The linchpin of ensuring our impact on student learning lies in our implementation. We have already taken steps to discover our learners and our curriculum; based on those discoveries we have selected appropriate interventions to impact the skill, will and thrill of learning. All of this would be in vain if we, as educators, do not consider how this will be implemented in our classroom. We must design “the implementation to reflect the local context of the learning environment with its unique characteristics, learner dispositions, and learning experiences” (p. 68). In order to ensure impactful implementation, we should focus our attention on some of the essential parts of implementing:

  • Fidelity to Clear and Visible Learning Goals
  • Necessary Dosage of Learning Experiences
  • Quality Delivery in a Conducive Learning Environment

Fidelity to Clear and Visible Learning Goals

Implementation would be near impossible if we did not include aspects of teacher clarity. Meaning that at all points in their learning, our students should have a clear understanding of where they are, and where they need to be to become successful. We can develop this sense in our classrooms by using learning intentions and success criteria. Put very simply, learning intentions establish what the students are learning based on the state, provincial or national standards of learning. Success criteria describe how students are expected to demonstrate their learning. There is a lot of great work done around teacher clarity and ample resources that have been created which can help support the creation of these in your classroom. A great litmus as to the clarity that exists in your classroom would be to determine if your students can answer these three questions: (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2016)

  1. What am I learning today?
  2. Why am I learning this?
  3. How will I know that I learned it?

Necessary Dosage of Learning Experiences

While learning intentions and success criteria tend to address questions 1 and 3 respectively, we are still left with a question that many of our students ask us on a frequent basis: what am I learning this? Providing students with engaging learning experiences or authentic tasks provides a relevant context for their learning which allows them to answer this question rather than ask you this question. While this is easier said than done, it helps to refer back to the discovery stage so we can use what we learned about our students in order to program for engagement. Our learners tend to persist when our tasks are clear, are emotionally safe for learners to take academic risks and provides opportunity for choice and interaction (Antonetti & Stice, 2018).

Quality Delivery in a Conducive Learning Environment

Effective implementation is not possible without an environment that is designed with learning at the forefront. Regardless of the current context of teaching and learning (in person, online or any combination of that) there are elements of the learning environment we must consider. An environment where implementation can flourish includes the following key elements: strong teacher-student relationships, a well-designed physical environment and fostering an environment of mistakes. Great Teaching by Design unpacks these elements more in depth but to summarize, no significant implementation can occur in an environment where students are scared to make mistakes. In order to create an environment where this is possible, we must ensure we forge strong teacher-student relationships (effect size of 0.48). The attributes of warmth, trust and empathy (as revealed by Cornelius-White’s 2007 meta-analysis) are the building blocks of these relationships. Once we begin to construct these, we begin to implement with greater impact.

Step 4: Evaluation

The final step in the discovery model is evaluation, meaning using our evaluative thinking to determine whether our chosen interventions and the subsequent implementation truly had an impact on our learners. By not taking time to evaluate our impact, we leave learning up to chance. The three steps to evaluation are as follows: planning for evaluation, interpreting the gathered evidence and using the evidence gathered.

When we discuss planning for evaluation, we are talking about taking purposeful steps to prepare to evaluate the impact on student learning. One technique is to use the success criteria as a means of measurement. The verbs in the success criteria provide a window into what students can do to demonstrate their learning. From an evidence standpoint, this is the first place we should look to determine our impact on their learning. A simple check for understanding can provide opportunities for us to gather evidence about our impact. One option would be to use a record keeping sheet of what you notice as you check for understanding: what are you observing students doing, what are you hearing them say, and what are you seeing them write. These observations are a concrete way to gather evidence of learning.

Collecting evidence can take many forms, and while one quick suggestion was provided there are countless ways to do so. It is what we do with evidence gathered, that determines our impact on learning. Whether we use post assessments, data from grading assignments, or specific reflective questions for evaluating the skill, will and thrill of learning we must now analyse those findings to determine our next steps. The evaluation of our impact should not be reduced to a score, mark, or grade rather the power of evaluation lies in how we interpret the evidence and what we do with our knowledge of student progress in learning. Meaning that although we have come to the end of the Discovery Model, we in fact must use evidence gathered to engage in another cycle of discovering, intervening, implementing and evaluating. Thus, as the figure shows, the Discovery Model begins again as our evaluation leads us onto another path of discovery.

The Discovery Model is not a means to an end, but rather a systematic approach to ensuring we are having the greatest impact on student learning. By truly discovering what our students know, choosing and implementing the proper interventions and evaluating our impact we are truly able to engage in great teaching, by design.

Turn good intentions into better outcomes-by design! Order the book now.

Written by

Vince Bustamante currently serves as the Social Studies Curricular Consultant for Edmonton Catholic Schools. In this role he is responsible for resource development, providing teacher support, overseeing curriculum implementation as well as delivering professional learning sessions. He is trained as a Secondary Social Studies teacher with vast experience in middle and high schools, and has a passion for creating a social studies classroom that seeks to empower students to maximize their learning. Let’s get students excited about social studies!

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