How to Step Down from the Stage: Alternatives to Direct Instruction

While Stand and Deliver may have been a captivating movie, it's not exactly the most captivating way to share information with students. With the rise of the Age of Information, no longer do teachers have to be the disseminators of information through direct instruction all the time. Instead, here are a few different approaches that change you from "sage on the stage" into more of a "guide on the side."

1. Inductive Learning

One of my new favorite ways to help students grasp a concept is through inductive learning. The concept behind inductive learning is that students look for patterns in information to help them identify a rule or set of guidelines. 

For example, when we often teach what a theme is in literature, we typically start by giving them the answer; we define theme. Only after that do we look at examples. 

Inductive learning flips that on its head. You would give students a number of different theme statements, some good and some bad. Some might not actually be theme statements. Students will organize those into different groups based on patterns they see. The teacher could then check to see what groups students have made with their themes. Then, the students could try to formulate some rules, guidelines, or a definition for what makes a strong theme statement. This allows the students to use critical thinking skills to create a new sense of understanding.

Check out this video for more information.

2. Flipped/Blended Lessons

The premise of a flipped or blended lesson is that the direct instruction is done through video or some other medium other than the teacher to free up additional time for the teacher to work with individual students or groups. New tools like PlayPosit (video tutorial) or EdPuzzle (video tutorial) allow teachers to embed assessment and interactive elements directly into the video. 

For example, in a math class, imagine half the class has learned a previous concept essential to moving on to the next concept, but the other half of the class hasn't. Instead of instructing the entire group about the next concept that half the class isn't ready for, the teacher could use a blended approach to the lesson to create time for remediation and intervention. 

The teacher could find a video that clearly explains the upcoming concept and use a platform like EdPuzzle to embed assessment to check for understanding. Then, the students who had mastered the previous content and were ready to move on could watch the video independently while the teacher worked with the rest of the class to reteach some of the previous content. 

This frees up the teacher to be more responsive to student needs.

For an example of what blended learning actually looks like in the classroom, check out the video below:

3. Curation Projects

This takes the flipped lesson idea and adds more student ownership to it. In a curation project, students will go out to YouTube or the web and find a collection of information related to the topic. Most importantly, students will rank the effectiveness of those instructional resources and justify their rankings.

For example, in a science class, let's say you were learning about the structure and components of a plant cell. Instead of the teacher putting a diagram up on the board and talking through it, students would have to search the web for videos or resources that taught them about plant cells. Once they had found a few, they would have to rank them based on which on they thought did the best job teaching the content. 

The ranking is incredibly important in the process. It not only requires them to evaluate the source for reliability, but it also requires them to demonstrate a strong understanding of the concept, skill, or content to be able to clearly explain their ranking.

For more information on curation projects, check out the Cult of Pedagogy podcast and blog.

4. HyperDocs

The HyperDoc might fall into the flipped or blended category, but I wanted to separate it out. HyperDocs are ways to create student-paced lessons that incorporate more student choice and interactive elements. 

A HyperDoc lesson allows you to use a Google Doc (typically, though it could also be another platform that allows for embedded links, like Google Slides) to share information, encourage discussion, and gather assessment data all in the same place. The cool thing is that the teacher doesn't need to be in front of the room for any of it. 

For example, let's say you wanted to teach students about the Civil War. Instead of just having the whole class watch a video or giving a long lecture about it, you could create a HyperDoc. You would want to start with something to engage students, maybe a question like, "What do you know about the Civil War?" just as a way to get them thinking. They could record that onto a platform like Padlet. Once they've done that, the next part of the HyperDoc could ask them to get into groups and jigsaw a few historical documents from the Civil War that all have to do with how and why it started, which would lead them into a few discussion questions that they would have to answer. 

There are thousands of different ways you could go with this, but the core concept is that students are doing the information discovery themselves.

(Note: One thing that I really want to emphasize, with all the strategies but HyperDocs especially, is that students need to be communicating and processing out loud through interactions with peers. A student sitting in front of a computer by themselves all class period isn't the ideal to shoot for.)

Check out his amazing HyperDoc resource for more information and ideas: CLICK HERE!

5. Educational Escape Rooms (or BreakoutEDUs)

I put this last because it can end up being the most labor intensive, but it is without a doubt the most fun. If you've ever been in an escape room where you have to work together with other people to solve problems and unlock/discover clues, this uses that concept but in an educational context. 

Here's how it works. 

The teacher develops problems, challenges, or a set of questions in advance that the students must solve in order to get past each stage. Ideally, these problems require students to research or gain an understanding that they didn't previously have in order to complete each stage. When they solve each stage, they will get a combination or password that allows them to move on to the next stage. You can do this either digitally or physically. I'll give examples of both below.

In an ELA class, students are learning how to use basic commas. The teacher identifies each stage as the following: (1) Commas with lists, (2) commas with compound sentences, and (3) commas with introductory phrases.

For each phase, students must correctly answer five multiple choice questions, each of which is connected to a letter or number (eg. - the multiple choice questions for one correspond with A, B, C, and D, whereas question two's answers correspond with 1, 2, 3, and 4). At the end of the section, the students must enter the corresponding letters and numbers in a password box at the bottom of the Google Form. (Tip: you will need to set up "data validation" for this question in Google Forms.) If the students answered all five questions correctly, they move on. If not, the password is incorrect, and they have to go figure out which letter or number should be changed. 

Once they get through all three stages, they win

Using the same example from before (the three stages about commas) but without technology, the teacher would need to set up different stations around the room with information about the concept for each stage (either videos set up, the teacher present and giving small group instruction, or text resources). 

Students will begin with stage one by answering questions on a worksheet, using the resources available to them to help them identify the correct sentences. Once they have solved it, they should get a password or combination that will allow them to move on to the next station. (Hint: a really fun way to do this is to pick up a couple lockboxes with combination locks, and the correct answers will give students the code for the lockbox, which holds the next set of problems for them to solve.) If you don't have lockboxes, the teacher can require every group to tell them the password before they are allowed to move on.

Here's a real example of how an escape room/breakout works in a classroom:

Final Thought:

No matter how you do it, the goal is to remove yourself as the guardian of information and instead help students navigate the complicated ways we learn and gather information on our own.

If you have more ideas, please paste them in the comments below!