Friday, 12 November 2010

Reverse instruction

I'm certainly certainly one to acknowledge the trends in education—the ones that we're challenged to try out to see if they advance student learning and understanding. So, Michael B. Horn, who apparently coined the term, 'reverse instruction' at the recent NAIS Annual Conference seems to have stirred up educators et al. who keep seeking the ideal approach to teaching and delivering instruction. Just giving reverse instruction a brief read reminded me of the principles set forth by Madeline Hunter over 20 years ago and whose lesson planning strategies I quickly found with a google search. First are establishing the objectives and standards, followed by the lesson itself: the 'Anticipatory Set' (AS) where the teacher 'hooks' the learner with an interesting start to the lesson, and then...
Teaching: Input
The teacher provides the information needed for students to gain the knowledge or skill through lecture, film, tape, video, pictures, etc.

Teaching: Modeling
Once the material has been presented, the teacher uses it to show students examples of what is expected as an end product of their work. The critical aspects are explained through labeling, categorizing, comparing, etc. Students are taken to the application level (problem-solving, comparison, summarizing, etc.).

These and the rest of the model: checking for understanding, guided and independent practice and 'closure' were drilled into teachers' heads back in the 80s/90s. These were the 10 commandments of good teaching.

Now this bedrock is about to be challenged. It appears that we can simply bypass the AS and 'input' altogether with reverse instruction. It's hard to say whether 'modeling' is also to be abandoned, since the 'problem-solving' might also precede the actual lesson. Or, maybe this where the lesson actually begins? Scary stuff.

There are many assumptions at play with 'reverse instruction': 1) that the content and understanding it can be found somewhere online; 2) that the teacher has set up such instruction online; and 3) an underlying assumption that the content of a given lesson exists online and can be accessed by students prior to the actual lesson. Is this approach in line with the constructivist approach?

Effective teaching connects isolated ideas and information with global concepts and themes.... Students need time to process 'how' as well as 'what' they've learned.... Experiential learning is most effective.... Teaching must be multifaceted to allow students to express preferences... Teaching that heavily emphasizes rote learning does not promote spatial, experienced learning and can inhibit understanding.
Not that everyone's bought into the constructivist approach, and certainly in the high school at ISB, some are not even following the standard Madeline Hunter model for that matter. But it is interesting to consider just where reverse instruction fits in. It does seem as though we are at a crossroads in education, given Web 2.0 access. We can no longer sit comfortably drilling facts into students and assessing them on their memories of these facts believing that this is learning. When students nowadays can access facts within seconds, how can we realistically believe that spending time with our students discussing that which can be researched within seconds is what we should be doing? Is this at the expense lost learning? But where to facts end and the rest of the content begin?

I like the revolutionary thinking that reverse instruction seems to suggest, but like all claims, we need to consider counter arguments before jumping onto the bandwagon. So, is this a complete reversal or a judicious one? The other day after our last COETAIL session, I was sitting at my desk watching my ToK students work in groups wondering if I should've had them 'research' the text and do the 'online' activity at home instead of using class time to do the research. But within minutes of suggesting the students divide up the reading with their partners, and after they had a quick look at the link I provided on a philosopher's game involving the arts, I was convinced that I had done the right thing. There was a buzz in the room as students collaborated on what was art, and on which criteria could best be used to determine what art was. Although I could've set up some sort of forum or chat ahead on Panthernet and then spent the lesson discussing the content researched instead, this live F2F interaction at the initial stage of researching the content was what was so precious and vibrant. So, this was not reverse instruction—nor was it the standard Madeline Hunter lesson either. Yes, I did do an AS to start the lesson, and yes I did spend 5 mins. or so with 'input' but I bypassed modeling, checking for understanding and guided practice and went right to independent practice. At least it was experiential learning, so a constructivist would be satisfied. But, was it a good lesson? I have a sense that it was. (I certainly know when I bomb a lesson!) The only way to tell is to find out from the students if they moved away from 'what' and were able to get at the 'how' from that lesson.

It does seems that we all need to do a serious reassessment of where we stand with teaching, because if we don't, we may have 'reverse learning' instead of reverse instruction!


Jeff Utecht said...

Love this:

"It does seems that we all need to do a serious reassessment of where we stand with teaching, because if we don't, we may have 'reverse learning' instead of reverse instruction!"

and at the end of the day I think that's what it comes down to. How do we know if a lesson is good? I think we feel it as teachers, as see it in the students eyes, and much like the describe in your classroom there is a buzz of learning happening. Does everything need to be done in a reverse instruction way? No, but I think the way you set up the activity for students allowed the best use of F2F time that day...and that's what's important!

Dana S Watts said...

I keep finding that I am also altering my lessons and doing things I would have previously assigned for homework in the classroom. Homework has become more tailor made to the individual student instead of one size fits all. I don't have all the answers yet, but I think there is a shift in the way we will instruct students in the future. Your students are lucky to have you.