Thursday, June 20, 2013

How to design instruction: break it down

As some of you may know or remember, I have very little training in instructional pedagogy, but I'm a liberal arts grad who had some amazingly inventive teachers who has since surrounded herself with some really smart friends. That said, one of my favorite parts of my job is brainstorming and planning instruction whether that be my own, or helping other professors develop research (or non-library) assignments.

Last week I found myself helping a friend adapt college-level content about sports marketing to make it appropriate for 1st graders attending a college for kids program on campus. At first I was excited about the challenge, but quickly realized that while I knew how to build creative assignments for college students, first graders were a bit out of my league!

So I turn to one of those really smart friends of mine who works with kids that age. Her suggestion? Break it down to its component parts and relate those to something they already know, or are familiar with and make it active. As soon as she told me that, I felt a bit like I'd been hit with a brick. Obviously that's what you do. That's what I do to attack an assignment for my college students. I'd been doing that without framing it that way, but that was the basic progression. Take the goal of the project and the method to getting there. Break it down into manageable steps, ideas, processes, concepts, etc. Basically find its component parts, whatever form that may take. And then you relate it to what they've done or known before. You want to teach them about subject headings and authority control? Relate it to Facebook photo tagging. Annotating a text? That's a bit like live tweeting in the book. Find something that makes sense to them and build on that prior knowledge. And then?? Then you make it active. You teach the concepts or theories or ideas or whatever, and then you let them practice it. You have them apply it. Have them put it to use right away.

So when we left our heroes, they were grappling with sports marketing for kids. My friend brought in the content broken down with some idea of how to make it a project. I added a bit of the active appeal and the link to the familiar. And suddenly we've got a week long project of creating a team, pieces of marketing plans including price structure and promotion, all wrapped up in a book to take home to their parents. Ta da! But that wasn't really the ta da moment.

That moment? It came later. When the faculty member realized he could use this same project with his college students. We built it to be active for 7 year old because that is how you make things "fun" and also how you cope with 7 year olds when you don't make a habit of dealing with them on a regular basis. :) But the active piece with college students? That is that the chance to do some "real world" application. That's the buy in. It's where the rubber meets the road. You teach them the theory and then they put it to use, reinforcing it right away.

And my takeaway from this endeavor? That translating process can go either way. I'm not usually in the habit of building things for little kids, but I love the idea of break it down to component parts, relate to what they know, and make it active. We're all kids at heart, right? If it works for them, why not for us?

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