Documenting the Weaving a narrative information text in Wolves by Emily Gravett learning element has been important for me to learn about CG Learner and to use this knowledge and experience to support other teachers as they learn about Learning by Design and also use this new documenting tool.
We have been working with Learning by Design for about eight years. I believe Learning by Design values the professionalism of teachers by emphasising their roles as designers of learning; this ensures that we have a design to achieve identified outcomes rather than a set of activities. These designs are captured in learning elements.
Up until now we have mainly used word based tools to document our learning elements. These were often unstable and frustrating to use so we were very excited about CG Learner. As a web based tool it is very stable, enables collaboration even after the planning stage as more than one person can be documented a learning element at the same time, prompts us to include important things such as purpose and teaching tips to make our designs shareable, includes links to resources on the Internet as well as worksheets we create ourselves, and aligns activities with our objectives and assessment – the holy grail of curriculum development!! Even though CG Learner is still in the development phase, it has already made documenting so much easier.
As my first learning element in CG Learner, I wanted Weaving a narrative information text in Wolves by Emily Gravett to be an exemplar for other teachers so they could use it as a model. Hence I designed it so that it included all the knowledge processes, moving sequentially through experiencing, conceptualising, analysing and applying. Not all learning elements follow this sequence as you can work through experiencing, conceptualising and analysing many times before asking students to apply.
So the learning element starts with experiential learning, valuing prior knowledge about wolves and rabbits and libraries, and frontloading the text by exploring their perceptions about wolves and rabbits in ‘Experiencing the known’. It even includes students creating a visual so is multimodal.
The students read and respond to the text in ‘Experiencing the new’. Here the text is multimodal, both visual and linguistic, so it taps into life world interests by presenting varied information and also by presenting it in different modes – multimodally. Exciting and engaging input at the ‘Experiencing the new’ stage can really make a difference to the success of the whole learning element. It is also important in ‘Experiencing the new’ that students can respond to the text, enabling them to bring their own knowledge and experiences to the text before going into asking teacher directed questions which I believe is conceptual learning. It is important to include ways of describing/ retelling/sharing aspects of the text in ‘Experiencing the new’ so that students use their own language/versions of English. Lisa Delpit in Other People’s Children (1995) stresses the need for students to have access to the language of power but still have their own ways of speaking and thinking, including identity, valued in non-deficit ways.
In ‘Conceptualising by naming’ the students work in groups to identify the features of either the narrative or information text. Working in groups, promotes speaking and listening as well as shifting the balance of agency from teachers to students. It also provides a metalanguage for students so they can participate in the learning, hence addressing diversity. To ensure students have some scaffolding as well as accountability, they record ideas on a Venn diagram and then have to share their work with another group and other people’s ideas to record in one part of the Venn. Using cooperative learning and thinking tools ensure students do the thinking rather than depending on the teacher to do the thinking for them so more shifting of the balance of agency.
After naming the features, students theorise about what happens when the two texts combine. This activity is scaffolded using a PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) chart and students then record their reflections in journals or on a class wiki – another way of linking to students’ life worlds. More and more as we use the knowledge processes of Learning by Design, we see that a good design incorporates all knowledge processes, especially so that students move from knowledge to understanding. For example ‘Conceptualising by naming’ is about gaining deep knowledge while ‘Conceptualising by theorising’ moves this knowledge to understanding. It also moves knowledge from short term memory to long term memory as students have a connection for recalling the knowledge they have gained.
Analysing functionally is where we focus on the grammar on texts. In Weaving a narrative into an information text in Wolves by Emily Gravett there is visual and linguistic grammar to explore at the word and sentence level. We have already explored the structure of texts in the ‘Conceptualising by naming’ activity so we don’t need to explore that again even though it could be included in this knowledge process too. Basically this activity looks at the visual and linguistic modes, using examples in context (the field) and then looks at their effects (tenor). Our new Australian Curriculum includes a lot of emphasis on teaching grammar and the media have been denigrating English teachers because supposedly we don’t teach it….hmmmm. Here is evidence of it happening very explicitly!
Providing a knowledge of the grammar of texts in ‘Analysing functionally’ supports students so they can create their own texts in ‘Applying’. It also enables them to understand the choices authors make to position readers in particular ways in ‘Analysing critically’. So by presenting the wolf as fearsome through the shot type, colour and adjectives, the author is able to build tension and then present an engaging twist in the new ending of the story in which the wolf is a vegetarian. This also presents other perspectives, rather than a stereotype of a wolf. These perspectives are pursued in more detail in the ‘Analsying critically’ activity in which students investigate a range of perspectives from hunters to animal lovers and even Indigenous people. They can then value a variety of cultural knowledges and perspectives.
When we ask students to apply their knowledge through a report, essay, PPT or multimedia presentation or in the case of this learning element to create a narrative, images or information texts, , they have to be able to move beyond responding to creating and becoming knowledge producers. ‘Analysing functionally’ and ‘Analysing critically’ provides them with the tools to do this.
‘Applying appropriately’ and ‘Applying creatively’ allows students to present their understandings/ learning in different ways. Encouraging students to present their learning in different modes provides them with choice, another form of agency, as well as linking to their technological life worlds and subjectivities.
Overall when you work through the knowledge processes you are scaffolding for increasing agency for students – so when you ask students to apply their understandings and learning, they will be more successful.
Other aspects of the learning element include the objectives and assessment. The objectives were the initial part of the planning process and I identified the Essential Learning Achievements of our curriculum framework, Every Chance to learn, at the Later Childhood band of development (approx ages 8-10years). The teacher and learner sides of Learning by Design, enabled me to document this following our assessment tool of CQ (criteria/quality) rubrics developed by Rick Owens who has worked with us at Lanyon High School. Criteria – what is important in this task, come directly from the Every chance to learn. Quality – what does it look like when it is done well, is using learner talk to describe the best quality students can produce. In this way the assessment is made transparent. In these rubrics, there are no shades of grey through 5 levels of achievement being described; only the highest quality is articulated. Two CQ rubrics are included in the assessment section of the learning element.
So after this long reflection I want to go back to the learning element and make my design choices even more explicit! As I don’t have my own class I would love someone to teach this and add comments to the reflection section on CG Learner. I’m sure it would improve the learning element significantly.