A New Class Model

As a field scientist of learning, I love to experiment with new classroom methods.  In the midst of my Flipped Classroom experiment, Joey Till (math) has inspired a new classroom model--as he so often does.  The new model is built on two main ideas.  1. Students seem to learn the most with my method of direct instruction.  2. Students learn best when THEY choose what they learn.

This year my class has had relatively little direct instruction.  Students have learned most of the content from discovery activities.  I have noticed, after a topic or unit is complete, the knowledge students usually recall is what I taught them in my mini-lessons, not information they discovered in the projects/activities.  I have also observed that students remembered information they wanted to learn more about.   One feature of Joey Till's class I love is that the students choose what they want to learn.  The kids totally buy into his class because they have ownership. 

I have put a GREAT deal of time into creating authentic, interesting, and engaging activities this year, but next to Mr. Till's self-created "math journals", the kids just aren't very enthusiastic.  In his class, they work ahead, give themselves homework, and cover more material than he would using direct instruction.  So, I feel like my activities are slowing learning in my class.  They are starting to feel like really good worksheets (that hurt to type). 

Unfortunately, I'm running out of time this year, so this experimental class model will last until the end of the school year.  Here it is: I'm going to use direct instruction (my style) 4 out of 5 days each week.  My instruction will end with 10-15 minutes left in class.  Students will then write a journal entry on what they learned and what they want to know more about.  Once a week, students will have the whole period to do 2 things: 1. post and respond to an online discussion about what they learned that week.  2. choose a topic from the week, something they learned or want to learn more about and make a presentation of some kind--podcast, PowerPoint, iMove, iPhoto book, etc.  I would also like to include a unit-long project that would combine the weekly presentations into a unit portfolio of some kind. 

I hesitate to publish this new model.  As a champion of progressive education I feel like a hypocrite advocating for direct instruction.  Am I moving backward?  I hope not.  Its just an experiment.  There are a few pieces to this new model I'm not quite sure about and would desperately like some feedback about:
  1. What are your general thoughts?
  2. What should my expectations be about daily journals?
  3. Is 1 day enough each week for posting and presentations?
  4. Should I include a presentation day for student work?  Weekly?  Biweekly?
  5. What should the end-of-unit project look like?
  6. What programs would be best for each component?
  7. What are the potential problems?


  1. Justin, I love what you're doing. I've used a similar activity that I call Focused Free Write. It's very successful and all students participate. I haven't tried the sort of extension you plan, though; it sounds intriguing.

    My suggestion would be after a couple of weeks of doing it as you plan, give the kids a bit more freedom. Run it like a workshop. Tell them to journal, but when they feel ready, they should convert the journals into a presentation. This puts the onus on them to accomplish the task, while providing some autonomy, too.

    I'd incorporate Glogster, Wallwisher and Diigo into the project. Kids love these.

    The biggest potential problem that I envision is students struggling with planning and executing a project that may not have strict guidelines. As you already know, freedom still needs to be coached.

    Best of luck. I'm looking forward to reading more about this.

  2. My favorite think about this blog is the constant tweaking. I see two major problems that might arise.

    How difficult will it be to get the kids to write everyday? Will there be prompts or will they just go off their own note taking? Will they be allowed to involve pictures or just type on days you teach?

    The other problem is if they only have one day to create their work that it won't be enough time. I really think a biweekly work schedule. One think we have learned is that it takes time to create.

    Great tweaking and good luck.

    Joey Till

  3. As I read all of your posts, I enjoy experiencing your thought process through the experiments you are doing. I see authentic teaching and goal-driven instruction.

    One piece of advice I might give is don't be afraid of incorporating traditional tools in your classroom simply because they are traditional. Students might not be successful learning in some of these experiments simply because they have not been exposed to it long enough yet. The transition from the traditional classroom to a progressive classroom will have its challenges for you but I think it will be even more challenging for the student that is used to direct instruction and worksheets.

    Give it time and allow creativity to develop. Hopefully, students will begin to experience learning in a new way. It may help to form a more hybrid type of classroom integrating traditional methods while experimenting with new methods. I really like the combination of direct instruction with enrichment writing. The presentation element is essential for students to demonstrate their learning.

    Keep up the innovation! You are NOT going backwards!


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