What? The twin concepts of the teacher-as-learner and the teacher-as-researcher are central to the practice of Learning by Design – practice is the medium via which professional learning and research are played out – practice is quite literally that which one learns from and through. Learning by Design provides a professional language – concepts and terminology – and a theory of teaching and learning which supports and scaffolds the teacher-as-learner and the teacher-as-researcher. The two roles are interrelated and interdependent as the activities which teachers engage in to capture, document, preserve, analyse, discuss and share their practice serve the purposes of professional learning and research, providing rich insights into how and why learners learn.
When considering the question ‘Who are the learners?’ in Learning by Design, teachers and students are both learners and teachers. Students teach their teachers via the responses they make to the teacher’s designs, which they create and enact, and more directly via the transfer of knowledge and know-how that the teacher may lack.
Being a teacher-researcher means:
- collecting, reflecting on and analysing the ‘artefacts’ which are created through or as a consequence of your practice such as:
- teaching plans, images, audio and/or video recordings of the processes you engage in when you plan and when you teach;
- samples of student work – ‘before and after’ evidence of the consequences of your teaching;
- student responses to your teaching and what these responses mean to you;
- sharing and discussing with teaching peers your observations, data, evidence and analyses: What does it all mean? What are the consequences, significances and implications, for you, for your students and for how you relate to and work with your colleagues?
- presenting your evidence, findings and conclusions to colleagues and peers in coherent, compelling ways.
Why? When one’s practice, and the practice of one’s colleagues, becomes the ground for learning and for research that practice is invariably altered and affected by that learning and research, and by the professional dialogue which it fosters. The process of designing and enacting learning – being a teacher – becomes a deeply reflective and considered endeavour. When such learning and research are supported by a shared pedagogical language and collaborative, collegiate and dialogical engagement – teachers talking about and sharing insights from their practices – a professional learning community springs up in the school. This community is attuned to and continually looking for evidence of learning. Belonging to such a community as it evolves and develops results in a culture of professionalism
What? The idea of a through-line in Learning by Design relates to the quality of the connections between learning activities in a teacher’s design and the relationship of those activities to the teacher’s objectives, assessments and outcomes. Looking for a through line in a teacher’s design means exploring whether and in what ways a ‘big idea’ is played out in the planned activities and whether or how each activity builds on a previous activity or contributes to a later activity. A through-line is evident when each activity makes sense on its own terms and in the context of the activities around it – learners should be able to see the connections and relevance of each activity or the teacher should be able to establish or explain connections easily and without labouring the point. Having a good through-line in a design means that the learners understand, and are always clear about, the purpose of the learning – where it is headed and why.
According to Wikipedia the idea of a through-line had its genesis in the theatre and,
…was first suggested by Constantin Stanislavski as a simplified way for actors to think about characterisation. He believed actors should not only understand what their character was doing, or trying to do, (their objective) in any given unit, but should also strive to understand the through line which linked these objectives together and thus pushed the character forward through the narrative.
Translated into the context of Learning by Design this notion of through-line means that teachers, through their designs, should strive to create or design activities – using the knowledge processes cumulatively to build deep knowledge and deep understanding – which are clearly connected, each with the other, and imbued with an overarching purpose.
Why? Designing with the aim of creating a through-line means that a teacher’s design is much more likely to make sense to the learners. If the purpose of each activity is clearly related to an overarching purpose the learner is more likely to engage with the design and be able to accurately identify where the learning is going and why. A good through-line can create the conditions in which a classroom is calmer and more task-focused and where there is little evidence of confusion or restlessness. Being able to identify the quality of a through-line in the designs of others means being able to provide meaningful and productive feedback, to engage in dialogue and discussion about the design and to make changes based on improving the connectedness, purpose and relevance of the activities. This also means that the exemplary or outstanding designs of other teachers are more likely to be identifiable and the reasons behind a design’s effectiveness to be understood.
What? Transformative education is based on a reading of contemporary society, or the kinds of capacities for knowing that children need to develop in order to be good workers in a ‘knowledge economy’, participating citizens in a globalised cosmopolitan society, and balanced personalities in a society that affords a range of choices that at times seem overwhelming. The essence of education is transformation of self and environment, which may be pragmatic (enabling learners to do their best in the given social conditions) or emancipatory (making the world a better place