This post provides tips for designing lessons for gifted students in online spaces and has applications for face-to-face instructors.
Picture this…circa 2011. I had just received my very first interactive whiteboard in my classroom. I attended a training on how to use this new flashy technology and I was PUMPED. I spent several hours designing a lesson where my gifted students could interact with the board, spin text around, and showcase moving banners across the screen.
I felt like a superhero. I just knew this technology would increase their engagement, and in turn, increase their scores for their unit test, right? WRONG. As I graded their first test, I was baffled. What happened? I noticed that though my students retained surface-level information, there was a clear deficit in their ability to produce critical thinking connections with the previous unit. The gap in knowledge gave me the reality check I needed as I worked to master student learning.
After reflecting, I realized that I was missing the most important piece. I had started with the tool instead of the “what” and the “how.” If you start like I did, you can easily get caught up in all of the gadgets and glitter, but not actually move the needle for your students.
Heroes can’t be all capes and flash. There’s got to be substance. If I was going to truly improve student understanding and increase engagement, I had to make meaningful change.
When making the technology shift, it is always important to figure out WHAT you want your students to know and do at the end of your activity, lesson or course, and HOW you plan to get them to their destination. I have three easy tips that I will share to help get you started on your journey to online design, where tools could potentially rule–but not unless you let them! Whether you are a classroom or online teacher, you’ll see some ways here to put tools in service to your higher goals.
How do you create meaningful skill-based lessons for gifted youth in online spaces?
Share with us below!
Step 1: To move FORWARD, you have to think BACKWARDS…
When designing a course, one strategy I use is backwards design. I grab a sheet of notebook paper. I place my topic at the top of the page, my overarching Essential Question directly underneath, and my outcome at the bottom of the page. My outcome will always tie back to, “What do I want my students to know at the end of this course?”
This helps focus on the big picture. It is hard to know where you are going, if you do not have a final destination. Think of this as your “Road Map to Success”.
After you have your outline, you can begin brainstorming ideas, checkpoints and ways you can level up your lesson.
If you’re a face-to-face teacher with an online space to manage, use this brainstorming task as a way to publicly share your lessons and/or introduce any online components of your class. Why share your lesson structure online? If you know your course design is public and student-facing, you will be even more intentional about outcomes and stick to your goals.
Step 2: Design your activity with skills in mind
Before you begin designing, think about the last time you participated in a professional development.
- The What:
- What captured my attention? What didn’t?
- What skills did I practice?
- How am I applying those skills to my classroom practice now?
- The How:
- How was the PD organized?
- Did it flow from start to finish?
You can use this reflection to fuel your online design. Chances are, if a learning experience excites YOU, its same design will excite your students. As a teacher learning new material, you appreciate meaningful engagement that leads to skill mastery as opposed to pure content consumption. Students have information already at their fingertips, so having the students copy down definitions is not a useful skill, face-to-face or online. Reading slides for bits and bytes of content has evolved today into more application-based assignments driven by meaningful skills.
Creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication, The 4 C’s, is a useful framework to ensure true student learning. These are longer considered a 21st century skill. These are basic skills! The 4 C’s will amplify your course and provide an exciting online culture.
In the Duke TIP eStudies program for gifted students, we use two of these skills in our list of eStudies Skills, or online learning skills–Creativity and Collaboration–plus others: Active Learning, Inquiry, Authorship, and Self-Representation.
This is the meat of your online design. Below are several examples for each “C” to guide you in designing your lesson or module. What’s great about the 4 C’s is that they can overlap with one another. If you are blending your content and activities with the 4 C’s, you will create an interactive environment that will organically prepare students for the future.
How are your activities practicing these skills?
✔ Active listening skills, specific and constructive feedback skills, reflection and metacognition skills, positive self-representation skills
✔ Goal setting with a group, exploring ideas as a group, defining and establishing supportive roles that boost student participation, meeting systematic check points, evaluating performance in a group.
✔ Designing, digital storytelling, developing online posters, creating videos, harnessing new web tools in any kind of design or presentation, building websites.
✔ Solving a problem, finding resolutions, creating solutions, brainstorming, planning.
Yet, the question we will be asked again and again by others–parents, administrators, etc.–can often center around the content. Our goal, as educators, is making sure that our students reach the measurable outcome of knowledge acquisition.
How do we integrate content knowledge into a course and still give students the creative freedom to explore and wonder? How do we prioritize the skill mastery while making sure kids are making progress in building their knowledge base?
Simplify Your System
Here’s a structure I recommend for your lessons–whether online or face-to-face–that can help you make sure you’re hitting all the elements of a robust list of expectations.
- Landing page — Share important details about the course such as the course description, schedule, policies, and general expectations. Creating an instructor video can help boost your online community.
- Checklist page — Provide the Essential Question and intended outcomes to be achieved by the end of the module or course.
- Activity # 1 — [Communication] Post a discussion thread where the students can interact with one another, introduce themselves, etc. Bonus: make sure that there’s an academic focus to this icebreaker, where you connect the get-to-know you communication process with content and outcomes. For more ideas on meaningful activities, check out this Teachers Workshop post, “Vet or Reset that Icebreaker.”
- Content page — [Critical Thinking] Share key information, slides of content, primary source documents, readings, videos, and other resources related to knowledge acquisition. Make skill mastery a priority on this page with activities such as
- Application: Have students apply annotation or note-taking strategies related to an Essential Question while consuming content.
- Analysis: Have students dissect parts of content, and categorize them.
- Analysis: Have students compare and contrast previous documents or information.
- Activity # 2 — [Collaboration] Share an activity that allows students to practice collaboration skills that involve all group members, supports an inviting culture and showcases the individual talents of each gifted student while examining key content in the course.
- Content page — [Critical Thinking] See above. If you feel your students need additional challenge, include new types of Analysis activities and/or Evaluation activities.
- Checkpoint — Give a formative assessment to test basic student knowledge.
- Activity # 3 — [Creativity] Share an activity where students design, build, propose, brainstorm, or speculate using recently-mastered content knowledge. This mini-project should showcase what they have learned using a new digital tool.
- Level Up — [Creativity] + [Choice] — Provide a choice option for your students where they have the opportunity to select an extension to their learning. This should be a differentiated challenge task with at least two levels of choice. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to differentiate the task choices.
- Final Outcome — Offer a summative assessment that requires students to analyze, evaluate, and/or create. It should directly scaffold from the prior formative tasks, and it should have a clear rubric.
Consistency is key when creating and designing your online course. Students will appreciate your structured outline and recognize the repeating of it throughout modules.
Step 3: Level Up Learning!
With gifted students, they often enjoy learning the content knowledge, yet crave the application part–right away. Simply said — they want to DO something with it. The world we live in daily involves tons of choice: video games, online shopping, cell phone apps, to name a few. But do we see it in education?
When creating your online course, offer at least one extension activity where students can “Level Up.” This is a great opportunity to provide several options where students can choose what avenue they want to use to demonstrate their content knowledge.
Remember to use Bloom’s Taxonomy as the “what” and “why” behind your skill mastery and not worry too much about how much of the content is being mastered.
This project could be in the form of an article, blog, web tool, video review or infographic. It’s fine to share tools where you are not an expert. As long as it is a tool approved by your district, being an expert is not the goal. The goal is fostering the learning process for your students so that they have a space to grow and explore and you can find ways to provide resources to support their tool usage.
Our classroom culture is ever changing. As you work to build your online lesson or course, keep the goals in mind, while enjoying the process of making an engaging environment your students will love!
The 4 C’s — Introduction to the 4 Cs | Common Sense Education. (2014). Common Sense Education. Retrieved 6 August 2019, from commonsense.org.
Pakizer, T. (2016). The 4Cs of 21st Century Skills – Simplek12_. Simplek12_. Retrieved 5 September 2019, from simplek12.com.