Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Designing engaging and rigorous learning experiences

From the very beginnings of my career as an educator, I’ve been passionate about curriculum and learning. I was lucky enough to start my international teaching career at the International School of Amsterdam which was one of the schools involved in the International Schools Curriculum Project, which later became the PYP. 

At the start of my teaching career, I think I was very focused on student engagement - I wanted my students to be interested and happy and I assumed that this would lead to deep learning. After doing a summer school at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, however, I came to realize that I needed to focus more on rigour. Following that, in every school I’ve worked, whether as classroom teacher, PYP Coordinator or technology coach, I’ve encouraged teachers to think critically about what they are doing and to redesign learning to address higher-order thinking. 

When I first started at the American School of Bombay, I realized that technology was everywhere and as the Director of Educational Technology I was keen to inquire into how it was being used. We carried out a multi-year tech audit and discovered that most of the engagements that students were doing using technology only really tapped into the lower-order thinking skills of “remember” and “understand”. 

A lot of coaching was necessary to help teachers shift the learning engagements from lower-order to higher-order thinking. In my many years as an educator, I had come to appreciate that “engagement” was not enough - students can be very engaged in tasks even when they are not learning very much. Our job as teachers is to design the learning so that students will go deeper and engage in higher-level thinking. 

Over the years, I have made numerous presentations and conducted several workshops about designing strong learning experiences in schools around the world. It was super that Toddle invited me to turn some of this experience into an eBook.  With this book, my hope is to share a compilation of the process and key ideas for designing engaging and rigorous learning experiences with the wider PYP community! 

This eBook will walk you through the process of examining the learning experiences you have planned and provoke you with questions to redesign those with a goal to promote higher-order thinking. I will share several examples of different engagements that I have designed for the Toddle Community and will explain how student thinking can shift when we ask the right questions. I will also directly address how technology can be used to promote creativity and will give examples of where student agency can be encouraged in order to help students to be independent and more responsible for their own learning.

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