Supporting the six steps lesson pattern

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Kieran Mathieson

Skilling has tools for patterns, exercises, feedback, student reflection, and other things. You can use the tools to make lessons for skills courses.

Still, that doesn't tell you what an effective lesson looks like. When would you use fill-in-the-blank questions? What would the questions be for? What's the desired psychological effect of asking FiBs?

A good lesson pattern comes from the Evidence Based Teachers Network (EBTN), run by Mike Bell. The pattern id called the Six Steps to Outstanding Learning (SSOL). SSOL captures the broad agreement that exists among researchers on what effective lessons are like.

Here are the steps. The explanations of each step reflect my own understanding of SSOL. I may have got some of it wrong, and ask informed readers for feedback.

Note that SSOL was created for K12 students in face-to-face settings. Skilling is for online and flipped higher ed skill courses. The basic learning principles still apply, though operational adjustment is necessary.

The steps

Unless otherwise stated, the quotes below are from the six steps page.

Step 0: Orientation

Set the context of the lesson. There is (1) content context, and (2) process context. Content context answers questions like:

  • How does the lesson fit within the course?
  • How does the lesson connect to prior and subsequent lessons?
  • How does the lesson help students meet their goals?

Process context is about how students interact with the lesson. We'd like students to:

  • Have a growth mindset.
  • Accept that struggle is not only to be expected, but is necessary.
  • Know what to do when they don't understand. For example...
  • Be ready and willing to ask for help.

Step 1: Prior knowledge

New learning builds on what we already know, so as teachers we need to help our students to remember and connect with what they already know about a topic before we start teaching anything new.

There is no teacher physically present to test and diagnose knowledge gaps. We can use FiBs (fill-in-the-blank) and multiple-choice questions (MCQs), with responses that guide students to explanations. That's what Skilling's FiBs and MCQs are designed for. Still, as we write lessons, we need to keep in mind that students may not have understood concepts from previous lessons as completely as we would like.

Step 2: Presentation

... we can present new material effectively by using a multi-sensory approach

... [students] learn best when there is a balance between a big picture approach and fine detail approach

... working memory is limited and so it’s best when we present new material in short chunks, making sure we reinforce material before moving on.

Skilling's pause tag helps with lesson segmenting.

Step 3: Challenge

A challenging task can be achieved by the student with a bit of struggle and feedback. It’s a tricky one to balance: too easy and it only exercises prior knowledge, but too hard and the student fails...

Make sure too that the goals and learning objectives are clear so that students focus [on] the right thing...

We can also support our students to think things through by using hypothesis testing and problem solving.

How to ensure students get exercises at the right level of challenge, when there's no teacher to observe the students? Some adaptive learning systems give students questions, assess their responses, and repeat questions until some criterion is reached. This is not feasible in many higher ed classes, like technical writing and programming, where software to accurately assess student work is not readily available across a wide range of settings.

There'll be more on this issue in a future blog post.

Step 4: Feedback

Feedback is an essential part of the process. It means that we can check that the students’ learning is correct and that their brains are making the right links. It needs to happen during the learning process, not afterwards. ... It should include what is correct and what needs improvement.

Ideally, students should get individual formative feedback on many low-stakes exercises. That's what Skilling's feedback system allows.

Step 5: Repetition

It’s important for students to act on feedback, firstly to make sure they’ve got it right and understood it, and secondly because the repetition helps to secure long term memories.

I use mastery learning in my programming courses. There are many exercises, with students having to use the same common programming patterns again and again.

There are high standards for exercises. Students have to satisfy all of the items on a rubric to get credit for the exercise. However, students are able to resubmit each exercise until it's perfect.

Tools and practices

EBTN explains the steps in more detail, and lists tools and practices to support them. Examples are:

  • Graphical organizers
  • Worked examples
  • Spaced repetition
  • Interleaved practice

Skilling and SSOL

SSOL is a useful pattern for lessons. Skilling supports it quite well, giving authors the tools they need to create lessons using the SSOL pattern. That isn't surprising, since SSOL and Skilling are based on the same learning research.

Skilling is missing some things, though. An example is the ability for authors to create interactive graphic organizers for students to use. That could be done using Drupal's Webform module, and its extensive API. Not easy, but doable.

What how?

SSOL does a good job of capturing the implications of learning research. Kudos to Mike Bell for leading the effort to create SSOL.

Skilling does a pretty good job of supporting SSOL. It could be improved, though, and it will be.

Expect more posts on SSOL and Skilling.