Monday, July 29, 2013

Problem-Solving Delivery Model—Redefining Cyclic Teaching and Learning

By Dr. Vin Hawkins
Educational Consultant, Former District Leader

student problem-solving skills

In a previous post, I indicated the necessity of problem recognition and solution, going to the reservoir of real, current problems rather than contrived, pre-packaged ones. Problems were categorized as utilitarian, humanity, and global community. 

This post focuses on the optimal instructional environment for this higher-level learning. Problems that make the cut for consideration, and their subsequent solutions, have the following components: embedded content standards, critical and creative thought, inquiry and investigation, information gathering, analysis and synthesis, and collaboration and debate.

In the real world of the 180-day school year, labor-driven education budgets, and glacial movement toward true blended learning, the typical school year and use of personnel is modified the following way:

A cohort of 100 students is taught by four instructional advisors and supported by two learning coaches. Accommodating developmental appropriateness, these cohorts are found at the Foundational (ages 5-8), Exploratory (ages 9-13), and Focused Inquiry (ages 14+) levels. There are three competency tiers within each level: Novice, Intermediate, and Proficient.

This is a dynamic, not static, model. Each size-100 cohort rotates through a series of three interdisciplinary majors (IM) during an academic year, 12 weeks each. For example:

IM1: Mathematics, economics, engineering, science

IM2: Civics & international history, languages, literature, religions & cultures

IM3: Entrepreneurialism, environmental studies, health & physical well-being, performance & visual arts

Adapting the Saturation Learning model, a balance of leveled (Foundational, Exploratory, or Focused Inquiry) instruction and problem-solving occurs daily for 12 weeks for each IM.

Within each Level, students must progress through all three competencies for their particular IM (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) during their 12-week rotation. A demonstrated competency of “proficient” is a student's entrance ticket to the next level (i.e., Exploratory to Focused Inquiry). Cohort groups have the same four-member instructional advisor team and two learning coaches for at most four years (e.g., ages 5-8), an entire level experience. Thus, depending upon age or time-in-level, students can rotate through each IM as much as four times within a particular level, with increased depth at each experience.

An example:

September 1 - November 30: Cohort A experiences IM1; Cohort B (another 100 students) experiences IM2; Cohort C (a third group of 100 students) experiences IM3

December 1 - March 15: Cohort A experiences IM2; Cohort B experiences IM3; Cohort C experiences IM1

March 16 - June 15: Cohort A experiences IM3; Cohort B experiences IM1; Cohort C experiences IM2

Annual "proficiency evidence" determines advancement to subsequent levels, where cohort rotations continue. Each "novice-intermediate-proficient" experience within each level is, of course, more sophisticated and complex than that at the previous level.

Each four-member team's instructional advisors' content knowledge goes beyond one specific subject area in the interdisciplinary major. They are confident and adept at using technology within the context of developmentally appropriate levels, and are competent collaborators among colleagues.

The two instructional coaches are indispensable, and primarily responsible for the following:

· Behavioral support

· Real-time intervention (to prevent any subset of any IM 12-week experience to lag behind)

· Enrichment protocols

· Parent, community, business, higher-education liaison

· Internship and community service requirements

· Senior projects and e-folio monitoring

· Collaborate with the instructional advisor team to determine proficiency validation for level advancement

The advantages to this re-calibration model are compelling. The cumulative learning experience, for each interdisciplinary major, consists of approximately 5000 hours of skill and concept-embedded problem recognition, solution, and justification. Compare this with at most approximately 2300 hours of cumulative exposure to mathematics, 1200 hours of science, and 150 hours of economics in the typical current K-12 experience.