Avoiding Shotgun Learning

  • On 2013-01-31
  • Australian Curriculum, key, learning, understandings

Quite often, developing powerful and meaningful key understandings is an area that teachers struggle with as they create and plan authentic rich task units. This is a critical step that many teachers can gloss over in planning but can make a profound difference to having clear, powerful units that provide great learning opportunities.

What we have experienced when teachers have begun the process of extracting “understandings” from the Australian Curriculum (or any curriculum documentation for that matter) what results is a long list of statements, understandings, and facts being written down. This is an important step in the process but it is not the final step. Quite often it is treated as a final step because the teachers themselves are used to teaching students “knowledge” rather than having the students learn. This is a consequence of the Industrial Education paradigm that has existed in our society for the past 200 years. If the teachers just use the lengthy list of “understandings” in their planning documentation without sequencing the “understandings” into a coherent and consistent whole, then there is a subtle but long reaching impact.

What we have found is that teachers take this mass of “understandings” and, with the mindset of they have to “cover” all this and make sure the students “learn” this, crowd the unit with too much material. All of this is with the hope that the students will gain the “understandings” articulated in their planning documents. This is shotgun learning.  This approach fundamentally undermines the opportunity students can gain to frame their understanding inside a powerful context. If we, as a teaching profession, want to develop students to be performance oriented in their learning, we must first clearly and logically articulate what we are intending the students to understand and what skills they are to develop and then align the learning to accomplish those goals.

Key understandings are created to clearly define the purpose of the learning within the unit. They articulate the fundamental deep learning that the unit is being created to achieve. The key understandings not only have the scope of addressing what the Australian Curriculum achievement standards require to be understood, but also the passion and self-expression of the teaching team, as well as the values and expression of the school.

Clear key understandings will allow teachers to create authentic essential / fat / fertile questions that can be used to guide and challenge student thinking in particular directions. The sequence of understandings also allow for an authentic and meaningful sequence of learning throughout the unit. Teachers and students alike will actually know what they are fundamentally out to learn in the unit and what would indicate successfully achieving that understanding.

The following document highlight the process and the thinking behind designing powerful key understandings as well as the overall process to creating great authentic rich-task units that allow for differentiation and student centred learning. The document includes a range of actual teacher designed examples from Grade 1 through to Year 10.

Download Designing Key Understandings



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