Triptiks Can Rev Up Student-Driven Learning

By Mike Fisher

Mike Fisher
Mike Fisher

This blog was originally posted on MiddleWeb and has been republished on Learning Personalized with permission

In my workshops and my most recent ASCD book, Ditch the Daily Lesson Plan, I advocate for teachers to work smarter, not harder, and to learn how to plan curriculum for contemporary classrooms and contemporary students.

My overriding message is still focused on high levels of student engagement. We also want to be sure we include discovery level learning opportunities that are authentic and timely.

One idea I like to propose for discovery learning is what I call “The Triptik.” I use it as a metaphor for co-creating a learning experience with students where the students are largely responsible for getting to a destination once the destination (or learning objective or project deliverable) has been established.

Those reading this who remember the American Automobile Association’s Triptik® will probably recall that a member would set a destination and then AAA would design a packet of information to help get you there in myriad ways, allowing you to know about construction, alternative routes, direct and indirect paths, places of interest to enhance the journey, etc. The traveler would then have everything they needed to shape a unique travel experience.

I think this method can well apply to contemporary curriculum design, particularly when we shift much of the responsibility for the (learning) journey to the student. While student choice and voice are important in all contemporary classrooms, they are vital in the Middle Grades classroom, where students have a built-in longing to explore, discover, and create.

Tips for creating classroom Triptiks

In order to design a Triptik® in your classroom, ask yourself the following questions:

The old AAA Triptik.
  1. What is a learning journey worth embarking on? This can be a negotiation between teachers and students. Teachers have an understanding of the objectives, standards, etc., but student voice here could reveal iterations of the objective that create opportunities for buy-in and high levels of engagement.
  2. How do I align the journey to standards, and how will I assess it? Whatever the learning experience will ultimately be, the teacher still needs to coach students through learning expectations and coach towards success on whatever the assessment will be. (Hopefully it’s one that is co-designed by students and teachers!)
  3. What are the essential skills that students will need to master as they embark on this learning journey? These essential skills will be determined by the assessments that are designed as well as any standards that a teacher aligns this learning experience to. Additionally, other skills related to the designed task may need to be documented, particularly if they are part of a negotiation with the students on how they will work, learn, and perform. (Such as Habits of Mind or even peripheral skills related to contemporary research strategies.)
  4. What questions need to be asked? Focus the work for the team by helping students develop questions, both essential and supporting, that facilitate students’ finding the right resources to advance their learning and lead them to their learning destination.
  5. How will students and teachers (and anyone else involved in the learning process) communicate and collaborate? Co-creating tentative instructional tasks based on skills and group-brainstormed ways of getting to the assessment / product (where students’ voices impact the planning and delivery of instruction) will allow students a window into what teachers must consider when designing instruction. This conversation could help students self-advocate for scaffolds or opportunities for differentiation.
  6. How will students be accountable for their work? Be mindful of the destination while you work to get there, setting instructional milestones and providing ongoing feedback. In the Middle Grades classroom, feedback is essential to quality work and improvement. Think of creative ways to distance yourself from traditional grading in favor of helping all students generate a quality product.

Some Triptik Ideas for Middle Grades Subjects

Now that you have some questions to consider for designing instruction in this way, what are some Middle Grades topics that might be worth exploring in a Triptik®? Note that I am brainstorming here, as I have in previous blog posts, and I welcome conversation in the comments area to further the brainstorm or contribute new ideas!

In English Language Arts

Stephen Allen Photography

Think less about the English Language and focus more on the Arts. With the Common Core, there’s so much emphasis on Key Ideas and Details and not so much on Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. I think there are a lot of opportunities for high level engagement when students are invited to consider multiple types of media and comparative analysis/intersections between texts and associated multimedia.

Potential Products: Infographics, Multimedia Productions saved to social media for global feedback and revision, and/or a virtual or live experience/collaboration with a local college exploring literature or creative writing as full participants with the college students.

In Math

In the Middle Grades, math begins its shift from being just about numbers and rules to being about numbers, rules, and letters. With variables thrown in amongst the exponents, angles, and graphical representations, students sometimes become frustrated with all the newness around the arrival of algebraic thinking. This is especially true if there is any sort of adherence to a vendor product that might overuse instructional methodologies and not deeply inspire true problem solving skills with unique circumstances for students to consider.

Potential Products: Students create their own word problems on demand involving scenarios and parameters drawn from a jar, and then have their classmates solve the problems, create a digital guide (with examples) of how algebra is used in daily life, and/or engage in the myriad assessment/activity opportunities associated with 3-D printing, coding, maker spaces, and game design.

In Science

Many people would sooner kill a bee than let it remain a vital companion in a symbiotic link with humans. What would the impact(s) be if we were to eliminate bees? What would the grocery store look like if there were no bees to pollinate different plants we depend on for food or that make honey for a myriad food products?

Potential Products: Virtual tour of the no-bee grocery store, a Public Service Announcement about the importance of bees to humans, and/or perhaps a color-coded world map that depicts/ranks populations’ dependency on bees/bee products. (You could tie this in with Math ideas!)

In History

Because of the nature of the content area and the availability of technology that allows so many connections, I think this would be a great opportunity to explore what my colleague Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano calls “learning WITH the World” rather than “learning ABOUT the world.” How can you make your curriculum about global immersion in whatever you’re studying? How can you invite the world into your classroom through global communications and collaborations? What types of authentic global interactions are available now that have never been available before?

Ditch the Daily Lesson PlanPotential Products: Minecraft recreations, earning badges rather than grades for building content knowledge and in the pursuit of project/problem based tasks, and/or internationally collaborative projects with real members of a culture/region being studied.

Regardless of the content area, I believe that professional collaborations and communication with your colleagues and with your students can yield a plethora of contemporary classroom ideas that allow students to explore and discover rather than sit and get.

If you’d like more examples and other ways to Ditch The Daily Lesson Plan, check out my new book from ASCD. It’s a part of their Arias series, a short form book type that I lovingly call “Read Tonight; Act Tomorrow” books.

NOTE: “Triptik®” is a registered trademark of AAA and is used with permission.

Mike Fisher is a former middle grades teacher who is now a full-time author and educational consultant specializing in the intersection between instructional technology and curriculum design. He actively blogs for the Curriculum 21 Ning and ASCD’s Edge Social Network. Find his books published by ASCD here. Find Mike on Twitter @fisher1000.


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