Madeline Hunter was focused on strategies teachers could use to “get students ready for learning.” Robin Hunter, in the book Mastery Teaching: Increasing Instructional Effectiveness in Elementary and Secondary Schools, writes:
First impressions are important, and the beginning of your class or lesson is no exception. Information introduced at the beginning of any sequence is more easily learned the better remembered than equally difficult material encountered later in the same sequence. (Page 38)
How effectively and intentionally we plan for the introduction of new material, review and consolidation of learning objectives, and the formative assessment plans to understand what has been learned are critical to ensuring a lesson is well designed. Lesson design is the first step to being sure that the learning environment positions students to be ready for what’s ahead.
Students usually will expend more effort and consequently increase their learning if they know what it is they will learning today and why it is important to them. (Page 38)
Robin Hunter references the importance of teachers learning about “primetime,” a concept that illustrates the ebb and flow of students’ ability to focus during a learning episode (see figure 1). Primetime, usually in the beginning and at the end of a learning episode, is the period of time when students are most receptive to new learning or their degree of retention is highest. Hunter outlines some ideas for how to start a class during primetime.
- Ask the class to reflect on a review question
- Ask students to write independently, maybe on the content that was covered in the previous class. Writing could also be used to summarize information.
- Ask students to practice the learning objectives from the previous class in the form of a problem or a journal prompt. Review essential vocabulary, diagrams, or concept maps.
- Teachers could give students feedback during primetime
Hunter references the importance of teachers designing “anticipatory sets,” activities that brings mental focus to the upcoming learning activity (page 40). These anticipatory sets could be introduced during the beginning of primetime.
The other important design principle to keep in mind in planning effective lessons is to clarify the learning objectives for each lesson. Hunter recommends making these objectives visible during primetime. John Hattie has explored the research on factors that have impact on student achievement. His research has found that stating the learning goals up front, referencing them regularly in lessons, and formatively assessing student learning based on the stated objectives has significant impact on student learning (click here).
In a typical lesson of 40 minutes, there are two primetime segments that should be included in planning a lesson. Primetime-1 occurs in the beginning of the lesson and primetime-2 occurs towards the end of the lesson, about 30-35 minutes into the lesson. Primetime-2 can we used to consolidate the learning from primetime-1 or introduce an idea that will be covered in the next class. It could also be used to formatively assess mastery of the learning in primetime-1. Importantly, we need to pay attention to this ebb and flow in a lesson and plan accordingly so that students are well prepared to receive the instruction we deem critical to learning.
The other learning episode in a typical class is downtime (figure 1), a period of time during the middle of the class when students’ ability to focus on learning is at its low point. During downtime it can be more difficult to attend to the objectives set forth by the teacher. Designing so that the downtime period is productive requires that planning activities that ask students to review, consolidate, discuss, or extend their learning from primetime-1. In collaborative groups, ask students to: (1) design a concept or mind map of the material presented in primetime; (2) research some aspect of their learning in primetime; (3) extend their learning to novel situations; or (4) use collaborative groups to process additional reading using a jigsaw protocol.
In lesson 3, the most important takeaways are:
- Give students important things to think about in the beginning of the class before new learning begins. New learning should always be early in the lesson and consolidated at the end.
- Use anticipatory sets (click here) to help students focus on new learning.
- Be sure students understand the learning objectives before the teaching begins, reinforce them during the lesson, and formatively assess for mastery.