At the end of every school year, I throw out my lesson plans.

Some would question that practice by telling me that I should merely tweak which lessons didn’t go well and reuse what did to avoid the time-consuming task of perpetual re-creation. However, I have learned through experience that each new year brings a new set of students with their own unique set of abilities and challenges and what activities and assignments which may have worked last year likely will not in the year to come. Further, I enjoy the creativity that comes with re-imagining a better way to hook my students and introduce them to new ways of analyzing the human condition through reading a variety of texts and then responding through papers, discussions, and projects. In doing so, not only are their skills strengthened, but also greater awareness is developed of the roles they can play to be positive influences in the worlds in which they live.

What can never be thrown out at the end of each year is that which only gets better with practice and research: sound teaching and instructional design (especially that of the Understanding by Design sort). Solid pedagogy is solid pedagogy no matter if it’s my first year of teaching or my 18th not whether my student is a “Digital Native” or “Digital Immigrant,” labels which differentiate generations of learners, and subjects of opposing articles I read recently by Marc Prensky and Jamie McKenzie for a class I’m taking at BSU. While both essays made for interesting, rather spirited reads, I was curious to discover research which would refute or support my own practice of designing my instruction for the specific needs in the room versus generalizing their skills (or lack thereof) based upon the generation in which they are born. In his essay “Do Generational Differences Matter in Instructional Design?” Professor Thomas Reeves’ (2006) review of the significant amount of literature surrounding this topic supports my practice. His conclusions reveal that while there were indeed differences in “attitudes, work habits, and motivators” (p. 20) between members of each generation, there was not yet research to support changing instructional design from generation to generation whether it be Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, or Millennials.

Teaching is a dynamic profession which demands an equally dynamic approach to planning and delivery. My goal is that each new year finds me growing in my craft as I review the research, take classes, engage with my personal learning network (PLN), and instruct a new group of students. But rather than adjust my instruction based upon the generation in which they fall, I will instead (until research supports otherwise) continue throwing out my lesson plans at year’s end and, as Reeves suggested in his closing remarks, focus on “identifying the needs of any given set of learners, design the best possible prototype learning environments in situ, and then conduct iterative cycles of formative evaluation and refinement” (p. 21). Bring on the new year!

6 thoughts on “Digital Natives & Instructional Design

  1. I thought I was the only person who did this! I only use my tests and study guides from year to year and even those get edited drastically with each new group. I totally agree that as a teacher, you should teach to your student’s needs instead of other way around. It bothers me when teachers refuse to embrace change. The world changes a little bit each year and that means our students do too. Little things that we do in our classroom make a huge difference to our student’s futures. Very well written and it was a pleasure to read!

    1. Good to hear, Ryann! My instructional design may not change, but I’m perpetually researching better strategies, activities, and new technology which will engage them and deepen their understanding and skill development as I prepare them for life beyond high school. Thanks for posting!

  2. What an awesome practice! I’m sure most teachers would feel like that is way too much work, but I think it goes to show that you really care about your students and want to provide them with the best learning experiences possible.

    1. As I meet each new set of students and find out their interests, last year’s film clips and popular songs no longer have the same illustrative impact. I truly enjoy researching and experimenting with new strategies and technology which will deepen students’ skills and understanding. Thanks for your comment, Brittni!

  3. Naomi,
    I feel like I should start throwing my lessons away too for two reasons. 1) I never repeat activities and if I do they are similar to what I may have done the previous year but I don’t even have to look at the lesson plan I simply remember because certain lessons made such an impact on the students. However, when I teach these specific lessons they are still different from year to year because my students have different skills and interests. 2)The second reason is that they only thing that has not changed in the past few years has been the standards, other than that, my district has changed every curriculum for every single subject matter. Therefore I end up creating new lessons anyway!
    Something I do that helps me is that at the start of every school year, I don’t think of my second graders as second graders instead I think of them as little kids that have had Kinder (if they were lucky) and first grade and my job are to find out where they are at and take them from there. I think that your approach and my are similar but for some reason, I keep all the papers in my file cabinet but I never really open it! Maybe this next school year I will let all that paper accumulation go in the trash, who knows?

    1. I like your approach, Itxaso: finding out where your students are when they arrive, and building upon their skills from there. You stay sharp by creating lessons afresh, and they benefit from the personalization. Time to recyle the contents of the filing cabinet! 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

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