Affinity Maps Support Curriculum that is Co-Designed with Kids

If you read my earlier post on establishing a shared vision ahead of emergent curriculum design work, then you’ll be better prepared to consider today’s post.

Shared targets help learners (including teachers) understand what they learn during a lesson, how deeply they might learn it, and what they might do to demonstrate their learning. Drop by Ed Leadership to read more about learning targets, if you aren’t yet familiar with them. Connie Moss, Susan Brookhart, and Beverly Long provide helpful insight and a tidy process for creating shared targets.

Here’s what I’m wondering: How might we invite students to design targets with us, rather than crafting them alone or with our colleagues behind closed doors?

My first thought: If you’ve invited students to create and share their own vision, you might help them use it to frame their own targets, too. How? Well, by modeling the process yourself. Show them how you might break your vision into meaningful and manageable learning targets that can be attended to in a single lesson. Place each target on its own sticky note, and create a post-up, like this one:

Once they’ve created their own targets, encourage them to create a post-up as well.

Then, begin affinity mapping. If you follow that link to Dave Gray’s post, you’ll get a sense of how Gamestorming works beyond the world of education. Here’s how I use it to foster collaborative curriculum design processes that include teachers and students:

1. Everyone articulates the vision of the teacher or writer or learner they long to become, as explained in my previous posts.

2. They use this vision to begin articulating learning targets: Goals that define what will be learned in a single lesson, the degree to which it will be learned, and what “good” looks like. Each individual target should live on its own sticky note or index card, because as you will soon see, it’s important that these targets can move, mix, mingle, and play with other important targets.

A quick aside: We do this with the Common Core Learning Standards all of the time. So, why aren’t we prioritizing the standards that help us achieve our shared vision the same way, and what happens when we don’t?

3. Once everyone has created a sticky note post up of the targets that align to their individual visions, they should work together to merge all of the sticky notes into one shared post-up. It might look a bit like this:

4. Next, team members should work together to cluster the sticky notes according to affinities: Similarities and relationships. These clusters, a synthesis of the targets conceptualized by the individuals in the group, become the shared learning targets for the whole.

Another aside: Repetition is common here, and it’s okay to leave identical sticky notes in the mix. They reveal a lot about the numbers of people who think alike and whose visions are closely aligned. Also: Sometimes, trends and relationships are easy to notice. Affinities surface quickly and clearly from the mix. This isn’t always the case, though. You may want to consider prompting a solid analysis by asking questions that help the group notice what’s most important. 

5. Once clusters are created, the group should consider how they might name them. What defines each cluster? What does each cluster represent? These were the categories that emerged from some recent work with middle school writers:

6. Finally, the group should consider how the clusters will inform the curriculum as they begin to sketch out potential frames. Consider various iterations, interpretations, and possibilities. Attend to as many clusters as possible. Work toward this kind of alignment before you bring in the Common Core or any other set of standards that aren’t really your own. I’ll share some ideas for that phase of the work on Thursday.

Most learners will be able to define how the clusters could make the curriculum more relevant and meaningful for everyone in the room. Even our littlest learners can make these connections when skillfully prompted. More experienced learners may also be able to sketch out blueprints for curriculum frameworks that reveal where within the design the shared learning targets will be attended to. When this isn’t possible, prompt better thinking. If this doesn’t work, offer several frameworks of your own design as examples. Let the group iterate from there.

 

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