OnCUE

Design with Students in Mind

Blender with CUE logo

If we were to sit in one of the 26 desks in our classroom, what would we see?  What would our day be like as we moved through the school, from class to class at the sound of the bell 6, maybe 7, times a day?  The halls of our buildings have many stories within them. Years of education, tradition, pride. So many beginnings to lifetimes started right in those very seats. Questions that turned into answers, that turned into passion, that turned into dreams, that turn into reality.  It is our job, as educators, to prepare our students for their future. According to the US Department of Labor, “65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created.”  The world is changing at lightning speed. Is our teaching evolving as fast?

When I plan my lessons, I think further than just content.  As an 8th grade English teacher, I am tasked with teaching The Diary of Anne Frank, Self-Selected Reading, Short Stories, Various Modes of Writing, Dystopian Literature, Grammar, Mechanics, and whatever else goes with those vast topics.  But I don’t stop there. I constantly have other skills in mind as I shape my classroom community.

What are the skills that will help my students succeed in their futures?  I know that their future looks much different than even when I graduated. What keys would open doors?  What experiences can I give my 13-year-olds that will make an impact. How can I cultivate a spirit of excellence?  For me, it boils down to the C’s… creating, collaborating, communicating, and thinking critically. By honing these skills, offering authentic learning experiences, and putting students in the driver’s seat of their education, we not only prepare our kids for the future, but we prepare them to start that future today.   

The kids in front of us have the world at their fingertips. They are a Youtube generation.  A generation that asks, “Why not?” A generation that not only thinks outside of the box, but they want to take the box apart just to see how it works.  If they don’t know how to get to the next level in a game, they watch other videos about it. They study it, revise their actions, and beat it. If they have a question about something, they explore the topic until they find the answer.  If they see something beautiful, they snap a picture and share it. They find what they need. Share what they like. Create. Ask questions. Engage. They take each other along, everywhere they go. How can we capture that energy? It’s not about competing with the world out there, but springboarding off of it.

This is where hyperdocs come in.

The lessons we bring to our students must be designed with these kids in mind. We’re not talking about end of the chapter questions, one-size-fits-all assignments, stilted conversation, or fill in the blank thinking.  Our students are by no means one-size-fits-all, so why would our lessons be? We’re talking about providing engaging experiences, breaking down the walls of our classrooms, seamless individualization, and authentic learning.

The district that I teach in has been one-to-one with Chromebooks for the past 4 years. When we first brought technology into our classrooms, I was in awe of the power of personalized learning. It was almost as if these technology tools had become the magic wand that helped me give every student what they needed when they needed it.  My students and I could curate resources, collaborate, share, discuss, and learn like never before. With a new found depth of understanding of my students, I started to think past whole-class lessons, where every student worked on the same task together, to more of a student-centered experience. With these technology tools, it was almost like having 7 of me in the room to help out multiple groups/students at the same time. Powerful!   

I learned about blended instruction: the combination of technology, face-to-face, and collaborative learning.  What struck me was the power of having students control space (where the learning takes place), pace (how fast the learning moves), process (what the learning experience looks like), and product (how students can show what they learn).  By giving students more choice and control over their learning, my lessons could be tailored for each learner.  Inspired by a math teacher named Jason Appel, I started to create playlists for my students to work through different units.  These playlists were basically a list of activities on a google doc for my students to complete. Since I pushed them out through Google Classroom, they could be individualized any way we needed.  Using a variety of formative assessment and collaborative tools, I could accompany each student as they progressed on the journey. You can take a look at an example of a playlist here for teaching Argument Writing.

The thought behind blended instruction and attention to engaging lesson design is by no means new or unique.  Many teachers across the globe have been empowered with the possibilities now offered with an increase of technology in their classrooms.  The more that we share, the more inspired we become, the more our students win.

Today, there is a movement sweeping the world of education: The Hyperdoc Movement.  Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis are all amazing educators who began the hyperdoc explosion. In its simplest form, a hyperdoc is a Google Doc that is used to present a well-designed lesson plan to a student all in one place.  Links and resources are housed in one document (or even Google Slides, or a Google Drawing, etc.) for easy reference and modification. The format is extremely flexible, but the point is to create an engaging learning experience.

The online world of hyperdocs is one of outstanding collaboration.  On their website, there are many templates to remix and use as inspiration.  The templates make visible the intricacies of great lesson plan design, almost like a skeletal system, that hits on all the important goals of strong pedagogy.  These templates can be altered and reconfigured to meet the needs of you and your students. It will probably make way more sense when you see it, so let’s take a look at some hyperdoc templates.  Warning: Be prepared to spend some serious time exploring this amazing site!! 🙂

What I first fell in love with ( other than how beautiful the templates look!) is the attention to great design.  When I use hyperdoc templates, I’m forced to categorize the experiences my students will have in a lesson and create meaningful, interactive activities to engage them, let them explore, apply, create, collaborate, and reflect.   The template acts as a reminder to not just think about me, the teacher and what I’m doing to present info, but to think from the student’s point of view.

Another wonderful aspect of hyperdocs is the power of authentic learning.  Choice is built in as much as possible, real audiences, application, and reflection.  Giving each of these steps time, consciously, by design, ensures that students can focus in on what matters to them instead of rushing through to just finish a task.

One of the other aspects that set hyperdocs apart is the community behind the movement. Beyond just offering templates, their website offers a place where teachers donate hyperdocs that they’ve created to anyone looking for inspiration.  I suggest making yourself a cup of coffee or tea and spending a wonderful afternoon exploring the hyperdocs from others.  I would also suggest picking up the Hyperdoc Handbook to learn much more than this simple definition and really dive in.  So many teachers are rallying together to share and create hyperdocs.  I’ve recently taken an online class offered by the authors of the Hyperdoc Handbook, and I just can’t stop making them!  It’s exhilarating to look at hyperdocs that other teachers have designed and think about how you can apply them to your classroom.  For more examples, here is a padlet to many fantastic hyperdocs that teachers have shared. As they say in the book, the joy of teaching grows exponentially when we move from “assigners” to designers.  That joy is contagious.

If anyone would like to see, here are some of my recent creations: Introduction to Fairy Tales (for a Genre Elective Class), hyperdocs for the short stories “Zero Hour” and “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury, Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl Multimedia Text Set to introduce Suspense.   I’ve also created a padlet for English/ ELA teachers specifically to curate and share hyperdocs.  Feel free to add to/ remix any of these here.

I am by no means an expert in hyperdoc creation or blended learning; I’m just an explorer. I think it’s safe to say that we all want to create engaging learning experiences that our students will remember and that will prepare them for the world they live in. I would never suggest only teaching with hyperdocs.  Hyperdocs are just another piece you add to your repertoire. As teachers, we want to continue to ask what would be best for my students at this time. When a student opens up your lesson and is excited to jump in, it is the greatest feeling ever. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by technology and buzzwords. Believe me, I get that.  But you never go wrong with going back to the basics. Good lesson-design is the base for all we do. Only when we have a strong skeleton, or foundation, can we then be a springboard for our students to leap into their future. Continue asking how you can create an engaging, interactive, relevant, authentic learning experience for your students. Inspire and Be Inspired! Design with students in mind.  


Picture of Tracy Enos Tracy Enos is lucky enough to spend her days surrounded by energetic 8th graders.  She is entering her 10th year of teaching in West Warwick, RI at Deering Middle School.  Honored to be teaching in the district she grew up in, she is forever a Wizard.  Tracy is passionate about opening doors for her students to create, collaborate, and communicate with one another and the world around them.  She is driven to help her students develop their passions, reach their goals, and cultivate a spirit of excellence.   She is hungry to grow and constantly striving to be the best teacher she can possibly be. Although she has a lot to learn, she believes that Blended Instruction is a key to a student-centered learning environment.  She continues to be inspired by other amazing educators by participating in lively discussions, contributing to educational blogs, sitting down for podcast interviews and trainings, and collaborating in various twitter chats and Voxer groups.

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Tracy Enos

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