14 Key Components of Effective Instructional Design in Teaching


Now that we are aware that teacher-generated lesson plans are essentially best-guess, unproven entities, in which the children function as guinea pigs, we need to know what alternatives exist and what they have to offer.

The Issue

How can a teacher, tutor, homeschooling parent or autism therapist have a better lesson to present? The answer comes in having a better model of instructional design from which lessons can be created.

Effective Lessons are Created by Experienced Instructional Designers

Teachers need better instructional design models.  But the responsibility to create them should not be dumped onto the person doing the teaching.

Most of these people have never had a course in instructional design. As a result they have neither the training, the time, nor the opportunity to create, test, revise and perfect a lesson. Effective, field-tested lessons should be created by instructional designers and provided to the teacher as tools as we did with the “final ‘e’ spelling rule” in my post – “A More Effective Way to Teach Spelling”.

The Solution

Almost all of what I have learned about instructional design emanates from one source – Zig Engelmann, the creator of Direct Instruction, the world’s best instructional designer. Here are some things Zig taught me through his writings, his presentations and his time shared with me. This is heady stuff, so hang in with me. It’s worth the effort to learn what Zig is contributing.

14 Key Components of Good Instructional Design

An Example – Let’s teach a child about denominators in fractions

  1. Good instructional design endeavors to teach a concept (the idea) or an operation (how to apply the idea) so that it covers a maximum number of the members of that population or set. So, a rule for determining the denominator of a fraction should apply to as many examples of denominators as possible, hopefully all of them.
  2. Good instructional design lays out the complete scope of what is to be taught. The teacher can see exactly what is and what is not included in the lessons. In a program to teach fractions, first we teach the denominator of a fraction, then the numerator and so on. A complete written plan exists.
  3. Within that instructional design plan, each of the components that are part of the concepts (e.g. what the symbol for a plus sign means) or operations (e.g. adding 2+ 3) are placed in the exact sequence in which they will be taught so that the teacher has a road map of learning.
  4. In good instructional design, the rules being taught will not only be made explicit to the student but will be formally taught to the student in the lesson. (e.g.) The teacher points to the bottom part of a fraction and says “Listen. Here’s a rule about the bottom part of a fraction. The bottom part of a fraction tells you how many parts are in each group.”
  5. The rule is repeated until the student can say the rule correctly in its entirety.
  6. Examples of the rule are provided. For example, take the fraction “1/4”. The teacher points to the bottom part of this fraction and says “Listen. This says that there are four parts in each group. Listen again. The teacher draws a circle and divides it into 4 equal parts. The teacher touches the four on the bottom part of the fraction and says. “There are 4 parts in each group. “How many parts in each group?” The student answers “4 parts”. The teacher touches the circle and asks “How many parts in this group. The student counts the parts and answers “4” So what do I write as the bottom part of the fraction? The student replies “4”. The teacher then presents more similar examples.
  7. In good instructional design, there are non-examples of the concept or operation as part of the presentation. The teacher touches the 4 on the bottom of the first fraction and says, “Does this say that there are 5 parts in each group.” The student answers, “No.” The teacher asks “What does it say.” The student responds, “It says that there are four parts in each group.”
  8. In effectively designed instruction, the student learns the difference between examples and non-examples of a concept by applying their rule. This critical learning happens when they have been taught the smallest difference between what makes something either an example or a non-example.
  9. In good instructional design, the teacher models the correct behavior before asking the student to do so. (e.g.)“Listen. This says that there are 4 parts in each group.”
  10. Then the teacher will exhibit the behavior at the same time as the student to lead him through the process. When the student’s response matches the teacher’s response, the teacher will allow the student to attempt the process independently.
  11. Once the student demonstrates the ability to do the task, the teacher will provide him or her with practice under her supervision to ensure that the student can demonstrate the concept or operation correctly.
  12. Finally the teacher allows the student to work independently on a set of examples and non-examples to consolidate the learning. See my blog post on the final “e” rule in spelling as an example.
  13. In top-rate instructionally designed programs, each lesson is broken into several related tasks. (e.g.) the denominator and numerator of a fraction as two of several tasks.
  14. To assist the teacher, each of the tasks is completely scripted like the part for a play. The teacher becomes the performer of a proven piece and does not have to worry about being the playwright as well. Each “actor” will use the same script and imbibe it with his or her own flair and interpretation, just as we would all play Hamlet in our own way.

This frees the teacher to be like the surgeon or the jet pilot. They have a set of skills to deliver, but they do not have to service the plane or set up the operating theatre. Teachers should not be expected to design instruction. They should be expected to deliver proven lessons in great performances.

There are other aspects of effective curriculum design which I will add in later blogs, along with the rules and worksheets to help you teach your children well. And just so you know, all of our Teach Your Children Well products are built using all of the learning Zig taught me.


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