Four Step Plan

A Plan for Collaborative Learning Spaces.

There are many ways schools are structured.  In many schools worldwide, there has been a return to larger or flexible spaces with multiple classes where multiple teachers work or ‘collaborate’ together for the benefit of many students.    

At Hamilton Christian School, we have a structure like this.  We refer to it as our villages.  In each village, we have approximately 110 students with five or six adults; four teachers, a teaching team leader and in the younger years we have a teacher aide for some or all of the day. 

The key idea is that all adults are responsible for all students.  The language of the village is ours, and we, not me and mine. 

Learning is designed with a ‘Learner first’ mentality, and how we engage students for meaningful progress is the big question.  To achieve this we have a four-step planning process that ensures that we create learning experiences that students are engaged in and allows teachers to teach in ways that energise them. 

When actioned, the 110 students are not cleanly divided into groups of 26/27 students, rather, students are grouped into group sizes that best match student engagement.  In order to support this approach, our school villages are not designed with four equal sized classrooms, rather, each village has five or six different sized rooms that are divided with large glass sliding doors.  The sliding doors enable the spaces to be flexible. At times, the doors between spaces are left open to make even larger spaces so that even more students can be a part of a unit that captures their imagination and engagement. 

Critical to the success of a village to meet the needs and bring academic success for all is what we call the Four Step plan.

STEP ONE: Establish the Framework (The Team Leader) 

The first step is that the Team Leader identifies the learning objective from the curriculum, designs a success rubric against the SOLO taxonomy, and, as we are a Christian School, also puts some thoughts into how we can incorporate ideas of who God is, how He designed us to flourish, learning for His Scriptures or other learnings from beyond the curriculum.  At this stage, the reference point must be the source document for the curriculum.  When the source document is what we did last we taught this concept, there is a possibility that there is a variation from what the actual curriculum focus is.  Here the success rubric is built off the SOLO taxonomy and not the actual assessment paper.  Depending on the way students engage with the unit, they can present their learning in many different ways and mediums while still being assessed against common measures.  

Key Questions for Step One:

  • What does the curriculum say our students need to learn now?
  • How will we know they are successful?
  • What Biblical context could we explore in this unit?

STEP TWO: Ideate the Possibilities (The Team - TL and Teachers). 

With the unit objectives, success rubric and the students in the village front and centre, everyone shares ideas on learning experiences that could be a part of the unit.  At the beginning of this stage, no idea is a bad idea.  There is strength in the diversity of the team at this stage.  Teachers with a passion for technology can share ideas that other teachers have never considered.  Teachers with a passion for hands-on learning can share ideas that others have never considered.  As the conversation evolves, everyone has the chance to grow their repertoire of how students can learn inside or outside the classroom. 

Once all learning experiences are exhausted, the team prioritises and then groups the experiences.  Experiences that are diverse AND best pass the test for meaningful engagement are left on the table and the experiences of modes of teaching that lead to less engagement and are less aligned to the actual learning objective(s) of the unit are discarded.  Once the experiences have been culled, they are grouped for the benefit of the diversity of students in the village and teachers opt for the experiences that best motivate and capture their imagination. 

Key Questions for Step Two:

  • What are all the possible ways to engage students in this unit?
  • What are the best ways to meaningfully engage our students with this learning objective?
  • How do we group the best ways into ways that will motivate students and teachers?
  • How can we structure this unit for mastery learning?

STEP THREE: Group the Students (The Team, and/or the Students) 

The most important question that needs to be asked in this step is, “How can we group the students for maximum, meaningful engagement?”  In the pursuit of this answer, several factors could be considered.   

The experiences are grouped in ways that the current cohort of students will naturally be attracted to.  And teachers opt into the grouped experiences that motivate them the most.  The grouping could be to do with the mode of learning (i.e. inquiry, technology focus, hands-on/active, oral focus,  EOTC, traditional or more), or experiences could be grouped through different learning contexts (i.e. in reading could be different kinds of novels; adventure, romance, historic, farming, sport or more).   

Finally, the question is asked of how to deliver the unit best.  There are several possibilities at this stage.  The teaching team could determine which student goes where, but ideally, students are given the chance to opt in.

One way to raise student engagement in this area is to allow students to opt into which delivery mode or context they would like to be in.  When given the option, students can choose a group because they prefer a mode or context for learning, but they can also choose a group because they prefer a particular teacher.

Key Questions for Step Three:

  • How can we group the students for maximum, meaningful engagement?
  • How can we give students a choice in which learning group they engage in?

STEP FOUR: Plan the Lessons (Individual Teacher)

Once we know what students and activities each teacher is responsible for, each teacher can then go and sequence learning for their group.  The planning for this unit will also include completing the Game Plan.  Here teachers take what was decided from Steps 1-3 and create their secquence for learning.  Teachers will consider the learning style and progress of each learner they are responsible for and design learning that will best engage each learner meaningfully.

Key Questions for Step Four:

  • How do I sequence learning experiences?
  • Who am I teaching, and who do I need a Game Plan for?

Further to the four-step plan, at HCS, we have three subsequent operating principles to bring success to the village philosophy; 

  1. Two-Year Village Cycle. At HCS, students and teachers are in each village for two years up to the end of Junior Secondary.  In this way, students grow in their understanding of expectations.  Most importantly, as learning focuses on meaningful engagement, teachers learn to truly know their students over the two years.  And, as there are multiple teachers in each village, even if a student does not have a positive relationship with one of the teachers, they have several teachers which whom they can form a positive relationship with. 
  2. Five-week unit cycle.  As the school year is divided into four ten-week quarters or terms, at HCS, each unit is generally run through a five-week cycle.
  3. The Game Plan: Lastly, we have a game plan that each teacher completes once they have designed their learning unit and know who the students are teaching.  The Game Plan identifies five key aspects of the unit: students who may struggle to engage in the learning due to the level of the unit being pitched outside of their Zone of Proximal Development, and students who will struggle to engage due to relational or behavioural issues. With the  

In a Nutshell:

  1. Define the framework, objective, Worldview perspective and success rubric/
  2. Ideate the best learning experiences and group for meaningful engagement for the current cohort (not the one you may have had last year)
  3. Group students, prioritising engagement, which could involve student choice
  4. Individually sequence lessons and complete the game plan.