The TAPPLE approach for effective online teaching

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Category: Direct Instruction
Published on Thursday, 23 August 2012 Written by Anonymous Teacher

One of my favorite take-aways from Explicit Direct Instruction is the TAPPLE approach.

It's a great way to make sure that your instruction is paced properly, that students are getting the material, and that you aren't overloading your students' working memories.

Here's how it works.

Teach something. Zig Engelmann (creator of direct instruction) found that it's best to teach just one thing and then question students on it. Try to make your lessons as clear and unambiguous as possible. Students can find ways of interpreting your words that you'd never imagine.

Ask a question (to the entire class) after you've taught the class that one thing. The question asks them to demonstrate that they've learned that one thing that you just taught. You'd think that they should know it at this point, but you never know. Students could totally tune you out, or misinterperet what you say.

Pause so that the kids have time to think about the answer. Some suggest throwing in the 'Pair Share' at this point, but I'm conflicted about that one. I just don't know if the rehearsal practice of pair-share is worth the answer-copying that it allows.

Pick a random student from the class and ask him the question.

Listen to the response and then give effective feedback. 

The E is for effective feedback. They needed a vowel to make it sound like a word.

Ideally, you would call on three random students. If they get it wrong, you come back to them after givig them the answer. If three students can't answer correctly, you reteach the lesson; they didn't get it.

Once you get a total of three students answering correctly, you move on.

In a class of thirty students, 3 is about 10% so it's pretty significant.

Transferring this to online teaching.

The tapple approach is a great idea, but there's no reason it has to be done in a live classroom. Here's how I think it should be incorporated into online lessons.

Teach one thing and one thing only to students. This can be done with text, video, pictures, whatever. Try to make the lesson as unambiguous as possible.

Question the student on what he was supposed to have just learned. Have him get a random question from a pool of appropriate questions.

If he gets the answer right, move on. If not, give feedback based on his answer. Then have him either repeat the original lesson, or receive an alternate lesson that teaches the same thing. Question him after this and don't let him move on until he's answered correctly.

And there you have it. Simple individualized instruction tailored to the student. We make sure that the student learns the lesson before moving on and we prevent him from mindlessly clicking through pages to get through to the end.

Whil one student is sailing through the lessons, another is re-taking lessons that he didn't get the first time. Try doing that in a live class.

Where the traditional approach goes astray

The traditional approach to both online and offline learning is somthing like this:

  1. Teach the students 5-15 things in whatever way makes sense to you.
  2. Give them some random questions relating to some of those things

That's pretty much it, right? Read lots of stuff in the chapter and answer the questions at the end.

Honestly, this works pretty well for adults. But young learners are a different story. They need a lot more structure. If you try to teach 5-15 things at a time, you'll have no idea how much was learned, misunderstood, or just plain ignored.

Worse, you'll sail through a lot of prerequisite information (assuming students are getting it) until you get to the end and find that you've basically wasted your time.

Getting more advanced

An even more exciting possibility is to do something like the following:

  1. Generate multiple versions of each lesson; each teaching the same one thing.
  2. Randomly give those lessons to students and then quiz them afterwards.
  3. Track which lesson versions yield higher scores and tweak the selection process to give them a higher probability of being chosen. Delete the poor performers.
  4. Now take a look at the top lessons and try to figure out what makes them better. Generate new versions and add them to the pool.

By going through this process over and over with thousands of students, you can refine lessons until they are about as good as they can be.

This process is essentially what marketers do on internet sales pages. They create multiple versions of a sales page and track which ones have a higher order rate. Then they ditch the bad ones and try to refine the winners.

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