What if we could “outsource” direct instruction? Instead of standing in front of thirty students trying to explain how to revise an essay, we could pass that job to someone else, freeing the teacher to provide feedback more, facilitate more, and monitor progress more. LearnZillion is a new, free web-based tool that brings this concept close to reality.
LearnZillion has brought together teachers from across the nation to create five to six minute “screencasts” of high quality lessons on math, reading, and writing skills. They are organized in sets that all relate to a common theme within the Common Core framework. For example, in 7th Grade there is a set of videos in a section called, “Using Revision Strategies to Strengthen an Argument within an Essay.” Under that heading are brief and solid lessons on topics such as, “Revise Argument Writing to Target a Specific Audience” and “Using Transition Words in Argumentative Writing,” addressing core skills delineated in the standards and are a requisite for college and career success.
My favorite aspect of LearnZillion is the high quality of all the lessons. Each begins with a clear learning target, reviews previous learning, discusses common mistakes or misconceptions, provides a model and think-aloud of the skills in action, and ends with a review of the key concepts. Additionally, the instructors speak in an engaging and kid-friendly manner. I find myself wishing I could sit in their live classrooms and learn from them directly. However, if teachers do not like the voices in the videos, but want the content, they can download the presentation as a PowerPoint and deliver it themselves.
Teachers are using LearnZillion in a variety of ways. Some are embracing the idea of the “flipped” classroom where students use the videos to learn at home, using time in school to practice with peer and teacher support. Some use it as a differentiation tool. Suppose the class is in the drafting phase of an essay, but Juan finished his and wants to begin revising, the teacher can set him up in front of a set of revision lessons and let him work ahead. Another option is using it as another form of direct instruction given to the entire class. Sometimes hearing the same information from a different source with different visuals is just what some students’ need.
With such diverse learners in our classrooms, simply providing information in a variety of ways can have a significant impact. LearnZillion provides an alternative mode of lesson delivery that allows students to access core ideas at their own pace in their own time. This tool can free teachers from repetitious explanations to the entire class, allowing them to spend more time providing feedback in small groups or individually.
As teachers, we are always learning what it means to teach our content standards and how best to move students toward mastering them. By watching instructors on LearnZillion teaching the standards in a systematic manner, we can reflect on our own practice and how we deliver direct instruction. In truth, LearnZillion is not “outsourcing” instruction, but building a new way of learning in the 21st century classroom.