Quad D Instruction in the Classroom: Where Rigor Meets Relevance

From teaching students how to read in the lower grades to helping them construct arguments in high school, the goal is to prepare them to be highly functioning once they exit our K–12 environments. This is achieved when so many things come together for students, and a piece of this intricate puzzle is exposing them to Quad D instruction per the Rigor/Relevance Framework. Quad D learning occurs when students engage in tasks that are rigorous—addressing the high end of Bloom’s taxonomy—and relevant, giving them the opportunity to solve real-world problems. 

Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to work on staff for Teach For America. Their metro Atlanta region had received Race to the Top funds to develop a certification program for their new teachers. I was brought on board to design the program and secure state approval from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. 

To design a program that would meet state expectations, we had to conduct extensive research on state laws. We collaborated with regional and national staff to determine which components of our current programming could be incorporated into the new program. We also worked with local universities and certification providers to investigate how their programming satisfied state requirements and thought creatively about how we could do the same. Once the program was designed, the budget was determined, and all artifacts were housed electronically, we presented our proposal to the state and our program was ultimately approved.  

Quad D Connection

Let’s dissect the aforementioned experience and reflect on how it can be used as a model for understanding how the Quad D learning approach can maintain a level of rigor and relevance necessary in classroom instruction to prepare students to successfully navigate their opportunities post high school. As highlighted in the example above, my team and I were put in a position to solve a real-world unpredictable problem (design an alternative certification program and secure its approval by the state). Through the design of this program, we used our creative license to meet state requirements and draw upon skills learned across a curriculum (English language arts, math, technology). We collaborated with others (internal staff, university partners, local education agencies) to exchange ideas and think outside the box to ensure our design would meet the needs of our new teachers. Finally, we presented our proposal to a real audience (Georgia Professional Standards Commission) and were provided with feedback (program approved with no conditions).

The Rigor/Relevance Framework

Quad D learning exposes students to tasks that incorporate high levels of rigor and that are relevant. In this space, students develop critical thinking skills by solving complex real-world challenges. These learning experiences allow them to apply the skills they learn across content areas and use them in an authentic way much like adults in the workforce. 

Quad D Idea Lab

A great opportunity to see Quad D learning in action is at Idea Labs held during the International Center for Leadership in Education’s (ICLE) annual Model Schools Conference facilitated by Dr. Erika Tate, myself, and teachers we coach throughout the year.

Educators participating in a Quad D Idea Lab at the 2019 Model Schools Conference.

We engage educators in the Quad D Idea Lab, which consists of hands-on activities that leverage digital technologies and physical materials for Quad D Learning. The instructional strategies embedded in these tasks promote choice, facilitate differentiated learning, and foster academic discussion.  Educators are encouraged to be creative in completing Quad D tasks and reflect on how the tasks incorporate the following components:

  • Station rotation model
  • Learning pathways
  • Authentic materials
  • Performance-based activities
  • Collaboration
  • Opportunities for reflection

One of the station tasks debuted at this year’s conference was “Technology, Friend or Foe.” At this station, we engaged teachers in the following scenario so that they could experience Quad D instruction firsthand. This task also serves as a model for teachers that they could use directly with their students.

  

Giving teachers the opportunity to engage in the Quad D Idea Lab as students is a very powerful experience. When the teachers at the conference reflected on this task, they highlighted that it was authentic and allowed them to apply skills and concepts aligned to their content standards to a real-world situation outside of the classroom. They also noted how technology was integrated to maximize their ability to complete the task and communicate their ideas.   

Creating Quad D Tasks for Your Students

Creating or replicating Quad D tasks can be the work of an individual teacher or, preferably, a group of teachers across content teams.  The most important thing to consider when planning is to ensure that the task is aligned to rigorous content standards in more than one content area. When tasks are interdisciplinary, they become more relevant and mirror authentic challenges. Teachers should also ensure that technology is integrated in a meaningful way that enhances students’ ability to show mastery of the content standards. Finally, it’s important to use a tool, like the Rigor/Relevance Framework, to confirm that the task addresses rigorous content in an authentic way. As educators, we know what it takes for our students to be successful. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Have we put them on the right road?”

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You can book a keynote with ICLE Senior Fellow Venola Mason to bring her expertise about social-emotional learning and 21st-century learning to your school or district.

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