Friday, 19 April 2013

Dr. Kathie Nunley Part 2: Layered Curriculum

     *The following is Part 2 of a two-part reflection on a PD session I attended by Dr. Kathie Nunley. Part 1 of this reflection on, A Student's Brain, can be found by following the highlighted link.

     Layered Curriculum, developed by Dr. Kathie Nunley, is an instructional method based specifically on her work with neuroscience and how the adolescent brain functions. It is developed as a means to effectively meet the needs of the adolescent learner by taking into account how the brain processes information and reacts to various stimuli. One very important factor in this method is student choice. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this reflection, after a student's physical needs and novelty focus are addressed, a student's attention is focused on their self-made choices. As such, student choice is a "cornerstone" of the Layered Curriculum method and is built into all aspects.

     Essentially, Layered Curriculum is a three-tiered instructional method that allows students to master learning outcomes by working through three levels of increasing complexity. Using the research behind Bloom's Taxonomy, three layers are created to scaffold student learning and implement a gradual release of responsibility which allows for students to be accountable for their own learning. In each layer, students would be presented with multiple activity choices in order to explore their learning in a way that interests them. The following is a brief overview of each layer:

- Bottom layer of the tier
- Bottom 2 layers of Bloom's Taxonomy
     - Remembering
     - Understanding
- Designed to help students grow dendrites
- Might ask students to list, recall, describe,
  write notes, etc
- Layer C introduces the basic knowledge, the foundation of
  the unit, that will be built on in Layer B and Layer A

- Middle layer of the tier
- Middle 2 layers of Bloom's Taxonomy
     - Applying
     - Analyzing
- Designed to help students connect to prior
  knowledge and web their dendrites
     - Cross-curricular
- Might ask students to compare, discover, prove, etc
- Layer B often features something to "hook" students into
  the exploration.
     - Weird
     - Novelty
     - Gross
     - Edible

- Top layer of the tier
- Top 2 layers of Bloom's Taxonomy
     - Evaluating
     - Creating
- Designed to help students solidify learning and
  connect neurons for mastery of the outcome
- Might ask students to debate, justify, evaluate
- Layer A brings in "real life" questions that allow
  students to see the connection between what
  they are learning and how they can use this
  experience outside of the classroom
     - Current events


     Due to the fact that Layered Curriculum builds in multiple student options, there is countless opportunities to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all of the students in the classroom. For example, when creating options teachers can specifically build in choices for students that address various multiple learning styles or multiple intelligences. Teachers can also account for various reading levels, ESL students, or any adapted/modified programming that is taking place in their classroom.

     Layered Curriculum has students as active and accountable participants in their own learning process and, as such, will incorporate many conversations regarding outcomes and appropriate activity choices. It is during this time, that the teacher can help guide students to activity choices that best fit their needs. For example, if you have a student who is reading below grade level, you may guide them towards the options that best fit their situation. Over time, however, there should be a gradual release of responsibility as students learn how to determine what activities they want to chose in order to have a positive experience and be successful.


     During this student teaching placement I feel like I have been incorporating more student choice than ever before and definitely see positive results from students being able to work on what interests them. What I like about the Layered Curriculum instructional method, however, is that it not only incorporates student choice but also builds in differentiation while centering on how a student's brain functions and processes information. One thing that I couldn't help focusing on, however is that Dr. Nunley hooked in each of the layers to it's appropriate letter grade (Only doing Layer C work could get a "C" in the course). To transfer this over to fit Manitoba's report card scheme Layer A would equal a 4 on the report card, Layer B would equal a 3, and Layer C would equal a 2. What do you do when you are trying to fit in a three-tiered approach into a four-tiered system? Personally, I would further subdivide Layer C so that I had a four-tiered system that looked something like this:
- Layer 1 (D)
     - Remembering
- Layer 2 (C)
     - Understanding
- Layer 3 (B)
     - Applying
     - Analyzing
- Layer 4 (A)
     - Evaluating
     - Creating

     Here is an example I created for how this type of system might work in my classroom if I were to incorporate it right away:

Grade 11/12 Agriculture: Soils Unit
Students will understand soil texture and analyze its affect on erosion.

Activity Choices
1 Layer
What information can I remember about this topic?
(ex) List, recognize, recall
- List particle sizes from largest to smallest
- Proportionally illustrate the four particle
- Define appropriate vocabulary terms
  (gravel, sand, silt, clay, porosity,
   permeability, etc)
2 Layer
What basic information do I know about this topic?
(ex) Sort, explain, describe, give examples
- Sort various soil samples by particle size
- Read an article on erosion and answer
  questions regarding soil texture
- Create flashcards (word, text, picture,
  example) for various terms
- Create examples to illustrate each of the
  vocabulary terms
3 Layer
How can I apply this information to previous information?
(ex) Apply, compare, manipulate, demonstrate
- In a lab, determine the affect sol texture
  has on porosity and permeability
- Create an edible representation of each
  type of soil texture
- Interdisciplinary math project: look at the
  proportions of sand, silt and clay in each
  type of soil texture
4 Layer
What debatable issues in the real word deals with this topic?
(ex) Current events, debates, leadership decisions.
- Debate, is the process of cultivation worth
  the increased risk of erosion?
- Create a news article, should insurance
  levels be affected by property soil
- Debate, could the "Dust Bowl" happen again 
  considering modern farming practices?
* Modified from Dr. Kathie Nunley's April 19th PD handout, page 5. 2007 Layered Curriculum Workbook.

     As a student teacher who is still new to assessment practices, and our new Provincial Report Cards, this PD session left me with a lot to think about. Overall I am very excited about the instructional aspect of Layered Curriculum and love how easy it is to differentiate and give students the choice that they need. On the assessment side, however, I would want to look more into how to best assess and make sure that student understanding is appropriately reflected in our new report card system.
     My reflections are only a small amount of information compared to what was covered in the session. To learn more about Dr. Kathie Nunley, and her work with brain research and education, please explore the following links:
Brain-based Learning, Ideas & Materials
Dr. Kathie Nunley's Layered Curriculum Website for Educators
Brainsorg YouTube Channel

Thank you to Dr. Kathie Nunley for visiting us in rural Manitoba, I am definitely inspired to think differently about my classroom instruction!
Thank you to the admin and staff in "T-Division" who set up this great PD opportunity!

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