Professional Learning: The Use of a Lens to Focus Instruction

For several years, I have thought about how I use lenses to focus my instruction.  I started off thinking about different lenses that I could use to attack an individual lesson using a text or writing assignment with my students.  For instance, I might tell my students that we are going to look at the short story “Charles” through the lens of relationships.  I did this to focus attention to a narrow idea so that we didn’t get distracted with all of the other things that come to mind when 11 and 12 year olds read.  Yes, there are times when these distractions are valuable and even beautiful, but there are times when they really are just distractions.

Then, my journey with lenses moved to developing units around broad-based themes that act as lenses.  This process changed my teaching.  I found it freeing and challenging.  I believe my teaching deepened and became more creative.  My students were pushed to deepen their own thinking and to be more creative themselves. For instance, I can take the lens of courage and can apply it to a myriad of texts, paintings, songs, etc.  However, these same texts, paintings, songs, etc. can also be examined through a different lens.  We might read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and analyze it through the lens of courage.  Later in the year or even in a different grade, we might analyze it through the lens of change.  How we attack the exact same words and what we come away with will be totally different.  The students’ understanding of “I Have a Dream” will be all the richer because they were able to really dive into the words multiple times while using more than one lens.  We could use Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With” as part of the same two discussions.  Or The Byrds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Or articles about Malala Yousafzai.

The possibilities are endless. Now, I get to spend some time putting this into practice as I design lessons for next week…

Here are a couple of things I have come across about lenses.

The Power of a Conceptual Lens by Lynn Erickson

The Thinking Classroom

Reading Through Different Lenses: Making Text Connections Across the Curriculum – A Lesson Plan for Gr. 6-8


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