On a crisp fall morning, there’s nothing better than wrapping yourself in a warm woolly coat.
Picture yourself, standing on your front porch, autumn winds blowing across your bare arms. You feel vulnerable, unsafe, and alone. But then, you don your coat, and suddenly you are safe, protected, comfortable, ready to face the day.
Standing bare armed is how some of our students feel every time they enter our classroom. As educators, it’s our responsibility to ensure that they too have a well-suited COAT to protect them.
What is the COAT method?
The COAT method is implementing the four questions we should be asking ourselves each and every time we start planning a lesson.
Am I ensuring there is a place in my lesson for students to be:
- On their feet;
- Actively listening;
- Talking with each other?
By ensuring we ask, and affirmatively answer each of these questions, we are applying Universal Design for Learning to our curriculum by presenting materials that engage the four learning styles:
- Visual Learning
- Kinesthetic Learning
- Reading / Writing Learning
- Auditiory Learning
Crafting (Visual Learning)
Students love to make crafts. It doesn’t matter if it’s the elementary level, the high school level, or the post-secondary level. While they may pretend they don’t enjoy cutting and pasting, or making art pieces, the second you present them with materials you will see engagement not previously thought possible.
Ways to Engage
- Have students create a poster that visually represents a complex topic
- Present students with felt and scissors to create a symbol that depicts their learning (bonus fun when they learn they don’t need glue because felt sticks to felt)
- Have students create a flag using construction paper that can be utilized to demonstrate key concepts to a younger age group
On Their Feet (Kinesthetic Learning)
We’ve all been in meetings we thought would never end. No matter how much you looked at the clock, or stared across the room communicating the vast depths of your disappointment to your sympathetic colleague, time seemed to stand still. One small thing could have turned your agony into a refocused engagement:
“We’re going to take a brief break to stretch, move around, and chat with an elbow partner.”
That was all you wanted. A moment for yourself to pause and not feel you would be penalized for a quick chat. Amazingly, your students crave the exact same thing.
Ways to Engage
- Present students with a list of five to ten statements. Allow them to either agree or disagree with them by making a check mark. At the end, they will tally their check marks and stand up. Ask them to sit down in order of who has “only one check mark,” then, “only two,” etc.
- Give each student a playing card. Ask them to find a partner that has the same suit or number as they do, and take a moment to discuss their thoughts on the lesson.
- Use the four corners of your classroom to have students identify if they Strongly Agree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree, or Strongly Disagree with a number of ideas.
Actively Listening (Reading/Writing Learning)
Some people love to talk, and talk, and talk. But when they finally stop, it’s hard to remember where it was that they started. When you can’t remember where their story came from, it almost seems pointless at the end to try and think about where it led. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some record of how that story got from Point A to Point B all the way to Point W?
Some of the people who like to talk and talk more than almost all others? Teachers.
That’s why it’s our job to ensure that students are actively listening to what we are saying, and engaging with the material. If at the end of the class they forget Points A to V, Point W will hardly matter.
Ways to Engage
- Offer students a graphic organizer with three headings: Notes, Questions I Have, and Connections to My Experience. Throughout the lesson, they should be encouraged to fill out each of the boxes for the various topics that are covered, to create mnemonic links, a record for further inquiry, and an understanding of the material’s relevance to them.
- Ask students to create a T-Chart with the labels “That sounds right” and “That can’t be true”. As you go through your lesson, they should record notes under the corresponding headings. Class discussions or deeper research can be undertaken to ascertain fact, and meta-cognitive experiences can explain why students placed items in specific categories.
- Provide students with a handout of the material you are about to cover. Have them create Star, Circle, Underline Annotations. For each topic students should put a star beside the most important word, underline the most important sentence, and circle the most important paragraph. They will then use these annotations to write a brief summary paragraph of the topic.
Talking With Each Other (Auditory Learning)
There’s nothing better than a good chitchat with your friends. Whether you’re talking about an important political issue, planning for the future, or discussing absolutely nothing, there’s joy in interacting with another.
The longer our classes go on, the more students need a break to talk. If we don’t provide one they, like steam not let escape, will result in disruptive behaviour. Much like in a steam-works, the escape must happen. It’s our job to direct it into something productive, rather than watch as it leads to a chaotic explosion.
Ways to Engage
- Ask students to summarize the last three or four minutes with their elbow partners. Encourage them to supplement their own notes based on what they hear.
- Break the class into four groups. Have each group come up with a list of the three most important points they heard in the class, in order. Then, have the four groups combine into two groups, creating a new list of points they all agree with. Each group will then write their list on the board before explaining their choices.
- Tell students to imagine they have to re-teach part of the lesson to a much younger age group. Have them spend thirty seconds explaining their imagined presentation on the materials to a partner.
The Importance of Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning is the framework that ensures success for all students by designing lessons in a way that meets their needs, before their needs are even identified. It’s the way to ensure all students feel safe, protected, comfortable, ready to face the day.
By using the COAT Method of Lesson Planning you will ensure that learners of all types will find a way to engage with the materials, while also reinforcing key concepts in a number of different memorable ways.
We know the COAT Method works, but each of us embraces it in our own way. Join the community, and share your successful implementation stories in the comments below.
Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!
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