Chunking has a number of different meanings. While we recognize that it means breaking a task down into specific parts, things can be chunked in a variety of ways.
Types of Chunking
- Chunking materials on a page
- Chunking tasks in an assignment
- Chunking pages in an assignment
- Chunking an assignment over multiple periods
How to Chunk
When you are creating your assignments, please consider how the information is presented on the page. One of the simplest ways to chunk your assignments is to use headings. This is effective because it doesn’t just differentiate different types of information like magazines, textbooks, or newspapers , it also forces you to think about what headings you want to use at what time during the creation process.
Simply by using headings, you will take the step towards using design thinking during the creation process to best suit the needs of your students.
If you are unsure how to begin using headings please watch my twenty minute (ten minutes, if played at 2x speed) tutorials – which have been chunked into four convenient parts.
Why Should We Chunk?
Chunking grants an unspoken permission for students to approach tasks one at a time, allowing them to move from piece to piece at a pace that feels manageable and accomplishable. For the same reason that this article is broken into sections, rather than one big wall of text, chunking your assignments will create the foundation to make materials more engaging.
Headings allow natural pause points that may have intended, but might not have been fully communicated to all students.
Additionally, when tasks are chunked students can focus on one at a time. People who write lists understand the importance of breaking down tasks into smaller steps. When you look at a task and see the end goal, it can seem impossible. However, every end goal is actually a series of small steps. We have developed our own skills, learning how to breakdown the tasks that are presented to us. However, many of our students are still developing that ability.
By explicitly chunking, and explaining the rationale behind that approach we are helping them in the present, while preparing them for the future.
Chunking in the English Exemplar
The English Exemplar is an 18 page document that I co-developed with my student teacher Brendan Spencer. While it may seem insurmountable, it can be far more approachable for a number of our students than a three or four page document.
Chunking By Task
First, note that pages 1 and 2 provide all the key information for completing the assignment, while also asking students to select their text and their goal. In these two pages, students have a full understanding of their task, and have already laid the foundation for success. Each specific step and task is chunked for approachable completion.
Chunking By Pages
Next, note that pages 3 and 4 continue the planning and reflection process as students select their concern, and create their app.
Page 5 explains and asks students to express their presentation planning, and page 6 has a place for notes. But why is page 6 for notes? Sure, there may be reason to keep some notes, and it serves a purpose to allow students space to reflect on other ideas. However, there’s more to it than that.
Not only is each step itemized and chunked in this assignment, the pages are organized in two-page sets (front and back). Rather than providing students with the entire package all at once, it can be handed out in approachable front and back pages that allow students to focus only on the current goal. You will see that this continues throughout the entire package, all the way until the front and back rubrics on pages 17 and 18.
Chunk By Periods
On a large assignment, it’s important to break down tasks and requirements over a number of periods. This information should be explicitly communicated to students. In this exemplar this can be found on pages 13 and 14 (the calendar).
Note how each day has specific goals and expectations are clearly communicated to the students. There is also room for students to reflect on their own planning needs, to set their own goals, and further developing their transferable skills.
Chunking in the Geography Example
Rather than being built from the ground up, this was adapted from an existing culminating assignment that already had key requirements co-selected by the Geography department. Katherine Pearce built upon the strong foundation, following a format similar to the English culminating.
This assignment demonstrates how chunking can still be accomplished, even when approaching a large content-based curriculum with a number of specific requirements.
The back and forth two page document design continues in this culminating assignment. Once again, it seeks to make the seemingly insurmountable accomplishable. By looking at the calendar on pages 27 and 28 you can see how the material and days are chunked into an approachable timeline.
The first key difference can be seen on the first page. By using Google Doc’s table of contents creator, students have clickable access to whatever section the teacher currently wants attention focused on. In a printed hard copy this table of contents allows students to quickly find the page they need to access.
This is especially important for larger assignments. Once again, a 30+ page assignment doesn’t mean it can’t be approachable, even though on the surface that may seem challenging. By making an assignment 30 pages by adding supporting materials, it can make an already well-scaffolded activity even more approachable.
Additionally, the rubric is chunked into specific tasks. While it still grades through a level system, and is still connected to the curricular expectations, this rubric chunks all of its look-fors through the specific requirements checkboxes.
These checkboxes are helpful for those working on hardcopy, and they also function digitally as well. Students can start clicking boxes to mark off what they have completed, to ensure they have accomplished all required tasks prior to submission, just as you would check off groceries added to your cart before checking out.
Looking at Other Accommodations
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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