Quest-Based Planning: Putting Theory into Practice
Of the multiple challenges teachers face, planning is one of the most difficult. Teachers must know the answers to many questions before the start of a course: Where to begin? Am I meeting all my students’ needs? What are the most important skills to focus on? What are the learning milestones? What goals do I have to meet?
The Quest Forward principles, while broad in theory, give detailed guidance on how to create meaningful, transformative learning. They help quests transition from theory into practice; direct instruction into active, engaged learning; and inspire student agency on a wider scale. What does this kind of planning look like?
Learning Requires Action
Students often ask, “Why does it matter?” or “I don’t care, so why do I have to learn it?” when traditional classroom teachers implement new material into lessons.
As Quest Forward Learning mentors, however, we can counteract these questions by planning a course centered on active, engaged learning. This kind of learning drives the process of discovery, builds understanding, and incorporates the practice of skills. Some practical strategies for planning these goals include:
- Combine a variety of activities: workshops, group feedback sessions, public showcases, flipped approaches, etc. Students should have the opportunity to be physically active and engaged with the world.
- Create a flexible physical space, with multiple social configurations.
- Embrace a discovery-first mindset by asking open-ended questions that may not have one right answer.
Learning Improves with Practice
Practice makes perfect, right? It is important, when planning, to incorporate not just ongoing practice for the sake of repetition, but practice that applies to lifelong learning. Authentic ways to implement practice include:
- Build in ongoing reflection, feedback, and insight between students and mentors. Rote repetition alone does not build skills.
- Incorporate peer teaching as a way to challenge students who need an extension and to help all students apply what they have learned.
- Allow students to choose how they will demonstrate competence; too many guidelines on an artifact or project may actually restrict student practice.
We Learn Better Together
While solo learning is important, gaining skills and real insights is impossible without interaction with and feedback from others. Peers, mentors, family members, and subject matter experts all help us learn and grow, and collaboration inspires creativity and innovative thinking. Similarly, sharing our discoveries and successes with others is an important driver for learning. When planning, try to build opportunities for students to peer teach, debate each other, perform or present together, and use each other (rather than just the mentor) as sources of knowledge.
Learning Happens Everywhere and Always
This is evident from watching small children. They learn constantly, wherever they go, and without formal instructions, classrooms, or learning materials. This pattern holds for all ages: We can learn wherever we are, from and with anyone around us, and in any setting—but only if we have the skills to seize those opportunities. As mentors, we can:
- Arrange opportunities for students to interact with local community members, family, and friends to explore, investigate, and possibly solve new problems. Learners master skills when they apply them during interactions with others in a variety of contexts.
- Utilizing current events as a source of exploration and a way to make learning relevant.
- Creating healthy boundaries for yourself and set expectations for when students will and won’t get mentor feedback and responses.
Learning Drives Personal Growth
Meaningful learning is not just concept acquisition. It is a personal process that changes how we understand ourselves, the world around us, and our place in it. As a mentor, it is especially important to plan for this growth through a variety of activities, including:
- Modeling and encouraging a resilient mindset that values risk-taking and learning from failure. Students should have the opportunity to experience setbacks, to get things wrong, to iterate, and to improve their work. It shouldn’t always be easy for students to get things right on the first try.
- Celebrate personal growth and individual achievements through a culture of positivity.
- Coach students one-on-one as you set regular meetings and develop individual learning plans with them. Do not expect all students to achieve the same level of success, but do expect them to set appropriate and timely goals.
We hope these practices and strategies will inspire all mentors to reflect on different aspects of your work, and to provide guidance on how to create a more active, engaged learning environment. We will continue to investigate and support planning processes, and will share them in future blog posts.
Kelsey Cain is the Director of Professional Learning at Opportunity Education. She works closely with both schools and OE teams to develop and implement a comprehensive professional learning program for all school-based groups that align with organizational goals and strengthen instructional practices. Prior to OE, she was a classroom teacher and district leader across both urban and rural school districts in the U.S, and taught in Ghana and Costa Rica.