3D’s of Instruction by Nancy Heuer-Evans, Curriculum Coordinator

I welcome you to the start of the most nontraditional school year most of us have ever experienced. If you’re like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unsure about how your classes are going to adapt to this new normal.

One of the best things you can do is figure out your stress-busting activity (chocolate? Wine? Punching bag?) and then lean in and strive for D’s.

And by D’s, I mean Dynamic, Diverse, and Data-Driven Instruction.

I don’t choose these D’s lightly. Let’s look closer. Dynamic (changing, subject to change), Diverse (different than the norm, having an embrace of the different built in, and Data-Driven, which, according to everybody who’s tried it, means a willingness to change if the data dictates it. If ever there was a time for change, difference, and a willingness to change, the Fall of 2020 is it.

“pertaining to or characterized by energy or effective action; vigorously active or forceful.”

Let’s break this down a little.

When I think of dynamic instruction, I think of energy, force, movement. The definition of dynamic is pertaining to or characterized by energy or effective action; vigorously active or forceful. So with that in mind, look at your lessons. Do they embody energy or force? Assume your students need a change of topic or geography every 10-15 minutes. Break down difficult concepts into bite-sized pieces. Can they act it out? Build it? Can you turn it into a quiz show? Can you find some way to infuse energy and force into the concept you are currently teaching? For myself, I never sit still in my class. I move from the front to the back (which also discourages students from playing on their phones or daydreaming). I learn their names the first day. We do icebreakers of some kind each class period so they learn more about me as I learn about them. I apply the principles of rhetoric from moment one, showing them that I care about them and want to learn what’s important to them. If there is a lesson that is going to take longer than 15 minutes, I warn them about it ahead of time, and then I reward them afterwards with something fun to do. Yes, these are adults, and yes, they respond to rewards even more enthusiastically than their younger counterparts. For the adult education student, the job of re-programming their feelings about education is as important as the content of the class. I want it to be fun, inspiring, revealing, and something they can see themselves continuing long after they leave my nest. Can you gamify anything? Use props to demonstrate a concept? Have them become the teachers for a particular idea? This aspect of dynamic instruction is only limited by your own creativity. Do NOT be limited by what you “think” a classroom should be. Your energy should be spent finding a way that reaches your students—whatever is necessary.

So now you’ve rethought your teaching approach, trying to incorporate some dynamism (even if you take baby steps and only do it for one lesson, that’s a great start!), let’s move on to diversity. As I mentioned in a previous video, I think of my classroom as a multiverse. Everyone comes in with their values, their beliefs, their experiences, and many of these are vastly different from your own. This is such wonderful fuel for your classroom! Can you gather information about your students in the first day or two (or even before the class starts?)? This could be something completely informal, like having them write an introductory letter to you on the first day and giving them a few suggestions as to subjects they might include—background, favorite foods, jobs, children, family history, etc…. Or it could be something less prose-oriented and you could have them create a timeline of the significant events in their lives, or their favorite foods and music. You could even make a list of various countries and have your students pick a country and they are “from” that country for the rest of the class, so every assignment needs some little factoid at the bottom referring to that country. Establish at the outset that you are interested in and want to know about all of the multiverses sitting in your seats. Acknowledging the wide and beautiful variety of universes represented in your students helps them feel as if you care about what’s important to them, thus building your ethos. All of us, you included, are willing to do more and risk more for someone who has demonstrated that they respect what matters to us. One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received from a student of mine in a Freshman Composition class was when he came up to me at the end of the class and said, “Hey, I just want to thank you. I know you don’t have the same beliefs as me, like you’re for gay marriage and I’m against it, and you want gun control and I don’t, but you never made me feel disrespected. You let me have my point of view, and you just made me support my point of view with evidence.”

“Everyone comes in with their values, their beliefs, their experiences, and many of these are vastly different from your own.”

And as far as Diversity goes, use it in the TYPE of instruction you give, too. There are many ways to instruct—try several of them and see which your students are most responsive to. Vary it so you don’t get in a rut of only one method. Some lessons need a bit of lecture. Others need more hands-on activity. Some need a quick video followed by vigorous discussion. Be sure, though, as you use this variety, that you keep track of how your students react. Which method allows the maximum amount of engagement with you, with their classmates, and with the material they are trying to learn? This data is crucial.

And so here we are at data. Or more accurately data-driven. What does it mean to be data-driven? I remember when I first heard the phrase, I thought it meant compiling a lot of research about your methodology and then using that to justify your choices. For the record, it’s not that, although research never hurts. It’s much more in keeping with that original definition of rhetoric—using everything you know about someone to better communicate with them. It means gathering data from your students, both formally and informally—especially informally. Then once you’ve gathered the data and analyzed it for patterns and insights, then it means actually taking action based on it.

What would that look like?

It means you might focus on one particular chapter or lesson or concept, then gather data about how your students respond to it. I have an evolving example of this—

One of the classes I have taught for many years is Advanced Composition, and one of the sections in this course that I feel strongly about covering has to do with logical fallacies. Our culture is rife with them and I want my students to be able to identify them for what they are and discard the faulty logic behind them. When I first started teaching this unit, I just assigned them the fallacies to learn, gave them a few online resources and pointed them to the chapter in their text, outlined a test date, and then went on with my regularly scheduled programming.

The test was a disaster.

Not one student passed. I had even scheduled a review the class before the exam, but it was clearly not enough to make up for having let the leash out too far. They didn’t understand; they wanted more practice. They had not acquired the critical thinking skills that I assumed they had coming in to the class. The next semester, I retooled and tried something else. I then assigned a logical fallacy to each student, telling them to teach the logical fallacy to the class. Their presentation needed at least 2 examples, should have some kind of visual element, and should include a handout.

The results from this were only marginally better.

I gave more detailed instructions on what the teaching lesson should include—at least 3 samples of the fallacy, some additional resources for those who didn’t understand it thoroughly; I created a folder on our Blackboard site where they could store their presentations so the other students could look at them and use them as study tools. I started having them read articles from the internet and then discussing the logical fallacies we found in them.

There was improvement, but not enough to stop there.

I added in discussion after each presentation, also course-correcting presentations that didn’t quite hit the mark, giving extra credit points to those who included games, etc… in their teaching. I added more teaching videos from youtube to the folder on Blackboard.

A smidge better.

The most recent iteration additionally had me spending an entire class period reviewing all of the fallacies by having each of them bring 2 examples of their fallacy on little slips of paper, putting them in a bucket that I brought, and then drawing them out and reading them aloud, allowing them to guess. I had even written the names of all of the fallacies on the dry erase board so they didn’t have to remember them, only recognize them. The average score on the exam was a C-, up from the abject failure of even the most dedicated student. I’m getting there. It’s still a work in progress. When pressed about why the exam was so hard, most of them said they didn’t understand how to differentiate between the various fallacies, that they’ve heard these ideas (like “America: love it or leave it” so often, it’s hard to recognize them as wrong.

A willingness to change, to rethink, to use the data we gather every day interacting with our students is imperative to good teaching.

While I am loathe to insert business-think into the teaching paradigm, business does get something right—they are constantly assessing the market, changing, growing, taking its temperature. If we want to be sure information-transfer is happening, we need to check our signal strength as a matter of course.

For more information about any of the 3D’s, check the resources at the end of the article.

Additional Resources:


“Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TedTalk by Sir Ken Robinson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxFG9I8QbcU (Illuminate Education series)




Bianco, Sharon Davis.“Improving Student Outcomes: Data-driven Instruction and Fidelity of Implementation in a Response to Intervention (RTI) Model.” TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus Volume 6, Issue 5, June 2010.

Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction By Paul Bambrick-Santoyo (Jossey-Bass, 2010).

Pella, Shannon. “WHAT SHOULD COUNT AS DATA FOR DATA-DRIVEN INSTRUCTION? Toward Contextualized Data-Inquiry Models for Teacher Education and Professional Development.” Middle Grades Research Journal, Volume 7(1), 2012, pp. 57–75 ISSN 1937-0814.