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March 3, 2020

Where Do I Start to Innovate? Try a “Target of Difficulty”

A post by EdTechTeacher CEO Tom Daccord

Recently I had a conversation with a school director of technology who was wondering how to help teachers identify “entry points” for innovation in their classroom. It made me think of conversations I had on this topic years ago with Dr. Justin Reich of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab in a run-up to a book we were writing together. One approach we both embrace is identifying a “Target of Difficulty.”

The idea of a “Target of Difficulty” is finding the intersection of three conditions.  First, teachers should seek out parts of their curriculum that are hard to teach. So, they should leave alone those parts of the curriculum where they are doing an awesome job and students are learning in powerful ways. Rather, it’s most helpful to experiment in the places where teachers are currently dissatisfied with how learning is going (in a lesson, unit, chapter, etc) or has gone in the past.  

Second, it’s best to experiment in places in the curriculum that are really important. Curriculum change is difficult, so it’s best to invest time in the parts of the course that really matter -- where students are working on the most worthy topics and the most enduring understandings.  

Finally, teachers (with supporting admins) should identify parts of the curriculum where technology might have some leverage. Where do you imagine having students perform their understanding in diverse forms of media that would help solidify important understandings? 

The intersection of these three ideas—something that’s hard to teach, important to teach, and where technology will be helpful—is a target of difficulty. These targets are often great places for educators to start thinking about putting in the time and effort to create more opportunities for active and powerful student learning.

So, what is your advice to teachers? Please email me at tom@edtechteacher.org with your suggestions. I’d love to share your ideas with our readers.