To Anchor Instruction Or Not?

A great example of anchored instruction is in the Jasper series videos. Anchored instruction, also known as instructional design, includes engaging and problem rich environments that allow learners to understand the how, why and when to use different concepts and strategies (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992). This is exactly the direction the new BC curriculum is heading; collaborative, inquiry-based learning. However, for the Jasper series to be used effectively, depends on the teaching model used. Basics first, structured problem solving or guided generation.

What the Jasper series does by using videos, is it allows students to put real world problem solving skills to the test. I know for a fact that many teachers, including myself, are stuck on the basics first model instruction. This is where the teacher finds the need to implicitly teach a certain concept before allowing the students to run free with the problem being presented to them. Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992) are arguing against this and says it defeats the anchored instruction model. They are more aligned with the structured problem solving and guided generation practices. In the structured problem solving theory, students are given possible outcomes to a problem. They have to determine which one is correct, which eventually eliminates student errors. The ideal theory, according to Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992), is guided generation. The teacher acts more of a facilitator while the students are the leaders and asking themselves questions in a collaborative environment.

Something that the Jasper series allows students to see, is the complexity of real-world problems.  A misconception that students face, is that everyday problems don’t involve a simple step to solve it (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992). If teachers are stuck doing the basics first model, then students might not understand how to solve real-world problems.

What happens if learners are reluctant to work in group settings? What if they get frustrated? According to McCombs and Pope’s (1994) discussion on hard to reach students; the learning environment needs to include instructional practices that allow students to see real world experiences by using their minds (as cited in Hickey, Moore & Pellegrino, 2001). The Jasper series is a perfect example that showcases just that. There’s very limited reading involved too, just watching and listening. This might motivate some students as well.

Assessment? How does a teacher effectively assess their students who use the Jasper series? Ongoing formative assessment is key according to Gersten, Chard, Jayanthi, Baker, Morphy and Flojo, 2009. It can be in the form of written or verbal feedback which will help students be accountable and engaged in their learning.

I have used Khan Academy with my math group before and have heard about Mathletics, although you have to purchase the latter and therefore have not used it. What I liked about Khan Academy, is that students can complete missions. Missions are tailored math programs depending on their ability. At our school, we platoon for math and I had the ‘low’ ability group. I thought Khan Academy would capture their interest, but it was anything but. My students didn’t want to watch math videos, collect badges or take the time to learn themselves. They wanted direct instruction. I thought this was strange since they were using school iPads to complete their work and it was a self-pace program. This is not like the Jasper series in that the students were working in groups, but rather alone. I wonder if they would be more engaged if they completed the missions in partners or in groups? Would collaborative learning work better in this case? What if the range of math abilities is so wide in class, such as in mine? Would collaborative work be more beneficial to the students or using the basics first model so they know the multiplication chart before they work on the problem?

Another pitfall I had with Khan Academy, is the assessment portion. I was able to see on the teacher’s account what they completed, but there was no online quizzes or feedback other than calling each student up to my desk and showing them how they were doing in each lesson. I would have appreciated a quicker assessment model with this program, but in the end I cancelled it since my students didn’t’ want to do it anymore.


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1992). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 40, 65-80.

Gersten, R., Chard, D. J., Jayanthi, M., Baker, S. K., Morphy, P., & Flojo, J. (2009). Mathematics instruction for students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis of instructional components. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1202-1242.

Hickey, D. T., Moore, A. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2001). The motivational and academic consequences of elementary mathematics environments: Do constructivist innovations and reforms make a difference?. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 611-652.




  1. Hello Sean,

    I enjoyed reading your post, and you bring up some great points. Changing our practice as teaching professionals is a huge deal, and it is going to be messy. Our school has a project based learning program that is moving toward a more student-centred model. It has most of the elements of this Jasper project series, but doesn’t rely on videos. There have been some growing pains for sure, including teacher identity and assessment.

    When we are deep in individual project mode, one of our staff members likes to call himself a “Walmart Greeter”. With the students engaged in different stages of complex problems solving, he laments that he has no mandate. I’ve talked to him about pivoting his role to project management and providing scaffolding for things that are NOT technical, like time management, and stepping back when a project hits a snag. Cope and Kalantzis (2010) do an awesome job of laying out this re-defining of our roles. He doesn’t see it, and it stresses him out. Mostly he runs off to fetch stuff from another room and the students do things on their own, and just this week he retired.

    The assessment piece is a pickle for us too! I am struck by the Vanderbilt Group’s (1992a) “assumptions about goals” and the assertion that it is a mistake to assume that we are testing the right things. Focus on collaboration and student choice fly in the face of traditional one-size-fits all evaluation schema. Is a provincial exam or SAT score the best we can do? We’ve messed with rubrics, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about more holistic ways of communicating student learning.

    Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992a). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 40(1), 65-80.

    Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. 2010. The teacher as designer: Pedagogy in the new media age. E-learning and Digital media 7(3).200-222.

    1. Michael,

      It is encouraging to hear stories of others who are working through this puzzle of assessment and inquiry. I found that I had switched some of the content that I was teaching to inquiry learning (Which took a little bit longer sometimes) but was still resorting to traditional methods of assessment such as a unit test. While I don’t think there is anything overtly wrong with this, I find that some students are just simply terrible at writing tests but can verbally or graphically explain topics fully. I have over the past year started to have interviews with all my students to try to accurately measure their understanding and learning. I just have to do it while others are working on their projects so as to use class time effectively – my findings were that I have a better gauge of where the student is at and am able to provide much more personalized feedback furthering student learning.

      Sorry about the late reply! Baljeet

  2. Thanks for a great post. I really enjoyed reading the section on basics first model instruction. Last year, when I coordinated a 7 week course for second year medical students, I purposely did not cover a topic that was going to be learned through problem based learning, which is a type of anchored instruction. Interestingly, the feedback I got from students was that they would have appreciated a lecture on the topic before the PBL. . . which completely defeats the purpose. Which makes me wonder, are student ready for this type of generative learning? Is there a disconnect between their expectations and ours? Or was this just an outlier and I am just hearing the most vocal students voice their opinion whereas the majority find this generative approach useful? Unfortunately I am unable to answer these questions from the type of feedback that I get but I was wondering what your opinion on this might be.

    1. Hi Momoe,

      I think students are ready for this type of learning but they are not used to it. If they have never done it before, it seems foreign to them and therefore can’t do it. This year I tried something new too; instead of using a science textbook I used a science interactive notebook. Again, this was foreign to them and took them a long time to get used to it. At the end of the year I asked for feedback in the form of a survey and most students didn’t like it and wanted the textbook to learn from. I thought this was so strange. One of their reasons is that they think that they will be using a textbook next year for high school and wanted to better prepare themselves by taking notes from the text. This is a misconception as they might not use one next year too. I think we have to change this way of thinking as the BC new curriculum is trending towards more PBL based learning without textbooks.

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