Design as Teaching

golden flowers

I am in the middle of reading ‘Design: A Very Short Introduction’ by John Haskett. Like many other design related books ‘Design…’ begins by exploring the evolution of design establishing the idea that design permeates every facet of life. Haskett then goes on to discuss the merits and values of form and functionality – something which is explored effectively by Bruno Munari in the excellent ‘Design as Art’. Reflecting on the values of form and functionality got me thinking about how much design goes into the learning that takes place in my classroom and reminded me of something that I was told as a trainee during my first school placement.

Even the smallest change in environment will effect their (students) behaviour and attitude towards learning.

This has stuck with me and has had a profound effect on how I approach everything I do as a teacher. In all that I do, weather it is maintaining the learning environment or assessing students work, I give considerable consideration to both form and function.

The following is a list of ways that design (form and function) have impacted on the learning inside my classroom. In order to keep this meaningful I have not provided an exhaustive list but simply offered two examples for each area. Under each heading, the first example demonstrates how form has impacted on that particular area of my teaching. The second example demonstrates how functionality has had an impact.

Classroom (Learning Environment)

  • Your classroom must be clean with well maintained (preferably interactive) displays. It sends a message to the students, the minute they arrive in your room, about the sort of teacher you are and what standards you will expect from them.
  • The way that you use your seating in your classroom is exceptionally important. I have developed a seating plan system in which I seat my students in pairs based on similar ability. They are sat behind/in front of another pair who are slightly more able which allows me to minimise movement during group based activities. I also incorporate the students’ photos on to my plan along with their target grades and any SEN information that is available. For the first term I adjust the seating arrangements until I am happy that it works in terms of learning/behaviour. This process really helps me get to know them quickly and informs my understanding of each students potential.

Lesson Planning

  • I try to make sure that my lessons are engaging and challenging to ensure that my students enjoy what they are learning. This does not mean that my lessons are ‘fun’! It simply means that I ensure the activities are well designed for the different learning styles/abilities of the students in each of my classes. The right amount of challenge ensures that students feel engaged and will thus enjoy learning.
  • One of the keys to effective planning is maintaining an understanding of flow. I use Google Calendar to keep a record of my lessons. To ensure flow and that my classes and I reach our predefined goals I constantly review what we did in the previous lesson and what we will be doing in the following lessons. This helps me ensure that the activities and learning aims of each lesson are appropriate and will stretch/challenge each student to meet their goals by the end of the unit of work.

Teaching Style

  • I video myself regularly (I am not vain, honest.) to improve the quality of my lesson delivery. For example, I have made significant changes to the way I use the tone of my voice in lessons as well as simply kicking a few bad habits. However, I don’t think I will ever stop saying “erm…” all the time! ☹
  • I have also worked significantly on questioning techniques and approach certain lessons/units with a preconceived set of questions/questioning styles to facilitate different modes and levels of learning. It has also helped me be truly inclusive, having formed a specific methodology around questioning to target specific groups of students.


  • For both form and functionality I put nearly all of my homework online through the Moodle course that I am using for the particular unit I am teaching. I will often include a YouTube video as part of the homework, be it in a forum to spark discussion or as part of an assignment. Embedding the video is far more aesthetically pleasing that simply inserting a hyperlink. This video demonstrates how to embed YouTube videos into Moodle. The first method demonstrated works within the forum, wiki and assignment modules also.
  • One of the most important things about homework for you as a teacher is that it is manageable. This was one of the deciding factors in why I moved to putting nearly all of my homework online through Moodle. Marking online through Moodle is quick and relatively hassle free in both the forum and assignment modules. What’s more, Moodle gives you the ability to instantly grab data on students that have/have not done their homework. This record can be easily collated and printed to provide evidence for parents about their son/daughters completion (or lack there of) of homework. Very powerful!

Marking and Assessment

  • No red pens please! No, I’ve not bought into some educational fad. Red is simply an aggressive colour and I choose to avoid using it to mark my students’ work. Blue or green are equally good colours and show up perfectly well against the black type of my students’ essays. It’s simply a personal choice!
  • A recent redesign that has taken place within my teaching practice is that I have moved the majority of my formative assessment from paper and pen to electronic methods particularly through the use of Google Docs. I can assess a student work both in real time during a lesson and also after the fact. They can access their work and see my comments anytime they are online. And this method of assessment can, if used correctly, provide a clear record of the students targets and progression. (More on this in a future post.)


  • I love Apple. I teach on a MacBook Pro and adore the ergonomic and aesthetic beauty combined with seamless functionality that it offers. Apple produce devices that are objects of pure beauty. I used to be a PC but I could never return to “ctrl+alt+del”, erroneous file menus and (“spits”) Internet Explorer. Thinking about it makes me shudder! ☺
  • As a teacher I believe you should only use technology where it will enhance the learning of your students. I have put considerable time into testing and picking the technologies that I use with my students. They must be easy to use so that my students and I can focus on the learning rather than on how to use the technology. Here are three different examples of technology I have used with my students:

How has design impacted on your teaching? I would really like to know if some of the ideas I have put across have struck a chord or made you think about the form and functionality of your own teaching practice. You can comment below.

Image: ‘Golden Flowers’ by Shareen M on Flickr.

Published by

James Michie

Husband, Educator, Writer, Runner...

8 thoughts on “Design as Teaching”

  1. Interesting post James. Design is in everything we do. Not just as teachers. Good design is always valuable.

    What's most interesting is the insight into your classroom. How do your pupils find being online? It is always a good concept to have everything a click or two away but how many pupils actually utilise the function?

    Marking in forums? Do you not find that forums are not a good place for marking? If I want to assess a piece of work I use assignments so it displays in the gradebook. But then pupils cannot see each others work (sometimes desirable). The workshop module is the one I am going to pursue next year. Peer assessment. Have you had a play with it?

  2. Thank you for commenting Dai.

    I mark individual work and final pieces through the assignment modules or through Google Docs however I use the forums to develop peer assessment and quite often now I do activities or assessments where both the students and I assess their work together. I find that this combined approach can be very effective in that I am modelling feedback in front of them, therefore they learn the language of effective assessment. The students whose work is being discussed gets both peer and teacher assessment offering them a full picture on where they have been successful and where they need to improve.

    As for “being online” most of the students enjoy it as they have regular access to their work. Many can see the benefits of the majority of their work being word processed, which is an inevitable knock on effect and they also enjoy the variety of activities that i use, particularly quizzes where the marking is instant. There are some who don't enjoy it as much as others but the use of our VLE is becoming far more wide spread that many of the students now come to expect to be using it for homework at the very least. There are some who don't have access at home, in these cases I simply print the work for them and they hand it into me in a more traditional method. I have experienced little problem with this. The feeling from home from the parents is quite a positive one as they can get a clear picture of the work that their child is doing.

    The gradebook is something that I have begun to use more effectively just in this past year but have largely ignored it tending towards written feedback rather than focussing on a mark or grade. Apart from A-Level Media I am still constrained by the need for my students work to be sent away in paper form anyway so it is on those final drafts that I commit a specific mark.

    I am not sure if we have that module installed on our Moodle. I will have to have a look and see. Please let me know how you get on with it.

  3. Another good read. Teaching ICT I am really looking forward to being able to re-arrange the room more readily. The only other points I would add, fresh airflow, lighting and a warm welcome from the teacher is important.

    Video – something to consider.

    Marking, I took to marking in pencil. As students make corrections they can erase the comments if they wish. Same reason, not so aggressive.

    Again – enjoying the conversation and mutual support.

  4. Great post, James with some sound advice. Design is *so* important to education – it permeates everything we do.

    Especially important to me is crafting the first time that someone comes across something. It could be an object, a concept or another person. How you manage and present that interaction has lasting consequences!

  5. I couldn't agree more. There was so much that I could have added but the blog post would have ended up being book length. I almost did mention standing at the door to greet the students, so important in establishing the right atmosphere at the start of your lesson and developing good relations.

    The video thing is scary, particularly when the video is played in front of the entire staff body to demonstrate outstanding teaching. That said, I am glad I went through with it the first time as I haven't looked back since and it has been a powerful aid in improving my teaching.

    Start small. Pick a specific facet of your teaching practice, capture it, evaluate it and improve it.

  6. I hope that you enjoyed looking into Lino It. I have really enjoyed using it and intend to use it more next year. I think that it is particularly useful as an idea recording / organisation tool or a way of generating quick responses to a specific question. I'm going to devise a couple of activities that make use of the multi-media based features also.

    I have not used the dialogue module, but after looking it up on I am going to make use of it next year. I can see quite a lot of potential in it and have already added a 'dialogue' to both the AS and A2 Media coursework units with a message in each of them, encouraging the students to instigate a dialogue with me if they need help. Will see how it goes! 🙂

  7. Very important indeed, particularly on the first day, when the object being introduced is you! That first impression will make or break your year with each student/class that walks through your door. So, make it a good one!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.