After we started getting feedback from the study of our first i3 grant, we found that there was a lot of evidence that some of our modules were too long and too complicated to finish in the alloted time. The teacher version of my 1984 module was 70 pages long! Because teachers were worried about not being able to finish the required eight modules in the year, they were sometimes getting to the end of the “Reading Rhetorically” section, having a discussion about the writing topic, and moving on to the next module. I began to think about how to make modules shorter.
The first move was to start talking about the ERWC “arc.” We saw an ERWC module as moving from a professional text to a student text, with defined stages in-between. We started telling teachers in professional learning sessions that the module wasn’t completed unless they completed the arc. We also started emphasizing using formative assessment activities to determine what students actually needed, rather than just going through each and every activity in the module.
Third, I started promulgating the slogan, “Shorter, Simple, Smarter” to module writers, hoping that the final products will be slimmer.
Fourth, we are revising our recommended module writing process. Most of us tended to write a full-blown teacher version first and then extract the student materials to make the student version. Now we have an initial proposal, then a mini-module, and finally the full module. Some modules will stay in the mini-module form.
Which brings us to the question at hand, “What is a mini-module?”
I usually say this:
A mini-module is a module that is teachable in a week or less. It is a complete teachable module with at least one activity under each secondary heading of the template. It has a limited number of short texts, probably one or two. If it deals with a longer work, such as a novel, the mini-module serves as a kind of pilot for the approach the module writer is going to take. In that case, it deals with a passage, a page, a section, or a chapter. It accomplishes a piece of what the entire module will do.
Here is a chart that might help with thinking about designing a mini-module:
“Reading Rhetorically” is a primary heading with three secondary headings–“Preparing to Read,” “Reading Purposefully,” and “Questioning the Text”–under it. A mini-module will have at least one activity under each one of those secondary headings. The next primary heading, “Preparing to Respond,” has only one secondary heading under it: “Discovering What You Think.” Most mini-modules will present the writing topic here under the first cell, “Considering Your Task and Your Rhetorical Situation.”
The final primary heading is “Writing Rhetorically.” There are three secondary headings: “Composing a Draft,” “Revising Rhetorically,” and “Editing.” Again, there should be at least one activity under each secondary heading.
All of this means that a mini-module will have seven activities as a minimum number. However, some of these activities can be quite minimalist. For example, in one of my Lydia Davis micro-modules, the activity for “Reading for Understanding” is simply, “Read the following stories, thinking about ‘relationships.'” Of course, you could have more than one activity under a secondary heading.
Once you have a functioning mini-module, you can begin to think about how it might be developed further. What other activities could be productively added? What other texts might be added? What other learning goals might be addressed? How could different student populations be better served? However, be careful about what you add. Make sure that whatever you add is necessary, or at least useful. After all, we want the completed module to be “Shorter, Simpler, Smarter.”