The RVS Instructional Design Framework

RVS 2017 Instructional Design Framework

Run Your Own IDF Planning Session

Coming Soon

A Guided Tour of the IDF

A video guide to using the framework (Coming Soon)




Take a walk through the Instructional Design Framework’s components to see how each is used. While they can be put together in any sequence, the order we’ve placed these in is how we most frequently think through our own designs.

1. Title

A powerful experience deserves a strong title. Whether you’re designing a single lesson or an entire unit, give your design a memorable name.

2. Essential Question

An essential question (or questions) serves as a focus for the design. A good question invites exploration toward many possible answers or outcomes. While these can be phrased in many different ways we find “How might we [action or challenge] for [audience or purpose]?” can be a powerful way to phrase a driving question. Check out Andrew Miller’s blog on crafting essential questions for more information.

3. Community Partners

These are people and organizations who are outside your classroom who might bring assistance, authenticity, or expertise to the experience: parents, companies, institutions, colleagues, foundations, neighbors, friends, etc.

4. Make, Create, Do

Along this lane we plot the essential activities that students will engage in as they move through the design. The emphasis in this lane is on doing and being active in the learning. Whoever is doing the talking is doing most of the learning.

5. Reflect, Revise, Relate

“We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” — John Dewey

This lane “balances the equation” started in the experiences of the Make, Create, Do lane. On this line experiences are plotted that answer some of these questions:

  • How might students reflect on their experiences and consolidate new understanding with prior knowledge?
  • How might they relate what they’ve learned to others?
  • How might they revise or iterate on the things they are making and creating?


6. Timeline

The space between the lines serves as a useful place to put timestamps. Whether these are the times of day during a single lesson or the times of year during a unit or course, time runs from left to right on the framework.


7. Observations, Conversations, Products

In this lane, the targets for summative and formative assessments are considered. What needs to be collected in order for us to know that our students have met the outcomes? What do we need to be watching for as they engage in the work? What might they discuss with their peers and their instructors in order to assess their own learning? For more information on these principles of assessment, visit the RVS Assessment page and the work of Sandra Herbst and Anne Davies

8. Making Learning Visible (MLV)

Along this line, we consider ways that the experiences and processes might be displayed for others to see. Parents in particular have a vested interest in seeing how their children are growing as learners. But other stakeholders might also want to understand how learning unfolds in this design.

Download a pdf version of the Instructional Design Framework. Also available en Français.

Questions to consider when designing your own framework.

So why waves? Think of the wave height as the number of ideas or ways that students could look at a problem.  Experiences involved with going up the waves invite many ideas or solutions to be considered and shared.  Then, going down the waves, ideas are consolidated into one or a few concepts or plans.

And why two waves? We think of two kinds of processes for students to engage in. The first is where students uncover new knowledge and develop new skills.  The second is where students use these to create products that represent their understand or apply what they’ve learned and acquired.

In reality, your design may have many inquiry phases and/or many project phases through the course of the instructional design. The template encourages both processes to be considered, but whether you use one design arc, two, or many, the same basic principles apply to each.


The Pitch Tool

Jumping straight into the IDF can sometimes be a challenge when you’re not exactly sure where you want to go with a design. Following the principles of Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe), the Pitch Tool can be used ahead of the IDF to help “Start with the End in Mind.”  The Pitch Tool invites you to think about the four big elements of our instructional design: the Big Ideas (which can be used to develop the driving question(s)), the Inquiry and Project Deliverables (what the students create to display their learning), and the Exhibition (the venue and the audience for showcasing and celebrating that learning). Any of these sections could be done as a collaborative brainstorm to explore many possibilities.

The Four Boxes
Big Ideas


What are the major themes of the lesson, section, unit, course, etc. you are designing for? These could be broad thematic topics (“Waste in Our World”), specific curricular outcomes (“Students will understand the role of the pituitary gland.”), or qualities and attributes we hope to bring out in our students (“Empathy,” “Problem Solving,” “Innovation,” etc.)

Inquiry Deliverable(s)

Inquiry is a process of discovery. Whether done through reading texts, research, hands-on exploration, interviews, tackling a new problem, or observing, the process of inquiry can be done in a multitude of ways. An Inquiry Deliverable is a product that encapsulates the learning from an inquiry phase. These can also take a multitude of forms: infographics, pictures, podcasts, artwork, summaries, editorials, graphs, videos, journals, soundscapes, essays, letters, experimental designs, etc. How might students in your design encapsulate and display the results of their exploration?

Project Deliverable(s)


The Project phase of an instructional design is the invitation to apply the learning from the Inquiry phase(s). This is where students can take what they’ve learned and use it to create something for an authentic audience. More learning can certainly take place during this phase (how to use a tool or piece of software for instance), but the focus is on being creative in making a high quality product. Models, art, proposals, speeches, functional products, videos, games, performances, displays, exhibits, and many other products are all potential Project Deliverables.




Exhibiting student work can be a factor in driving engagement, product quality, and pride. Students who exhibit for an audience of one (the teacher) only have that teacher’s feedback and the grade to measure the value of their work. When students can exhibit to a large audience that includes many stakeholders, including experts in the discipline being explored, the value of their effort is magnified significantly (as are the social stakes). Who (besides their teacher) should student work be displayed or published to? What venue, format, or platform would offer a high degree of authenticity for this project?