Experience First, Formalize Later (EFFL)

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Stats Medic Instructional Philosophy

Several years ago, the Stats Medic created a new on-level Stats course targeted toward Seniors at East Kentwood High School. We wanted the class to be relevant and engaging, but also academically rigorous. After trying several instructional approaches, we eventually arrived at the Experience First, Formalize Later model. Since then, we revamped the entire AP Statistics course in this model and are currently doing the same with Algebra 2.

Experience First, Formalize Later means that students are working collaboratively to think, to discuss, and to construct their own understanding of new content before the teacher helps students to arrive at formal definitions and formulas.

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What does it look like in the classroom?

Learning Targets

For every new lesson, the teacher begins by making the goals of the lesson crystal clear. By the time students walk out of the classroom, here is what they are expected to know or be able to do. Learning targets should be written in student friendly language and we like to underline new vocabulary terms. The teacher does more than simply read the learning targets to the class. They make connections to previous learning, share how this learning fits into a bigger picture, or explain why this learning is important for future learning.


For this part of the lesson, students work in pairs or groups of four to experience new content through an activity. Students might be collecting data, discussing a proposed scenario, or doing a simulation. The student activity is designed for students to be able to do without the help of the teacher. Of course, the teacher is watching and listening in to conversations in order to formatively assess student understanding. The teacher provides questions, cues, and prompts (not answers!) to help push groups forward when they are stuck or have made a mistake. As students begin to finish the activity, the teacher identifies students to write their work on the board. Most often, the teacher selects student work that will easily allow them to connect the experience to the formal learning. Students write their work on the whiteboard in a single color marker (see blue writing below).

Debrief Activity

Once student responses are up on the white board, the teacher calls the whole group back together for a debrief. It is in this discu