New slide: Understanding learning outcomes

Here’s an interesting question for you:  If I dropped into your classroom tomorrow and asked your students what skills or key concepts they were working to master, how would they answer?

Would the results be the same if I stopped into other classrooms on your hallway?  Would some students know more about the learning expectations that your school and district have set for them?  Would they know less than your students?  Why?

The reason I ask is because I’m a stubborn son-of-a-gun who worked pretty hard to resist the ever-so-popular “You-Must-Post-Your-Learning-Objective-On-Your-Board-Every-Day” craze that has been sweeping education for the past few years.  At first, I just didn’t bother to post my objective at all, hoping no one would bother me.  Once my administrators started to call me out for not having my objective posted, I wrote a generic one up and left it on the board for about three months.

Talk about passive-aggressive, huh?

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

The source of my resistance was simple:  No one had ever convinced me that writing my objective on the board every day—something that was difficult to do in my language arts class, where learning objectives aren’t sequential and where lessons can address multiple objectives in one period—would pay off in tangible student learning results.  And one thing I’ve learned is that practices or policies that require more work had better darn well be worth it!

My other beef was that we were required to write objectives in a way that I KNEW my students wouldn’t understand—the language was just too sophisticated for 12-year-olds.  “They’d have a better chance of figuring out what they were supposed to be learning if I wrote those things in hieroglyphics!” I’d argue, “So what’s the point of spending my already limited time on something I know won’t work?”

Being the kind of guy I am, I took my resistance a step further, reading about a dozen books on assessment trying to find an expert who said that posting objectives was pointless.  I figured that would be reason enough to end a practice that I openly doubted.

Here’s the hitch:  There ISN’T A SINGLE expert that thinks posting objectives is unimportant!

In fact, every book that I read argued that posting objectives is one of the easiest way to improve student learning results.  The real clincher for me:  Bob Marzano—an edu-researcher-extraordinaire whose work I respect greatly—has shown that making students aware of expected outcomes of classroom lessons can increase student learning by 20%.

That’s when I finally made a commitment to working out a system for communicating expected outcomes to my kids in student-friendly language and to sharing those outcomes as often as possible.  While I still haven’t made daily communication around learning targets a part of my teaching routine (routines are hard to change for stubborn people, y’all), the parts are in place and I know my instruction will change in a positive way as a result.

Need any help in making YOUR learning goals transparent to your students?

Then check out these two Radical posts:

Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals

More on Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals

You might also be interested in this sample of a unit overview sheet that I’ve started using with my students in class:

Western Europe Learning Targets

Hope this helps you to embrace sharing expected outcomes with your students sooner than I did!  It’s a practical strategy with proven results that you can start using tomorrow.