Teachers all over the country write on their whiteboards, “SWBAT” or “Students will be able to…” Student definitely want to know what they are doing in class today, but can they really understand the language of the teacher’s SWBAT? How might students describe the new knowledge or skills they will walk out of class with? What if, at the end of class, a student could walk out saying, “I can…”
While non-teachers might be confused by the title, the only non-teachers who read this blog are Dad [Hi Dad!] and my friends to see the link on my Facebook feed, so I think they will forgive me.
SWBAT, of course, stands for “Students Will Be Able To…” Teachers all over the country have been required to post the day’s objective or SWBAT on their boards for years. A few years ago, the principal of my school in Oakland even demanded that we use the actual curricular standard. As if any of my students cared about, “US11.2.1 Know the effect of industrialization on living and working condition, including the portrayal of working conditions and food safety in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.”
He gave us that as an example of what he expected of us: “SWBAT Know the effect of industrialization on living and working condition, including the portrayal of working conditions and food safety in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.”
I just hate, Hate, HATE that phrase.
Don’t get me wrong; I think the concept behind SWBAT is fine. I agree that students should know what they are doing in class today. And, given how often a kid comes in asking, “Mr. Orphal, what are we doing today?” I feel that I can safely assume that they would agree with the spirit of SWBAT, as well.
What I don’t like about SWBAT is the language, “Students will be able to…” In that phrase, it feels to me like the students are objects or machines. They are little automatons who “…will be able to…”
The phrase comes from the teacher’s point of view, expressing what she or he expects the kids to do that day. I know that a lot of teachers post their SWBAT every day. I know that a lot of students look at it when the teacher points. I know that many students even write it down every day. I wonder how many really know it. I wonder how many care.
Instead, I use a Learning Target. It’s not much different than a SWBAT, but those few differences are important.
First, the language. A learning Target starts with “I can…” instead of SWBAT. “I can…” comes from the students point of view. It is affirming. It is as if the students are saying that when they leave this room, they will leave with some knew knowledge or a new skill. Or maybe it’s the student affirming that when they leave they will be even better at an old skill. Either way, it’s affirming.
Second, Learning Targets are written in language that students understand and maybe even use. Let’s look back at the SWBAT that my old Oakland principal gave me.
“SWBAT Know the effect of industrialization on living and working condition, including the portrayal of working conditions and food safety in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.”
Now my Learning Target:
“I can describe what it was like to work in a factory in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I can explain how books like The Jungle got people concerned about safe food and good working conditions.”
Just some small changes, but those changes make a world of difference.
How do I know it works? Occasionally an administrator comes into class. When they ask me what the kids are doing today, I ask them to ask the students. When they do [and continuing with our example], the kids say that they are learning about working conditions in around 1900…” and then they describe those conditions to the adult.
Are they learning today? Their answer is,