…on Learning Objectives

This post expands on ideas I shared, in a series of tweets, with John Finlayson (@MrFinobi) about ‘learning objectives’.

Learning objectives can be a powerful tool in a teacher’s toolkit. At the same time they can be a teacher’s Achilles heel, either tied in with a rigid lesson structure that has been forced upon them or (as I see too often) misunderstood for being a statement of what is going to be produced rather than what is going to be learned.

Learning objectives are integral to assessment for learning

If used correctly, learning objectives can be one of the keys in developing an effective assessment for learning strategy. Dylan Wiliam (considered an expert inAfL) regularly refers back to the following two slides:

Five Key Strategies

Aspects of Formative Assessment

His contention is that learning objectives are an integral part of effective AfL strategy. He argues that sharing of learning objectives opens up a discourse about learning. (Wiliam, 2010) I am inclined to agree and would recommend that all teachers experiment with the way they share learning objectives.

One of the most effective ways to ensure that you are using learning objectives effectively with your students is to consider the work of Shirley Clarke.

Taught Specifics

In her book ‘Formative Assessment in the Secondary Classroom’, Clarke explores the value of learning objectives in significant detail. She discusses the ‘taught specifics’ inherent within learning objectives arguing that teachers need to “move away from “PRODUCT” oriented success criteria to “PROCESS” oriented success criteria” (2005, 30-31).

Taught Specifics

She goes on to argue that if used correctly, process success criteria can set the agenda for the learning and also provide a specific focus for peer and self-assessment activities. Having built Clarke’s approach into my lessons for some time now, I have seen significant improvement in the way my students approach their learning – confident in discussing what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will succeed in doing so.

Clarke also suggests that students should write learning objectives down. This I disagree with. I do not feel it is necessary for students to write down the learning objectives during every lesson. Nor, do I believe that a teacher needs to put the learning objectives on the board during every lesson.

Depending on what is to be learned I take a variety of approaches to introducing the learning objectives. Sometimes, I put the success criteria on the board and then ask students to discuss what they think the learning objective is going to be. Other times, I only put the learning objective on the board and ask the students to decide on what the success criteria will be. This is an important step in developing the discourse about learning that Wiliam refers to.

Discovery

David Didau (@LearningSpy) in a recent blog post discussed the value of ‘discovery learning’, where the teacher does not begin with an objective or question but creates a sense of engagement and curiosity through modelling and student interaction.

So how about trying this? Stride purposefully into the room and, without a word, begin drawing a face on the board. Draw an arrow next to the head and write, “Head like an egg”. Turn to the class to see the reaction. Offer them the pen. Don’t worry if they don’t get it yet, continue by labelling the eye with, “Eye like a crater”. Sooner or later they will begin to join in and end up sputtering with delighted laughter at all the hilarious comparisons they make.

How much better is this than waltzing in with the question, “So, can anyone tell me what a simile is?” Anyone inclined to dismiss discovery learning as nonsense need look no further. The power of students discovering for themselves the point of a simile (or apostrophe, or subordinate clause or whatever) is much more likely to be memorable than their teacher just telling them.

This same approach can be applied to learning objectives. Like many good teachers I do not only spend time discussing where the learning is going but also build in time to reflect on the learning. It can be, again depending on the context, to not reveal the learning objective until the end of the lesson. Allow the students to muddle their way through – it can often be quite liberating and lead to unexpected learning outcomes alongside the ones you intended.

An Incremental View

John’s original tweet asked me if I ‘differentiated’ learning objectives. My response was an unequivocal ‘No’. The reason for this is because I subscribe to an ‘incremental view’ rather than a ‘entity view’ of intelligence and learning (Dweck, 1999). A student’s learning potential is not pre-determined. Both the least and most able students in my classroom have the potential to progress and they need to learn to utilise the same skills in order to pass their exams. As such I feel it is wrong to differentiate objectives by skill or outcome.

The box provided (on my school’s lesson planning sheet) for entering learning objectives is broken down into the following sections: ‘All, Most, Some’. I know this has been set out this way as it is something that Ofsted like to see. However, I am not convinced by it, having never seen the research behind it. I have seen lesson plans dutifully filled in, explaining how different sets of students will learn different skills.

All students will be able to describe…
Most students will be able to analyse…
Some students will be able to evaluate…

Last time I checked, every single one of my students was capable of learning to do all of those skills, if taught the right way. Last time I checked some students found evaluating easier than analysing. Whichever taxonomy you prescribe to (Bloom’s / SOLO), the skills listed do not exist within a hierarchy or on a continuum. They are not linear. Learning is messy. Based on my experiences over the last nine years, learners will acquire different skills at varying rates in varying orders of preference, based on a diverse range of factors.

None of this is to say that I don’t believe in differentiation. I do. In my mind, differentiation is not about learning objectives or outcomes, it is about teaching and learning. Differentiation takes place during the lesson. It is present in the way I formulate groups for discussion and projects. It is present in who I choose to spend my time with during a lesson and what I do with them. It is in how I deploy my learning assistant. It is about focussed differentiation; targeted support; the development of independent learning skills.

The Map

I believe that in a classroom learning objectives should be shared; every student working towards similar goals but in different ways and at different speeds. The learning objectives set the direction of the learning. How the map (success criteria) is formulated however is sometimes up to me and sometimes up to them. Sometimes, we lose the map and get lost along the way. Together, through communication and sharing, we find our way back. And, sometimes there is no map; we get lost on purpose, excited to see where we might end up.


References:

  • Clarke, S. (2005) Formative Assessment in the Secondary Classroom, London: Hodder Murray.
  • Dweck, C. S. (1999) Self-Theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development, Philadelphia, PA: The Psychology Press.
  • Wiliam, D. (2010) Innovation that works. Workshop at SSAT conference, Birmingham, Novemner. Retrieved 28 November 2010 from the World Wide Web: http://web.me.com/dylanwiliam/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Presentations.html

Note to Mark Zuckerberg

Not all friction is bad. Friction provides an opportunity to pause and ask yourself: “Do I really want my friends to know that about me?

You see, it’s not about sharing every unmediated detail. It’s about curating content – adding value by providing notes, riffs and quips.

It’s about context!

Like me, just don’t poke me!

Announcement: James Michie “…a 21st Century Educator” is on Facebook!

Blog FB Page

As I write this I am hearing the word hypocrite echo around my brain. I have on numerous occasions expressed my disdain for the social network, mainly out of my lack of understanding when it comes to peoples’ need to update their status 24/7 with asinine information like “sitting on the loo contemplating the meaning of life” (I swear I did not make that up). The site aggravates me, owing to the fact that the signal/noise ratio is far too skewed in the wrong direction. Just spending time accepting and rejecting friend requests irked me. I mean, surely if I have not stayed in touch with you since I left high school, do you really think I want to be your friend now? And lets not forget “poking”, the sort of behaviour you’d associate with a much younger, rather annoying sibling, validated as appropriate behaviour. Yet here I sit, writing this post, my Facebook account reactivated, having deactivated it over a year ago.

So why, if I am no fan of the whole Facebook thing, would I have reactivated my account?

If you spent 2010 hiding under a rock then you may have missed this but there are (over) 500 million people on Facebook. In anyone’s book that is a lot of people. This blog has grown considerably over the past 11 months and as it approaches its first birthday I see Facebook as an opportunity and nothing more. Facebook is a tool that I plan to harness in order to increase my blogs reach. Amongst that 500 million I am certain I can find a new reader to two.

Reactivating my account was alarmingly simple (very convenient, the way that you’ve been hanging onto all of my personal info, Mr. Zuckerberg). Once I was back in, I set about editing my account, removing all my friends, wall posts, groups and apps. I then spent some time working through the privacy settings till I was satisfied that my profile was minimal and locked down. After a few other tweaks to the way my account works I was satisfied and ready to create a page for this blog. I don’t intend to friend anyone and will not be accepting any friend requests. Sorry to disappoint.

Setting up a page for my blog was very straightforward and I have included just a few elements of key information. I then added my blog to NetworkedBlogs (recommended by Doug Belshaw) and syndicated the feed with the page I had created. So, if you are predisposed to following feeds and websites via Facebook then you can do so by checking out James Michie “…a 21st Century Educator” here. You can like the page, add it to your page favourites and share my posts. To polish off the setup I have added a follow button to my blog sidebar and Facebook share button to the bottom of posts. I am ready to leverage Facebook to my advantage.

A year of blogging…

This all coincided with a few other tweaks I was making to the blog and a bit of cleaning up, getting James Michie “…a 21st Century Educator” ready for its first birthday (less than 10 days to go). I’m very satisfied with the design, features and content of my blog. And, I am more than happy with my blogging journey. It’s been a great ride from Blogger to WordPress; to understanding analytics and SEO; to learning HTML and Javascript; to finding focus – spending time on the writing – the most important part!

So if you are on Facebook, why not go ahead and Like me (the blog that is), but please don’t poke me!

Sharing What You Do Online – FTW!

A little under two years ago I had been teaching for six years but had not considered keeping a blog and I wasn’t on Twitter. Both of these outlets have had a significant impact on my teaching and the learning that takes place in my classroom. This morning I was reminded of just how valuable sharing what you do online is.

Catching up with tweets during New Years Day, I decided, very much on a whim, to have a go at a #365 project. A 365 project is where you take a photo a day for 365 days. I already had a Posterous blog set up that I had been using for posting photos and thoughts that didn’t really fit on this blog. Therefore, I had to do little more than start adding the photos. Having had a significantly hectic day yesterday, I got home, ate dinner and then, while working on my MA realised that I had not posted a photo for the day. In fact, I had not taken any photos at all during the day and there was nothing on my phone or laptop that I felt like posting. Instead, I decided that I would simply post a screen grab of what I was working on at that moment.

Evernote and MA

As you can see I am using Evernote to organise my MA. I have folders set up for each module and within those folders I have note books where I have recorded meetings, research proposals, notes on readings etc. I shared this on a whim, more out of ensuring that I kept up with the #365 project than anything else. I didn’t expect anyone to really look closely at the image. But in this I was wrong. If you zoom in on the image you will see that I was working on my ‘Action Research Proposal’ for my ‘Assessment for Learning‘ module. I have decided to put a ‘No Hands Up’ policy in place with two of my classes. This morning, checking my email, I saw that I had a comment from Christine Roberts (@Christiner733). She shared with me how she deals with the idea of ‘no hands up’ in her classroom and also shared her feelings on how her students respond.

365 Comment

What had been for me more a formality of keeping up with my #365 project; an innocuous post which had no intended outcomes, led to the sharing of good practice and ideas. Once again proving that sharing online is valuable.

For those of you who are not into your acronyms – FTW stands for ‘For The Win’ and I believe this to be true of sharing what you do online. Take the time to reflect on the teaching and learning that takes place in your classroom. There is no better way to do this than to write about it – IMO! Blogging is so simple, particularly with platforms such as Tumblr and Posterous that require almost no set up or web expertise to get started. And join Twitter, there are a plethora of talented and genuinely nice people out there who are willing to share ideas and help you grow as an educator.

In these tough financial times, the sharing of ideas and resources online may just well be the best way forward…

Lifestream

Exploring South America

I’ve added a lifestream to my blog. I had read about the idea via an article [Working on the web – Joss Winn] that Doug Belshaw shared back in November. However, being particularly busy at the time I was unable to act on it. On Saturday, Doug mentioned the article again explaining that he has added a lifestream to his blog. This prompted me to re-visit the article and I decided that I would follow in Joss’ and Doug’s footsteps. Why? Well, it’s important for me to be able to access my shared information and being able to bring it together into one space (that I have control over) is excellent.

Adding a lifestream to my WordPress blog was very easy as there is a plugin that can be installed from within WordPress itself. I have collated the following feeds:

You can access my lifestream from the links bar below my blog header.

I hope that you will find it as useful as I will.

Image by Stuck In Customs.