When I was a student, back in the dark ages, teachers gave out assignments all the time. We did them, we got them back marked and we went on to the next one. I don’t remember ever really thinking about why I was doing something (other than the teacher told me to) or how I would know if it was any good or not. My experience was probably the norm.
And now we have learning goals, success criteria and rubrics. The research said we had to make sure that students knew what they were doing, why they were doing it and how they would know if they were on the right track. I agree with all of that. But I do wonder if we haven’t gone a little overboard and incorporated too much of the teacher-talk into the student learning.
A couple of things have happened this week that have caused me to reflect.
First of all I came across this quote on twitter:
Posting a learning target [goal] before a lesson is like announcing what a gift is before it’s opened. Post a question. Bring curiosity and thinking to the classroom.
Next I was perusing Pinterest and saw a picture of the following math learning goal and success criteria for the lesson of the day:
Learning goal: I can find the area of the patio.
1. I will draw a diagram and label it. I will label the dimensions.
2. I will express my answer in metres squared.
3. I will use the formula l x w = A.
4. I will have a concluding sentence.
I would argue that those really are the instructions for how to solve the problem and by posting them, students do not need to think very deeply about what to measure, how to solve the problem, or which mathematical strategies would lead to the answer.
A teacher came to me and relayed the following story. He is used to posting learning goals at the beginning of learning cycles but had forgotten to do so this time. So, as bell work he asked his students to write what they thought the learning goals of his new literature circles were even though they were a week into the learning. He was thrilled, and a bit surprised, that they were “bang on”. Perhaps it is more valuable when students are able to uncover the purpose of the work instead of just being told what it is. Obviously his students were engaged in their learning and could see the purpose for it.
Another teacher was starting Readers’ Notebooks in the classroom for the first time and had immediately given out the rubric. She was disappointed with what the students produced; they were so focussed on the language of the rubric that their letters and responses seemed contrived. For the second class of the day, she gave the same mini-lesson but did not give out the rubric. That class’ work was “far better”. When we are just learning to do something, we need some mucking about time before we can really look at our work and try to make improvements. I remember when I first started throwing pots on the wheel, I would not have wanted a rubric of the perfect mug with which to compare my first feeble efforts. Once I had some experience, some lessons, some practice, then I was able to critically look at my attempts and compare them to a standard.
Another teacher and I were discussing learning goals and success criteria and all the different ways that we can express those within the classroom environment: anchor charts, text deconstruction, checklists, personal goals, statements about good readers and writers. In the end we decided that the supports we co-create with students to scaffold their learning, are in essence the learning goals and success criteria. Really, the benchmark for knowing if students understand the learning goals and success criteria is when they can answer questions like these:
Why are you working on this? How will you know it is good? What goal are you working on? How will you know if your answer is reasonable? How will you know when you are finished? What can you do if you don’t know what to do?
A group of teachers and I were meeting and there was some lamenting about students who always wanted to know their “mark”. And while the teacher was trying to give “grade-less” feedback, the student was focussed on the mark.
Perhaps we as teachers have created this mindset with all of the best of intentions. In trying to make the assessment piece transparent for students, have we removed their ability to wonder, question, and risk? Can we provide students with learning opportunities where they have time to explore, think, create, marvel, try, imagine, construct and “muck about” while still being fair in our assessment practices? I think we can. We may need to readjust, at times, the presentation and timing of our learning goals and success criteria.