Saturday, 25 May 2013

Learning Goals in the Drivers Seat

I recently began reading “The Art andScience of Teaching” by Robert Marzano and have found it to be extremely useful on a number of levels.  Firstly, it has reminded me of many practices that I had forgotten or which had fallen by the wayside as new ideas were explored.  Secondly, I have been exposed to some new and innovative ways to implement best practice in my classroom or new twists on old practices. Finally, I have also learned quite a few new strategies and techniques, which I am going to use to inform my practice.

Like many of you, I learn most effectively when I find ways to integrate what I have just learnt into what I already know, so that it ceases to be new knowledge, but instead just becomes my knowledge. To that purpose, the next few blog posts will be my reflection on how I can effectively integrate what I am learning into what I already do.

Setting Effective Learning Goals

Learning goals are statements which define what a student will know (declarative knowledge) or be able to do (procedural knowledge) by the end of the lesson or unit of work. These are most useful when expressed in terms of “the students will be able to…” or “the students will understand…”. Fortunately for me in both the Queensland and Australian curriculums learning goals are expressed this way. Setting too many learning goals for any particular unit of work makes it difficult for students to focus on what they should be learning.  Not only should learning goals by determined by the teacher, but having students create their own learning goals is a great way to engage them in ownership of their learning. 

In my current Year 9 class, some students are lacking the skills to be independent learners. To improve this I have been embedding opportunities into the unit design for students to identify their strengths and weaknesses in this area and hopefully improve. One example of this is that in their current project the students have both collaborative and individual components to complete.  Every fortnight students have a simple rubric to highlight where they evaluate team work skills of both their team members and themselves. Students evaluate each team member, including themselves on:
  • Providing ideas
  • Providing solutions
  • Positive attitude
  • Focus on the task
  • Being a respectful group member
This originally began as a means of accountability until I realized that it was a much more powerful tool when students had to also look at their own behavior within the team and not just judge others.

At the bottom of the rubric is  an opportunity for the students to reflect on their behavior as an independent learner. The five behaviours are being reflected upon are:
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Focusing on the task
  • Requesting clarification
  • Organisation skills
  • Ability to work independently

This is a great idea to help students identify their weaknesses and to see what they should be aiming for however falls down because it is once again teacher imposed.  In my next unit of work I am going to ask students to identify their own learning goal and offer the behaviours we have already been working on as suggestions of they may like to use to establish their own learning goal\s.

Assessing Learning Goals

In my education system we have criteria set by regulatory authorities to determine student achievement based on their performance. What they don’t do is help students to be able to determine how they are incrementally improving as they work towards attaining the learning goal. Whilst I have to use the mandated criteria for determining student level of achievement on summative assessment, I have decided to use learning goal rubrics on all formative pieces of assessment and have the students track their learning progress as they acquire the knowledge\skill of the learning goal.

Marzano recommends a rubric scale of 0-4 in his simplified scale; 0 meaning that even assisted the student can demonstrate no skill or understanding; progressing through levels of assistance, complexity and types of errors to 4 where the student can apply the knowledge\skill and make inferences beyond the explicit teaching of the classroom.  In addition, he recommends that students track their learning through the levels and that all improvements are counted as successes and celebrated.

My students are currently studying a unit of graphic design including learning to use Photoshop. When they enter my classroom for the first time, most of the students would be a 0 as they have no prior knowledge of how to use the software.  As the unit progresses and they learn new tools and effects students will move away from teacher supported learning to the application of skills and procedures which have been explicitly taught.  Finally, some students will be able to move past that which has been explicitly taught into the classroom and be able to investigate and extrapolate to use the software in new ways.

Marking student work using this rubric is much more friendly to students in terms of supporting their development of the learning goals.  In addition, having students self reflect to determine what level they think they are operating at gives me opportunity to work with the student to determine what they need to do to move to the next level using a common language. As a means of encouraging continuous improvement I am also going to have the students plot their marks on a graph so that they can see their improvement over the unit of work. Finally and most importantly I’m going to remember to praise and publicly acknowledge everyone who is moving in a positive direction regardless of whether that movement is from 0-1 or 3-4.


In my next unit of work I’m going to use learning goals in the following way:
  1. Identify learning goals
  2. Have students identify a learning goal for themselves
  3. Create a rubric for each learning goal (for formative assessment)
  4. Use the rubric to grade formative assessment
  5. Have students self-reflect using the rubric
  6. Give all students a graph on which to plot their results
  7. Celebrate successes