So, I’ve got this PD (professional development or professional learning) session that I get asked to lead. I’ve conducted the PD session probably six or seven times in and out of my school district. I think it’s pretty powerful on the whole, but I’ve got to tell you, I’ve grown to hate the topic…learning targets. If you don’t know what a learning targets is, here’s a quick lesson:
A learning target is one sentence and represents what the students should be able to do at the end of that day’s lesson. They usually begin with either “I can” or “Student will be able to”. This is followed by a verb associated with Bloom’s taxonomy and finished off with the topic being studied. Here are some examples:
“I can explain major differences between the cognitive and behavioral perspectives of psychology.”
“Student will be able to convert fractions into decimals.”
I remember discussing learning targets while in graduate school some 15 years ago and they continue to be something I’m instructed to write on the board daily. It’s really nice when administration walks in, sees that you’ve written your learning target on the board, and you know you’re not going to get dinged for that aspect of the lesson (#sarcasm). Are they beneficial? Depends. Like a lot of things in education, they can be used effectively or they can be a complete waste of Expo marker.
As I’ve refined the session over the past year, I’ve started to begin the presentation with this statement: “This is about learning targets, but it’s not really about learning targets.” By that, I mean it certainly is good for students to know the endgame or big picture of the lesson, but I’m not sure this has to be accomplished by something called a learning target. Beginning a class session with a conversation about the day’s topic can access student prior learning (and schemas) and assist with retention of material for students to understand how the day’s material all fits together. It’s a bit like completing a jigsaw puzzle. With an explanation or conversation at the beginning of class to discuss the information for the day, the students are metaphorically given the top of the puzzle box that shows what picture they are creating. The individual pieces of the puzzle are the facts/ideas/concepts to be introduced during the lesson that fit together nicely and create a completed puzzle which represents, hopefully, understanding of the material. Without a clear image of what the big picture is, it can be harder to connect the information and put the puzzle together. At best, the puzzle is completed, but in a quite inefficient manner.
Imagine I have two groups of people and each has a 100 piece puzzle to complete. Group 1 is allowed to see the top of the box while working and group 2 is not allowed to see their box top. Who will finish first? Who will be more efficient and effective with their time? Group 1, right? Which group would you like to be a part of?
Does all of this have to be accomplished with a learning target written on the board? Of course not. Can it be attained that way? Of course…as long as there’s a conversation or discussion in addition. Again, it’s about the learning target, but it’s not really about the learning target. It’s really just about learning.
What activities do you use in your class to access student prior knowledge?
How do you help your students see the big picture and put the puzzle pieces together?