A combination of my ongoing mentoring of an M.Ed. student, a request by a commenter (Ian Guest) and some broken links on the newly-restored teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk has spurred me to write this post.
As a teacher, I’ve never really known a world before learning objectives. It was certainly something that was expected of me during my PGCE at Durham University and from then on in my teaching career. And, to be fair, it’s fairly obvious why. If a learner knows what’s expected of them, and then can ascertain whether they’ve achieved a learning goal, then they’ve been successful.
However, I’ve seen learning objectives used really badly. I’ve seen a ‘learning objective’ that ran something like:
To know who the Romans were.
How would a learner or teacher know whether any type of meaningful learning has taken place with this as a learning objective?! A far better one would be:
To list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.
This is SMART – i.e.
Specific – ‘list 3 ways’ tells students exactly what to expect.
Measurable – both students and the teacher can tell whether the learning objective has been attained.
Achievable – the learning objective is open-ended enough to allow for effective differentiation.
Realistic – this particular learning objective doesn’t really require any prior learning.
Time-related – students need to have achieved this learning objective by the end of the lesson.
Even better practice would be to use ALL, MOST and SOME with learning objectives. This allows for even more differentiation and sets and explicit baseline for all learners.
To use the above example again:
ALL students should: list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.
MOST students should: decide which Roman innovation has been most profound.
SOME students should: explain how Roman innovations have changed/evolved over the last 2,000 years.
It’s only after the learning objectives have been formulated that lesson activities and resources should be prepared. After all, if the activities and resources aren’t focused on learning, what are they focused upon?
Do you have a view or some advice on learning objectives? Share it in the comments below! 🙂
I was delighted to welcome my mother home from her three-and-a-half week visit to the UAE at the weekend. We got talking about what she’d been up to and she mentioned that she’d spent a lot of time reading books. In fact, she said, it was refreshing not to be constantly bombarded with information from the UK media. What followed was an interesting conversation between us in which I advocated carefully selecting a range of (conflicting) media perspectives from which to draw information and form opinions. The answer is not necessarily to cull the number of news sources but to make sure they’re not all telling you the same thing… 😉
To that end I was looking for more places from which to get my information instead of the same-old, same-old, when I came across The Twitter Times. This takes not only stories linked to by those you follow on Twitter, but those of ‘friends of friends’. You may argue that everyone in my Twitter network is likely to be related to education in some way. That’s correct, but some are tangentially connected to that topic and have networks that span many other disciplines and interests. You can see my Twitter Times and judge for yourself here.
The Google Wave post is a reasonable one but I found another post by the author (Daniel Tenner) more interesting. Entitled Counting hours doesn’t make sense it included this gem:
When we measure results instead of hours, something interesting happens: the distinction between work and not-work blurs away and vanishes, for two reasons. First, clever ideas can make a huge difference to results, and ideas occur anywhere, at any time. In fact, they’re least likely to occur while sitting at a desk working. Secondly, it soon becomes obvious that our actual output of things done is correlated far more to how we feel on the day than to how many hours we spend “working”. The real measure of work is not hours – it’s energy.
We all have a certain amount of energy each day, that can fluctuate depending the day, on our general level of fitness, nutrition, health, state of mind, etc. Some activities (such as going to the gym) increase our daily pool of energy. Others (such as staying up all night or getting drunk every evening) decrease our daily pool of energy.
‘Productivity’ by the hours one works is implicit in our culture. It’s the reason that, despite increased efficiencies and an ever-increasing population, we work longer hours now than ever before.
My wife thinks that I work all of the time. And she’s right, I do. But then it depends what you mean by ‘work’. I’m just as I’m likely to think of something related to elearning in the shower at home as I am about football when I’m in the office. It would make as much sense to say that there’s a synergy between my work and my leisure interests. Consequently, it makes no sense to demarcate and delineate ideas and energy to physical spaces, especially when we live in such a connected world.
It’s always struck me as strange that despite what we know about physiological and psychological ebbs and flows in human beings we remain tied to straightjacketed corporate routines. And none more so than in education. Take, for example, the (current) Autumn term. Each half-term is usually around 7 weeks long – just at the time when the nights are closing in and energy is likely to be lowest. Which is the shortest term? Spring! We start off the year at an naturally energy-sapping time. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
What’s important in any organization is that the core purpose of that organization is delivered upon. In education that’s the education of young people so they can operate effectively in the adult world. Their minds should have been opened in the process, their horizons raised, and their imaginations fired. That’s unlikely to occur when the adults who surround them are tired and clock-watching.
So when you’re feeling ‘unproductive’ just remember that you’re being human. It’s not about the hours you put in but about the energy you devote and the results you achieve.
Get the energy right and the results – whatever you or your organization decide they should be – will follow. 🙂
Revisiting Dan Meyer’s excellent work at dy/dan – especially posts like Graphing Stories (from a couple of years ago)
I don’t know when or how it happened (I suspect high-stakes testing had something to do with it) but we’ve managed to completely disconnect teaching and learning from real-world experience. There’s a few pockets of good practice and glimmers of light, obviously, but behind a lot of what happens in classrooms is “you’re doing this because it’s on the test.”
Thankfully, the three examples above point to something different. Here’s how:
I came across Courtenay Bird’s blog just before I intended to head off to bed one evening this week. Courtenay’s interests lie in sales, marketing, project management and technology. Hence her interest in infographics. Here’s an example:
It got me thinking about project-based learning and how fantastic creating an infographic would be as a learning experience for students. By their very nature infographics demand a level of expertise by the person who creates them. Look at the research David McCandless at Information is Beautiful carries out before producing one of his masterpieces!
Infographics have to reflect real-world issues and do things with data that interests people. They have to be relevant and meaningful. That’s why I think they’re great for what I would called ‘real-world learning’.
I’ve only just come across Morten Oddvik’s work. Morten is an innovative Norwegian educator who focuses on learning outcomes rather than activities. A recent blog post of his – Didactical Project: Cultural or Intercultural Competence? – caught my eye because he’s doing something very difficult: using media-focused cultural references to enhance students’ learning about important (and quite high-level) concepts.
Take a look at this:
As you can see, Morten hasn’t simply taken the rap-music-is-a-form-of-poetry route. Instead he’s done something infinitely more valuable; he’s using something students are already interested in to help them learn about a range of concepts. This is another example of project-based learning. Morten’s focused on learning outcomes and using the content as a scaffold towards that. Great stuff! 😀
3. Real-world problem solving
Finally, I’ve revisited the work of Dan Meyer recently. Dan blogs at dy/dan and is well known within the edublogosphere for his high work rate and high-quality resources. As my Dad’s recently gone to the UAE as a consultant Maths teacher, I’ve been showing him some of the stuff Dan’s been up to.
I think one of my favourite posts by Dan is one from 2007 entitled Graphing Stories. In it, Dan chronicles not only a formidable amount of work on his part as if it were nothing, but how his high-quality resources and use of human interest led to huge learning gains by his students:
I’ve seen some really bad, disconnected-from-reality lessons during my teaching career thus far. And it has to be said the worst one I ever saw was a Maths lesson. Dan shows on his blog how even the most abstract of concepts can be taught visually, kinaesthetically, and engagingly. That, to me, is what it’s all about!
You should definitely check out his series What Can I Do With This? where Dan takes images and uses them to teach mathematical concepts. Inspiring! :-p
The above shows that if educators focus on learning outcomes rather than activities to take up lesson time (and the high-stakes examinations at the end of a course) then real progress can be made by students. As a subject specialist it paints me to say it, but I think it’s time to move to a project-based curriculum where skills and competencies are focused on rather than simply ‘knowledge’.
Tracey Rosen has a new blog called Teaching is a Verb which focuses on collective action to improve teaching and learning. I’ll leave you with a post she shares in a post entitled Teaching 101:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
There was a great presentation at the TeachMeet that accompanied the Scottish Learning Festival this year. Fearghal Kelly talked about his experiments with giving one of his classes more ownership over their learning. He ran them through the learning objectives and the content they would need to cover and then the student co-created and collaborated on planning what exactly they wanted to do.
Google Wave would be great for this as it allows wiki-like editing but is more threaded and conversation-like. The whole wave can also be ‘replayed’ to see how the thinking of the group evolved over time. It’s something I’d definitely be trying if I had a GCSE or AS/A2-level class… :-p
2. Student feedback
The most powerful learning experiences are those where students have ownership of their learning. That’s been dealt with above. But that’s of no use if students don’t know how to get better in a particular subject or discipline!
That’s why I think Google Wave could be used as an Assessment for Learning tool. Learning as a conversation could be shown in practice through having an individual wave for each student/teacher relationship. Alternatively, these could be small group and ability based to enable peer learning.
I can imagine waves being used for ongoing learning conversations once Google Wave becomes a feature of Google Apps for Education. I’ll certainly be experimenting with it for that purpose! 😀
3. Flattening the walls of the classroom
One of the really exciting things about Google Wave is the ‘bots’ you can add to automate processes. One of these bots allows for the automatic translation of text entered in one language into that of the recipient.
Whilst language teachers may be up in arms about the idea of ‘not needing’ to learn another’s language, I think it could be fantastic for removing barriers for worldwide collaboration. Imagine the power of students having the digital and wave-equivalent of ‘penpals’ in various classrooms around the world.
I’ll admit it. From 2004 up to about 2007 I was a bandwagon-jumper. I wanted to be the early adopter, the first to use pretty much anything to do with educational technology in the classroom. But that came at a cost. That cost – and it’s difficult for me to admit this to myself – was borne by my students who had a teacher who was too focused on the shiny shiny and not learning outcomes.
The trouble with bandwagon-jumping is that you’re not entirely sure where that bandwagon is headed; whether it fits in with where you want you and your students need to go; whether it’s potentially dangerous territory to head into. The bandwagon may be driven by sensible, rationale people in it for the long-haul, or you could be left stranded in the middle of nowhere by overnight cowboys. That’s not a safe place for teachers or students to be – even in a metaphorical sense.
Much better then to be a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker knows where they want to go. They don’t mind the odd detour or two so long as they get there. Whilst the destination is of ultimate importance, the journey is also important and life-enriching. So too educators who choose to be metaphorical hitchhikers. Sometimes we can ‘go it alone’ with our classes to blaze new trails to destinations, but often it’s better (and safer) to stick with others and figure things out together.
So if others use new technologies, websites and services before me, that’s fine. I’ll use them when it’s time for me to head that way, when my own or my classes investigations necessitate us exploring those areas.
Until then, I’ll leave the bandwagons to others. :-p
There’s a couple of lines in the otherwise-average film In The Loop that not only made me laugh but made me think. At one point in the film, a British civil servant is remonstrating with his US counterpart. They end up in a very modern-looking chapel within a government building. The British civil servant starts shouting and swearing at which point the American reminds him that they’re in a sacred place, adding:
Neither of us believes that, but it’s a convenient hypocrisy.
I’ve realised that convenient hypocrisies happen often. Unfortunately, I believe it happens with assessment in UK schools every day. 🙁
Now I’m no expert on assessment, but even I know that research has established the following:
Students regress as well as progress due to emotional, psychological, sociological (and other) factors.
National curriculum levels and sub-levels are intended as summative, end of Key Stage assessments.
Not all students progress at the same rate.
Yet, in all of the schools I’ve worked in during my teaching career, we’ve done the following:
Set students targets based on the number of National Curriculum sub-levels an ‘average student’ will get through during a Key Stage.
Make few allowances as to the reasons why students’ attainment might fluctuate.
‘Level’ as much work as possible when we know that doing so destroys any impact formative comments may have.
Using data systems based on numbers for assessment purposes looks impressive, gives control to senior leaders and produces pretty graphs and reports for parents. But is it useful to students? I’d argue that it’s not. Students become hung up on progressing through National Curriculum levels that aren’t always coherent and meaningful. It’s also very easy for Heads of Department to artificially inflate the National Curriculum levels of students whom they’d like to take their subject at GCSE. After all, if you’re a Year 9 student and you’re on a Level 6b in Geography and a 5c in History, which one are you going to take?
The reason for my inclusion of that particular Dilbert cartoon at the top of this post is that I reckon most UK teachers couldn’t differentiate between a Level 4b and 4a in their subject. In fact, the distinction’s pretty meaningless. I’ve seen some schools use the sub-levels as following:
Level 4c – some work at Level 4 standard
Level 4b – most work at Level 4 standard
Level 4a – all work at Level 4 standard
In that case, why use the sub-levels in the first place? :-s
It’s my belief that Assessment for Learning, that buzz-phrase from a couple of years ago, has been hijacked and contorted into something it’s not. I’m certainly not arguing against students knowing where they’re at in a subject and how to improve. It’s just that using National Curriculum levels as a means for doing this smacks of laziness to me. Instead, professional teachers should be able to convey the key skills, processes and subject knowledge students need to be able to progress. That’s just good teaching.
It should be an easy question. In fact, it’s the one that usually comes in rapid succession after enquiries as to your name and perhaps where you’re from. But ‘what do you do?’ is increasingly a difficult question for me to answer.
If I want to move the conversation onto other things – or indeed to get out of the conversation quickly – I simply say I’m a ‘teacher’. Except I’m not any more (although it is in my portfolio). As a ‘Director of E-Learning’ I’m in a job that has only existed for a couple of years in a handful UK educational institutions
So what do I say? One colleague referred to me recently as ‘Director of Excitement’. Sometimes, to get a cheap laugh, I refer to myself as ‘Chief Geek’. But, whilst there’s a grain of truth in each, neither’s true in its own right.
The acid test is my 85 year-old grandmother who doesn’t really know what the internet is. I find myself at a loss for words to try and explain the world I inhabit. It’s so different to that which she grew up in it’s unreal; we have few common frames of reference.
So what do I do?
I blend digital and physical worlds.
I tell stories about how learning can be.
I show people stuff.
I find the best of the best.
My job’s what I make it. I can live with that. 😀
(N.B. this brief post has been ‘stewing’ a while, but was prompted directly by Chris Messina’s post The Elevator Pitch in which he recounts a similar problem)
I was surprised that Laura Walker’s blog post of her (successful) expression of interest in the ‘Director of E-Learning position at her school was in first place. I was pleased for her, and for Dan Stucke – another Director of E-Learning – whose blog post also featured on the front page.
But… where am I? It sounds a bit egotistical, I know, but I was kind of expecting to be there too. Where’s the link to my Director of E-Learning interview blog post? Some may construe this blog post as a blatant attempt to point out to Google that I’m a Director of E-Learning too, thank you very much and to get my name on that front page.
I’ve been in Devon this past week. Driving back from Exeter to my inlaws’ house I passed the signs for two guest houses:
It got me thinking about the differences in educational opportunities being offered at various schools not only in the same country, but around the world. No doubt, the reason why the guest house at the top in the pictures above is successful is because of the bells and whistles it offers. I should imagine they could get away with relatively poor customer service and offering a ’rounded’ experience as they offer the ‘wow’ factor.
The bottom guest house in the pictures above is probably still in business due to the personality of the proprietors. The fact that they’re still advertising having central heating and a TV shows how behind the times they are, yet they must offer something the others don’t otherwise they would have gone out of business long ago.
Transferring the above into an educational context, it’s easy to see the parallels. The equivalent of the first guest house is the educator who jumps on every new bandwagon, wanting to test everything so they can say they’ve used the newest tools with their students. The equivalent of the second the educator that eschews completely such technologies and continues by force of personality.
I think our students deserve both: committed, personable teachers who are au fait with technology. I’m sick of the false dichotomy between the two.
I’ll be doing my best to promote educational technology in a way that enhances learning in my role as Director of E-Learning this academic year. What will you be doing? 🙂
David Noble (@parslad), a Scottish educator with a long track record of innovative and supportive blogging and podcasting, interviewed me last month. David’s one of the founding members of EdTechRoundUp, so I’ve known him for a while. He too is doing an Ed.D. but hasn’t taken the easy route (as I have) and is actually doing some original research!