Robert's Question

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15 thoughts on “Robert's Question”

  1. I work at an Expeditionary Learning school (Portland, Maine) and we use “learning targets” with our students-so it’s basically the objective of a class-short and long term, but the wording starts with ” I can…” Each learning target has an activity and some kind of assessment attached to it (either formative or summative) which should be connected to standards. The idea is that students are more engaged in their assessments and learning because they know what they are aiming for all along (the target.) Apparently the use of learning targets benefits most the students who struggle the most. Robert, this sounds very similar to what was talked about at that district workshop you attended.
    I am part of a PLC this year which focuses on student engaged assessment and we’ve talked extensively about learning targets. I think within this structure there is room to work backwards. For example, my students and I can come up with a learning target for the class at the end of the class. Because honestly sometimes I don’t want to tell them exactly what and why we’re doing something- part of it is having them figure it out.
    So far I’ve created between 7-10 long term learning targets related to CI and storytelling. Once a week I have students assess themselves on these targets and I give them feedback on their reflection. (See below) I feel like these targets are general enough so that I don’t feel constrained in what and how I’m teaching.
    I have found these learning targets mildly helpful. But at the same time I keep in mind that some of my best classes have been the ones I let go totally off subject (this is pre-CI). After taking a class with Eleanor Duckworth in graduate school (“The Having of Wonderful Ideas”), I too am a firm believer in students constructing their own knowledge. I would happily share these general learning targets with you, and perhaps you could give me some feedback on them? Would you (and the students) feel constrained using these targets/objectives?
    Clase de Español
    Learning Target Self-Evaluation
    4=exceeds target
    3=meets target
    2=partially meets target
    1=doesn’t meet target
    ____I can let the teacher know when I don’t understand something by signaling
    ____I can respond appropriately to the teacher during storytelling with “ohhhhh” and “oh no oh no” and “tengo un secreto.”
    ____I can raise my hand to suggest details to add to story.
    ____I can use only 2 words of English during story telling.
    ____I can correctly gesture when the teacher or my partner says a command in Spanish.
    ____I can help create a positive class culture in which everyone succeeds by…
    ____I can demonstrate my acquisition of the Spanish language by writing a story in Spanish using at least ____words in 10 minutes.
    ___I can use vocabulary that I’ve acquired in class to tell or retell a story based on an illustration.

  2. “By carefully pre-packaging their instruction, are we robbing them of the flexibility and creativity they will need to negotiate life?”
    I’ve thought about this as well. On one hand, schools claim to value and want to teach creativity, while at the same time, demanding “common language and a common set of practices.” What do they consider creativity, anyway?
    We are cooking from scratch here–not adding water to a box of chemicals.

  3. Lori–
    I like that thought–Cooking from scratch here-not adding water to a box of chemicals. I think that kind of authenticity is important for our students to see. It helps those of them that want to figure things out on their own know that is really how life works. There is no magic formula only basic recipes and great expementations!

  4. Even though universities don’t use learning targets, if research shows that it helps, I want to use them. Sometimes it is appropriate to keep the learning target until the end.
    Last year for my learning targets, I just wrote my structures under the phrase “learning target”. This year I wrote up a bunch of learning targets based on the structures for Sabine und Michael, which are the story scripts I use. I also wrote my trimester final based on the learning targets. I think it is kind of nice because of instead of just telling them to study their notes for the final, I have learning targets that say what they should be able to do, so I see it as another tool.
    I know I used “output” language, which I should change, but what I mean by talk is interpersonal communication that they can talk about things with me, where I am doing the talking and they are doing the responding. I will have to rework them.
    Here are some of my learning targets for my first trimester of German 1:
    Knowledge Targets
    “What I need to know”
    1. I can say yes/no, too bad and Ohh in German.
    2. I can talk about school supplies and furniture.
    3. I can point out body parts.
    4. I can respond to present tense of regular action verbs correctly.
    5. I can describe clothing and talk about colors.
    6. I can use and understand prepositions.
    7. I can name animals.
    8. I can name and locate German-speaking countries and cities.
    9. I can say the numbers and letters in German.
    Reasoning Targets
    “What I can do with what I know”
    10. I can recognize cognates.
    11. I can count and spell in German.
    12. I will be able to answer questions.
    13. I will be able to read and answer questions.
    14. I will be able to do actions my teachers asks me to do.
    15. I will be able to talk about myself and others.
    16. I will use correct word order.
    17. I will recognize German names.
    18. I will be able to recognize differences between German and American geography.

  5. Robert, from John Dewey to Plato, Einstein to DaVinci, I am fairly sure the brightest minds of history would say you are RIGHT ON TRACK with having those feelings.

  6. Thanks for the responses so far, everyone.
    Melanie wrote, Even though universities don’t use learning targets, if research shows that it helps, I want to use them. Sometimes it is appropriate to keep the learning target until the end.
    My question is not just, do learning targets/daily objectives help students. It is: “Daily objectives help my students do what?”
    What were the assumptions in these studies? What were they measuring? How long after the presentation of material did they measure it? Students were more successful at what?
    If the studies show only that students were more successful at doing school work, that really doesn’t mean much to me anymore. Did any of these studies track students after graduation from college to see if this sort of pre-packaging helped them to be more successful in life?
    And what do we mean by more successful?
    In the academic setting, did it mean they got better grades? Or did they measure actual learning and acquisition? (One of my favorite German quotes is “Education is what you have after you’ve forgotten everything you learned.”) We all know that grades are an indication of neither true learning nor thinking.
    In the real-world setting, did it mean making more money? By that standard I probably am not very successful (even though my high school graduating class elected me most likely to succeed.) By the standard of a productive and significant life doing something I truly love and making a positive contribution to the world around me, I believe I am very successful.
    So you see, I’m really questioning the validity of the premise for these studies, not just quibbling over results.
    Annemarie and Melanie, I appreciate your contributions, and I think it is good for students to see what they are capable of doing. I talk about “learning targets” with my students: being able to talk about themselves, school, interests, sports, pastimes, family, etc. in German. However, my district is pushing Daily Objectives, i.e. a set of specific things that students should know at the end of class that day. And they want it in a very specific format with specific language. I simply think that true language acquisition is not amenable to that kind of left-brain organization (and I’m a very left-brain person). When I think about first-language acquisition I am aware that parents do not have “Daily Learning Objectives” for their children. They do worry about children who seem to lag behind. However, acquisition and production are not set on a daily timeline.
    Here’s a quote from an article on a baby’s first words: generally babies utter their first words at 11 to 14 months, . . . . Of course, every child reaches this milestone at his own pace, . . . . Notice there is a four-month span of time that is considered “normal” for uttering the first words. Only when the first utterances are significantly delayed beyond this time frame should parents worry.
    That’s a very sharp contrast to the assembly-line, production-on-demand, daily-objective mentality that I see in (public) schools. Where – in any of our classes – is there room to recognize that “Of course, every child reaches this milestone at his own pace . . .”?
    Jim, thanks for the support. Sometimes I almost scare myself with how non-conformist my thinking seems to be. But then I do take seriously this admonition: Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:2, Phillips translation)

    1. What an appropriate verse, Robert–that is what all of us here feel like, I believe:
      practitioners who refuse to be squeezed into the conformists’ mold, educators who–even though we so often fall short–really are striving for true maturity in ourselves as well as in our students. Well said.

    2. It’s a pretty radical thing to let ourselves go to the remoulding work being done from within. We can’t do that and still try to frantically control every little thing we do in our teaching days. At some point we have to trust that everything will turn out all right and that the data hounds who email us into depression really aren’t in charge at all – they just think they are. We may be apt to perceive this work that Robert describes above as personally insulting, but it sure beats getting into fights with jerks. What I hear in this message is not to worry about things so much. It is a good way to describe the entire process of using comprehension based instruction in our instruction – they don’t work if we are worried about them working. What I think of when I read the above is, “Just relax, Ben, it’s going to be just fine, you don’t have to struggle so much or think so much about this. Just enjoy your teaching. Do the best you can.”

  7. Lori and Kate, I didn’t mean to ignore you.
    I like Lori’s analogy, too. We are, indeed, cooking from scratch while grammarians are mixing a bunch of chemicals – and most of them are doing it without water, so they get a dry, unpalatable result.
    Kate, you touch on a key concern. Our schools don’t run the way life really works.

  8. I recently heard and totally agree with the following: the effort to standardize all of the classroom practices is “a Henry Ford answer in a Google world”. (something along those lines)

  9. I agree with all sorts of people here. And I would crumple in a world where I really had to put up my daily objectives. On the other hand, I put up my target structures. And I’ve had my request board up for most of the semester (but the custodian erased it). One kid wants to know how to use dative case. Another wants a focus on numbers. Thus, every time I remember, I do a pop-up when a dative case use has just happened. That’s probably once or twice a week. And whenever I remember to work numbers in, I do that. Then I smile at the kids who requested those things. Nathan and I have been talking about word lists, and it really does help to focus on a set of three or fewer words each day. It keeps us in bounds. If I really had to have objectives, I might do as someone (sorry…falling behind on reading) did here, and have a re-writeable board with the standard practices: PQA–introduce structures: blah, hah and dah. Story–repeat structures. Read–structures from other day.

  10. And Robert…I totally follow you: what period does the research cover? How do the teachers present the targets? How long do they concentrate on them? At what time? What is the group that has been researched? How do the researchers define the teaching method? I’m reminded of what we hear when we propose researching the effects of TPRS, but what probably doesn’t matter when there are people who want to make money on presentations and have sweeping statements to justify themselves.
    I’m getting to trusting only my TPRS fellows about what happens in their rooms. We have such bad results everywhere else that I begin to think that researchers are helping publishers create numbers out of thin air. Kids are still learning something, but that’s only because humans instinctively want to learn and very little can stop us completely. Lots of practices we see daily in schools impede learning, from interactions to grading systems.

  11. Well, our schools work the way the money goes. and if you follow the money you see that it is all bound up in a few key politicians hands who also hold the keys to the front doors of the businesses and state houses that profit the most from keeping us hopping on the education bandwagon buying into this gimmick and that one literally with our education dollars.
    I think you are right on for calling into question what is it that we are supposed to be doing? Daily objectives? That was the lesson plan right?
    Teaching kids how to learn was what I thought education was about. But somehow we’ve been legislated the most mind-numbing ways to do it (“but you all be creative about it–while you are checking off those benchmarks and standards–creativity counts”).
    I am a huge list maker. I love checking off the boxes that I finished this. I get real satisfaction. My beloved Gus, he doesn’t make lists. I LOVE getting the gold star. And there are a bunch of teachers just like me out there killing themselves over little gold stars that don’t exist. I believe this whole accountability trip is a way to keep draining dollars from our budgets because we didn’t reach the target. “Just keep raising the bar until they choke themselves on it, but don’t forget to tie the kids’ success to their success so the voters will think they are the problem not us.”
    Oh I feel a huge rant coming on, so I’m just going to let this all go.
    I am grateful for Mrs. Buckley in 6th grade who explained to me that I was a life long learner and I should direct my own education. I am grateful she took me aside and told me the best and most honest thing I could ever do in life was “to be yourself.” I am grateful for every teacher of mine who invested time in seeing that I took just the next step in pushing myself to succeed that includes:
    the two auto mechanics who agreed to hire a 25 year old mom and feminist and taught me how to handle tools and work with men,
    my Elders who put up with me until I was ready to open my heart to their teachings
    and my Mom who just knew as crazy as I was I’d make something of myself someday that would please me (and in the end that is the only person who actually needs to give me a gold star–me)
    Not a one of them ever got paid enough.
    and I am grateful for those kids who show up everyday in my program to learn how to be life long learner right beside me and push me to be at my best as a fellower learner in life’s classroom.

    1. My take on all of this is that amorphous paradigms are being thrown at us by people who know nothing about the dynamics of our content area, which is language acquisition driven by comprehensible (and compelling) input, and perhaps nothing about education in general. My school district is currently foisting upon all of us another such amorphous paradigm in which observers will come into our classrooms and look for a balance of direct instruction, group work, etc. I remember years back having to make my class conform to Madeleine Hunter’s framework for lesson planning, which consisted of anticipatory sets, transitions, direct instruction, independent work, etc., all of which had very little to nothing to do with the heart and soul of our trade, which I believe is delivering comprehensible input in the most engaging and interesting way possible. With the increasing number of people from the business world who are being put in charge of our educational system, we are going to see more and more frameworks and paradigms foisted upon us that are at the minimum nuisances and at worst pure poison. I recently saw statistics on the percentage of college students from the U.S. in business and science as compared to the main industrialized countries of the world. We have a very high percentage graduating in business and a very low percentage in science and engineering. It’s not a very encouraging picture.

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