Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Learning Targets: Chapter 1 Reflections


In our district, Northwest ISD, we adopted a five-year strategic plan this year that includes a number of ambitious goals.  First and foremost, our #1 operational goal states: Northwest ISD will design dynamic learning experiences to ensure that all students are future-ready learners.”  When faced with such an ambitious task, often determining a starting point is the most difficult part of the challenge. During our Leadership Team Academy this August, each campus will bring a team of teacher leaders to continue the work of designing dynamic learning experiences for our students.  One of the resources we will use is the book Learning Targets by Connie Moss and Susan Brookhart.  I will be offering some reflections and questions from a chapter each week in this blog in order to prepare for the discussion.

In their book, Moss and Brookhart, outline an excellent process for intentionally planning lessons in a way that insures all stakeholders (students, teachers, and administrators) are consistently working towards the same goal.  They also share their own theory of action:  The most effective teaching and the most meaningful student learning happen when teachers design the right learning target for today’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding.” (pg 9)

While many versions of learning targets (some might call them learning objectives) are actively used in schools, for the purposes of their book, the authors specifically note that a learning target must be shared by both the student(s) and the teacher.  This has very specific implications for the way teachers plan lessons, the way they formatively assess students during a lesson, and the way they assess their own instruction about what works and what doesn’t.

Maybe the largest implication of Learning Targets in Chapter 1, revolves around the effects on professional learning communities (PLC). Designing and sharing specific learning targets to enhance lessons requires teachers to continually work together to establish exactly what the students will learn and just as important, teacher look-fors to guide instructional decisions during their lessons.  When used correctly, learning targets should guide lessons as teachers work to meet the learning goals of all students.  In addition, campus administrators that facilitate PLC discussions, create schedules and expectations for these things to happen on their campus, and to provide feedback on the quality of the learning target implementation play an essential role in successful implementation.

Finally, as the authors so clearly state, “Improving the teaching-learning process requires everyone in the school- teachers, students, and administrators- to have specific learning targets and look-fors.”

Reflective Questions from Chapter One:
  •       Our espoused theory of action is what we say we believe; our theory of use is what actually guides our day-to-day behaviors. On your campus, where are these two theories aligned and where are they in conflict?
  •      Do you have your own theory of action about quality instruction?
  •       What implications does fully implementing the formative learning cycle have on your current practices?



Please post thoughts, reflections, and questions about Chapter One…we learn best together.

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting. The blog conceptually reminds me of the Spurs. Their successes can be largely attributed to their goal of creating a culture that focus' on the development in all areas of the team. They know the values and norms of the organization and they have a map to where the organization is headed. New players are added and they accept their role to help the team. We are very similar to the World Champion San Antonio Spurs.

    NISD has the ENDS and the WAYS and the MEANS.

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  2. A few years back as NISD moved forward in improving our practice via PLCs, SBBBs, Leading and Learning, and Focused Walkthroughs, it was described that we were moving from a country dirt road, to a paved street, and eventually on to a highway with few stops or bumps. So much of what NISD has done now has us on the smooth highway for a journey toward student-driven success. Learning targets pushes teachers, administrators and students to examine more deeply the learning practices we have in place. Learning targets describes very explicitly elements of learning that are being done out of a natural process of good instruction. What is incredible is that this book defines and refines that natural process of good instruction with clarity stating what should be consistently done to consistently get improved student performance. I see the tie between this and the "Fundamental Five" and more importantly "Feedback" by Pollock. When I read this the first time a little over a year ago, I saw potential, but wasn't sure where to take it. There were parts that were implementable: purposeful goal setting, questioning, differentiating instruction, etc. What I struggled with when I read LT the first time, that now I see with clarity, is how to develop student ownership of the learning targets. Students, when given the opportunity and coached to advocate for their own feedback, assess their own mastery (being able to provide evidence in academic language of this) and identify their own "look-fors" is a place that I see NISD moving towards and creates the most dynamic of learning environments.

    I do wonder as we forge forward, are their conventions of tradition that we need to "clear out" to move forward? To ensure all of NISD is moving toward a cohesive set of criteria will there be opportunities for PLCs, classroom instruction, Leadership Discussions, etc. be shared virtually so that everyone can have access to learn through and with each other?

    Excited to see where this discussion goes, and yes, I agree with Andy... we are World Champions and we intend to keep that title. Having a map and knowing our roles makes that continuous pursuit of excellence a journey that will benefit all, but most importantly our students.

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  3. I feel we are poised for even more greatness with the incorporation of Learning Targets. I feel they are the next instructional step as we move forward. We are fortunate enough to have strong pillars of instructional foundations in our use of Fund 5, workshop model, focused walks, instructional rounds, sbbbs, etc... With the addition of learning targets, it gives us a laser-like focus for raising student achievement. Pg 8 states "Our beliefs are the best predictors or our actions..." - this will be a focus for us this year as we continue to hone our instruction. Do we walk the talk? We say PLCs are important, but have we really become one? We say focusing on student achievement is key, but are we intentional about our lesson planning? Our journey into learning targets fits perfectly with our needs as a campus in propelling forward and creating sustained student achievement.

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  4. I loved this chapter for so many reasons! Having only worked in NISD for 10 years, I have been blessed with so much PD that it makes my head spin! I know, as well as many others, the "right words" to say when asked, which correlates with the espoused theory of action of what we believe, but when it comes to the theory of use, that is where breakdown occurs. As it said in the book, Ts will often say what they need to say in front of central office and administrators, but when they go back to their rooms and the door closes, they go back to what they think works or what they think might be right. With the transition to adding a learning target to the objective, we will be changing the game. That level of specificity will force those really not participating in PLCs to look closely at the objectives and really dig down to the nitty gritty and pull out the learning targets and start asking themselves what do the Ss really need to know and do for me to know that they have understanding of what needs to be learned. This is a game changer for me as a team leader, to build the capacity of my little team of teachers to understand the importance of knowing the learning target. Getting my students to understand and take ownership of their learning objectives has always been a struggle for me, but after reading Action Point 4, I understand more clearly the benefits of the Ss understanding of the learning target and performance of understanding. I can't wait to read the rest of the book and start implementing in my classroom!

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  5. Melissa, I love your honesty and comments! Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading along!

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  6. Stephanie EspinosaJune 22, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    I could go on and on about this chapter, but I will try to limit it to a few comments! When considering the espoused theory we unfortunately don't always see teachers living by that theory. The question is why? The book uses the example of a teacher that preaches authentic engaging tasks, but gives work that is the equivalent to copying vocabulary or simple recall tasks. In my experience this disconnect can come from many different directions. Some teachers may not have the experience, knowledge, or creativity to plan tasks that are at a high engaging and deep thinking level. They teach as they were taught in many cases and often at a surface level. In short some teachers don't know what rigor is? They don't know what engagement looks like or how to get it. In other cases, it is easier for teachers to talk the talk, but not walk the walk. It is a lot less work to give students a worksheet or a list of vocabulary to define. Whatever the case it is a problem.

    When students understand what they are supposed to be learning they can direct their learning efforts toward that target. Students will better understand their learning targets when adults share, reframe, and connect to the lesson throughout the learning. If everyone truly understands the target than everyone can adjust to the learning. Teachers must understand the standard in order to accurately communicate it to the students throughout the lesson. As the rigor of our SEs increases and especially with new standards in math than understanding of our SEs is even more important!

    As I enter my new role in the district, I can't help but think about our curriculum document. We must ensure that our curriculum leads teachers and students to aim for and reach specific and challenging learning targets. We (all stakeholders) must know exactly where we are headed, plan how to get there, and monitor our progress along the way. We do this as curriculum writers, teachers, and students! Our curriculum and instruction must focus on the essential skills that students need and help the students engage in tasks that require critical thinking, reasoning, and application so that learning is more authentic and embedded in real-world experience.

    When students do not understand the exact learning target than they are unable to speak specifically about their learning. They can't express what they were to get out of the lesson. The learning target isn't a secret it is the most important thing we want them to get out of the lesson, so we shouldn't leave it to chance!

    The last thing I want to point out from Chapter 1, although I could go on and on is figure 1.6 on page 22. Each of those components directly relates to workshop model.

    Model & Explain & Guided Practice - Opening
    Performance of Understanding & Formative Feedback - Work Period
    Formative Feedback & Improved Performance - Closing

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  7. When I was a student teacher, I remember planning the first week of lessons I would teach my students. I used my mentor’s old lesson plans and filled out each little square in my spiral lesson plan book accordingly, and I was so proud of how nice and neat everything fit in those little boxes. After the first day of student-teaching, I wrote commentary about the lesson, and although I wanted to change the next day’s plan based on what I learned about my students’ prior knowledge, I did not. I just knew I was going to be in “trouble” if I did not do exactly what my mentor had done in the past, but that was a mistake on my part. Just like my misconception about my mentor's expectations, there are misconceptions about the district’s expectation for teaching curriculum with “fidelity.” Some new and veteran teachers believe it means they must teach each lesson as it is written in district documents; others believe as long as they are teaching the strategies, processes, and content according to the scope and sequence, they are being true to the curriculum. I am not sure how comfortable teachers are with making “informed decisions about how and when to differentiate instruction” (10) without some clarification regarding the "fidelity" of implementing curriculum.

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    1. I'm not in the classroom (library media center), but I've heard teachers talk about the fidelity issue. If we approach lessons as if reading from a script, professionalism is lost.

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    2. You raise such a valid point, Stacey. Do teachers feel safe enough to take those risks and step outside of the "lesson plan template" box? Sometimes it's easier and safer to do what's always been done, the way it's always been done. I believe our district gives us a safe, risk-free environment to use our profession judgment to make those informed decisions moment by moment.

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  8. I have to say that Stacey expressed exactly what I feel is happening in our district when it comes to Ts planning, writing lesson plans and the teaching of lessons. But, the real issue for me is what I do and require as an AP when it comes to instructional leadership. My actions, energy and time spent needs an adjustment to align with what I believe, what I know to be the best instructional practices for our teachers and students. Hope all of us(teachers, administrators, curriculum directors, etc.)realize that this "is not something else that has been added to our plate" having a learning target will be simply honing how we look at, plan for, write learning targets/lesson plans.

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  9. I have been thinking about chapter one in Learning Targets. Last school year a group of 4th grade teachers began an unofficial PLC group that I believe was a first generation model for this book. As a PLC we looked at where we wanted our students to be, set priorities and created a road map with check points along the way. Several of the initial group helped to write curriculum that will help to shape our district in the areas of Language Arts and Social Studies. Our group grew throughout the school year and we continued to add other interested and engaged teachers. We were sharing ideas weekly and those ideas were tweaked and made better through collaboration and professional conversations.

    We have the technology, the skill, the drive and the energy to be greater than we are today. We need to understand our students in new ways and get their BUY IN to what we are teaching/facilitating in the classroom. Kids need to see the relevancy of what they are doing. Students should be part of the learning process and should be helping to plan our lessons with their thought provoking questions and their classroom debate. It is their future after all. As educators we are the ones driving the learning targets through meaningful lesson planning that truly helps our students understand the standards that we are teaching. We need to reach beyond the minimal competency and push towards academic advancement.

    Successful students are those that become college and future ready.

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    1. I fully agree with your comment on student buy in. Probably what I like most about learning targets is that they are "student-friendly..." (p. 9). Taking out the educational jargon and making the learning goal/task transparent to students gives them some ownership of the lesson.

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  10. The pages that spoke the loudest to me were pages 10-11 where the effects of the target will be on teachers, students, principals and central office administrators. As a teacher I feel the constant need to focus on what I can do day to day to promote and develop the students academically. I try to take into account what they might be facing that day, that week, and perhaps even try to think about the situations each student might be facing at home. This is when I try to think which partners might help, guide, and encourage them the most during that lesson.

    My question is how I might help my students REALLY take ownership and make the right decisions every day to continue to make progress, continue to grow in confidence, and become more and more confident and competent learners!

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  11. I continue to be intrigued by this idea of a double-loop. Do beliefs=action? We say we are learners but do we all welcome the critical scrutiny? "Double loop learning is how vibrant organizations change and grow." Vibrant, change AND grow, belief-altering process. A process...

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    1. As teachers we feel so strongly about our classrooms and our lessons, just like we do our own children. It's hard to put yourself out there and open yourself up for criticism, even if it's constructive. But, if we truly view ourselves as learners then we must do so.

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  12. I believe targets are only accomplished if the system is highly functioning. In order to fully implement the formative learning cycle, I will have to change my own practices as an instructional leader before I can expect my teachers to carry out the plan.

    It takes constant reflection and a willingness to learn from my mistakes, accept constructive feedback and not becoming "an average is acceptable leader". I must admit, life happening on a daily basis can and has on occasion impacted my ability to be effective. Or at least be effective to the standard in which I feel has made a difference in the life of my stakeholders. What I can control, I need to control...I will control. What I cannot control, I need to leave it alone (my type A personality conflicts with this advice).

    By the way, I noticed you are reading Unmistakeable Impact by Dr. Jim Knight. The book is powerful. Being training by him and meeting with him personally helped shaped my way of thinking. I understand now how to narrow my focus and mastering the objective prior to moving forward. Hitting a target requires focusing, aiming and firing with all authority. Great read.

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  13. I had many thoughts while reading this chapter. The one that kept coming back to mind was that as a team leader and teacher, I have to reflect and change if I expect my team and my students to. I love change. I love to learn and I love to grow so that's not the problem. It is a lot easier to stay in the comfort zone. Very little progress takes place in the comfort zone. In my opinion, the students are easily molded. The challenge is getting adults to be willing to change when they realize that what they are continually doing is not working. It's not easy and many times people go running back to the comfort zone!

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  14. There were many resounding themes that kept coming back to me as I read this first chapter: Establish teacher look-fors to guide instructional decisions, students setting specific goals for what they will accomplish, teachers giving specific feedback, each lesson should have a specific purpose, write learning targets in "student friendly" language, etc. We have come so far in the past several years with a common language throughout our district, yet we still go into classrooms throughout the district where the learning objectives are too broad, the students are doing "work" that has nothing to do with the learning objective, and there are no formative assessments that truly inform instruction. What is missing? I believe it's the "active" part of the student. I really like the sentence on page 17, "If neither half of the learning team - students nor teachers- knows where the learning is headed, then neither one can make informed decisions about how to get there. We need EVERYONE involved...not just the teachers, not just the students!

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  15. Action point 7 spoke to me as I was reading this chapter for several reasons. First, the student look-fors mentioned previously are student friendly and provide the criteria for success (pg.24). Second, it requires meaningful and reliable feedback. I wanted to personally work on this area of my teaching this year during formative assessments and small groups. Third, I kept thinking about how the learning target actions relate to our NISD profile of a graduate. This theory will help our students be ready for personal success.

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  16. Several things stood out for me in this first chapter.
    1. Espoused theory vs. theory in use: How often do I make sure these two mesh in my classroom? Admittedly, not 100% of the time.
    2. Learning targets are student friendly descriptions. They are not written exclusively for myself or for someone walking through my classroom. If they are to be used by both myself and my students, then my students must understand them.
    3. Formative assessment/learning is a cycle. Second chances make the difference. Students and teachers should be encouraged to examine errors and missteps and use this to adjust our path.
    4. "Best practices" may not always be the best practices to positively affect student learning.

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