Student engagement: Can we see it? Can we measure it? Is it possible to even know when and if it is happening? Is it realistic to think that students will be engaged in every lesson, every day?
In Chapter 3 of Learning Targets, Moss and Brookhart define student engagement by “what students actively think about, what their minds are on, rather that what their hands are on, that determine active engagement.” (p. 43) They also pose the importance of sharing learning targets with students, not just at the beginning of the lesson, but throughout, based on formative assessment to make sure students recognize, understand, and aim for what is important to learn during the lesson. With that being said, the performance of understanding remains at the forefront of the planning process and cannot be an afterthought. We have to intentionally plan to connect the daily learning target with compelling evidence of student learning.
Last year, in our district, we were fortunate to begin our first Teacher Leader Academy. A large portion of this Academy focused on building capacity in formative assessment (resources can be found at http://www.snowvance.com). The pieces these teachers learned align perfectly with the performance of understanding cycle outlined by the authors on page 45:
- Embody the learning target
- Promote mastery of essential content
- Develop students’ proficiency in specific reasoning skills
- Provide evidence of student learning
- Prepare students for the elevated degree of challenge that will face them in tomorrow’s lesson
The performance of understanding provides the necessary tool to engage the student. They will own their learning if they understand what they are trying to do and why it is important. I would also add, that the performance of understanding results must inform the teacher on their own level of success and provide a basis to adjust tomorrow’s lesson as well. This year, another group of teachers from each campus will be part of the Teacher Leader Academy…they will be trained in assessment for learning and charged with helping lead their PLC’s design learning targets that include performance of understand.
Chapter 3 also emphasizes a third component to the design cycle: Criteria for Success. This piece is often not used on a consistent basis although we do have several structures in place to allow it to happen. First, the criteria for success must align to the learning target (How many times have we seen a great task displayed that doesn’t match the Student Expectation outlined in the lesson?) and must include the students’ perspective. Teachers should use exemplar pieces of student work, rubrics, and modeling among other things to insure that students understand what quality means. Our district initiative of Standards Based Bulletin Boards are wonderful examples of quality work with commentary from teachers and students, however this happens after the lesson; the success criteria must be embedded “into” the lesson. They must make meaningful learning visible (pg 48).
A final piece of sharing the learning target outlined by the authors is the concept of “make it relevant”. This speaks directly to student engagement. Students in our classrooms today, more than ever, want to know why they need to know the information. Do we remember this as we plan the learning target, performance of understanding, or the criteria for success? If we want students to have ownership of their learning, we must give them a reason to own it. In NISD, our Profile of a Graduate sets an ambitious goal for the type of learner we hope to cultivate. It is a great place to start building the “why” behind learning, however individual lessons must have relevance to the student as well.
As you prepare ways to share learning targets with students, questions to consider:
- Do you believe it is possible to create a relevant learning target that inspires student ownership for each lesson? Why or why not?
- What do you find most difficult in creating performance of understanding for each lesson?
- Do you regularly use student “look-fors” as part of your teaching? How do you share them and how do students articulate they have met the criteria for success?
To see a video describing connecting learning targets to assessment for learning: