Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Who Owns the Learning? Learning Targets: Chapter 5

For years, educators everywhere have held up the mantra proudly that “It’s all about the kids!”  In Chapter 5, some of Moss and Brookhart’s insights hit me right in the face as I consider my own teaching and the instructional work I have led in my career because while we like to say its all about the kids, we often make it about the adults in our buildings.  The opening line in the chapter, “Students are the most important DECISION MAKERS in the classroom,” got my attention right away.  We often say that students are the most important part of the classroom, but the most important decision makers? Taken in that context, I am not sure our actions consistently model a student-centered approach to the formative assessment cycle.  As educators, we have to admit that while we can force compliance for many things, students decide how engaged they are in their learning and how much in means to them.  Now, our actions certainly can influence and motivate students…sometimes we can even manipulate them; but if we are developing assessment-capable students, as the author suggests, we must put them in position and expect them to monitor their own learning.

I have to admit, this chapter really solidified the need for teachers and students to work as partners in learning.  The two-way conversation that is essential around a learning target, success criteria, and performance standards must have complete understanding from both sides.  One of the pieces that I know I often miss when speaking with students on classroom visits, is having them share where they are in their learning/progress as compared to the success criteria.  I like to ask what the learning objective, goal, target, etc. is but that is really fairly generic unless it means something to the student in terms of their own learning.  I slight phrase change can make all the difference!!!  Another piece of developing assessment-capable students that I believe we are right on the verge of connecting, is self-reflection.  However, the authors point out some subtle differences that may help teachers and students move forward at a greater pace.  In NISD student commentary has become a regular practice as students reflect on how their work meets a particular standard in an assignment (especially on SBBBs, but also journaling and other activities), but what we need to make sure they are doing is “translating their self-assessment into action plans for improvement” (p. 80). 

“Self-Assesssing without making an action plan for improvement is like reading a recipe without actually preparing the dish: it’s nice to think about, but it doesn’t help get dinner on the table.” (p. 89)

This of course brings me to goal-setting.  Numerous studies have shown that goal-setting is one of the leading factors influencing student achievement.  The authors use John Hattie’s research to point out that students being able to know where they are in relation to a standard and use the information to set goals as the number one factor for improving student achievement.” (p. 80)  What it doesn’t mention is the impact of short-term vs. long-term goals and the impact they can have.  When starting anything new, don’t we all want to have some immediate success?  Maybe it is with a new exercise plan, a diet, or some home improvement, but the feeling of seeing results immediately and still having a success criteria in mind is powerful.  This is the beauty of Learning Targets!!  They are meant for DAILY learning to build toward a long term learning objective.  Students need to know for themselves how they did today and where they are headed tomorrow.

Rick DuFour and others have made four simple PLC questions famous:
·      What do I want students to know?
·      How am I going to teach it?
·      How will I know if they have learned it?
·      What will I do if the don’t? (or Do?)

These are essential questions for teachers to answer as they plan lessons, however the ownership is on the teacher, not the student.  Moss and Brookhart add to these questions by posing two for students as well:
·      What am I learning (the learning target)?
·      How will I know when I have learned it (the success criteria)?

Students must be able to assess where they are in the learning process in order to set goals to move forward.

Chapter 5 gives lots of examples of ways teachers can help students monitor their own learning.  I am curious, what are some strategies that are most successful for you?



  1. I agree! I, too, highlighted the very first sentence in this chapter. In a world where we say it's all about the students, we need to ensure that our actions match our beliefs. Another highlighted statement for me also occurred on that page..."But unless a student engages with these, very little learning occurs." I have had the privilege of seeing teachers move beyond the compliance of the I will/We will statements to having the students interact with the objectives on a daily basis and at multiple points throughout the lesson. In fact, I regret not taking a few videos in those classes to showcase and share. In those moments of raw engagement the student becomes the owner of the learning. The subsection on pg 89 struck me as well. If we can move our students towards thinking about closing the gap between where they are in their journey and where they want to be, we have created a self-sustaining life-long learner. I'm looking forward to your post on Chapter 6....differentiated instruction - a passion of mine as an educator.

  2. Chapter 5: Provide feedback that identifies a strategy for growth linked to the success criteria, and give students a chance to use the feedback to improve.

    Nothing shows this strategy better than a writing conference. Two minute conferences with each student 2-3 times per week allows the student to share their writing, determine their strengths/weaknesses, and formulate a goal to improve their writing. This constant interchange of ideas between the teacher - student - peers is crucial in building a foundation of trust and acceptance on where the student is in the writing continuum and where the student sees himself/herself in the future.

  3. Stephanie EspinosaJuly 20, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    How do we make learning visible? I just returned and everything we learned has solidified what we read in this chapter. During John Hattie’s keynote we learned about his continuing work on what has the biggest impact on student learning and achievement. Hattie determined that backward design and success criteria are crucial to students’ success. Within that category is:
    • Outlining and transforming
    • Concept Mapping
    • Setting standards for self-judgment
    • Worked examples
    • Goals
    • Advanced Organizers
    Chapter 5 of Learning Targets (and the other chapters for that matter) focuses on these doing these things with students so that learning is visible to them. When teachers make outline the learning and the goal for the students than students can be in charge of their own learning. When students understand what their work product should look like and they can evaluate it along the way against exemplars and rubrics than their leaning is visible. No surprises, No Questions, No Failures!

  4. Writing conferences is a great example of how teachers help students move forward, but reading conferences can do the same. Students seem to always set goal for themselves around the number of books they are going to read or the reading level they are going to master. Great goals indeed, but the larger and more important question is, "How are you going to get to that higher reading level?" This is where reading goal setting comes in; what skills are the students going to focus, practice, and assess themselves on. ELA teachers need to set goals with students that are skill driven in order to help the students achieve success with their long term goals of reading at a higher level.

    1. I agree. Reading conferences are also great examples. Students use their reader's notebooks as tools to write their understandings of a standard or skill that we are teaching. Students "practice" the skill within the context of their own reading and write reflections that show their understanding of the skill. Teacher conferences focus on student reflections and help guide students with meaningful question stems to keep pushing the students thought process. Students are able to recognize when they are accessing a particular skill in their reflections when they are part of the process of breaking down the SE to determine what it is that they need to know.

  5. On page 83 Moss/Brookhart suggest one crucial strategy that is often given lip-service and sounds great during staff development but is rarely implemented with fidelity as the year progresses...TIME for students to sort by criteria. Is it time to slow down the classroom???

  6. I loved this chapter for so many reasons, but the biggest is the realization that I really do not give super great feedback. I feel like I give feedback all the time, just not the right feedback. I love what Mr. Gebhardt says about the TIME for students to sort. I do believe at the beginning of the year, we probably give this more thought, but as the year progresses, time runs out! I also agree with Sunni, the kids do a great job setting goals of numbers of books and reading levels, but when answering how will you get there, they struggle. Ts have to give the students feedback to lead them in the right direction.