Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Learning Targets Chapter 2: Learning Trajectory?

Learning Targets Chapter 2 (part 2 in a series to summarize the book Learning Targets by Connie Moss and Susan Brookhart)

“The whole concept of standards-based instruction assumes that individual lessons, over time, will amount to achievement of a larger standard.”
 (Moss & Brookhart pg. 29)

From my perspective, there are few things more beautiful that the trajectory of a homerun ball as it leaves the bat and towers toward the outfield bleachers (Yes, I am imagining my many wonderful summer days sitting at Wrigley Field with my Dad).  The sound of the crack of the bat, followed by the immediate gasp from the crowd, and then the celebration that begins long before the trajectory of the ball has stopped is upward spiral and falls to earth is something that every baseball fan has experienced and leaves you with a certain adrenaline rush that can’t be explained.  It becomes the “it” moment of the day. 

The best teachers, and even some average ones every now and then, experience that “it” moment while teaching and learning.  It happens at that moment when every thing comes together perfectly and their plans turn into reality as their student meet and exceed their expectations.  In Chapter 2 of Learning Targets, Moss and Brookhart, explore the concept of potential learning trajectory.  The authors are clearly challenging educators to go deeper and think about how they plan lessons.  On page 29, they state that planning for effective daily instruction consists of three things:

·      What are the essential knowledge (facts, concepts, and generalizations, or principals) and skills (or procedures) for the lesson?
·      What is the essential reasoning content for the lesson?
·      What is the potential learning trajectory in which the lesson is situated?

If you consider and can articulate these things you are ready to design a dynamic learning experience for your students.   The authors outline four steps in designing a learning target.  They also highlight several misconceptions and implementation mistakes teachers often make by not going deep enough with their planning. 

STEP 1: Define the Essential Content for the Lesson
STEP 2: Define the Reasoning Processes Essential for the Lesson
STEP 3: Design a Strong Performance of Understanding
STEP 4: State the Learning Target

All our students are on a learning trajectory…some days we hit home runs with them and the trajectory goes up and sometimes we strike out and the learning trajectory goes nowhere.  By intentionally planning for the learning with not only the content in mind, but also our student learning trajectory, we can formatively gauge the lesson throughout and monitor our own effectiveness.

Questions for thought:
·      How do you and your PLC identify your instructional objectives, the essential content, and the thinking skills they require to address various stages of students learning trajectory?
·      Learning Targets are not the same as Learning Objectives, after reading the Chapter 2, what is the difference?

·      If you already use “I will” and “We Will” statements, how do you incorporate them throughout your lessons?

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.