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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Creating the Goals for Learning

Setting the stage for learning is crucial if students are to buy in. Regardless of the grade or age you teach, purposely choosing those things that you want your students to get out of a lesson is the first of many steps on the path to effective instruction. Whether you write the "learning goals" on the board or brainstorm the "success criteria" with your class or even verbally discuss where you want them to be in one hour's time; all of these things frame the lesson into a meaningful use of time with explicit steps and stages.

Students benefit from purposeful planning and carefully considered lesson objectives. There are so many individual tasks that we assign on any given day that it can be a daunting task for students to mentally assimilate this new information in a way that promotes a lasting understanding. If we outline our goals with them (especially in collaboration with them) - they can focus and follow the boundaries of the teaching.

There is no requirement or points given for staying perfectly within these learning intentions, though, feel free to stray a bit and make concessions along the way. In fact, real teaching does this. Using tangents and forging connections between prior knowledge and current instruction is one of the most effective ways to consolidate an understanding. Students appreciate entertainment and they should know that they are experiencing a dynamic lesson; not witnessing a well-rehearsed lecture.

Make students a part of your teaching. Share with them the goals for learning and they will ensure the learning lasts. A journey without a destination in mind can be overwhelming. Let them know where they're going and they can enjoy the ride that much more.


Peter Skillen said...

Hi Neil,

Excellent thoughts. You have identified one of the cornerstones of good practice - that of explicitly 'setting the stage' for learning. Ausubel, in 1968, called this the 'advance organizer'.

It's always been challenge for me to get the kids to 'own' this advance organizer. Yes, I could state it, write it, perform it - but, to get the kids to buy into it with the depth that drives their inquiry, engagement and succes has been more difficult.

One thing I have tried - with limited success- is to share the curriculum documents with them and have them attempt to 'unpack it' into their own language and then generate strategies to proceed in acquiring the knowledge, skills, etc.

I even created an online collaborative journal writing environment in which all this tacit knowledge could be made explicit.

Hard to keep it from being 'just an exercise' though.

Such is our awesome profession! :-)

Looking forward to learning more!

nfinney said...

Wow. Those are excellent suggestions and present with them meaningful ways to connect to students. I love the idea of giving the curriculum to your class and having them direct the learning that will attain curriculum goals and 'benchmarks.' Thanks so much for sharing your views, Peter!

Mark Walker said...

Neil your comment about learning intentions as Peter points out is the corner stone effective practice and should at the end of the lesson enable us to assess whether students got it or not.

Of course its not always as easy as that particularly if we are teaching at the concept or understanding level.

And its not always possible to 'entertain' about a skill - which probably goes back to a prior step I think in setting up classroom learning communities - discussing the notions of hard work, diligence, what the teachers role is with students, the values of fairness etc...

I recently wrote about that preparation for learning stage on my blog at

Thanks for the post as its always useful to reflect on things.

Mark Walker

nfinney said...

Mark, I agree. There is certainly a careful balance between the entertainer and the educator in our classroom everyday. Students do need the positive learning environment (whether comfortable, valued, humourous, or otherwise pleasant) in order to be at their optimum condition for learning.

Skill-based teaching at its core demands tactics and approaches that build a concept and knowledge level - but even those things will not thrive without the pre-conditions of learning that you are aluding to.

Thanks for your thoughts. Looking forward to checking out your blog.

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