On posting learning objectives …

When I taught in independent schools, no administrator or mentor teacher ever really weighed in on my teaching practice, at least not the specifics.  It would have been odd to receive feedback on something as mechanical as posting the learning objective at the beginning of class.  And yet, in my limited interactions with math teachers in my new public-school district, it seems clear that posting the learning objective on the white board at the beginning of each class is an expectation.

I haven’t actually read any of the research that no doubt exists to support this practice, but I have my doubts.  How exactly does writing “Students will be able to prepare okra” on the board actually motivate students to cook okra, or promote okra achievement? Simply writing the objective doesn’t change the actual lesson, right? Isn’t it the students who are doing the learning?  Shouldn’t they be the ones to tell us what they actually learned?  Instead, I think I might use an exit ticket as a way to assess who is cluing into the bit ideas.  The exit ticket might include two questions:

  • What was the big idea (the main topic) of today’s lesson?
  • What did you learn how to do today?

I do typically show an agenda on the board briefly at the beginning of class, and usually the heading of the agenda might say “Introduction to Okra,” but from my perspective, writing the learning target (SWBAT…) on the board—no matter how Hemingway-esque—is akin to skipping to act three, in the Dan Meyer’s sense of the term.

I want my lesson to unfold for the student.  I want them thinking about what’s important, what they think the main idea is.  I don’t want to spoon-feed them. To me it seems that writing the objective on the board is playing directly to the kid who asks on day one of a new unit, “Is this gonna be on the test?”

Also, after day one of a new unit, they might not realistically be able to do anything that they couldn’t already do before the lesson (by design).  And then you’re left with some really lame teaching objective like:  “Students will be able to notice salient characteristics of okra.” I hope I don’t come across as vainglorious, believing that my lessons are so wonderfully designed that the objectives just unfold magically, but that there objective is just plain icky.

Those pesky meter sticks

Here’s one thing that I made from some Ikea rubber storage containers.  Because they are pink, my daughters banished them a few years ago, and they were just sitting around my house.  I brought them into school, cut the top off one of them, and created a meter stick storage solution.

Setting up my room

This is the first time in my teaching career that I’ll have my own classroom and have been thinking hard about how to organize stuff, use wall space, and arrange desks.

One of the things I have struggled with for a long time is how to create a climate in my room where students who are not making sense of the math feel comfortable stopping me or the class discussion to ask a real question.   This is especially a challenge in my district because there exists a really big segment of families who enroll their children in after school math programs.   (I won’t call them extra-curricular because most of them duplicate what is taught in school, except frequently a year or two in advance.  I digress.  Perhaps this is fodder for another post, but in the meantime see this article in the Boston Globe).  These students are pre-exposed and leave everyone else feeling like they are supposed to know stuff they haven’t been taught.  It has had a serious chilling effect in past classrooms and seems to be even more of an issue in my new district.

Also, a feature of my new district is that I have to grade each child separately on their behavior/effort, apart from their academic performance.   This is something I am not really sure how to approach, but my thought it to their grade connect behaviors that support a healthy classroom culture.

I decided to create some posters in my room that explain the behaviors I would like to see in class that I think will help create that culture.  Here’s the actual text (I’ll add a picture when it’s on the wall in my room).  I called them “Ways To Be.”

  • Fair-Minded:  Even if you undersand a new concept, embrace a certain opinion, or feel strongly about your beliefs, remember that other intelligent, thoughtful, and passionate people won’t necessarily agree with you.
  • Fearless:  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, admit you are confused, or make a reasonable guess.
  • Persistent:  Just because you don’t know the path to a solution from the beginning doesn’t mean you won’t be able to figure it out.
  • Inquisitive:  Makes sense of what you learn.  It’s not enough to learn the steps or memorize the facts.  Ask questions until you undertand the reasoning.
  • Reflective:  When you make a mistake, think about what kind of mistake you made, why you made it, and how to avoid it in the future.
  • Focused:  Set goals, and keep your eyes on the prize.

Much of this is derivative of Ron Ritchhart’s book Intellectual Character.   My own kids (the one I gave birth to) think this is completely lame, and I haven’t quite figured out how to connect this to a grade.  I think if I see evidence or examples of these ways to be (e.g. “I couldn’t do #4 on last nights HW, can we go over it?”) on any given day, students would be a +1 for the day.  If I see behavior that runs counter to theses ways to be (“This is SOOOO easy.”), then they get a -1.  Otherwise, they get a 0 which would be a B. The ways to be would only be one aspect of their behavior/effort grade, but I think of it as more important than late homework, etc.  If I do actually implement this, I will report on how it’s working.