Learning objectives are at the centre of the lesson in the same way the sun is in the centre of the solar system. Learning objectives are about helping the student to understand what they will be learning during the lesson (progression) not their attainment (outcome). Learning objectives are also there to guide the creation, implementation and assessment of the student’s progression (lesson planning), and as such clear success criteria need to be established or created with the students. Also, learning objectives help to inform differentiation and scaffolding which teachers put into place to ensure learning takes place. However, it is not the learning objective(s) which determines the learning episode (pedagogy or andragogy approach), rather it is the teacher’s skillset and understanding of class dynamics, which is offset against the development of, arguably, secondary requirements such as: a) personal, social and emotional development, b) employability skills, c) numeracy, literacy and ICT skills and d) equality, diversity and British values.
1) Interdependency of the Learning Objectives and Learning Activity/ Episode(s)
Figure 1) Interdependency of the learning objectives and learning activity/ episode(s)
The learning objective and learning episode are interdependent: the learning episode must help the student achieve the learning objective, otherwise progression and or attainment will not take place. For example, if the learning episode is to watch a video and the learning objective is to critically evaluate, you as the teacher need to know what information/skills the video will provide for the students, which will enable them to achieve the learning objective (critically evaluate). It may be that there are several learning episodes (video, group discussion, fact sheet) which scaffold the learners’ understanding and potential to achieve the learning objective. Therefore, teacher assessment will need to take place.
2) Interdependency of the Learning Activity, Assessment and Learning Objective
To ensure that the learning episode has achieved its desired outcome in relation to the learning objective, as teachers we need to have a set of indicators which can be used to demonstrate the student’s new level of knowledge and understanding. This could be based on teachers’ questioning, class/ group discussion (level of explanation linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy) and so on. However, ‘new knowledge and understanding’ implies that there must have been previous knowledge and understanding; thus, progression is the difference between a student’s understanding before learning (or before the learning episode) compared to knowledge and understanding after learning. For example, students in small groups, undertake a starter activity which requires them to complete a critical evaluation of mobile phones. The teacher then listens to each group’s discussion during the learning episode (teacher assessment), and supports and directs students’ thinking (questioning, feedback, feed forward).
At the end of the learning episode, each group feeds back to the whole class (teacher assessment, peer assessment, consolidation of learning). If the students clearly understand the critical evaluation, some learning episodes could be skipped as they are not needed (adapting the lesson based on teacher assessment). However, it is likely that the class will be divided in to different groups, e.g. those who have little understanding and those who know roughly what to do. This is a make or break moment: how will you differentiate learning for these two groups of learners? (For example, adapting the lesson based on teacher assessment, classroom management, learners on task.) It is inappropriate to leave one set of learners sitting waiting for teacher direction, whilst directing the other group. Equally, you cannot use a throwaway activity to keep the other group entertained whilst they wait.
Suggestion: separate the class into learning groups, either
- mixed learning levels to encourage peer support, or
- grouped based on current knowledge and understanding (those who know roughly what to do)
The group who know roughly what to do could have the ‘apply new knowledge’ activity: they have five minutes to review the activity and make a list of questions or a writing frame. This will give the teacher five minutes to set the group with little understanding of critical evaluation, the next planned learning episode. See section 4 for more detail.
3) Students’ Understanding of the Learning Objective is Critical
Figure 3) Aligning the students understanding of learning objective and lesson
Challenging the students’ understanding of the learning objectives is critical: it is imperative that students understand what work they need to complete during the lesson or learning episode. Teacher questioning – challenging the students’ understanding – can be used to assess student readiness for the coming learning episode/event. It is also used to align the students’ understanding, their perception of the topic and knowledge of core information. This is a critical stage, as the students begin to build success criteria or a list of ‘things’ they will need to do to achieve success. As the teacher, you could make this explicit by asking the students to create success criteria. This could be completed as a whole class or individually, followed by feedback to the whole class, enabling students to improve their own list. Alternatively the teacher writes the list on the board. It is important that the teacher aligns the success criteria with the assessment requirements, thus helping the student to achieve their potential and maximising progression.
A great alternative is to show exemplar work of a very high standard and quality and ask the students to create success criteria based on the exemplar work. This will also give the students something to aim for. I often say that this exemplar work is at merit level (average) as this gives the low achievers something to aim for and the high achievers something to supersede.
4) Learning Objective, Learning Activities and Inclusive Curriculum
Now that the teacher has considered what learning activity they will use to foster learning and how the learning objective can be assessed using this learning activity, the teacher needs to consider an approach to inclusive learning, see figure 4. It is important that the learning activity is suitable for the range of learners within the class, and that all have the same chance at achieving success (attainment) and progression in their understanding.
Figure 4) Inclusive curriculum, learning objectives and learning episode
Typically, teachers plan a lesson for most learners and then differentiate for the students who need more support, and those labelled as gifted and talented. However, it does not matter which approach the teacher uses to plan an inclusive learning experience they need to consider the following:
4.1) Learning and personalisation
First I make a distinction between personalisation of learning (allowing students to internalise information/ learning in a meaningful way) and individualisation of learning (each student has their own learning plan and learning materials). Personalisation could be asking each student to take the information and explain it in their own words or explain it in a different context. It could also be allowing the students to situate their own learning. For example, instead of expecting everyone to present on the subject of multiple personality disorder, you could give the students a list of conditions and disorders to choose from.
Personalisation is about allowing the student to connect with their own learning in a meaningful and authentic way. This leads to increased motivation, resilience and output quality, continued below in learning and scaffolding
4.2) Learning and scaffolding
Allowing students who have chosen the same disorder to work in groups, will foster peer support (scaffolding each other’s learning): information and research will be explained at a more appropriate level for group members. They will check each other’s work to make sure it is correct and support other group members in creating the required output (poster, presentation etc…). This takes the pressure off the teacher, allowing more time for assessment, feedback and questioning. Critically, it also fosters independent learning skills, collaborative learning and friendships.
4.3) Learning and differentiation
Differentiation, in this scenario, is closely linked to the personalisation of learning. For example, by allowing students to choose the output (poster, presentation etc…) the teacher encourages students to play to their strengths. However, there are other ways in which differentiation can be provided. For example; initial learning resources are easy to engage with and offer just enough information for the learners who have additional needs. The teacher could provide web links which are categorised into a) core knowledge (pass), b) understanding the topic (merit) and c) challenge yourself (distinction). Other items such as writing frames, templates, videos and discovery questions could be provided.
4.4) Learning and independent learners
With effective scaffolding and differentiation the teacher is creating an environment which fosters independent learning, leading to independent learners. However, when the teacher is helping students to engage with independent learning they will need to differentiate their support. Some students will need some guidance in the form of questioning e.g. “How does X interact with Y?” Whereas other students would need much more support.
Other techniques include the ‘three before me strategy’, which puts a requirement on the student to ask three other students for support before they ask you (the teacher). However, it is important that the teacher enforces this otherwise the students will stop using it. This could be something as simple as asking the student which three students they asked before they came to you. Also, this will tell the teacher that at least three other students do not know the answer and it may be necessary to provide whole class intervention to address the issues (teacher assessment).
As suggested earlier, consider providing exemplar work of a very high standard and quality, indicate that the work is at merit level (average), this gives low achievers something to aim for and high achievers something to supersede.
4.5) Learning and the real world
I used the term ‘real world’ to cover everything from real world examples to embedding cross curriculum requirements such as numeracy, literacy, employability skills, equality and diversity. One of the most effective ways I have used in the past, when completing project work, was to integrate cross curriculum requirements in the assessment criteria, encouraging the students to complete and write notes on the assessment criteria in real-time.
An alternative is to create a criteria list which is permanently on display and ask the students to look at the list and identify how many criteria they have hit that lesson. The benefit of addressing cross curriculum requirements in this way, is that it reinforces to the student that they are using these criteria implicitly, and it informs the teacher about the usefulness of the embedded curriculum within their lessons, converting student/ teacher assessment into student feedback.
I have summarised how the learning objective is pivotal to the teaching, learning and assessment process whilst suggesting that there are four discrete, mutually dependent components, see Figure 5.
Figure 5) Visualising the importance of learning objectives