Visualising The Importance of Learning Objectives

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

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

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

figure_2a

Figure 2
) Interdependency of the learning activity, assessment and learning objective(s)

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

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

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

See, Differentiation and scaffolding

Allowing students who have chosen the same cognitive 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, social (soft) skills and friendships.

4.3) Learning and differentiation

See, Differentiation and scaffolding

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.

5) Summary

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 when planning a lesson, see Figure 5.

visualising-the-importance-of-learning-objectives

Figure 5) Visualising the importance of learning objectives

Visualising Assessment Words, Blooms Taxonomy, Objectives and Essay Titles

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

Updated: 15th Nov 2016

Please remember that I am not an English teacher and this is an exploration of a quick and dirty method of developing a student’s writing skills.

 

Since the mid 90’s I have been using the mobile comparison table to teach essay writing. More recently, my teaching colleagues have been adopting the same approach to support their students in understanding how to write their assessments or achieve lesson objectives. What is great about this approach is that it is accessible to all and can be used with any subject, as it is transferable. I have outlined my approach below, using learning objectives and tables.

First I identify the phones and keywords (figure one, below) and explain to the students that all their assessed work will include an analysis, evaluation and justification. This creates a growth mind-set by encouraging them to think about higher grades.

 

 phone2 Identify

Discuss

Explain

Compare and Contrast

Analysis

Evaluate

Justify

 phone1

Figure one) Pictures of phones and keywords

 

I explore with the students what each keyword means, keeping it very simple by using the following:

Identify Make a list.
Compare and contrast What is the same and what is different?
Analyse Compare and contrast – which includes the strengths and weaknesses
Evaluate Link the analysis to a context/ scenario
Justify Make a recommendation based on the evaluation

 

Using the following learning objectives, I will demonstrate how I use this approach to scaffold and focus student attention on what is important, thereby increasing the student’s potential to achieve higher grades and improved writing skills. I also regularly reinforce this method within my teaching, learning and assessment.

 

Objective: Identify the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

I use a very quick and simple process to help the students achieve the objective by creating a comparison table (see table one), which you find on most shopping websites. This creates a visual learning episode for the students and structures their thinking. It also allows the teacher to quickly assess student understanding of the keywords within the learning objective. The activity can be restricted to identifying three items for a) features, b) functions and c) properties. Students can then readily demonstrate their understanding of the keywords.

 

Table One: Identify the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

Features Functions Properties Phone One Phone Two
Keypad Y
Emails Y
Plastic Y Y

 

Objective: Compare and contrast the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

By completing table one, the student’s learning has been scaffolded.  This will also act as a reference or checklist which the students can use when comparing and contrasting the two mobile phones. For example, the teacher’s learning instruction may be; ‘From your table, compare and contrast three features, three functions and three properties.’  This might look something like this:

Phone one has a keypad, whereas phone two projects the keys onto a touch screen. Also, phone two can send emails but phone one cannot. However, both phones have a plastic body.

At this stage, I would spend a lot of time talking about how words determine the students’ overall grade. For example, by using the word ‘however’ or ‘but’, you are signalling to the reader that you are about to create an argument.

 

Objective: Analyse the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

The analysis could be considered as part three and is about adding the strengths and weaknesses to the compare and contrast content. To extend the table (see table two), you can add two additional columns; strengths and weaknesses.

 

Table Two: Analyse the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

Features Phone One Phone Two Strengths Weaknesses
Keypad Y
  • Can be visually seen
  • Letter on each key
  • Location never changes
  • Keys fall off
  • Key stops working
  • Lettering fades

 

I have learnt/observed over the years that it is important to focus on getting the students to integrate the strengths and weaknesses, rather than writing separate paragraphs. This integration helps the students to develop their writing skills quicker. The analysis may look like this:

Phone one has a keypad which can be seen and felt by the user. The position of the keys never change, whereas phone two projects the keys onto a touch screen which allows the phone to be rotated, or the button size to be changed. However, the use of a keypad could result in the keys falling off, letter fading or even stop working, whereas the lettering never fades on the touch screen, although the screen may fail and prevent the keys from working.

At this stage, I ask the students to use a highlighting pen to emphasise all the signalling words in their own work. This allows the students to recognise the effect of keywords in their own work; prompting them to write at a higher level.  This is a really good peer marking activity.

 

Objective: Evaluate the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

To evaluate we need a context or situation:  in this case, who will use the mobile phone and for what purpose? This is about two main factors a) the user needs and b) the environmental needs, see table three. The student also needs to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the features, functions and properties of the mobile phone, see table two.

Simply, the evaluation is an extension of the analysis, as the analysis is an extension of the comparison. Using this concept, quickly allows the student to develop and refine their understanding of the required writing skills.

 

Table three: evaluate the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

User Environment Features Strengths Weaknesses
Blind person Everyday life, Two children, Office worker Keypad vs. touchscreen
  • Can be visually seen
  • Letter on each key
  • Location never changes
  • Keys fall off
  • Key stops working
  • Lettering fades

 

An example of an evaluation may look like this:

Phone one has a keypad which can be seen and felt by the user. The position of the keys never change, whereas phone two projects the keys onto a touch screen which allows the phone to be rotated or the button size to be changed. For a blind user, being able to feel the shape of the key and knowing its position is the strength of the keypad phone.  However, the use of a keypad could result in the keys falling off, letters fading or even failure to work, whereas the lettering never fades on the touch screen but the screen may fail, preventing the keys from working. For a blind user, the lettering fading is not a concern and both phones could experience a failure to accept an input. It is worth considering that phone two can convert voice to text, thus, removing the need to press a key or use a touch screen.

 

Objective: Justify the features, functions and properties of two mobile phones

Justification or recommendation is an extension to evaluation, just as analysis is an extension to the comparison. You cannot recommend or make a judgement without first analysing the two phones. This justification or recommendation can be integrated within the paragraph(s) or written as a separate paragraph(s). For example:

It is recommended that if the user is able to use phone two, with a touch screen, then they should opt for this phone as it offers more features and functions, which can be used to speed the communication process. It also offers a wider range of features and functions, which allow the user to engage with their two children. However, if the user cannot use the touch screen than the keypad is a good alternative.

 

Now consider reading these:

Visualising Intervention – Pre & Post Assessment

How can we show that non-teacher intervention is working in school

Note: this article is based on working practice during 2005

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

It is clear that current and future developments within the education system are focused on using data to prove that change has taken place.  However, the question is what change or changes will support influence judgments about support staff. Personally, I believe that support staff should not be solely judged on the learners’ academic performance.  Support staff deliver a range of interventions aim at different areas of the learner’s holistic development e.g. behavioural, social and educational development (BSED).  Thus, the support worker performance or impact should be judged against the stated needs of the learner, creating three categories of performance or assessment which inferences three core skillsets wrapped in a clear understanding of pedagogical practice.

The biggest issue facing government, schools and support workers is how to show that the taxpayer is getting value for money from the pupil premium fund.  All too often this falls back on to the academic changes of the learners who have been supported by a support worker(s) which is funded by this pot of money. However, research from across the developed world shows that this is not a valid method of proving support workers impact.

There is a shift, back to the pre and post-baseline assessment of learners to show that intervention has made a difference to the individual child and young person.  The approach is a simple idea and can show progress in the learner’s development, which in turn can be used to argue that these developments have contributed to any academic improvements of the learner and those learners who share the learning environment, especially if the principal issue is behavioural or disruption.

Figure one shows the mean average of all intervention over one-half term (about six weeks) of 80 students using the Jane McSherry  Coping in School Survey. The graph has five sections and each section has five bars (columns) where the first three columns are indicator columns and the last two columns indicate the mean scores for pre-intervention and post-intervention.

Average Intervention Gains - Mean
Figure1) Average Intervention Gains – Mean – CISS Assessment

It can be seen that all sections or skillsets have achieved a mean increase after the half term intervention, except for the skillset ‘self and others.’ This was a consistent trend and only showed a marginal increase over the year. Even after focused changes to the intervention methods used to targeting this skillset. I would also like to draw your attention to the ‘self-management and behaviour’ skillset. The gains in this skillset were always consistently low.  Suggesting that intervention in these two skillsets needs to be specific and enduring which in turn needs to be reflected in any performance assessment of support workers.

This overarching data can inform areas like:

  • The deployment of support workers (based on the support worker skillsets) in relation to the learners specific needs
  • The training and CPD needs of the support staff to target weak areas
  • The overall impact or difference that the support team has had over that half term

WARNING: Finally, take a moment to consider which assessment you are using to show the impact of the support team.  There are many different assessments which test many different aspects of the learner and equally have different copyright conditions. Be very clear about what you want the assessment to show.  For example, if you want the assessment to show the learners attitude to school and learning then there is no point completing a self-esteem test.

Once you have selected an assessment you now need to consider the ethical and moral issues around implementing it. If you have chosen an assessment used by health professionals to support mental health assessment and your data shows that the learner is severely depressed, what will the school put in place to support that child to guard against liability or even worse, self-harm. Also, do you have the (ethical) right to implement the assessment without informed consent from the parent and/ or the child.

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

Teachers and Teaching Assistants – Entrenched Confusion

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) report (edited by Neill 2002) explored the teachers perception of the teaching assistant and showed that teacher felt that teaching assistants provide pastoral support to targeted pupils. However, there has been a move over the past ten years to assessing the teaching assistants impact based on their contribution to the academic gains of the students they support.  This has led to controversial headlines, none more so than the findings of Blatchford et al. (2011) who indicated that the more support a student receives the less academic progression they will make.

When we consider that 80% of high school teachers felt that they had no training to work with teaching assistants and 50% of these teacher believed that they required additional training to support the teaching assistant within the classroom, Neill (2002). We begin to see the emerging issue, confusion.  Teaching assistants themselves (59%) have highlighted that teachers do not have the required training to use them effectively within the learning experience, ATL survey of teaching assistants (2013).

What is clear, regardless of the pending changes outlined in the white paper, is that teachers have a responsibility to ensure that the teaching assistant(s) within the classroom are directed and actively contributing to learning, Ofsted: School Inspection Handbook (2013).

Quality of teaching grade descriptor – Good

Teachers and other adults create a positive climate for learning in their lessons and pupils are interested and engaged.

Quality of teaching grade descriptor – Outstanding

Teachers and other adults authoritatively impart knowledge to ensure students are engaged in  learning, and generate high levels of commitment to learning across the school.

On one hand, teachers saying that teaching assistants are in the classroom to support the pastoral and emotional development of the student(s).  Whereas teaching assistants are saying that they can and want to directly and actively contribute to the students learning.  Ofsted, are saying at teaching assistants have to ensure that students are engaged and learning.  However, there are barrier which are preventing this ideal fusion of the teaching assistant and teacher, such as:

Teachers felt that they need (Neill (2002)):

  • Training relating to the deployment of teaching assistants
  • Joint planning time
  • Training relating to recording and assessment

The biggest issue which teachers from primary and secondary school highlighted as a barrier is:

The teaching assistants lack of skills and subject knowledge

Research has shown that professional and specific training for teaching assistants has resulted in an increased performance of the teaching assistant and development of the supported student (Bourke (2009)Farrell et al. (2010)Rose & Forlin (2010)).  Making opportunities like joint planning absolutely critical as they allow the teacher to impart subject specific knowledge and teaching assistant to provide specialised differentiation knowledge specific for targeted student(s) within the class. 

Implications for all schools is that if you want to achieve an Ofsted rating of good or outstanding you need to establish a robust and specifically targeted training program for both the teacher and the teaching assistant.  Personally and based on experience, I would recommend that this specialised training is implemented separately from ‘whole school staff development.’

This blog could go on for another ten pages discussing issues and their implications within the classroom and the school but I will stop here. The next time you are working with another adult in the classroom (teacher or teaching assistant) take a step back and remember that we are all as confused as each other but we all want the best for our students.