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 Learning: Differentiation and Scaffolding

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

Differentiation is another one of those terms which teachers interpret in many different ways.  For example, differentiation by outcome, differentiation by input, differentiation by learning level to differentiation by activity/ task.  Thus a simple definition of differentiation could be what will you do differently for each student/ group.  When I teach differentiation I use the RAGTOP acronym (Resource, Assessment, Group, Task, Outcome and Pace) as this gives the trainee teacher a framework to reflect and develop their personalised approach to differentiation within their specialised teaching domain. However, there are many items missing from this, such as questioning, modelling, and personalisation. Other acronyms have been presented such as PROMPT (Pace, Resource, Outcome, Modelling, Personalisation and Task). What is clear, is that these acronyms are starting points which aid the teacher in developing their own unique approach to differentiation for their students, classes and specific learning domains.

Each student brings their own needs and expectations to the classroom and the teacher needs to recognise and address these needs and expectations within the planning and delivery of lessons. The process of planning for differentiation is just a subroutine within the lesson planning process.  For example, based on student data the teacher could differentiate by assessment, where students produce different levels of work.  This is like the BTEC courses where the student(s) aim for either Pass, Merit or Distinction. (Ignoring the debate about how this type of provision results in reduced motivation and aspirations.) Similarly, differentiation by outcome, for example, can group one explain which muscles are used during the squat thrust, whereas, group two may be looking at the internal mechanism of the quadriceps during the squat thrust.  Semantically, it could be argued that the real difference between these two types of differentiation is that one has assessment criteria (BTEC) and the other is about establishing or consolidating knowledge.  However, at some point, the students will have to undertake an assessment to prove that learning has taken place and thus achieving the requirements of the qualification. I have provided a simplistic top-level view of this process in figure one. It is at this point where the confusion between differentiation and scaffolding starts to develop.

Simplistic Top-Level View of Differentiation

Figure One: Visualisation of differentiation within a lesson

Scaffolding (Wood, Bruner, and Ross’s (1976)) is about dripping information to allow the students to progress, which leads to attainment. For example, use capital letters and full stops, then moving on to capital letters, full stops and compound sentences and so on. Thus, Scaffolding is linked to the concept, ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD) which is attributed to Vygotsky and his theories of learning.  I will purposefully avoid the debate about who coined the phrase ZPD. However, in simple terms we can visualise ZPD as a journey to becoming a Master, with many hurdles along the way, I will refer to these hurdles as ‘points of frustration.’ When a student becomes frustrated it is because they ‘do not know what to do,’ they have hit a point of frustration and require additional input from the master (teacher, knowledgeable peer or video) to move to the next stage. This input may need to be differentiated based on the student’s needs, skills and knowledge. However, as the student begins to develop mastery of the subject they hit fewer points of frustration as they have more knowledge and skills to draw against, see figure two.

ZPD as Learning Journey

Figure Two: Visualisation of the ZPD as a learning journey

The key message is that differentiation supports the scaffolding process, although there is an argument that they are not mutually exclusive, thus, are dependent upon each other. Another way of looking at this is, how will you differentiate learning to avoid points of frustration, whilst move learning forward.

To visualise differentiation within lesson planning I have provided a simplistic lesson plan below, in figure 3 (for a discussion about lesson planning click here). Remember that progression is about identifying any improvement or the creation of skills and/ or knowledge (what does the student know now which they did not know before?). From the simplistic lesson plan example, figure 3, differentiation is based on the students learning level (Pass, Merit and Distinction) and their outputted work (Assessment). The objective is the students learning target and the visualise progression, is how the student will see that they have progressed. Scaffolding is achieved at two levels a) by completing each learning episode, which in this case is separated by the teacher’s input and b) within the learning episode where students can progress through the levels. Similarly, a group of students could spend the full lesson just completing the first learning episode, on the assumption that this is the core learning for the assessment and you need the pass students to achieve all the requirements for all levels (Pass, Merit and Distinction).

Notice that in the lesson plan, learning episode one leads into learning episode two. If during the first teacher input, the teacher’s assessment (Assessment for Learning) shows that some or all of the students achieve that requirement the teacher can skip the first learning activity. Making students who already have this knowledge and skillset, complete the first learning episode, is not progressing their knowledge, understanding or skillset and therefore no progression is taking place.

.

a-simplistic-lesson-plan-showing-differentiation-and-scaffolding

Figure Three: A simplistic lesson plan showing differentiation and scaffolding.

Visualising Planning By Learning Events

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

In 2011 I reviewed all my lecture presentations and teaching materials for reoccurring patterns and discovered that over a six month period. I went from having presentations which were inconsistent, illogical and all but ineffectual to developing a consistent repeatable cycle. This cycle can be summarised and is displayed in table one, below.

Table one:  Traversable Learning Cycle

Stage Outcome
1 Visualise Video, image, real-life, narrative
2 Conceptualise Create own definition and a list of indicators
3 Transfer new knowledge Content, theory, principles etc…
4 Challenge new knowledge Questioning (verbal, paper etc…)
5 Apply new knowledge Case study, scenario, poster etc…
6 Affirm learning Challenge and confirm new insight

If we assume that the hierarchy is traversable, a teacher could be in stage four (challenging new knowledge) and realise that some students have missed key points of the concept.  The teacher could jump to stage one and ask ‘do you remember the video at the start of the lesson, why did I show you that?’ or stage two, ‘what was your definition at the start of the lesson? …. (stage three) how does that link to this theory?’ This ability to traverse across the planned lesson and its content, allows the teacher to quickly locate, where within the scaffolding process, the miss-concept took place and therefore, address it at the correct location.  Critically, it is the process of helping the student(s) to make links between the information at the different learning stages and thereby restructure their understanding. What I have outlined is linked to concepts within the instructional design domain.

I realised, I was planning lessons based on learning activities.  The process was based around the following key questions.

  • What do I want the students to learn?
  • Which activity is best to transfer this knowledge?
  • What activity will promote maximum student engagement?

Based on the answer to these questions, a best-fit sequence of pedagogical or andragogical activities is identified. These activities are integrated to generate a planned lesson.  Figure one, below, provides a very simple illustration of the stages of the Traversable Learning Cycle highlighted in table one, above.

Visualise Conceptualising Transfer Challenge Apply Affirm
Letter Letter Letter Letter Letter Letter
Essay Essay Essay Essay Essay Essay
Defining Defining Defining Defining Defining Defining
Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster
Flyer Flyer Flyer Flyer Flyer Flyer
Photo Photo Photo Photo Photo Photo
Video Video Video Video Video Video
Presentation Presentation Presentation Presentation Presentation Presentation
Narrative Narrative Narrative Narrative Narrative Narrative
Student Voice Student Voice Student Voice Student Voice Student Voice Student Voice

Figure One: Lesson segment by activity

It is worth highlighting that for this approach to lesson planning to be successful, the teacher needs to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each activity in terms of learning.  Of course, there are practical considerations as well.

Now read: Visualising Learning: Lesson Planning

Plan Your Literature Review

  • Planning your literature review will help you to:
    • Focus your research
    • Achieve your stated project aims and objectives
    • Link your literature review to your artefact requirements
  • There are lots of different ways to plan your literature review here is one:
    • Start with your project aims and objectives
    • List key theme which you will cover (linked to project aims and objectives)
    • List some key questions which your content will need to cover or answer
    • Link the content to the three critical factors a) Context, b) Problem and c) Solution
    • List some key questions which a solution will need to consider (these are likely to be your requirements)
  •  For example:

 

The Use of Feedback Within eLearning Software Aimed at Secondary Schools

Lit_Review_Objective_1Lit_Review_Objective_2Lit_Review_Objective_3